Tag Archives | Hiking

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking – Rim to Rim to Rim

Most people don’t know this, but I have a personal history with the Grand Canyon. My parents took me and my sister for the first time when I was 10 years old. Back then I had the National Parks Passport, though before this we’d spent most of our family vacations at Disney.

By the time we left, the Canyon had implanted me with a travel bug. I can honestly say it was that trip that inspired me to start exploring.

But despite living in San Diego for almost 12 years, I hadn’t been back to hike the Canyon since. So when we first considered going for a trip in December, I wasn’t even sure Grand Canyon winter hiking was a possibility. It had been summer when I was there the first time– but I was desperate to see it blanketed in snow.

At over 7,000 feet of altitude, I knew things got cold at the South Rim, and I remember hearing that the park closes the North Rim to visitors each winter. I immediately assumed that meant the iconic Rim-to-Rim hike would be completely out of the question. What. A. Bummer. That hike has been at the top of our backpacking list for ages!

Luckily, after a bit of research, I came across an obvious solution to our problem. With no services open on the North Rim, we’d just have to turn around and hike back out to the South Rim! Instead of Rim-to-Rim, we’d hike Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (before you get excited, they don’t make stickers for this one).

Now, Annelise, a warm-blooded California native, was not nearly as enthusiastic about my Grand Canyon Winter backpacking proposal. So I promised that Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim would not only be spectacular, but that it wouldn’t be THAT cold. And after she gave a reluctant go-ahead, we faxed in a last-minute backcountry permit request to the Grand Canyon backcountry office.

It’s worth noting here that while I love being spontaneous, I might have gotten lucky on this one. It’s usually recommended that you plan your trip and fax your requests in about four months in advance.

Fortunately we were able to get email confirmation within two days. They had approved our second route option and our earlier set of dates, which meant we only had a little time to gear up!

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking Gear

I can’t stress enough the importance of reliable gear on a thru-hike, especially a cold one, and we’ve talked in depth about gear in past posts, from our experiences hiking Torres Del Paine and backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail. But with the notable elevation changes hiking in and out of the canyon, I strongly recommend using trekking poles.

Even if you’re able-bodied, poles distribute the brunt of the impact on your joints on both the ascent and descent. And with days in which you lose (or gain and lose) 4,000 plus feet of elevation, it’s worth sparing your knees a bit.

Having called the ranger station to double-check conditions, I knew they’d hardly seen any snow yet this season. Still, we took the precaution of ordering YakTrax microspikesjust in case. They’re reasonably priced and lightweight enough to carry in case things got a little icy.

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking Conditions

Along with the basic gear, like our sleeping bags (Annelise has a great one from Mountain Hardware), hats, jackets, pants, and gloves, we also purchased new wool base layerswhich are designed to keep you warm and dry in both cold and hot conditions, so we figured we’d get good use out of them no matter what.

Grand Canyon Winter Backpacking Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Route

Gear sorted, we drove straight from San Diego to the park and stayed at a hotel just a mile from the Grand Canyon entrance. It’s about an eight hour drive, and we broke it up with a solid lunch at the Iron Horse Grill and Restaurant in Salome (64638 US-60, Salome, AZ 85348).

Needless to say, we were still relieved when we arrived at the hotel. Our room had patio access to an indoor courtyard with a jacuzzi and lounge with enough foliage that it almost felt like we were outside.

Good thing we weren’t, because when we left at 7:30 the next morning it had snowed a few inches overnight! I was stoked because I had secretly been hoping we’d get to see the Canyon in snow. However, I had to de-ice the car windshield with a surf wax comb. Pro-tip: Always carry an ice scraper!

DAY ONE

After entering the National Park with time to spare, we parked outside the Bright Angel Lodge, walked around the snowy canyon, and went inside for a coffee. Then we packed our bags and headed to the bus stop for the Hiker’s Express, which runs from Bright Angel Lodge at 8 and 9 AM.

