Arriving at Grand Canyon we beelined for the Backcountry Permit office to see if there were any hikes available. Shannan had done some internet research so we had an idea of what was available and pounced on the opportunity for a 3 day hike, 1 day to get down to the river and stay at Bright Angel campground, 2 days to make the return hike back out of the canyon.
The vertical mile
The day begins earlier than planned, camping 'rim side' we find it cold and awake early enough to catch the 7am bus that will take us out to the start of our hike, the South Kaibab trailhead. This is to be the 11.3km path that takes us down almost 1.5km to the river below. We begin with a few switchbacks...
The trail then rapidly descends into a series of switchbacks before easing off with some switchbacks. Elevation profile. This is a steep trail with very little cover as it follows a ridge down the canyon, the benefit of this is that it offers spectacular views of the canyon as you travel down and we were doing it in perfect weather so it was quite enjoyable. Mules are used to carry supplies and people down to Phantom Ranch, down at the river. They passed us a few times each day. While you are likely to find evidence of their passing anywhere along the track I swear the intensity of the evidence picked up before particularly harrowing corners.
We are plodding down the canyon with our heavy 3-day packs jarring our knees with each step, occasionally finding ourselves being passed by runners carrying just the water they need to reach their destination. We continue plodding on. We will have somewhere to stay when we arrive, they will have to run back up the canyon tonight or be planning to stay in Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch increases with appeal with each passing runner. We continue our plod, committed.
Our plod takes on a special significance with our first glimpse of the river around Skeleton Point. Hiking down the canyon provides a connection that simply viewing from the lookout points above didn't. One mile down over a 7 mile walk also provides some sore knees and jelly legs.
Near the Bright Angel campsite by the Colorado River, our stop for the night, we crossed a bridge spanning the river, idly wondering how it had been constructed. Later the Ranger told us every piece was brought down either by man or mule in the 30's during the civil construction (the Great Depression was a real boon for the National Parks!). The 550 foot suspension cables being carried down the switchbacks on a long line of mens shoulders.
Which brings us to the Ranger Lectures! This was a particular treat for us as we are travelling outside the peak season that most visit the National Parks. Ranger Emily provided us with a lecture on the unique geology of the Colorado Plateau that has led to the formation of the Grand Canyon. SURE - Sedimentation, Uplift, River, Erosion (see, I was listening!). This was followed up by a lecture on the Kolb Brothers, photographers who played a large role in increasing the public awareness of the Grand Canyon. It was great to sit by the lantern light and hear stories of their daring exploits.
Between arriving at camp and the lectures we visited the canteen at Phantom Ranch. Even with the mild weather we had hiked in we downed our iced tea with vigour and even posted a postcard from the bottom of the Grand Canyon itself, to be carried up by Mule the next day.
The steeper the trail, the prettier the view
We start our ascent along Bright Angel trail. This trail has more shelter from the sun as it follows a valley up to the rim but less opportunity for the impressive view onslaught we had descending along South Kaibab. Elevation profile - we took two days to climb, stopping at Indian Garden overnight.
More switchbacks, but they're going up this time which gives our poor knees and quads a bit of a rest and gets us started on a cardio workout. A nice breeze accompanies us. The clouds are fluffy and look like they belong in a painting. Before lunch the sound of a train departing, well above on the rim, can be hear echoing throughout the canyons.
We arrived at Indian Garden around lunch time and settled in for chow. 12.30: Squirrel Attack! Upon entry to the campsite we see signs warning about viscious, plague bearing squirrels (note their charm and appeal from earlier posts rapidly wearing off). We were greeted by one such squirrel who had either been fed by people or was used to claiming unguarded food from picnic benches. He was not going to take no for an answer and had Shan and I both scrambling to protect our lunch and shoo him away with plumes of dust and squealing. He retreats to a nearby unoccupied campsite to bide his time, keeping me on edge.
Having arrived at Indian Garden around lunch, and surviving the squirrel attack, I was able to take the side trek from Indian Garden to Plateau Point which is about 45mins each way plus however much time you can spare to enjoy the view. You can get an idea of it from this Photosynth (what is this?) I took while I was there: Plateau Point, Grand Canyon. I sat and watched as a rafter navigated down the river towards the rapids on the left. He approached quite slowly but made it look easy once in the rapids and emerged safely to the other side. Plateau Point was also the only place I saw a Condor (and only then because it was pointed out to me). Swinging my trusty 'bigfoot' blurred lens onto the sight I was able to capture a condor shaped blur in the distance. Mission Accomplished.
The best two dollars
We continue the hike to the rim, passing under precipitous overhangs having me daydreaming about an Indiana Jones style escape from large rolling boulders.
Also flies. Small little annoying flies.
And switchbacks. I notice in my notes there seems to be a theme about these. They obviously seemed quite pertinent to the narrative on a number of occasions.
At 3 mile hut we stop for a snack and observe the stop motion squirrel warily. Perhaps they feel such unnatural looking movement makes them less conspicuous? This one is less aggressive than the crazed campsite squirrel of last night. Though he does scratch a lot, plague bearing fleas perhaps? We move on.
Another stop at the one and a half mile hut, this time for fresh popcorn, breaking out the camp stove and popping away. We have been enjoying the novelties of American supermarkets, camping popcorn just one of the many. Having been lugged down a vertical mile and almost all the way back up again I am determined this is going to be eaten on the hike. We begin our social experiment, offering fresh popcorn to hikers passing by and observing their reactions. We didn't even get a chance to offer it to GoPro Guy as he ran down the canyon - if it was me I'd take it leisurely and just speed up the video afterwards.
We arrive around 1pm at the rim. The last few dozen meters the wind, which we had been cautioned could reach 40mph while we were in the canyon, materialises and freezes our sweat to our backs. We have descended a mile to the canyon floor and worked our way back out again. We have not had a shower in four days. The $2 shower at the Grand Canyon campsite is quite possibly the best two dollars I've ever spent.