Canyon camping reservations due changes
Local backpackers and commercial guides no longer will be able to get permits early in person at the South Rim backcountry office.
By CYNDY COLE
Sun Staff Reporter
Monday, November 16, 2009
When Flagstaff nurse John Jasper and a friend decided to backpack the Grand Canyon for their 50th birthdays, it took more than a year of planning.
First, they wanted to camp in bunkhouses at Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the canyon. Reservations must be made a year in advance, typically on the first day reservations are taken for that date. "I got Phantom Ranch, which was insane," Jasper said. "I had two phones, with the number going back and forth on speed dial."
It took an hour of dialing and he spent another half-hour on hold to get that permit.
But the trip he wanted also had backcountry camping sites in other areas, for which he had to apply four months in advance.
He was at a Boy Scout camp on the day those permits became available and borrowed an office fax machine. The lines were jammed at the Grand Canyon's Backcountry Office.
"I was faxing, and faxing and faxing and faxing," he said, to get camping permits for the rest of the trip.
He failed at first, but succeeded after his wife continued the faxes from elsewhere.
"You really have to think ahead to just make a trip through there," he said.
NO MORE GAMING THE SYSTEM
Getting one of the roughly 11,500 permits granted each year to backpack overnight in the Grand Canyon is indeed competitive, particularly on the most popular trails and in milder weather.
October and May are the most popular months for those seeking the piece of paper required to camp most places below the rim, with nearly one of every two people denied.
So some local hikers and backpacking guides beat the system and get guaranteed camping spots on the most popular trails by standing in line at the Grand Canyon reservation office four months in advance.
They line up at the backcountry office at the South Rim on the first day the permits become available -- beating those applying by fax or mail.
Some compare this ritual to the opening of a blockbuster movie, with hikers bringing camp chairs to sit and wait in the morning, swapping stories.
The crowds can exceed 100 and begin forming early in the morning.
Some even fly in from out of state to get permits for their groups at popular group-sized campground sites.
National Park Service administrators at Grand Canyon have decided that the system is unfair because it gives people with spare time or living near the canyon an advantage over all the rest.
The agency proposes to end the practice in February, making everyone in the world compete for advanced reservations by fax and mail only.
"We're trying to provide better equity between locals and international visitors," said Barclay Trimble, a deputy superintendent.
Further, the Park Service is not allowing any more individuals to establish commercial backpacking businesses until they sort out a larger plan for the backcountry.
Eventually the park also plans to move to an online reservation system.