The Hike Down the Grand Canyon

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
Trip End Jul 31, 2011

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What I did
Hike down the Grand Canyon

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Monday, June 20, 2011

Woke up at ungodly hour of 3:30 after just a few hours of sleep. I had to be quiet so as not to wake up Pooja. I put my last second things into the backpack including my one gallon of water that I had cooling in the fridge all night. I weighted the pack and it was over 50 pounds. My goal was no more than 40 but it was too late now. I drove my truck to the backcountry office to catch the hiker's bus at 4:00. Of course I left a little late and took a few wrong turns. As I reached the office the bus was already there. I flicked my lights at it to let it know I wanted to ride. Just hope that worked since the next bus would not come for another hour. I quickly parked my truck (as quick as I could back in my dually), grabbed my one ton pack and ran to the bus. Luckily it did wait on me.

The bus took us to the South Kaibab trailhead which is close to Yaki Point. Those two places are off limits to private vehicles which is why we all have to take this bus. It is best to do this hike as early as you can right before the sun comes up. Since for some reason Arizona is NOT on daylight savings time, the sun comes up at the way early time of 5:15. But you don’t want to go too early since then you could not enjoy the grandeur of the canyon and it is important to SEE the trail in front of you. One false move and you’ll have a ticket down a few thousand feet in a matter of seconds. On the bus I met a dad that was going down with his son and daughter and a German girl named Beatrice. Both were very friendly and we talked about why we wanted to do this. I was jealous of them since they were staying at the Phantom Ranch where they would have bunk beds and food. I could not score reservations there so I had to camp out and bring everything in the backpack.

Around 4:30 the bus let us off at the trailhead. Surprisingly it was light enough to hike without a flashlight. We took a few min. to get our gear arraigned and to take each other’s pictures right before we went below. The first half mile you’re just in awe that you are actually hiking down the Grand Canyon. You don’t see that much of it as the sun is still not up yet and you’re hiking along the edge of the rock wall. Then you hit Ooh-Aah point right below the tip of Yaki Point and you can see the Grand Canyon in all its glory. And the soft light of that right before sunrise look could not be beat. I took several pictures of this but I know they’ll only be a small percentage of the view to see down here. The trail continued to go down at a steady clip. Lucky for me I had these two hiker poles that I got from COSTCO for $25. This and my $5 wide-brim hat from Wal-Mart were my best buys on this trip. The sticks kept me from running down the canyon. Yes, I would have gotten to the bottom faster but it would be easy to fall off with the 50 lb. pack on my back.

The first rest stop was at mile 1.5. This was called Cedar Ridge. By this time it was 5:30 and the sun was up. At each rest stop I tried to make it a habit of downing an energy gel, drink a quart of water or Gatorade, and eat something salty or a granola bar. The funny thing was I found it hard to eat (a rarity for me) but I knew I had to force it down to keep my energy going. Most of these rest stops had a composting bathroom. Now usually these things stink to high heaven but all the ones I used on this trip were pretty good.

Over the next mile and a half to Skeleton Point I passed this huge rock called O’Neill Butte just sticking out of the Canyon like a sore thumb. You can see this for over half the trail so it is like the symbol of the South Kaibab trail. The trail to the butte is relatively level (for the Grand Canyon) but as you get past it there is about a half a mile of a steep decent with switchbacks. My hiking was doing pretty well as I had a good rhythm with my sticks. There were other hikers that were much faster than me but their packs were much smaller. Soon you arrive at the second major feature of the trail, Natural Arch. The gradual decent to Natural Arch fools you as you pass it, for right past it you drop way down to the Tonto Plateau. The decent past Natural Arch is very steep and full of twists and turns that I have to dig my sticks in the ground more just to keep me and my bag from falling over into the abyss. 

At the Skeleton Point rest stop it was starting to warm up a bit so I took off my outer shirt and sleeves. I had my one liter of water, some Indian crackers, and another energy jell. After my 15 min rest I was back on the trail. For the 30 min. going through the Tonto Plateau the trail is desolate as this feels like your typical Southwestern desert. But don’t let this fool you as soon you arrive at a point called The Tipoff.

This is where the Grand Canyon drops off considerably into the Colorado River. It might be because my body was wearing out with my 50 plus pound pack on for several hours, but this was the hardest part of the hike. Relentless steep switch backs with no let up. The one thing to keep you going is that you now have a clear view of the Colorado River and the black bridge crossing it. So every 15 min. or so when you see the river again it looks a little bigger. What really got my endorphins going was the first time you could hear the roar of the river. Now I think I can make it to the bottom. You have to be very careful on this segment as there are several parts of the trail where if you slip, you take a 1,000 ft. shortcut to the bottom. So no running down this hill. Now the calves and thighs are burning big time. Every step sends a shot up your legs. With all the rocks in the trail you just hope that you don’t twist an ankle here. Concentration of where to put your every step is not at the highest level.

