Rim to River, River to Rim

My sore legs bear witness that I hiked 7.3 miles down the South Kaibab trail of the Grand Canyon, spent the night at Phantom Ranch and hiked 10.1 miles up the Bright Angel Trail the next day. 

YES! And I couldn’t have done it without the following, in order of importance:

  • the prayers of some wonderful people 🙂
  • two fabulous friends for companions
  • a sense of humor that would make vinegar taste like sugar, and
  • a pair of sturdy hiking poles (oh yes, very important!)

We met up in Phoenix on the 13th of June and drove to Grand Canyon Village that same afternoon. There, we checked into our room at the very rustic and cozy Maswik Lodge. After a short but restful night, we set out down the South Kaibab at 5:50 AM, about thirty minutes after sunrise. Suffice it to say the South Kaibab is a perilous trail with a steep grade and brutal switchbacks (Wikipedia it for more!). What adds to the excitement is that there is no shade and no potable water the entire 7.3 miles of the trail. So each of us carried 6 liters of water and enough food to last us all the way down. 

The views of the canyon are spectacular from this ridge trail. We encountered a pack mule train just past Skeleton Point, and dutifully stepped aside to let it pass. It took us six hours and twenty minutes to get to the Colorado river where we spent a good hour soaking our feet in its cold waters and resting in the shade. I was intrigued that the sands were burning while the waters were icy. We would hear later that day that the Colorado in those parts ran 46 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. I haven’t verified that statement, but I’d certainly recognize the woman that told me that.

Our time at Phantom Ranch was relaxing to say the least, and I slept three hours that afternoon. After an early breakfast at 5 AM the following morning, we set off up the Bright Angel Trail. Despite the steep climb, we covered the five miles to Indian Garden in two and a half hours. After a short rest at the oasis, we continued on for two more miles to the Three Mile Rest House and got there in less than two hours. The Bright Angel offered a different view of the canyon than the less hospitable South Kaibab, with an abundance of greenery, shade and cool flowing streams. 

We were only three miles away from the rim, and the thought of being so close filled us with excitement. One of the hikers sharing the shade mentioned how the last 1.5 miles to the rim were considered the most brutal. “Endless switchbacks”, he said. That sounded familiar from a blog post I had read some weeks ago. 

We rested our tired feet, and replenished our water supply before continuing our ascent up to the rim, stopping mindfully at the One and a Half Mile Rest House to repeat the rites of refreshment and replenishment. It took us an hour to get there, and our morale was high. But there was no denying the fatigue that was setting in. After an extended break, we decided to brave the last leg of our journey to the rim.

It was slow. We were out of breath every eight minutes or so. I told my companions we’d be in good shape as long as my bad jokes kept coming, and they kept coming for some time. We were particularly troubled when a sixty-six year old hiker and his wife showed up whom we had encountered earlier that morning. They were bound for the river then and now they were passing us on the way up. He attempted to make us feel better by impressing upon us that the Swiss (as he was) were particularly adept hikers. This sharp reminder of our incapacity gave us the adrenaline rush we needed to traverse another one hundred yards before we fell into three distinct piles of meat and bones under another bluff generous with its shade. 

We repeated these sprints a few more time and I assured my companions we couldn’t be more than half a mile from the rim when a cheery ranger came jogging down with her hiking poles raised backward and held to her sides. She seemed in a hurry to get to somewhere. I anticipated she was disinclined (ugh!) to stop so I shouted out to her even as she was approaching us, asking how far it was to the rim. She trotted on past us shouting back her response: “One more mile”.  

My jokes were getting better, which was bad. And the hiking poles seemed like they needed hiking poles. It had been a little over two hours since we left the last rest house. But we continued on, slowly and steadily. Endless switchbacks. 

It took us another hour to get to the rim. The last mile and a half had taken us three gruesome hours. In all, including breaks, we had been on the Bright Angel Trail for nine hours and twenty minutes.

And in all honesty, it was completely worth it. I can only agree with others who say that you haven’t really seen the canyon unless you see it down from the river.

Here are a few more shots selected from the couple hundred we took.


Canyon Of Life

You think you’re prepared
And you step on the trail,
You’ve taken precautions,
Each little detail,

Six liters of water
And four pounds of food,
You’ll know it gets hotter
When the weather turns rude;

It’s seven some miles
Down the South Kaibab,
And the grade is quite brutal,
Makes walking a job

As you pound on the ground
Till your knees feel the weight
Of a growing repulsion
To be canyon bait;

No water at all,
No shade you may rent,
But stop anywhere on
This downward descent,

And turn up your eye,
To take in the sight
Of clear blue skies
And limestone delight;

Look down at the green
Colorado resign
Its waters between
Shores of silvery shine;

You’ll likely encounter
A mule train some place,
Just let them to pass you
With every grace,

And when you get down
To the river, behold
Its shores are on fire,
Its waters are cold,

And here you may sit
And reflect on your fall
From the rim to the river,
Its perils and all,

And take out the time
To plan your ascent
Up the shady Bright Angel
Will make you repent,

Oh yes, it will treat you
To water and shade
And luxuries that
The South Kaibab forbade,

You’ll tell yourself how
You’ve conquered it all,
For eight point five miles;
Then your engine will stall.

The water is there,
And so is the shade,
But the grade’s up a notch,
And your breath is delayed,

It’s a mile and a half
That just seems to go on,
But just keep to the trail
And the trail will respond;

What a glorious sign
This American treasure,
A bowl of serenity
And scenic pleasure,

Descend it to where
From its beauty is found;
Or tell yourself it’s 
Just a hole in the ground.

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