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New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 20 2009 3:33 pm
by Dschur
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.

GLOBAL COMPETITION

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.

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 20 2009 4:10 pm
by chumley
Eventually the park also plans to move to an online reservation system.
Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

This could easily be set up as first-come-first-served (sorta like Southwest's check-in process), or even better, the computer could randomly choose from those who applied for a permit during an "open enrollment" time. (Which would prevent the extra-computer-savvy from locking down all the open reservations within the first 15 seconds).

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 20 2009 4:50 pm
by berkforbes
I cant help but think of a line from one of my favorite movies...

Ranger Steve Koehler: Next available is May 17, 2003.
Christopher McCandless: 12 years? Twelve years - to paddle down a river? :sl:

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 20 2009 4:55 pm
by Al_HikesAZ
I can't help but think of a line from one of my favorite comedians...
George Carlin

Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.

Not only do I not know what's going on, I wouldn't know what to do about it if I did

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 20 2009 7:32 pm
by dysfunction
I'm not sure I'd be happy though with at large camping in the corridor. There are already too many people, including the Germans that were bivouaced on the benches by the bathrooms at Indian Gardens. :sl:

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 20 2009 7:38 pm
by joebartels
I'd like to cast my vote for Germans only :D

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 20 2009 8:04 pm
by dysfunction
Sehr Gut! I need to go hit the consulate and get a passport :D

Grand Canyon Permitting Change - Feb 2010

Posted: Nov 23 2009 2:06 pm
by hegstrom
[ADMIN moved this post from a newly started topic into this previously started topic]

We're losing our advantage ...

Operational Changes to Backcountry Permitting Procedures Planned at Grand Canyon National Park
http://www.nps.gov/grca/parknews/news_2 ... change.htm

Snippet from the linked Press Release ...
This procedural change will mean that advance backcountry permit requestors will no longer be able to walk in and have their requests receive immediate consideration during the fourth-month-out (the earliest month permits are available.) Instead, the request will be added to the written requests received on that day. Permit requests made in person one, two and three months prior to start-of-trip will continue to be considered immediately.

Granted, it is an unfair advantage for us because we live here in Arizona, but none the less, an advantage.

We just completed a Rim to Rim (North to South) last month (Oct09). We went up personally on June 1st, actually a couple of days early, so that we could be fairly close to the front of the line so that we could get our preferred dates. By doing that we not only assured ourselves of getting our preferred dates, but we assured ourselves of a permit. FAXing and SnailMail doesn't always get you a permit.

Now with the new rules going into affect February 2010 we'll no longer have that advantage/privilege. We'll be lumped in with the rest of the slugs (no offense intended) from the rest of the world.

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 23 2009 2:13 pm
by writelots
Yeah, and I think it's only RIGHT that we get a special advantage (us natives at least!). Afterall, it's our precious resource that get's mobbed by every wannabe hiker in America, Canada, Europe and Japan! How would THEY like it if we went and tromped all over THEIR heritage (when I visit Yosemite, I certainly would never stomp)? Living in AZ gives you so many disadvantages (education, mass transit, frying your brain in summer) - shouldn't we have at least a few one-ups? And, you know, people who are from California get a discount at Disneyland (and don't even try to tell me there's no government subsidies there). Let's protest that, shall we! :wrt:

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 23 2009 7:26 pm
by nonot
Meh, I'm not about to drive 4 hours to wait in line to get a little advantage on a permit. Their explanation is partial B.S. though, after all American taxpayers should get an advantage over foreigners since we foot the bill for the park service. Of course rafting permits favor commercial entities too.

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 23 2009 10:14 pm
by Vaporman
Permits?!?! We don't need no stinkin' permits... In the Grand Canyon, if it's only 28 miles and under it's a day hike. Permits are only acceptable for Tanner/Beamer, Escalante, Royal Arch, and Gems Routes. :sl:

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 24 2009 6:07 am
by azbackpackr
Works for me. I always fax.

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 24 2009 6:39 am
by PaleoRob
I wish they had an online system. The fax thing is pretty 1990's. I know no one that actually owns a fax machine any more.

