Check the Back Country site, no matter what time of year you hike!!

by Jean on October 27, 2013

In my “off” months I read the NPS Digest for rescue incidents, check the Grand Canyon weather app so I know the weather on North and and South, and (of course) dream about my next trip up there.  I have historically neglected the NPS Back County website during off season until now!

I have been talking to a friend (Hi Paul) who is headed to the Canyon in the next week or so with a group of Newbies.  I checked Back Country for Hiking Alerts and learned they are shutting down the pipeline Oct 29th at both the 1.5 Mile and 3 Mile House for repair (so, no water from the South Rim to Indian Gardens).  I don’t 100% trust the site to be accurate if water is “on” because sometimes outages have not been reported, but I dang sure trust them if the water might be “off”.  For pipeline repairs to be scheduled and a shut down announced ahead of time is a big deal:

1.  There is only 1 water pipeline that flows through the Grand Canyon.  This comes from the North Rim.  Any problems on this pipe (a.k.a. 2 entire water stations) can be a problem Everywhere which is why the second alert grabbed my attention even more …

2.  The North Kaibab trail was heavily damaged by monsoon flooding and rock slides this fall.  They have  a photo of a washed out section south of Supai Tunnel where there is such little trail left YOU HAVE TO HOLD ONTO ROPES to walk through it.  Folks, those drops are thousands of feet at that point on the trail.  If the trail is that damaged, how damaged is the pipeline?

3.  You know when you fix something and then it seems like something else breaks?  When the pipeline is turned off or is damaged/repaired, sometimes when the water is turned on/operating again it blows the pipeline somewhere else in the line.  Which is why every hiker, camper, etc in the Grand Canyon needs to know The Water Rule:

The Water Rule:  water is never guaranteed in the Grand Canyon so carry more than you think you will ever drink on the leg of any trip AND take a water filter system AND water purification pills.

Research how much water you should drink during strenuous exercise in the desert each hour.  On the South Rim, if you stick to the Bright Angel Trail [you should never ever hike UP South Kaibab – see below], you normally have water at 1.5 Mile House, 3 Mile House, Indian Gardens and Phantom.   In the event of a pipeline failure, you at least have access to 1 maybe 2 very small streams (you better hope they are flowing) on lower Bright Angel, and of course 9 miles down at the bottom you hit the river.  We drank creek water this year in 2013.  Be prepared not only for muddy, barely moving water (water filter), and drinking water with bacteria or that someone pee’d in upstream (purification) but also to carry systems which allow you to fill up large containers of water to carry with you in a timely, hassle-free manner.  If you find any water, fill up.  Just remember that dirty, muddy water is always better than no water at all.

Some of my 2013 Creek Water lesson:  my UV sterilization pen would not work and my 3 liter bladder was too big to sterilize even if it had worked,  get a filter with a pump and not a tiny squeeze bottle, and 5 minute purification pills taste just as good as 45 minute purification pills and the time you save might be more precious than you realize.   Backpack bladders leak and can fail so take duct tape for small emergencies and a spare bladder/bigger bottle for big emergencies.  I think small water filter devices like little bottles or even those “straws” that you use to drink straight from the water source are Ok … until you try to fill up a 3 liter container while hunched over in a creek so that you can take this water 10 miles up the trail.  Too time and labor consuming.  Try doing that at home yourself if you think I am kidding.

Pop quiz:  Why do we never hike UP the South Kaibab trail and we always hike UP Bright Angel on the South Rim?

Life Saving Answer = no water, no shelter, no shade, no chance of possibly seeing a park ranger at Indian Gardens, very few – if any – other hikers or tourists,  the trailhead is remote so people will not be there/can’t see you/can’t help you, Bright Angel is an average 14% grade and S Kaibab is an average 21% grade, and finally when you do hike out have fun walking 7 more miles to the village and lodge area.

I will be checking the NPS Back Country for updates and alerts from now on !!




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