Grand Canyon Winter Backpacking

The last stop is the South Kaibab Trailhead, which would be our starting point for Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim– though you can also hike down Bright Angel Trail. Since we decided we wanted to hike up the Bright Angel Trail on the way out (because it’s a bit longer but less steep), we decided to hike down the South Kaibab Trail to switch it up.

Also the South Kaibab Trail is more exposed to direct sun than the Bright Angel Trail, so if snow is an issue, it is generally thought that it will melt on the South Kaibab Trail first. That said, the climb down was an unrelenting 7.5 miles with a loss of 4,720 feet in elevation. Did I mention that trekking poles are so helpful with a full pack?

Still, the first day was filled with wind gusts, spectacular vistas, mule trains, and a history lesson in geology as the rock formations and colors changed at every new angle. After a four-hour downhill hike, we arrived at Bright Angel Campground. For a downhill day, it was admittedly more taxing than we anticipated.

DAY TWO

On day two, we left for Cottonwood Campground at about 9:30 AM. Over a drastically different seven miles, we only gained about 1,600 feet of elevation. While I’d imagine the shade of the canyon walls along Bright Angel Creek would be very welcome during warmer months, we spent most of the morning trying to warm up.

On the upside, and probably one of my favorite things about hiking Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim during the winter, the crowds got smaller and smaller the closer we got to the North Rim. There’s something special about finding yourself in a place like the Grand Canyon and not seeing another soul.

At Cottonwood, we found a nice flat site (number three, if memory serves) close to the creek and still in the sun. We soaked up all we could before it tucked behind the Canyon around 4:30 PM.

DAY THREE

Day three, or Big D3 as Annelise affectionately called it, was the one we had been preparing for mentally because it would cover 14 plus miles gaining and then losing 4400 feet. But because we’d return to camp at Cottonwood, we left our tent setup and hiked out early with lighter packs. We left right at sunrise, around 7:30, to ensure we’d make it back to camp before the early winter sunset.

The hike from Cottonwood to the North Rim was as awe-inspiring as it was difficult. We filled our water at Manzanita Rest Area, about two miles from Cottonwood, because the water spigots at other areas of the North Rim are closed in the winter months.

From there, we cruised straight past Roaring Springs, passing only one guided group on the way. The climb to the Supai Tunnel and the Coconino Overlook was narrow and icy in some parts, but there was very little wind. It’s worth noting that you can’t be too careful here, as this was easily the scariest portion of the trail, situated along fairly sheer cliffs (another reason for poles).

Toward the top, the snow returned, but not enough to warrant our microspikes. Although the view from the top was not quite as striking as the view from the South Rim, we were still elated to have made it. Yet harsher wind and its accompanying chill drove us back down the hill to find some sun.

We hiked back down the .6 miles to the Coconino Overlook, where the view was both spectacular and drenched in sun. Grateful for the reprieve, we stayed here for an hour to have lunch in the sun all by ourselves. And after the refuel, we hiked the seven miles back to Cottonwood, arriving by 3:45 and with enough time to enjoy more sun.

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking North Rim

DAY FOUR

On Sunday, Christmas Eve, we left the Cottonwood Campground around 9:30 to get back to Bright Angel Campground. We had initially planned to fill our easy seven-mile, moderate downhill day with a detour to Ribbon Falls, but some signs made us concerned the bridge was closed.

Going backwards from Day Two, the easy downhill slope was covered mostly in shade. We pushed on until we found a nice sunny spot by the creek for lunch. From there it was just a few miles back to Bright Angel Campground, where we arrived by 2:00 PM, greeted by mule deer.

We set up camp in site number 10, next to the creek, and went back to the canteen to play cards outside. After I beat Annelise at Rummy 500, we celebrated with a couple of Bright Angel IPAs inside the canteen before it closed for dinner prep at 4:00 PM. And, because it was Christmas Eve, we were treated by my family to a family-style steak dinner at Phantom Ranch right at 5:00 PM.

