We’ve been teaching landscape photography workshops in beautiful places for several years now. That’s one thing we don’t plan to stop doing any time soon. One request we’ve been getting more-and-more lately is to include more hiking in some of our trips. So, in November, we decided to venture out and try something a little different—guided backpacking adventures! For our first trip, we took an amazing group on a 20+ mile journey to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
Getting to this point was a lot of work and upfront costs. Turns out taking a group on a 4-day/3-night backpacking and camping trip was an entirely new level of logistics versus our standard photography workshop.
All of the logistics and pains of planning ended up being beyond worth the effort. We had a few in our group who had been to the Grand Canyon before, but most had not. None of them had been to the bottom. Seeing and hearing the excitement of everyone as we neared the South Kaibab Trailhead to begin our journey was a great indicator that this group was going to cherish every movement of the experience.
Our adventure began with a nearly 5,000 foot knee-jarring descent of the South Kaibab Trail. This trail has breathtaking views around every corner. Around Mile 3, just below Skeleton Point, we were treated to our first view of the Colorado River, still over 2,700 vertical feet below! From here, the group was teased with views of the river, Phantom Ranch, Bright Angel Campground, and even Indian Garden (where we’d spend our last night) for the rest of the descent. After 5+ hours of hiking we finally the the Colorado River and quickly reached our home for the next two nights—Bright Angel Campground.
There really is no better was to experience one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World than to hike down and spend a few nights at the bottom. While you’re down there, make sure to spoil yourself with dinner and beer (or wine) at Phantom Ranch! Our group enjoyed some time to explore around the bottom: reading books, writing in journals, photographing the area, doing short hikes, dipping their toes in the river, indulging in boxed wine and beer, and playing Cards Against Humanity!
The hike out of the Canyon was split into two days. First, we hiked about five miles to the Indian Garden Campground, where we’d set up camp for the night. This seemed like a great hiking day for everyone after the grueling descent and a rest day. Bodies were sore and this was a good way to ease back into movement again. After meandering along the river and enjoying the great views, we eventually veered away and started heading upward. For the most part, this day was pretty mellow. Quite a bit of the steep elevation gain occurs in a one-mile stretch of switchbacks, which the group powered through amazingly!
We reached Indian Garden in great time, which alleviated all worries about having to rush to set up camp and cook lunch before our sunset hike. Why would we take the group out on a sunset hike after already hiking halfway out of the Canyon? Well, because the views at Plateau Point are simply worth it, regardless of how tired you may be. There was some concern that a few might be too tired to do this hike, but apparently we hyped up the views enough that no one wanted to miss out! The three mile hike is pretty much flat and made significantly easier without the weights of our packs. Plateau Point is one of many highlights of our time in the Canyon. It’s likely the best inner-Canyon view you’ll find on any of the Corridor Trails and essentially commands an “oooh” and “ahhhh” from everyone who sees it.
Our last night was reason to celebrate. The next day we’d crawl out of the Canyon and return to some sense of normalcy in our lives: hotels, flights, showers, work, morning commutes, and families. So, we enjoyed desserts from Backpacker’s Pantry and wine smuggled out of Phantom Ranch by someone(s) in our group who will remain unnamed.
Our last morning began with breakfast and coffee/tea because all good days start with coffee. The ascent from Indian Garden starts off steep and only gets steeper. You could tell that the cumulative fatigue was starting to set in, but everyone stayed in great spirits. How can you not in a place like this? One foot in front of the other. Stop to rest. Enjoy the views. Repeat until you reach the top. If the amazing views aren’t enough to motivate just remember there’s beer and wine at the top! That’s always worked for us!
After 4.5 miles of steep, uphill hiking all of our group was back atop the South Rim ready to celebrate all they accomplished.
For us, each trip in the Canyon is special. This one was a different kind of special, though. It was probably the same feeling a parent gets watching their kids experience something new and exciting in life, or do something they weren’t sure they could do, or even that look of joy on their face when they open a present that was just what they wanted. We always joke that during our photography workshops (and now backpacking trips) most of our students are at least 1.5-2 times our age. Yet, we still feel like parents watching over everyone; worrying about them hurting themselves or something. It also never fails that at some point with each student we quit worrying so much and have a “proud parent” moment, where we watch them learn or achieve something they didn’t think possible. It always brings smiles to our faces
We couldn’t have asked for a better group for our first backpacking trip experience! We feel fortunate to be able to do the work that we do. Not only do we get to show people beautiful places like the Grand Canyon (often for their first time), but we also get truly great people to join us on these adventures. Our first Grand Canyon group definitely spoiled us by being so amazing!
We have several Grand Canyon dates for 2020 currently available and more destinations to come!
Hope to see you on the trails!
Love & Light!