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 24 2009 6:55 am
by BobP
PageRob wrote: I know no one that actually owns a fax machine any more.
Hi my name is Bob...now ya do :)
I never use it...well sometimes for the phone...but it was free...and free is good. :) .

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 24 2009 7:11 am
by dysfunction
I own one too.. I hook it up and set it to camp on.. to fax in my grand canyon back country permits. :sl:

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 24 2009 8:27 am
by hegstrom
When we've gone backpacking at the Grand Canyon we have needed the group sites. There is only one at Cottonwood, two and Bright Angel and I believe only one at Indian Garden. Trying to get those group sites is very difficult, at least during the prime Oct/May months. Going up and standing in line was the only way we could get dates. We failed on FAXing.

Maybe now with the commercial outfitters/guides not being able to get permits it may be easier to get a group site. We'll see, we're hoping to go again in a couple of years. Both times that we were at Bright Angel the group in the other group site was always a commercial outfit ... a little less competition from businesses can't hurt. I'm sorry for the people that earn there living that way, but I'm not sorry about the lose of competition for the group sites.

I would assume that the normal 6 people and under sites is/was easier to get a permit.

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 25 2009 6:22 am
by azbackpackr
PageRob wrote:I know no one that actually owns a fax machine any more.
You know me! :) About 2001 I bought a used one from my boss, purely for faxing my permit apps. But occasionally it's proven quite useful in other transactions, such as sending and receiving stuff from medical clinics and government agencies, and faxing applications to those few employers who still don't do online apps. Also, it makes copies. I don't use it often, but when I do, my computer really has no function that replaces it.

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 25 2009 9:06 am
by writelots
PageRob wrote:I wish they had an online system. The fax thing is pretty 1990's. I know no one that actually owns a fax machine any more.
That's one of the reasons I keep my regular job. They've got a fax, and no one notices if I slip a permit request in from time to time.

But, I do wish they'd go to an online system. BLM has one, even an online system to sign up for the lottery for the Wave. Seems that something like it would work fine for them. I think they should hire me to start that :D

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 25 2009 9:08 am
by dysfunction
it should be covered under the govt's paper saving measures :sl: I agree, that the system is about 10 years behind the current times...

Re: New system for Back Country permits

Posted: Nov 25 2009 12:55 pm
by hikeaz
hegstrom wrote:When we've gone backpacking at the Grand Canyon we have needed the group sites. There is only one at Cottonwood, two and Bright Angel and I believe only one at Indian Garden. Trying to get those group sites is very difficult, at least during the prime Oct/May months
Groups (6-11) are allowed most anywhere in the Canyon. I have had group permits for Horseshoe Mesa, Cottonwood CREEK, Grapevine, Hance Creek, Hance Rapid, Tanner, Cardenas and Boucher; heck, Hermit, Monument and Horseshoe Mesa each have a dedicated group site, H.M. with it's own privy. Stepping outside the corridor can increase your possibilities (and DEcrease the possibility of being overrun by people.
hegstrom wrote:Maybe now with the commercial outfitters/guides not being able to get permits it may be easier to get a group site.
The Grand Canyon Field Institute, an outfitter, still has the early permit sweetheart deal; they are the only one I know of that DOES, however.
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My feeling is that way too many of the permits, although allocated, go unused. I can recall dozens of times where I was told a zone was 'full', but there was no one there, or one of the five available sites were used. If I had a vote, (and herein the devil is in the details) I'd have a system as does Zion whereby you pay with your request, but, if successful, have a permit RESERVATION allocated to you, but you need to show up in person to claim the actual permit (the day before or the day of the hike). Obviously, with many remote trailheads, this would be challenging to institute at GC; but it would work at all camps in the corridor and out to the Hermit T/H at least, and could likely be accomplished with the folks using Lipan, S. Bass, Grandview and Red Canyon as well.
With this system a person without a permit reservation could almost assuredly just show up and go backpacking somewhere (using the unfulfilled permits), provided they were open as to the 'where'. And, believe me, there ain't too many bad places in the Canyon.