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phantom ranch mules

Phenomenal Rapids and Phantom Ranch Mules

At the end of our second day on the river, we stayed at Nevills Camp at the 76 mile marker. Day Three began, as usual, with a wonderful breakfast. We needed food in our bellies to be able to withstand the multiple rapids we were going to encounter on that day. It was also on Day Three that we saw the mule train originating at Phantom Ranch.

Breakfast at Nevill’s camp

First up was Hance Rapids. We had barely left camp when we approached Hance between the 77 and 78 mile markers. The video at the end of this post will enable you to experience some of this day’s rapids right along with us… only you don’t have to endure the 50-degree water! Hance Rapid was named after John Hance, a miner, rancher, guide, and storyteller. He was the South Rim’s first white settler, in the late 1800s.

Day Three was actually our most exciting day of rapids. Immediately following Hance we encountered Sockdolager Rapid. In fact, Sockdolager is probably the “Mystery Rapid” in the video. John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American explorer famous for his trips down the Grand Canyon in the second half of the 1800s, and his crew named that rapid using a slang German word meaning “heavy or knockdown blow.” (Be sure and check out the link for Sockdolager and note how incredibly muddy the water is in that video!)

Phantom Ranch Mules

Phantom Ranch is in Bright Angel Canyon, near Mile Marker 88. Also in this vicinity is the North Kaibab Trail, where you can hike a mere 14 miles to the rim! Phantom Ranch offers “World Famous Mule Rides!” Here is what their website has to say about the overnight mule ride from Bright Angel Lodge to Phantom Ranch and back again:

This remarkable adventure is often called the “easy” way down to Phantom Ranch, but it can actually be more strenuous and challenging! The ride begins at the stone corral adjacent to the historic Bright Angel Lodge. Here our Livery Manager will prepare you for the ride by reviewing the safety requirements and provide you with information about the trail and Grand Canyon. Next, our Wranglers will saddle you up and prepare you for your adventure.

The descent down the Bright Angel Trail is 10.5 miles and will take approximately 5 ½ hours. No worries, there are rest stops along the way. You will enjoy a box lunch at Indian Garden, and then proceed along the rock face of the Inner Gorge, across the Colorado River on the Suspension Bridge, and up Bright Angel Canyon on the north side of the river to Phantom Ranch. Overnight mule rides stay the night at Phantom Ranch, a rustic historic oasis nestled deep in the canyon. Each cabin is furnished with bunk beds, sink, toilet, bedding, soap, and hand towels. Showers and bath towels are available.

On the evening you arrive you will enjoy a hearty meal served family-style in the Phantom Ranch Canteen. After breakfast the morning of your departure, you return via the Bright Angel Trail. The ride back up is about 10.5 miles (5.5 hours).

The one-night ride is available year-round and costs $705.13 for the first person or 2 people for $1226.40. There is a 2-night ride available from November to March for the price of $1028.98 for the first person or 2 people for $1690.22. For further details, check out their webpage.

The Gem series of rapids

The Gem series of rapids starts with a “10” (or maybe a 10+?) known as Crystal Rapid. Crystal Rapid is the last one on the video below. After Crystal, you encounter Agate, Sapphire, Turquoise, and Ruby. Our last major rapid of the day was Serpentine, between Mile Markers 106 and 107. Our camp at the end of Day Three was in Bass Canyon at Mile Marker 109.

I should explain how the rapids are scored. It really has more to do with the technical expertise required by the boatman to get the raft through safely than it does with the height of the waves. There are many environmental factors involved, such as tributaries changing the direction of water flow or large rock “gardens” that can damage or hang up a raft. In the video below, our guide Dustin talks about Crystal Rapid being one of the most technical rapids to traverse.

He talks about “more than one raft has spent time on the rocks at Crystal Rapid.” Dustin knows this first-hand. He was the boatman on an expedition where one 12-year-old boy struggled to follow the safety rules. The child nearly came off, the signal to “cut the motor” was given, and Dustin’s ability to navigate the rapid appropriately was lost. The raft became stuck on the rocks. The passengers were helicoptered to shore and had to wait a day for another raft to collect them so they could continue their adventure!

Shinumo Creek

Shinumo Creek was a “playground” very close to our Day Three Bass campground. We actually stopped at our campsite, set up camp, and then hopped back on the boats to go play. After a short walk, we came upon this beautiful waterfall. It was possible to enter through an opening in the rocks, belly-crawl about 10 feet through the rocks, and emerge on the back side of the waterfall. Once there, you were committed to pushing through the water! It was quite forceful and knocked you off your feet.

Our third night of camping

Every afternoon when our boats pulled up to our campsite, the guests dispersed to pick their tent site. Once we claimed our personal piece of real estate, we returned to the boat to form our fire line. Cots, tents, and dry bags were unloaded first, followed by food prep items. The guys got busy making dinner, while the rest of us set up our tents and cots.

Day Three dinner was Mexican night, which Alan loved. The food was amazing. After dinner, we washed our plate and utensils in each of four basins. The first was super hot water to rinse off food particles, followed by hot soapy water, cold rinse water, and rinse water with some type of disinfectant. Good hygiene was easy to accomplish with abundant opportunities to wash hands and use disinfectant.

Dinner at Bass Camp

Everyone sat around after dinner until the light started to fade. Since we arose each morning before 5 AM, no one complained about going to bed at sundown. By Day Three, we had decided to put up our tent regardless of what the weather promised. We usually slept with our cots partway out of the tent flap so we could still see the stars. Sleeping in the tent was much hotter than sleeping outside.

This video highlights Hance and Crystal Rapids, the mule train, and our playtime at Shinumo Creek. See you next week!

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