This chapter includes info on hikes in/out, heat, time of day, rim logistics, campsites above Phantom, Pipe Creek drop off and Phantom Exchange Schedule.
Self guided river trips in Grand Canyon are typically from 17 days to 30 days long if going all the way from Lee's Ferry to Pearce Ferry or South Cove. The entire trip length can be shortened to from 25 to 16 days or less by launching at Lee's Ferry and taking out at Diamond Creek, 226 miles downstream of Lee's Ferry. Individuals can also shorten their trip by hiking into or away from a river trip. This is called an "Exchange".
Exchanges have many risks besides the logistics. Saying goodbye to newfound friends and hello to strangers can make or break some folks trips. As a permit holder, consider how the folks hiking out and folks hiking in will impact your trip. You won't know if the exchange was worth the work until you are downstream a few days below your exchange point.
The most popular location to conduct an exchange in Grand Canyon is at the Phantom Ranch area, almost 90 miles downstream of Lee's Ferry. Two main trails off the South Rim reach the river about a mile and a half from each other, and are connected by a river trail. The sign in this photo is at the river on the Bright Angel Trail at Pipe Creek.
Folks who are considering hiking into or away from a river trip at Phantom Ranch need to be in "good" physical condition, able to walk 7 miles while losing or gaining 5,000feet in elevation...in the summer heat or winter snow and ice...while carrying either a little or a lot of gear. These river runners are packing the "essentials", having mailed heavy gear to the Trip Leader ahead of time to float to Phantom for them.
This photo is looking upstream on the river trail where the Bright Angel Trail arrives at the Colorado River. While the Phantom Ranch Boat Beach at River Mile 88.1 is a great place for boaters to pull in to get drinking water, the best place for hikers to connect with a river trip in the summer is at the mouth of Pipe Creek at River Mile 89.5. Folks hiking-in will be really glad to see the boats at Pipe Creek, even if they don't know you have saved them an additional mile and a half hike in full sun on a sandy trail.
In the summertime, there is drinking water and some shade in scattered locations along the Bright Angel trial, like at Mile and a Half House, Three Mile House, and Indian Gardens.
The folks who are staying on the river trip should pay attention to the needs of the folks hiking in and out. In the summer, you can do both the folks hiking in and those hiking out a huge favor by taking the folks hiking out to Pipe Creek.
One boat can go down very early from either of the Cremation Camps at 87.7 Mile to Pipe Creek at 89.5 Mile, to get the hikers on the trail when it's still "relatively" cool. That boat person can either hang out, or hike back to Phantom and ride back to their boat at Pipe with another boatperson later in the day.
The folks hiking in go down the BA to the river trail, but stop there at the boat left at Pipe Creek. This saves those folks hiking in from slogging up the sandy trail to the Silver Bridge in mid-late morning/early afternoon heat and full sun. They can stay by the river where it's cool, until the rest of the trip shows up after the mail/lemonade/call-mom duties. There's a new compositing toilet at Pipe Creek as well.
You can also be kind to the folks hiking out by taking any gear they do not absolutely need and leaving it packed away on the rafts, to be delivered back to the folks leaving at the end of the trip. Likewise for the folks hiking in. Have folks joining your trip mail their river gear to you to raft to Phantom for them.
This is a photo looking downstream to the Black Bridge. The seven mile long South Kaibab Trail comes down from the rim to the Black Bridge. Hikers cross the bridge to the right, and walk down to the beach here, called "Boat Beach". In the winter, the South Kaibab offers direct access from the rim to river parties at "Boat Beach", but beware! There is no water or shade on this trail in the summer! This makes the South Kaibab much less safe to hike in the summer heat. Folks hiking in on the Kaibab will have an easier time visiting Phantom Ranch as the Ranch is only 1/2 mile from the Boat Beach, while the Ranch is 2 miles from Pipe Creek on the Bright Angel.
Just one hundred yards from the Boat Beach is the Boaters Bulletin Board, with an emergency phone and a year round water tap for filling large water jugs. Please note that sometimes the Trans-Canyon water line will break and this water line may be turned off.
This photo from the South Kaibab Trail shows boats at the Boat Beach, the Black Suspension Bridge on the right, and the water tap location on the left.
In the winter the South Kaibab trail is a good hiking option, but winter hiking gear including instep crampons will be helpful to negotiate the first few miles of icy trail. The river runner in this photo is in the first few switchbacks near the very top of the South Kaibab trail. Note the very helpful trekking poles.
