#24 Grand Canyon: Down and Back Again

“Harry! It’s time to wake up!” I whispered through the mesh of his tent.

“Ugh” Harry groggily replied, “Ok.”

The 15 year old slowly emerged from his tent and blankly looked around our moonlit campsite. It was 5:15 am and we had plans to hike to the very bottom of the Grand Canyon and back to the top, a 16.5 mile trip not for the faint of heart.

“Mornin’ Harry.” Rach said as she quietly braided the front of her hair back.

We quickly boiled some water and scarfed down our oatmeal and coffee so we could get to the Grand Canyon visitors center to catch a shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead (see grand-canyon-south-rim-pocket-map for details).

Outside the Visitor Center we found a short line of people waiting for the shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. The buses come every 10-15 minutes so we patiently waited for our transportation to arrive. Once on the shuttle, we sat surrounded by backpackers, day hikers, and rafters as we rode past flittering glimpses of the canyon.

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Sunrise at the top of South Kaibab trailhead

After a short ride our bus rolled into a parking lot near the trailhead.  We jumped off the shuttle and slowly walked towards the Grand Canyon. It was early and the sun that would later in the day strongly beat down on us cast a soft and hazy blanket of orange over the red and purple rocks. Everything looked gentle and quiet in this light. We soaked in the view. Excitement bubbled out of each of us as we imagined ourselves at the bottom of the expansive rock feature.

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Early morning sunlight peaking around the corner

We began the 7 mile down hill trek into the belly of the canyon and quickly realized that hiking down the South Kaibab trail rather than up was a fabulous decision.  The trail is extremely steep and features countless switchbacks and rock stair steps.

After about 3 hours of dodging rocks, logs, and donkeys on the trail a small tunnel came into sight. When we emerged from the cool darkness we were greeted with the view of a large bridge suspended 20 feet above the Colorado River. We had made it to the bottom!

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Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

We found a grassy area next to the muddy water of the Colorado, pulled out some snacks and enjoyed the view. Seeing the Grand Canyon from the top was definitely a treat but being able to view it from within is a humbling experience. Each switchback offered new views, lighting, and angles of the canyon making the Colorado River below turn from a docile stream into a raging river. After our much deserved break we decided it was time to start hiking again. The next portion of the hike was the bright angel trail, a 9.5 mile hike to the top of the canyon.

We began following alongside the Colorado River but quickly made a turn into the side of the canyon.  This portion of the trail crossed a small bubbling creek in a few areas and eventually changed from exposed red rock to being rimmed by green luscious vegetation. After 5 more miles of hiking we landed ourselves at Indian Gardens, an oasis in the dry canyon.  We found a large tree and ate our PB&Js in the relief of its shade.

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“Only 4.5 miles to go!” we yelled excitedly. Here was the finish line, we had almost made back to the top! We slowly trudged up the trail that had thus far only held a gentle inclination but now became increasingly steep with each step. Left. Right. Left. Right. Our legs climbed and climbed.  The bright Arizona sun stared intensely at us from above as I quietly fought to keep my lunch down.

After 2.5 miles we stoped at one of the rest areas along the trail.

“My legs are mush.” Rach murmured.

“Mine too.” I replied as we looked up the trail at Harry who seemed not to be bothered by the steepness of the hike. Oh to be 15 years old again…

2. More. Miles.  We continued hiking.  Until now the trail hadn’t been very crowded.  In fact at times we went long stretches without seeing people.  However, as we neared the rim of the canyon people littered every aspect of the trail.  We tried not to show our frustration as a couple goobers taking selfies hogged the entire path.  At this point we just needed to finish the hike! Finally, we wrapped around a switchback and there it was, the end of the trail and the parking lot near the shuttle that would take us back to our car where cold drinks and food awaited us.

“Ahhhh!” Rach exclaimed as we stood in line for our bus to arrive. “I cannot believe we just did that.”

“I know! That was awesome.” I replied.

“I call the hammock when we get back to the campsite.” Harry interjected.

“Ok Hairball.” Rach and I agreed.

The Grand Canyon never ceases to amaze me.  I’ve been numerous times since we moved to Arizona and I gain a new appreciation for it each time my eyes fall on the deep canyon walls.  I must say, however, I have never felt so awe-struck as I did during this hike even though it definitely wasn’t the easiest or safest thing in the entire world.  In fact every park ranger that we talked to before the hike advised against it saying it was reckless for a day hike.  I think this is probably true for most of the people who visit the Grand Canyon but for those who have a lot of experience hiking long distances and bring enough food and water this is a fun and scenic trip!

One thought on “#24 Grand Canyon: Down and Back Again

  1. Pingback: Arizona Top 3 | The Uncharted RN

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