All week, I’ve had the Backcountry Information Office at the Grand Canyon on speed dial. I swear, they’re leaving the phone off the hook — it’s busy every time I call! I want to ask about trail conditions: how much ice and snow to expect in the canyon.
I’ll keep trying, but no matter what they tell me, there’s really only one way to prepare for a winter backpacking trip: prepare for the worst, hope for the best, always keep an eye on the weather and deal with challenges as they come.
I’ve been keeping an eye on weather at the Grand Canyon all winter. They’ve had some snow, but it sounds like a relatively mild winter so far. Still, the upper two miles of the Bright Angel trail are likely to be icy, since it’s north-facing and doesn’t get much sunlight. From the Backcountry Updates page of the nps.org website:
2/15/12: Bright Angel Trail: The upper two miles of the trail is icy. The trail will probably become more icy over the next few days as new snow is packed and then freezes every night. As usual crampons/traction devices are recommended for the first two miles.
I’m definitely planning on bringing my Microspikes ice cleats for traction on ice and snow. As for the rest of my outfit, I’ll be sporting long underwear, top and bottom, winter hiking pants, wool socks, Asolo mountain boots and gaiters, a mid weight fleece layer, an 800-fill down jacket, a down vest, hat and gloves. Winter hiking calls for lots of non-cotton layers that you can mix and match.
I think I’ll probably end up hiking in the fleece and and maybe the down vest during the day and donning everything after dark and in the mornings. My down sleeping bag is rated down to 10°F and I’m planning on bringing two layers of sleeping pads: a closed-cell Z-lite foam pad and an inflatable pad. A lot of heat can be lost into the ground and my back and shoulder will be happier with a little extra cushion.
On average, the interior of the canyon is 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the rim, due to the lower elevation and protection from the cold winds that sweep across the Kaibab and Coconino Plateaus. In February, the average day time temp is 62°F with an average low of 42 overnight. Lately, days have been soaring to 65 degrees with a low in the mid-40’s. Sounds like pretty ideal hiking weather to me! I’ve definitely camped colder!
For packing tips, check out my previous post on Packing For Backpacking. The one major change from that post (written for a weekend trip in Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness in July) is that I’ll definitely be bringing a stove. Fires are not allowed in the Grand Canyon, due to the shortage of wood, so we’ll be doing all our cooking on my JetBoil stove. I also plan on heating water for hot water bottles at night. Nothing like crawling into a preheated sleeping bag!
Stay tuned for a Dirtbag Gourmet post on trail cooking!