Getting to/from any trail-head on the rim to hike in or leave a river trip is another journey all together. There are shuttle buses to/from Flagstaff to the South Rim Village. Plan to spend the night at the South Rim at one of the hotels there the day BEFORE you hike in. There are flights from Las Vegas to the Tusayan airport, and from Phoenix to Flagstaff. These flights are canceled when the weather is bad. There is lodging at the South Rim and gateway community of Tusayan, Taxi service between the South Rim and Tusayan, and places to park in the Park if you drive there. Folks hiking in can exchange car keys with folks hiking out if they hike the same trail in/out and know ahead of time what each other look like. The Bright Angel Trail is best for the car-key exchange as the car can be parked at the Backcountry Parking Lot, a quarter mile from the trailhead. There are pay phones at Phantom Ranch, and the river trip you are hiking in to meet should have your cell phone so they can try to call you if you have not showed up by noon on exchange day. PLEASE NOTE: Access to the South Kaibab Trail at the Rim is by shuttle Buss only. The last bus is one hour after sunset. You have been warned...
River runners can check to see who else is exchanging at Phantom Ranch by viewing the on-line Launch Calendar at http://www.nps.gov/grca/parkmgmt/riv_mgt.htm and clicking on the appropriate launch month.
Some folks hike in the day before the exchange to spend the night with their river trip friends camped at Cremation. If your trip is delayed upstream and can't make it to Cremation, the hiker may be out in the cold for the night, so this is not an established practice and is not "recommended". The inbound hikers would walk the Stage Guager's trail that starts at the north end of the Black Bridge and goes upstream to get to the river bank across from Cremation Camp, and the river runners camped at Cremation row across and bring the hikers over to either of the the Cremation Camps for the night. Your group size shouldn't be greater than 16 people at any time as per the NPS boating regulations.
According to the Noncommercial River Trip Regulations:
Between March 1 and October 31 the following river camps in the Colorado River corridor between River Mile 77.5 (below Hance Rapid) and River Mile 89.8 (below Pipe Creek Rapid) are designated as Phantom Exchange Camps:
- Grapevine Camp, river left at approximately River Mile 81.7.
- Zoroaster Camp, river left at approximately River Mile 85.
- Upper Cremation Camp, river left at approximately River Mile 87. 6.
- Lower Cremation Camp, river left at approximately River Mile 87. 7.
- Across from Pipe Creek Camp, river right at approximately River Mile 89.2.
During this time period these Phantom Exchange Camps can be used only by river trips with passenger exchanges hiking out of Phantom Ranch or Pipe Creek early the next morning.
Layovers (camping more than one night) at any camp in this reach (between RM 77.5 to 89.8) are strictly prohibited.
There are cabins and dorms at Phantom Ranch. If you are doing an exchange and would like to spend a night in a cabin or dorm there are a number of steps you will need to take to attempt this:
1) You'll need to get a cabin for the night your trip is camped at Cremation for the next day's exchange. That's at this link: Phantom Reservations These cabins and dorm rooms are very popular, so you may not be able to get a reservation.
2) You'll need to get to either of the Cremation Camps the afternoon of your reservation.
3) The lower Cremation camp is best to eddy hop across the river. You'd be smart to just work the eddies from the Lower Cremation camp straight across the river and take the Stage gauger's trail from there downstream to the Black Bridge. Rowing back up from the boat beach to Cremation is very difficult, though not impossible. Walking the trail is way easier...
4) If you leave a boat on river right across from Cremation, you might want to check with the Phantom Rangers and inform them what you are doing. This is a good thing to ask permission to do, as it's NOT listed on the NPS master camp atlas
They will be able to size up the situation depending on time of year, weather, etc, to allow this or not. You should anticipate a no answer, but by all means ask. If the answer is no, you just have to row back across and get a buddy to row you back over and drop you off.
In the 1950's river trips would do just what you are talking about. They'd book cabins at the Ranch, and leave the boats at the Boat Beach, for a few days while they re-supplied and did exchanges. As river trips became more popular, crowding at the Phantom boat beach became problematic with exchange folks needing a place to pull in while overnighters were parked there.
So yes, you can stay at Phantom Ranch, but a number of stars all have to align, so to say, to make it happen.
What about other places to Exchange. Yes, you can exchange at a number of other locations throughout Grand Canyon. If the logistics above sound difficult, exchanging at very remote locations just compounds the difficulty. Exchanges other than Diamond Creek and Whitmore Wash will require knowledge of unmaintained back-country routes and may require difficult Rim access issues. We will not cover those issues here, but you should take those questions to the Rafting Grand Canyon Facebook page Here.
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