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A Grand Canyon of an Adventure

Taking kids on a hike through the Grand Canyon will be one of our family’s most memorable vacations. While it’s not easy, hiking the Grand Canyon with kids can be done—you just need preparation and planning. And taking your kids hiking in the Grand Canyon is sure to be a memory that will last them a lifetime.

What makes a vacation so memorable that one day you will want to take your children on the same adventure? A trip that takes you back to your childhood, where a seed was planted that blossomed into an amazing trip for your own children — one that they will hopefully carry on with their children. My family embarked on such a journey this past July by hiking the Grand Canyon, with an overnight stay at the remote Phantom Ranch. My husband planned this trip before we ever married and had kids, thanks to his own memories of hiking the Grand Canyon with his family as a child. But to dream of such a trip is one thing… to actually do it as another. We took the plunge (quite literally 4,000 feet of it), and booked our trip a year in advance, which is required for a stay at Phantom Ranch.

After months of preparation with smaller hikes, as well as one desert hike when staying with Mike’s family in Tuscon, the big day arrived at 4:15 am, and we emerged bleary-eyed from our warm and toasty tents. In retrospect, being tired was a good thing because you didn’t have the energy for worrying. We ate a quick donut and cereal breakfast, grabbed all our gear and drove to the trailhead. Despite being prepared for hot weather, it was quite chilly at 7,000 feet and we had to don our hats and mittens and lightweight jackets. Finally, we hit the Bright Angel Trail at 5:45am to see the first golden rays of sun breath life into the Canyon. We went through the “keyhole”, a large porthole in the rock, and entered a world like no other. We hiked downward, one step at a time, switchbacking the trail over and over. The first stop was the 1.5 mile rest house, which is basically a small covered shed, water spigots, and a bathroom up a steep path. We filled our water bottles and camelbacks and had a few snacks. Feeling refreshed, we continued downward. After the three mile rest house the vertical drop slowly straightened out. The trail became drier and dustier as the sun came out in full force and the Canyon began to bake. We reached Indian Gardens eager to rest and have lunch in the treasured shade by a gurgling stream.  Indian Gardens is a last water supply for those heading deeper into the Canyon until you’ve crossed the Colorado River over four miles away during the hottest, most intense heat the Canyon will throw your way. Needless to say we filled every empty bottle, mixed our electrolyte tablets, topped off the camelbacks and soaked our hats, shirts and bandanas.

grand_canyonAfter noon, we began hiking the second phase of our day. The going was rocky but much easier than the steep trail we encountered in the morning. A few rocky outcrops provided some shade. Seven-year-old Claire began to flag at about 6.5 miles into the hike; Andrew forged on with the excitement and energy of a 10-year-old boy. Feeling good, I lulled myself into a false security — until we rounded a bend and saw the inner Canyon, “the Devil’s Corkscrew,” blazing hot, steep and cavernous. The trail narrowed considerably and there was nary a person in sight but for our motley crew. We sought solace in the only shady crevice we could see for miles. Andrew perched precariously on a ledge and I lay flat out on my poncho.

Miles later, the Colorado was a sight for sore eyes, luring us to her shores and toward the light at the end of the Canyon. Phantom Ranch was two miles from here. All we had to do now was hike upstream in search of the Silver Bridge, which was rough considering that we were hot, tired, sore, and down to the last camelback.  After we reached the bridge, we found a faucet and bathroom 100. You would have thought we had discovered gold!  We filled all bottles and camelbacks, drenched ourselves under the spigot and lumbered on. We passed a boathouse, and then the junction with the Kaibob trail. It was well past 4pm and we had a 5pm steak dinner reserved a year in advance awaiting us at the Ranch mess hall. We were determined not to miss this. We continued on and just as Andrew fell to pieces we saw the sign that read “Welcome to Phantom Ranch.” What a sight for sore eyes and feet! It took 11 hours but the victory was ours.

All too soon the alarm shocked us into the next morning at 4:15 am. Getting out of that bed and even moving our bodies was excruciating.  We wearily packed our gear and put on our hiking boots, rubbed on IcyHot and downed ibuprofen and kids Tylenol. Like huge inchworms we hobbled to the mess hall, eating our pancakes and bacon in a pure daze. It felt surreal to be thinking that somehow we had gotten ourselves down here and now had to hike out. Claire and I could barely move, Andrew was up and running, Mike was sore but able to motivate us girls. He promised our legs would work themselves out by the time we crossed over the bridge.  We shuffled along and soon we were over the bridge and then two miles along the trail. Hiking up was much easier than hiking down (once the kinks were all worked out!). We moved along much the same as the previous day, soaking in every creek, drinking plenty of liquids, snacking, and resting in the shade. The sun was already creeping into the Canyon early in our hike and we could feel the heat building. The top of the Canyon looms so far above that you can’t possibly believe you are going to climb out of there.

 At the 1.5 mile rest house, each step was difficult, as the altitude quickly made us out of breath. We passed many day hikers and I’m sure we looked like a ragtag bunch to them but at this point we didn’t care. You just want to make it out one way or another. At 3:30pm we straggled through the “keyhole” after 10 hours of hiking. Through the “keyhole,”round the bend, up the stairs to the trailhead sign, and at long last we made it to the top. No energy for a victory dance, a lap around the track, spiking the ball in the end zone… not for us. Instead, we plopped down like fish out of water on the nearest bench among the throng of tourists. Despite our aches and pains, our ups and downs (sorry for the pun), and our depleted energy, our spirits soared that day, and we were all feeling GRAND!

By Anne Province

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