Grand Canyon - South Kaibab Trail, Bright Angel Trail

Lots of sun, awesome panorama and lots of sweat

 

I have been dreaming of hiking down Grand Canyon for a long time. Every time I visit the south rim I was jealous about the people who were hiking down Grand Canyon with their big backpacks. Aware of the physical exhaustions we decided to do it in summer 2003:

Descent at South Kaibab Trail (25kb)

Descent at South Kaibab Trail (25kb)

The day before the hike we went to bed, actually in our sleeping bags very early and got up at 8 o'clock, pulled down the tent and had a good breakfast. We didn't really have lots of passion this morning because we knew the next days would be very hard. We weren't afraid but we had lots of respect of the canyon. We wanted to be at the trailhead at 10 o'clock the latest but it didn't work out. It took to much time to pack the backpacks because we wanted to leave most of the heavy things in the car. So we decided to leave some dishes, the stove and the tentcover in the car. We only took the important things. We took cereals bars, fruit and potato salad with us to have something to eat on the trip.

About 11.30 am we got last informations at the back country office. At a water fountain we took a drink and ate a banana before we took the shuttle bus to Yaki Point. We were ready for adventure: From the Yaki Point there are 7.3 miles to hike on the South Kaibab Trail. We took the sticks and there we went...

After some strenuous curves we already met people coming up who were very sweaty and exhausted. But we have been hiking in the last past weeks so we were able to hike in a fast pace.
Above the middleplateau (56kb)

Above the middleplateau (56kb)

We wanted to be at the bottom at sunset. Fast we went past a group that we met earlier at the rim. But I can't understand how people can hike without water and protection for the head even if they only walk a short way. Especially the South Kaibab Trail is known to be very steep with narrow curves.

The sun was burning and there were only very few shaded places. That's why we only had short breaks and continued our hike. Totally fascinated of the great changing colors we took pictures everytime we stopped. The closer you get to the bottom (as deeper you get), the more brilliant, red and more beautiful are the rocks. It was a feeling of endless freedom... I can't describe it. The path itself was very good but hiking boots are a must. Aggravating were the steps made of wooden panels for making it easier for the mules but it is inconvenient for hikers after a while...

The Black Bridge across the Colorado - short before the finish

The Black Bridge across the Colorado - short before the finish

There were only a few hikers on our way. One Asian family walked in the same pace - at least the father and the daughters. The mother was behind and they didn't wait for her. Very disturbing was the noise the family made. The girls brought a radio with them. On a big plateau we took a long break to let them pass us and also to rest a little bit and enjoy the fantastic panorama. Underneath us we heard the Colorado river and the rapids from far away. The fast steep descent was coming up. Again steep curves right and left... we got closer and closer to the bottom and we saw the black bridge that we had to cross. We just wanted to get to the campground. By walking through a small tunnel and over the bridge we went across the Colorado river after 4 hours. It didn't seem that wild but it was dirty. Short time before Phantom Ranch we crossed the Bright Angel Creek and looked for a place for out tent. Done!! As soon as we got there a ranger came and told us about the rules. After we have rested for half an hour we set up tent and enjoyed the silence, the panoramic view, freedom - one of the most beautiful, gorgeous places I have ever seen. Unfortunately the complete valley of the Phantom Ranch was in shade, so we didn't see the sunset; we didn't need to walk that fast... well, it was good to hike in that pace. Feet and calves didn't hurt and shoulders were still okay.

After start of darkness we had a beer in the bar of Phantom Ranch. The most expensive beer I have ever had. There were all guests and campers of Phantom Ranch. But we didn't really want to sit in the bar after that big day so we went back to the tent. We lay on the table and enjoyed the stars in the sky and listen to the noise of the Bright Angle Creek. Happily and satisfied we lay down on our mats in the tent - hard but we fell asleep fast.

Phantom Ranch (56kb)

Phantom Ranch (56kb)

2. Day - The way up

Initially we wanted to start at 6 o'clock in order not to walk in the sun. But we still enjoyed the noise of the creek and got up at 7 o'clock. We had a good sleep although we slept on this mats. The sun had already reached the upper wall of the canyon and got deeper into the canyon. Our neighbors on the campground were already gone. After I walked a few steps in front of the tent I noticed my tired legs and feet and a sour shoulder. The ground was harder than I have expected.

We took down the tent and refreshed ourselves. We had cereal bars and an apple for breakfast. To get on the other side of the river we walked across the silver bridge. For one mile we went along the river but constantly uphill. It wasn't strenuous so far and the temperatures were okay because the path was in the shade. But I could feel the backpack on my shoulder already after one mile. How will it be in the next hours??? To say it in advance: It was more than hard!

Break at Bright Angel Creek (26kb)

Break at Bright Angel Creek (26kb)

Thanks to the hiking sticks we walked really fast and overtook some people. After 2 miles we had to go continuously uphill. The Colorado river was behind us and we turned left on Bright Angel path in Corkscrew Canyon. We realized that this way is much better than the South Kaibab Trail. The path leads along a small creek and the trail is in the shade because of lots of green bushes and trees. Although there was no sun we were sweating a bit. At a very idyllic place we took a rest and refreshed ourselves with water from the river. But we didn't want to loose so much time because we still had to take the hardest part and we knew the temperature would rise.

So we continued - the backpack was hurting on my shoulder. But the fantastic view compensated for the pain. Whether the indicating signs along the trail are helpful, I don't know. There was a sign telling us that it is still 1.5 miles to Indian Gardens that was shocking. These 1.5 miles were endless. We reached Indian Gardens with mixed feelings after 3 hours. On one hand we had enjoyed the walk along the creek but on the other hand we still had half of the way to go. First we had a break with an apple and water at Indian Gardens, a little oasis in Grand Canyon. One disadvantage: there were too many people. Because it is so close to the south rim there were lots of people who went on a one day trip. Oh, I realized one thing: I was in 98 % right and recognized german people from far away.

Below Indian Gardens (56kb)

Below Indian Gardens (56kb)

Refreshed and with filled water bottles we left Indian Gardens on a very steep path. This time there were relaxed people coming down and we were the ones who were sweating a lot. We were under the burning sun and our steps became smaller and harder. But we only took just a few breaks because we wanted to get to south rim in less than 7 hours. It was a torture to carry the backpack on my hurting shoulder. It was important to drink enough water. The hiking sticks were very useful, thanks to the sticks. Without sticks we would have taken longer. We passed the 3 mile house and the 1.5 mile house without taking a rest. There were too many people - the ones that were just walking down Grand Canyon a little bit.

At about 3 o'clock we took the last curve and we finally reached the south rim trough a little arch after more than 7 hours but happy. The first steps on asphalt were hard after walking 7 hours on unpaved ground. On the busstation one man asked us if we did the whole tour. We answered happily: "Yes, we did it, from the top to bottom and back"

Conclusion:

The hike is one of our highlights in the US southwest. It was worth doing it, even if was very hard. Helpful were the hiking sticks. We should have taken more food with us but that would have been more weight. It was a good experience and sometime I will do it again but then with 2 nights in Grand Canyon.


 

Last update: 01/25/2006