Phantom Ranch, 2003
Grand Canyon National Park

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Phantom Ranch is tucked in beside Bright Angel Creek on the north side of the Colorado River and is the only lodging facility below the Canyon rim within Grand Canyon National Park. Overnight accommodations at Phantom Ranch consist of dormitory spaces and cabins. Cabins and dormitories are heated during the winter months and utilize evaporative cooling during the summer months. Dormitories are separate for women and men -- each has ten bunk beds, a shower, sink, and a flush toilet. Bedding, liquid soap, towels are provided for overnight guests.

On this trip, seven Wyants descended the South Kaibab Trail to spend two nights at Phantom Ranch before climbing back out on the Bright Angel Trail. We would spend two nights in the dormitories, using reservations obtained by last minute cancellations of other visitors. This would be the first trip to the bottom of the Canyon for three of the Wyants, Greg, Maggi and Sara, and would be the first in nearly 10 years for the senior Wyants, Ralph and Millie. Although she had been to the bottom several times before, it would also be Cindy's first night at the bottom.


The Indiana Wyants arrived in Phoenix at 7pm on a Sunday evening. After collecting luggage, we all piled into a rented Chevrolet Suburban and headed for Flagstaff where we spent the first night. On Monday morning, we drove the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon, did a little last-minute shopping, and then started down the South Kaibab Trail at 12:50pm. Our start was a little late in the day, but still would allow over 6 hours to descend to the bottom before our daylight ran out. We had plenty of flashlights with us, just in case, and as it turned out we would need them.

Wyants and Suburban
7 Wyants and a Suburban
South Kaibab trailhead
Starting down the Kaibab

The South Kaibab begins with a bang in the way of multiple switchbacks leading down "the chimney" to a gradual descending trail that follows the side of a steep slope. In 3/4 mile, the significant landmark of Ooh Ahh Point presents a sweeping view of the Canyon and the trail yet to come. We regrouped at Ooh Ahh Point, oohed and ahhed for awhile, took lots of pictures, and then continued down a sharp ridgeline toward Cedar Ridge. It was a warmish day with brilliant sunshine, ideal for hiking in this scenic wonderland.

Ooh Ahh Point
Ooh Ahh Point
Greg Oohs and Ahhs
Onward to Cedar Ridge

We arrived at Cedar Ridge at 2:10pm, approximately 1:20 hours after leaving the rim. After a short rest break and bathroom stop, we continued on our way. Below Cedar Ridge, our little group strung out with Cindy and Sara leading the charge. In another 1:20 hours, we arrived at Skeleton Point and regrouped for a rest break, with more trail snacks and group pictures. This group of seven had hiked to Skeleton Point once before, two years earlier, and we all paused to remember that earlier trip. Beyond Skeleton Point lies the Kaibab Switchbacks, Tonto Platform and the lower Kaibab Trail, all new ground for Greg, Maggi and Sara. We were all excited and ready to continue.

At this point, we agreed to let our group string out with the faster hikers continuing on to Phantom Ranch while the slower hikers took their time. We stayed in voice contact via 2-way FRS radios which worked well over the short distance that we would become separated. Below Skeleton Point, we descended the many switchbacks leading down to the Tonto Platform. Once again, Cindy and Sara led the charge, followed by Greg and Maggi, then Millie, Ralph and Dave. The lower Kaibab Trail was indeed spectacular in the late afternoon shadows and waning daylight. The temperatures stayed reasonably warm, but were quite bearable as the intensity of the sunlight began to fade.

Cedar Ridge
Cedar Ridge
Skeleton Point
Skeleton Point
In the Kaibab shadows

The quickest of the gang soon pulled far ahead and continued on to Phantom Ranch to check us all in. Millie, Ralph and Dave took their time and enjoyed the lower South Kaibab Trail in the evening light. The colors of the Grand Canyon are constantly changing as the sun moves across the sky. No time is more beautiful than the evening hours when long shadows and the soft light of the setting sun produce a golden glow on the Canyon walls. By the time we reached the Colorado River at 7:20pm, 6-1/2 hours after leaving the rim, the light had nearly disappeared from the western sky and we broke out our flashlights for the final 0.7 mile stroll to Phantom Ranch. The rest of the group had already checked in at the Ranch and were getting situated in their dormitories, except for Cindy who came back to greet us and guide us to our dormitories. The last of the group, Millie, Ralph and Dave, arrived at the dormitories at 7:50pm, seven hours after starting our descent.

Below Tipoff
Below the Tipoff
South Kaibab trail
Lower South Kaibab
Evening Light
Evening light

The Phantom Ranch dormitories are segregated, male/female, and each contains a shower, toilet, and sink, and sleeps 10 persons in 5 double bunk beds. Liquid soap is provided, along with pillows and bed linen on real mattresses... quite a treat at the end of the day for the weary hiker. The girls were assigned to Building #14, while the guys were assigned to Building #13. Each of our two dormitories were full both nights. Being the last to arrive, all 7 of us were left with top beds. We felt like we were crashing someone else's party since the other dorm residents were already in bed (with lights still on), getting ready for an early start on their intended hike out the following morning. We were as quiet as possible as we settled ourselves in. The following morning, Cindy, Dave and Sara awoke early for the 5am breakfast while the others slept in. After breakfast, everyone left our two dormitories except for the 7 Wyants. With all the other guests gone, we now had the two buildings to ourselves, at least for awhile, and made ourselves at home. The girls, except for Sara, chose to trade their top bunks for bottom ones while the guys were happy on top and made no change. At 7am, we all congregated around a nearby picnic table for breakfast treats and drinks.

