It has occurred to me from time to time that I can’t do this whole thing flying by the seat of my pants. While many who have come before me have encouraged me not to over-plan, even they will admit that sometimes reservations must be made. While different sources will tell you different things, most will agree that making concrete lodging plans about two weeks in advance is usually enough. My guess is that will be the case for most places I want to stay on my trip. Except of course, for the biggest one.
Not long after my blog was public, my sister emailed me asking when I was going to the Grand Canyon, and how important the “solo” part of my solo road trip was. We quickly hatched a plan for her to take a few days off work to meet me as I pass through Vegas, drive to the Grand Canyon, and hike the length of it as a team. I knew hiking all the way to the bottom and back was no small feat, but I also knew that hundreds of amateur hikers do it every year. I figured as long as we were prepared, we’d be fine.
I asked my sister to look into lodging at the base of the canyon (you can’t go down and up in a single day, so you must either camp or get a room in the Phantom Ranch hostel at the bottom). Meanwhile, I was listening to ranger podcasts and reading up on the “must pack” lists to ensure we wouldn’t get heat stroke or lose all our salt by sweating. The more I navigated the national park’s website, the clearer it became: if you want to hike the full canyon this summer, you should have been planning last spring. Phantom Ranch makes a point of opening reservations no more than 13 months in advance, and tells people to expect the phones to be busy the first few days of every month due to the mass of reservation calls they get when next year’s beds are opening up. So of course, Phantom Ranch was full.
Though the thought of lugging a tent and sleeping bag up a vertical mile sounded abismal, I was willing to try for a camping permit. My sister sent in the request form, and I resigned myself to the thought that it would never happen. I started thinking of alternative plans. A week went by.
Then one day I’m at work and see that I’ve got a voicemail from my sister. I play it and the first thing I hear is her singing, to her own invented tune “We’re hiking the Grand Canyon!” Apparently even the man who booked it was shocked that they still had a spot open. Our camping permit allows us to pitch a tent at the base of the canyon, and now we’ll try to get a reservation for duffle service. Explained to us as “half a mule,” duffle service is a way to get a small amount of luggage down and back up the canyon without strapping it to your own back. If we can swing that as well as a few meal reservations at Phantom Ranch, this whole thing just might work out perfectly.
This may seem strange, but somehow I after hearing such fantastic news, I ended up with the song “Sixteen Bars” stuck in my head. In subject matter it’s from out of left field, but by the end of the song I feel like the sentiment of trying so hard to get something impossible is spot on to how I feel right now. We’re doing this.
I’m glad you were able to get a reservation, it just makes life simpler; however I want to point out that is is actually sometimes possible to stay at Phantom Ranch without much notice.
A lot of people end of canceling their Phantom Ranch reservations the day of or the day before; so if you station your self at the Rangers station at the crack of dawn you can snatch up those reservations at the last minute. This means a later departure than most would intend for hiking down the Canyon, but will still get you to Phantom Ranch in time for dinner (Paul has stayed at Phantom Ranch twice this way, I have stayed their in this fashion once). This method works particularity well if you camp up top and have a couple days available to you for cancellations a couple of days out.
You can only get Phantom Ranch patches while at Phantom Ranch; Paul and I got Grand Canyon T-shirts up top and then sewed our Phantom Ranch Patches to the back of them as a badge of honor!
This makes a lot of sense, because I had read a blog post from a friend of mine that made it sound like she just walked up and asked for a bed. I didn’t know how she did it with the reservations so far in advance. This is good to know though, for the future. Maybe I’ll love it so much I just have to go back! I don’t suppose you have any tips for Grand Canyon first timers?