I can't believe that it had been five years since we had last been to the Grand Canyon. Time indeed flies, and yet doesn't -- even though it seemed like a blink of an eye, it also felt like it was time to go back.
Coincident with this multi-year Grand Canyon itch was a discussion we had in 2008 with a high-school friend of Jenn's in Victoria, BC. As part of a slideshow we gave them, we had got on to the topic of the desert Southwest, and of the Grand Canyon. This eventually led to an offer - that we would take them on a backpacking trip in the Granyon if they wished - and then on to a pledge - that she and her husband would join us on our next Grand Canyon adventure. From this point of decision it was a bit too soon for the spring season of 2009, so the spring of 2010 it would be.
Bob and Pu, by now both veteran Lavigne trip participants, had never been on a trip in the Big Ditch. They were keen to come, and quickly said yes when we asked them. Six seemed like a good number in terms of permit and logistics manageability for this trip, so we capped our group at that level.
We started planning in earnest in the fall of 2009, with lots of back-and-forth e-mails and continuously refining plans. Since Cathy and Mike had effectively never done anything of quite this sort, we needed a much more detailed discussion in order to be sure the itinerary we chose was acceptable for them. We spent many months coming up with various alternatives, carefully documenting the specifics of them: length, trail conditions, exposure. We lent them necessary bits of gear that they didn't own. We wanted to be sure that we found a combination that would satisfy all of us: my desire for new routes, their desire for something doable for new hikers, a desire for fantastic scenery (not a hard thing to fulfill in the Grand Canyon), a desire for quiet and solitude.
Of the three itineraries I presented, we chose the middle option:a 5-day backpack down the more rugged and challenging Boucher Trail, then east across the Tonto trail, then out on the upper segment of the super-busy mega-highway of the Grand Canyon -- the Bright Angel Trail. Total distance around 65 kilometers (40 miles), with the longest day at around 18km (11 mi), and the most elevation gain or loss in a day at around 4,000 feet.
We'd booked our vacation and flights from April 2nd to 10th. Going through the Grand Canyon backcountry permit process resulted in us getting assigned the 5th,6th,7th,8th and 9th as our five backpacking days. Since Jenn, Pu, Bob and I were flying in a couple of days beforehand, we had a bit of spare time to fill up. Jenn, Pu and Bob had never been to Death Valley, and so when I floated such an idea by them, they jumped at it. Thus, we planned to squeeze in a little visit to Death Valley as a preamble. Victoria BC residents Cathy and Mike decided to fly in to Las Vegas the day before we had to arrive at Grand Canyon. We would stop by on our way back from Death Valley and pick them up.
And so, at around noon on a somewhat hazy sunny Good Friday of April 2010, after a quick couple of flights, the first four of us arrived in Las Vegas and began our adventure.
First stop was the rental vehicle counter, and then it was off to the local REI, where we purchased a couple of fuel canisters for our camp stoves. Then it was off on US 95 northwest out of Las Vegas, bound for Death Valley. We effectively only had the remainder of the day and until about 2pm the next in order to fit in our Death Valley visiting -- aproximately 22 elapsed hours. Not a lot of time to see a very big place, so I had planned a careful itinerary that maximized a taste of everything that Death Valley had to offer, and in a sequence where it could all be done in one efficient loop.
(If you'd like to skip our Death Valley pre-backpack explorations and go straight to the main course - the Grand Canyon Backpack, click here