Phantom Ranch Grand Canyon Winter Hiking

They also serve stew to a later crew at 6:30 PM and re-open between eight and ten for the night owls. We spent most evenings confined to our tent to stay warm, but when the sun set we were thrilled to see several people had put up lights to get in the Christmas spirit.

DAY FIVE

With more people nearby, we woke early Monday morning and packed up camp by 8:30 AM. We filled our waters once more, knowing there wouldn’t be more until 4.5 miles up at Indian Garden Campground, and hiked up past the River Rest House.

We crossed back over the Colorado River and dawdled a bit soaking up the incredible views.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Winter HIking

The Devil’s Corkscrew (an intense series of switchbacks) starts shortly after, and slowly but surely we started crossing paths with more people. We continued on past Plateau Point and went straight to Indian Garden Campground, the only other place water was on on the south rim, to have lunch.

Rim to Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Winter Hiking

Eager to complete our journey, we trekked another 4.5 miles from there to the top of the canyon, where we arrived by 2:00 PM. We had made a reservation at the Bright Angel Lodge–and were so glad we did. We checked in early, had showers and caught the last half of the holiday football game before having dinner.

And even though we couldn’t find R2R2R stickers, we’d recommend it anyway.

For the sake of clarity, our backcountry permit request looked like this:

Day 1 – Bright Angel Campground

Day 2 – Cottonwood Campground

Day 3 – Cottonwood Campground

Day 4 – Bright Angel Campground

Day 5 – Out

Please also note that hiking in the Grand Canyon can be extremely dangerous in both winter and summer. Always make sure you consult the park and bring adequate supplies. Every step you take into the canyon is a step you have to take out, and neither shade nor running water is always guaranteed.

If you have any questions about our route, what we packed, what we ate, or what we saw, feel free to write us here.

Continue Reading 0
Rota Vicentina, Portugal

Hike Portugal on The Rota Vicentina

It goes without saying that the European continent has a lot to offer a traveler. Portugal, in particular, though one of the smaller countries, has a vast array of tourist attractions. Sometimes lovingly labeled as the California of Europe, the west coast similarities can be striking. Lisbon, for example, is built on hills and touts a big red bridge, much like the famous Golden Gate of San Francisco. Meanwhile the surrounding beaches, and the people who flock to them, are as colorful as they are beautiful.

Portuguese Coast along the Rota Vicentina

Portuguese Coast while hiking along the Rota Vicentina

Hike Portugal

Since one could argue that all cities are alike in some ways, touring rural locales, like by hiking the Rota Vicentina, is an ideal way to explore the country’s true beauty. A relatively new trail, the Rota Vicentina snakes its way along the southwestern coast of Portugal, where you’ll find preserved wildlife and a number of endemic species. It begins about two hours south of Lisbon, near Sines, and, depending on your level of persistence, continues almost all the way to the end of the world, or Cape Sagres as it’s also known.

Included within the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park, it is 350 kilometers, or approximately 217 miles, in total and there are two routes by which you can trek the two-year-old trail. One path, The Fishermen’s Trail, winds its way along the coast, while The Historical Way carves its own path inland. Should indecision strike, you can take comfort in knowing that the paths cross and merge on occasion. This way you can pick and choose as you go, much like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but with more sand.

A farm on the Rota Vicentina in Portugal

A farm on the Rota Vicentina hike in Portugal

In addition to the natural wonders that sprout along the way, the beauty of this hike lies in its structure. Unlike other week-long treks, the Rota Vicentina trails are split between small villages sprinkled throughout the region. At most, you hike around 25 kilometers (15 miles) per day but even that isn’t entirely necessary. If you can stomach the weight of camping gear, there are also designated camping parks where you can rest your soles – and souls –  along the way.

The towns, which give you a quaint look into the mosaic of Portuguese life, also make the trek more appealing by breaking it up. Because you can find accommodation and nourishment at the mapped locations, you’re not forced to carry as much food, water, or gear as you would on other hikes of this length. The website has helpful recommendations for planners, though it can be pricey, and the trail itself is littered with friendly folks who are otherwise happy to lend a hand.

