April in the Canyon. Prickly pear, hedgehog cactus and wildflowers are in bloom, and the winter storms have filled up the springs and seeps. Long days, mild temps, and everything is brand new again. But with the season also comes the wind. Weather conditions can be extremely variable as well, so it’s even more important to be thorough in your hiking plans. Here are a few things to keep in mind when packing and planning.
Wind is a fact of life during the spring. Sand and grit is everywhere. But so are flowers, lovely weather and longer, gorgeous days, so it’s worth dealing with the wind!
If you wear contacts, it is wise to carry a pair of eyeglasses in case the grit becomes unbearable and you need to give your eyes a break. Also, wear good sunglasses; they protect your eyes against ultraviolet (UV) rays, grit and other trail hazards as well as help prevent or slow the formation of cataracts later in life.
Don’t forget the sunscreen. I’ve had two different friends in the last month diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (cancer – see page on WebMD) on the face. One of them had much of her nose removed and is in the process of facial reconstruction. Truly, don’t forget the sunscreen. If you don’t like cream, use the spray.
Wear a hat with a chin strap or use a hat leash. There are some excellent hats that are lightweight and have an adjustable chin strap. My favorite is made by Sunday Afternoon, but Columbia Sportswear and many other outdoor manufacturers make some good hats. A hat leash is something that attaches to the back of your hat or cap and has a little clamp that attaches to the collar of your shirt. However you do it, it is very wise to have one of these methods for keeping your hat on your head. I can’t tell you how many hats are below all of the view points and high cliffs!
Use walking sticks—two for the most stability. Walking with a pack on Grand Canyon’s rocky trails can already make a person feel wobbly. Combine that with a strong gust of wind and you could be feeling a bit exposed along, say, Windy Ridge! Those cliffs can seem a lot higher when you are teetering with a heavy backpack on the trail. Walking sticks will give you the extra confidence and stability to keep you on the trail and lessen the wear on your joints.
For stove cooking, be sure to have some sort of a wind screen to protect the flame. Even a simple piece of foil will do wonders at keeping the majority of the wind out of your fire. This will help prevent heat loss and also cut down on the amount of fuel needed for cooking.
A lid or another piece of foil for the top of your cooking pot will help keep the dirt out of your meal. Dirt is not considered nutritious fiber no matter what the camp cook tells you!
Stake or tie down your gear and especially the tents. I always have to chuckle watching the tents rolling around the campgrounds in the wind because they aren’t secured. Dome tents are especially prone to being turned into bowling balls and rolling away from camp. When I recommend staking or tying down a tent, I don’t mean halfheartedly either. Use rocks the size of which you will have to truly grunt to pick up. Seriously! Many stakes are pretty worthless in the Canyon. Don’t even bother with the freebies that come with tents. Leave them at home since they will be wasted weight. Get yourself some serious tents stakes like MSR GroundHog Tent Stakes, Kelty NoBendiums or Kelty J-stakes, and even then you’ll need to bring line to be able to tie to rocks for those places you simply cannot stake.
Weather can change on a dime during the spring. It can be in the 70s and 80s one day and snowing the next. For one such trip, read the Clear Creek Saga where our group started out in sunshine and near 80 degree weather and ended up in snow on the Tonto!
Some form of shelter is a very good idea during the spring. If you are only going to use a tarp, know how to use it. Tarps are completely useless in the wind if you cannot tie it down properly and tautly to keep the weather out. Imagine winds in excess of 50 MPH and being sandblasted all night long with the tarp flapping loudly and driving you mad. Saving all that weight won’t do you a bit of good if you can’t get a decent night’s sleep. Better to use a lightweight bivy or solo tent and be sheltered from the elements.
To end this post, my last recommendation is that you carry some form of water treatment with you. It is always a good idea to have a backup form of treatment even if you are counting on using treated water in the canyon. Until at least the end of July, the Trans-Canyon Pipeline is being replaced at Phantom Ranch. Potable water will be affected until the project is done. It is imperative to have some form of water treatment with you. To keep informed of the status of the pipeline project and the availability of treated water, visit Grand Canyon’s Critical Backcountry Updates: Including Trail Closures and Restrictions page.
Spring is a great time of year for hiking the Grand Canyon. Being prepared will make sure that you have that perfect trip.