Grand CanyonA hot topic among friends, family and co-workers is talk about a bucket list, specifically what’s on your bucket list?  Well, for those among us who love the outdoors, I have developed my own bucket list — the backpacking bucket list.  Fortunately, for me, I had the chance to cross one of those off my list last month, when my husband I took the Durango and Silverton train into the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado and backpack into Chicago Basin.  Today I embark on second bucket list backpack.  I’ll warn you in advance for those who are reading this in hopes of learning more about life in the mountains of Colorado – this is way, way off topic.

Today, I’m flying to Arizona to meet a girlfriend for a backpack trip into the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  My interest in doing this trip was sparked twelve years ago when I visited Grand Canyon National Park for the first time as a National Park Service employee.  One of the Park Service’s national training centers is at Grand Canyon National Park and I was fortunate enough to attend a 2-week training there back in 2003.  Grand Canyon is considered one of the “Crown Jewels” of the National Park Service and for good reason.  Standing on the rim, looking out amongst all those reds, oranges of the sandstone layers is breathtaking.  Some of the oldest rocks on in North America are found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon — over 2 billions years old.  It’s an amazing place.

I attended my 2-week training the first two weeks of December, and my friend and I used to get up early each morning to watch the sun rise of the canyon.  To watch the sun illuminate layer upon layer of rock as the sun rose was magical.  During the weekend we laid over, we hiked down to Plateau Point, an overlook of the Colorado River entailing a climb of 3000 feet to get back to the rim.  At 12 miles round trip, this was about as an ambitious a hike as we wanted to do for one single day.  But a part of me wanted more — I wanted to get to the bottom of the canyon, to stick my toe into the mighty Colorado River.  Seed planted….

Fast forward 12 years later, and during last winter, my friend, Megan and I started to discussing the possiblity of a backpack trip into the Canyon.  We at first looked at March and April, but the logistics of both our jobs got in the way.  And there was no way I was going to do this trip May – September, as the heat in the bottom easily reaches over 100 degrees on any given day.  Living in Nederland, anything over 80 degrees feels hot to me.  So we settled on November.

Getting a permit to do anything in the Grand Canyon is no easy feat.  River rafters who want to raft the Colorado River wait up to 10 years or more on a wait list to get a permit.  Backpacking is a bit easier, but still challenging.  The policy by which the Park Service issues them has got to be the most confusing, convoluted method possible.  They start issuing permits for a certain month, precisely four months ahead of time.  You can’t book it online, you must fax in your permit.  However, even if you fax your permit on Day 1, they put all the people who fax into a “pot” by random order, and then start issuing permits after all permit applications have been faxed for the entire day.

We got an email two weeks later — DENIED.  We kept trying and trying, requesting different campsites, different trails, anything we could think of, we’d call and they’d say there is a spot, we’d fax, and the email would come, “We’re very sorry….”.  Friends suggested we try to for a walk-up permit.  The instructions for that were even more confusing.  You go to the office, you get a number, they call your number, nothing is available, you get issued another number for the next day.  If you’re lucky, by Day 3, you might get a permit.  Given that I was flying to Arizona, and only had a limited number of vacation days, this didn’t seem very doable either.

Finally, several weeks ago, my friend called the Backcountry Office, and they again said a spot had opened up at one of the Backcountry camp sites, but others were applying too.  We faxed again, not expecting much, but amazingly, I got an email four days later with the magical words, “Congratulations! you’ve received a permit for Bright Angel campground.” So tomorrow, we embark on our bucket backpack list down the South Kaibab Trail to the Grand Canyon.

I’ll try to post Tuesday night with the memorable details of how our trip went.