A town along the Rota Vicentina

Whichever way you decide to go, you will be widely rewarded with breathtaking views, ever-changing landscapes, and long-lasting memories. Ultimately, if you enjoy long, romantic walks on the beach, this trail was made for you. Only a handful of things could make the trip more enjoyable, if not easier.

Hints for Hiking portugal on the Rota Vicentina

A Backpack
In theory, you could go without one, but carts and covered wagons are a lot harder to get across the sand. The upside is that your backpack doesn’t have to be anything heavy duty, just something to get you through the day. Somewhere you can stash your sweatshirt after the morning chill burns off or store small essentials like chapstick and sunscreen.

Water
Ideally you wouldn’t tackle any trek without one. Most trekkers recommend going in spring, but your rebellious spirit leads you here in the heat of summer, you’ll need to hydrate. To be safe, you want two to three liters per person on average, and it’s best to plan ahead since there aren’t any refill stations between the villages. Besides, ocean water can be salty.

Gummies
Seriously. Gummies are great for hiking because they provide quick energy your body can burn, meaning the excess sugar won’t lead to a weight gain at the end of the day. After lunch, when your legs are heavy and you’re feeling sluggish, a few sweets will give your body the push it needs to get going again and power through. Chocolate is also a great option here, as long as you note that it gets messy when it melts.

Hike Portugal A Camera
Even if it’s only your phone, because it’s too beautiful not to show off. If or when you finally return home, pictures will help elevate your reputation as an awesome traveler. The combination of cliffs and sand, farms and lighthouses, land and sea will leave even you wondering if you’ve ever seen anything like it. Bring a camera if only to go back and check.

A Headlamp
A headlamp isn’t as necessary as it is complementary. On some of the longer days, it’s best to get started early. As in before dawn early. A headlamp frees your hands for climbing and catching yourself while still being able to spot the toads that serve as the soundtrack for your stroll. While I know that dark and early doesn’t appeal to everyone, a majestic beach sunrise in front of an island fortress definitely does.

Dawn on the Rota Vicentina

Sunrise on the fortress hiking along the Rota Vicentina

A Towel
You might think towels are bulky, but travel towels come quite compact and the beaches are as frequent as they are irresistible. Since some of them are nude, your towel can take up whatever space you saved for your swimsuit. Don’t worry about keeping your secret safe, the locals will get rowdy if anyone stops for a photo opp. So, go ahead, do as the Romans did.

A Knife
For lunch, après-lunch, and maybe even supper. Some of the best local hiking eats include meats and cheeses. Cured meat enthusiasts in particular will find themselves in chorizo heaven on this hike. With a new selection to choose from every day in town, you’ll always have something to open and your picnic will look indescribably more appealing if you bring a small knife to slice and dice.

BodyGlide
“What’s that,” you ask? Oh, just your saving grace. Bodyglide is essentially a personal lubricant, but not the kind that may come to mind. It comes in the shape of a deodorant stick, and, when applied to the body, can reduce friction and chaffing in areas that tend to rub. Even if you sport a thigh gap, I highly recommend it for your feet, chest, or any place your pack may wear. It beats a blister any day.

Ahoy Hostel Porto Covo

Outside Ahoy Hostel in Porto Covo

A Book
Mostly for entertainment. While most hostels have wifi, some of the places you’ll stay will not be all that modern, especially if you camp. A book is always good company on the beach, and if you bring a writing utensil it doubles as a place to take notes. You can jot down the places you loved and the people you met, or write yourself a reminder to review Ahoy Hostel and thank Nick for all his help.

Vinho Verde
Okay, so maybe don’t bring the Vinho Verde in your backpack, but definitely get it at one of your stops. Although the literal translations would call it a green wine, it’s not a thing of Dr. Seuss stories. Instead it’s white, slightly effervescent, inexpensive, and it pairs well with your well-deserved dessert. Sort of like a sparkly Moscato that’s as sweet and refreshing as your adventure.

Continue Reading 0