Finally you see the black bridge in front of you. As like a cherry on top of the dessert you have to go through a short tunnel to get there. It is pretty neat to see this bridge going across the Colorado from inside a tunnel. The black bridge is a suspension bridge so it shakes a little. The Colorado is 50 feet below so no missteps here. I walked it very slowly. I don’t take many photos here as I’m to the point of exhaustion now and don’t want to drop the camera in and lose all my cool shots from today. At the end of the bridge you walk down some steps to go back under the bridge (ankles don’t fail me now). It is now only a flat half a mile to the Bright Angel Campground – my place for the day. As long as you have a reservation for this place you pick any open site. Unknowingly I picked site 27 which is my lucky number. All this activity for the day and it was only 9:30 in the morning.

I took off the backpack and just collapsed for 10 min.  Slowly getting up I took my time unpacking all my gear. The first thing I did, in my half comatose state, was pitch the tent and blowup the bed. I put my food in these 30 cal. metal boxes to keep the wildlife away and the rest of the stuff in the tent. I then proceeded to sleep for the next two hours on my very comfortable bed with my feet hanging out of the tent. It felt really nice as a tree shaded it during this time.

Around noon I was awoken by a nibble on my foot. It was this fat squirrel!! These squirrels are fat due to eating all this human food. I guess the foreigners, who make up half the people of these national parks, would call these American squirrels.

Now a little lunch. I boiled some water with my stove and cooked some Indian lentils with pita chips and Gatorade. Then it was time to walk around the place. The campground is situated on the Bright Angle creek which is the size of your typical mountain creek. The Phantom Ranch was a half mile up the creek. This is like the 5 star resort here. Full meals and bunk beds with everything. While I had to tent camp and carry everything down. Next time I’m staying at the Phantom and ordering all the meals. It will be much more expensive but I’ll add some months to my life that I’m sure I’ll lose by trekking with a full pack.

By now it was over 90 degrees and my campsite was totally in the sun. So time to take a dip. I put on my swim shorts and found a small rock dam in the creek. This made a nice little pool to sit in. It was SO COLD when I first went in VERY slowly. But after a few it felt so good. I stayed in here for about an hour and just enjoyed hearing the water flow down the canyon and watching the birds go about their business.

Drying off was no problem as the humidity was so low the air just sucked the moisture dry in a matter of seconds. I then grabbed a book to read in some shade somewhere. I found the ampatheater under some trees with nobody there a nice place. I read for about 30 min. before the girl I met on the bus came along. I did not see her the entire time on the trail as she took more time than I did. She was enjoying every second of the hike while I was just trying to survive. Her name was Beatrice and she was German but living in Holland. We really struck up a good conversation about anything and everything. We really had a lot in common. After a few hours of talking she went off to her organized dinner at Phantom Ranch while I was going to cook mine back at camp. Since she was on her own I talked her into staying with Pooja and I when we got out of the canyon. I know what it is like to travel independently in another country and nothing is better than being invited to stay with some locals and save some money.

For the next hour before my dinner I walked around the Colorado River between the two bridges. I took some pictures of the river and canyon as the sun was coming down. Hardly anyone else was out on these trails which made it peaceful. Around 7:30 I came back to camp to set up my dinner of freeze dried Indian beans and rice along with many of my salty snacks that I brought down. I think now I brought down so much food that it will last for several days instead of the two I’ll be out. Mental note: don’t bring so much food. Beatrice came to join me for her post-dinner snack. She had some vegetarian stew which she said was very good. She also brought down some fruit for us to snack on. When you’re really tired from doing some physical activity, you’re not very hungry. My Indian food turned out pretty good but very heavy. I could not even eat half of it. Now this food weighs more than before. Why is this a problem? Down here you have to take all your trash back out.

Beatrice and I talked and laughed some more until about 9:00. We were both very tried and needed a good sleep. Since tomorrows hike was suppose to be twice as hard as the hike down we knew we had another early wake-up time to start the morning. After she left, I put all my food in the canisters and the rest of my stuff in the tent. The stars were unreal above with billions showing through. But I was way too tired to enjoy them and went right to sleep.

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Mom on

All I can say is WOW

John Pirc on

Great photos and story, my wife and I went to Phantom ranch in 2003 with our daughter who was about 2 at the time. I had to carry her and my wife had to carry all of our supplies. We also had about 50 lbs each. Here are some pics:

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