Hiking into the Grand Canyon

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
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Trip End Oct 14, 2011


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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Wednesday, April 27, 2011





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I wanted to hike into the Grand Canyon on Tuesday but I was still feeling sore after hiking around on Coyote Butte North for hours on Sunday so I waited until today. I got up early, drove to the Bright Angel Lodge and caught the 7:00 Hiker Express bus to the start of the South Kaibab Trail. The bus arrived around 7:30. It was still quite cold when I started my hike.

It slowly warmed up as the sun came up and as I got deeper into the canyon. I was still sore when I started the hike and I hadn't decided just how far I was going to go. Most people descend on the South Kaibab Trail even though there is no water available on the trail since it is the shortest way to the Colorado. Unfortunately, that means it is relentlessly downhill from the rim at 7,260 feet to the river at 2,480 feet.

The usual route back up is the Bright Angel Trail since it has water available and also has the advantages of being a bit less steep and ending 410 feet lower than the South Kaibab Trail. The route all the way to the river going down the South Kaibab Trail and back up the Bright Angel Trail has an elevation loss of 4,780 feet, a gain of 4,370 feet and covers a distance of 14.6-16.6 miles, depending on which source you believe.  It's possible the longer distance includes the additional distance from where the trails intersect to the Phantom Ranch, which some distance beyond the river. 

There are two ways to get from the South Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail. One is to descend down to Tip Off and then take the Tonto Trail across to the Indian Garden Campground. This trail is at an elevation of around 3,800 feet, which is around 1,300 feet above the Colorado River.  This is the shortest of the two routes.  The other way is to descend all the way down to the Colorado River where the trails intersect near Phantom Ranch. The Park Service does everything they can to discourage people from doing this as a day hike. For instance, on their description of the hikes it says, "Bright Angel Trail 15.6 miles Round Trip to the river. THIS IS NOT A DAY HIKE" and there are also signs on the trails saying similar things.

Well, when I got to Tip Off I was feeling OK so, in spite of all the Park Service warnings, I decided to hike to the Phantom Ranch.  I didn't think it was going to be easy but it was a relatively cool day as far as days in the canyon go, which tend to be extremely hot much of the year, so conditions were about as good as they get.

It took me about four hours to reach Phantom Ranch.  The bottom of the canyon is not like I expected.  After thousands of fee of mostly rock you finally reach a fairly lush riparian environment.  The inner canyon walls are so steep you can't see the upper canyon.  You just see the lower one or two thousand feet.  The Colorado has a reputation for being a fierce river but around Phantom Ranch it's relatively flat.

I got a bagel and an iced tea in the Phantom Ranch canteen and then headed out.  Unlike the South Kaibab Trail, which has very few flat spots, the Bright Angel Trail starts off with a long, flat section running along and slightly above the river.  After a couple miles it starts to climb - and climb and climb.  It goes up 4,370 feet and, much like the relentless downhill hike on the South Kaibab Trail, it's a relentless uphill hike going up the Bright Angel Trail.  Unlike most hikes where you start at the bottom and do the hard part first, at the Grand Canyon you do the easy part first and then do the hard part.

I walked nearly continuously with just short breaks every hour or so to eat or drink something.  I eventually reached the top about 7:15, just short of 12 hours after I had started.

I had planned on leaving tomorrow morning but as soon as I got back to the hotel I booked another night.  I'm sure I'm not going to be ready to sit in the car for hours tomorrow.  It's going to take a while to recover.  My legs are stiff, my shoulders and neck are sore from carrying a backpack all day and I added to my collection of blisters.
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