Inside Dorm
Inside a dormitory
Phantom Ranch dorms
Picnic Table

Some of our middle day at the bottom of the Grand Canyon was spent exploring north into Bright Angel Gorge, also known as "The Box". Bright Angel Gorge is a long, narrow ravine containing noisy, rushing Bright Angel Creek and the North Kaibab Trail as it makes its way toward the North Rim. We hunted for the Phantom, an elusive stone figure high above the inner canyon wall. After an hour of walking "past two bridges and a rock wall", we arrived at the point where the Phantom was visible. Satisfied with our discovery, we relaxed for a leisurely lunch of trail snacks before strolling back to Phantom Ranch.

Into the Gorge
Into Bright Angel gorge
The Phantom
Viewing the Phantom
Lunch in the gorge
A rock critter
Head Back
Head back to the Ranch

After returning to the Ranch, we visited the Canteen for lemonade while we filled out and mailed post cards to friends and family. Throughout the day the Canteen serves as breakfast and dinner hall, general store, meeting place, and beer hall. In the winter and summer, it is also provides shelter from the elements. We enjoyed the Canteen atmosphere and sang a few rounds of an adlibbed song, "At the Bottom of Grand Canyon", led by Maggi strumming a guitar. It was fun for all. There was also ample time for relaxing in the pleasant, warm sunshine. Later in the day, Greg, Maggi and Sara visited the Canteen for the 6:30pm serving of their well-known stew dinner, which according to one of the employees has been made from the same recipe for 42 years.

Idyllic Phantom Ranch
Shady cottonwoods
Outside the Canteen

After two nights in the dormitories, we were up early on Wednesday morning to prepare for our hike out. Some of the group elected to pay for Phantom Ranch's duffel service and have their packs hauled out by mule. Greg and Maggi coordinated with Ralph and Millie to send up much of their load in a mule-hauled bag which they would pick up topside. That reduced their load from four to two daypacks and lightened their total weight by 28 pounds. It was a smart idea that would allow for more pleasant climbing without having to carry as much weight. We left the Ranch at 7:20am and began the 9.5 mile journey to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail. Once again our group spread out, especially when challenged with the first significant climb at the Devil's Corkscrew. The temperature was very pleasant, perhaps in the 60's, but with strong, gusty winds. All in all it was still a magnificent day.

Trail Junction
SK - BA trail junction
Suspension Bridges
Suspension Bridges
Devils Corkscrew
Devils Corkscrew
Maggi on the Corkscrew
Ralph and Millie
Ralph and Millie

We rendezvoused at Indian Garden, with the fastest hikers arriving nearly 1-1/2 hours earlier than the slowest hikers. The hiking time from Phantom Ranch to Indian Garden ranged from 2-1/2 hours to 4 hours, but everyone was nonetheless feeling well. After an additional 45 minutes spent chatting and eating lunch and trail snacks, we were on our way again. The remaining climb, from Indian Garden to the rim, would comprise the bulk of the effort with still 4.5 miles and 3000' feet of elevation gain yet to come.

Indian Garden
Approaching Indian Garden
Prickly Pears
Prickly pear garden
3 Mile Resthouse
3 Mile Resthouse

As we climbed, the temperature became cooler, but the wind also subsided making the day perfect for climbing. With bright sunshine, occasional puffy white clouds, and temperatures in the 50's, it was a splendid day to be in the Canyon. The climb out from Indian Garden is punctuated by landmarks along the way that help hikers to guage their progress. Two equally spaced resthouses along the way segment the climb into thirds. Our group again spread out, but kept in contact via our 2-way radios. Sara led the way and was the first to reach the rim, followed 15 minutes later by Greg, then Cindy and Maggi. The elder Wyants, Dave, Millie and Ralph were the last to finish. The length of time for this section of the climb ranged from 3:10 hours to 4:45 hours. The entire climb to the rim from Phantom Ranch, including all rest stops, ranged from approximately 8 to 9-1/2 hours. A fine performance for everyone, especially for the flatlanders from Indiana, but even more so for Millie and Ralph who are in their mid-70's.

Above 3 Mile
Above 3 Mile Resthouse
2 Mile Corner
2 Mile Corner
Upper Bright Angel
Upper Bright Angel trail

After exiting the Canyon, we were fortunate enough to acquire 3 rooms at Maswik Lodge. After showering and changing to clean, dry clothes, we enjoyed a "victory dinner" at the restaurant in Bright Angel Lodge before turning in for a good night's sleep. This had been a monumental day that climaxed a first trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon for Greg, Maggi and Sara, and a "prove we're not old yet" trip to the bottom for Ralph and Millie. All had fun in spite of, or perhaps partially because of, the effort involved. All agreed that the Canyon is immensely beautiful and want to come back.

Visit Millie and Ralph's website for another account of this adventure.

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