Photo of the Month: Summer Speck

Photo of the Month: Summer Speck

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Decision Time

When planning for spring break in the Grand Canyon, one thing we hoped to avoid was mountains of snow and bitter cold temperatures.  The average high this time of year in the bottom of the canyon is in the low 60s, and we figured it would be better than Tennessee has been all winter.

On the drive out, we heard more details on the possible winter storm that would be moving in at the same time we wanted to be heading down the trail to the bottom.  Snowfall forecasts were for anywhere from 1-2 feet of the white stuff on the South Rim.  Worse still, the bulk of the storm would move through Saturday afternoon into the overnight (February 26).  Our hike was scheduled to begin on Sunday the 27th and we were concerned about being able to even access the trails if the forecast materialized.  Friday evening we held a powwow and the consensus was to get up early Saturday and drive up to the Canyon to make the best of a potentially bad situation.  At least we would be on the Rim and could work out the other details as necessary. 

Waking up Saturday morning, the sky was foreboding.  Outdoor enthusiasts know that a red sky in the morning warns of impending trouble.  Despite our concerns, the beauty of the sunrise was still something to be enjoyed.

 Catherine McGrath Photograph

As we approached the South Rim, the clouds lowered and flurries started to fly.  By the time we reached the backcountry office to make a last minute change to our permit, the canyon was completely shrouded by fog and clouds.  Next stop was the Visitor Center.  We were seeking information on how well the Park Service would clean up the roads after the storm.

  Catherine McGrath Photograph

Finally, knowing that we needed a good night's rest before hiking in, we headed to Mather Campground to set up tents.  By this time, moderate snowfall was occuring and we were unsure of how things would work out the next day.  Around the campground, deer were wandering in a last effort to forage before the storm buried everything. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The tents pitched and secured for the night, we headed back out to try and figure out a route for the next day.  Finally, after driving several different roads, we found one that we thought would work.  We also stopped by the Bright Angel trailhead to make sure we knew were it was the next day if the snow was piled too deeply.

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

The snow was falling heavily and driving was becoming difficult for some. As we headed back towards the campground, we passed a park shuttle bus in the ditch.  Clearly no one would be doing much driving during the night.

After eating a hot supper, we all hit the sack early to conserve warmth and energy.  Outside the storm continued to dump snow and we had no idea what to expect when we woke up the next morning.  The heavy clouds kept the light dim but slowly we realized that morning had arrived and started to stir.  Finally everyone started getting up, the cold air motivating us all to hurry in taking down the tents and doing any last minute packing in our backpacks.  When we opened the tent, we found a winter wonderland complete with a foot or more of new snow.

About the time we were getting everything securely packed, something awesome happened.  A Park road grader came by on the main campground road clearing snow.  I hurried out to see if he was coming our way and sure enough, when I waved at him he pulled into our loop, most likely shocked at discovering people crazy enough to be camping there in that kind of weather.  With the roads reasonably clear, we made it to a cafe for breakfast and then the Visitor Center to leave the van and catch a shuttle to the trailhead.  Our decision to head up and camp Saturday night proved the correct one.  All roads leading into the Park were closed down.  Even I-40 was shut down due to the storm according to people we talked to before heading to the bottom. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

Finallly!!!! The moment that I had been waiting months for had arrived. Our shuttle bus pulled up, and we all piled on for the short ride to the Bright Angel trailhead.  When the bus stopped, we all hopped off and immediately sat down to put on our trail crampons.  In the end, the crampons were not absolutely necessarily, but the ease of trekking was improved immensely.  The other key piece of equipment was our trekking poles.  Hiking downhill for longer distances is brutal and can cause serious knee problems without proper planning.  The trekking poles remove a large quantity of stress off the knees meaning we weren't too sore when we arrived at the bottom. 

The hike down was beautiful with the fresh snowfall at higher elevations.  I will share more on that later as well as lots of pictures and stories from the bottom.  The fishing was excellent so stay tuned!!!


  1. David,

    I'm so glad you were able to make into the Canyon--talk about timing it just right around the winter storm! Your pictures make it evident that you hiked down in beautiful conditions--I look forward to reading about your experiences (and of course fishing) down at Bright Angel.


  2. Iain,

    The timing was definitely incredible. The storm had us nervous about making it down but in the end it turned out great!

    David Knapp

  3. You took some beautiful pictures and have quite a gift for writing! I almost feel that I have been there! Nice job!

    Sharon McGrath



Subscribe to the Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter!

* indicates required