Grand Canyon Adventure – Idea & Prep

I’m sure you’ll agree that many great ideas arise between friends while sharing Margaritas and a Combo Platter in a Mexican Restaurant. This is certainly true of the idea for our Grand Canyon Adventure. I’d like to say it was my idea, but it would never have occurred to me to suggest it. Fortunately, my friend Anne is very adventurous and sees no reason why the rest of the world can’t be that way too.

The idea wasn’t too far-fetched. Anne is an experienced hiker and even I have accomplished more than one long hike. My first thought was going to the South Rim, do a day hike, go back to the lodge and have dinner with a bottle of wine to celebrate.

Anne, had a better idea—hike to the bottom, stay at Phantom Ranch for 2 nights, and hike back to the top. Phantom Ranch?

Agreeing to do some research, I took some notes on a cocktail napkin—determine the best time of the year to go, best accommodations on the rim and at Phantom Ranch, and the best way to travel to the location.

What did we do before the internet? NPS.gov, the National Park Service website, led me to the specific pages for the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch. There are only a few ideal months for hiking at the Grand Canyon. It’s open year-round with some restrictions, but if you don’t want to be too cold or too hot, your just right time is April, May, September, or October.

Phantom Ranch offers cabins for four or dorms for 10 by gender. A cabin would be preferable for our small group of 3-4 ladies. Two nights (maximum allowed) would be preferable so we could rest and see some of the sites from the “bottom-up” perspective.

Given the state of air travel and our lack of a private jet, we decided that driving the 1300 miles from our state to the South Rim seemed easier, cheaper, and more fun.

The most difficult task, other than training for the hike itself, was making the reservations for Phantom Ranch—one of the most popular places in the USA. Although the system has since been replaced with a lottery, our reservations had to be made on the first day of a month for that month in the following year. That amounts to 13 months in advance. And the best shot was the first 90 minutes of that first day.

There are 75 phone lines (opening at 8 a.m. Central), 2 cabins each for males & females (16 beds total), plus 2 dorms each for males & females (40 beds total), and thousands of hopeful hikers trying for a month’s-worth of nights all calling on that first day of the month.

I called the reservations line to get some general information and recommendations but I also wanted to check out the call-cueing system. I thought I had done my homework when I made my first try in April 2017 for a reservation in late April 2018. I was disappointed by a busy signal or recording for 1 hour 40 min. By the time I got through everything for April 2018 was booked. The cabins for the entire month went in 15 minutes, dorms within 90 minutes.

I looked into other options—stay in area, do day-hikes, enjoy the scenery—in case Phantom Ranch did not work out. But we were determined to try for May, early June, then September and October.

Sometime before the May 1st attempt, I did more experimentation with phone lines & hold messages. There would be no way to rehearse the onslaught of first-day calls, but I needed an edge.

Then, on May 1, 2017, I called the number about 6:15 a.m., and was thrilled to hear the ring, followed by the hold message. Seemingly hours later—after listening to the message for at least a gazillion times and trying very hard not to cut myself off—I counted down to 8 a.m. and selected Phantom Ranch (option 1).

Within 5 minutes I was connected to an agent. I was able to book a cabin for two nights for 4 women, order all our meals, and pay for everything in advance. We also booked rooms in the Bright Angel Lodge (on South Rim) for the nights before and after our hike, paying for those in advance as well.

More on getting there, getting to the bottom, and getting back to the top when the Grand Canyon Adventure is completed.

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