Attempting to write anything about the Grand Canyon is a daunting task at best.
Standing at the rim of this vast and seemingly infinite chasm carved deeply into
the earth’s crust, one is both awe-struck and deeply humbled by the sheer
size and overwhelming magnificence of what is almost beyond the reach of human
View from the North Rim near the North Rim Lodge.
The most eloquent words ever written or the most breathtaking pictures ever
taken can only marginally begin to describe what this, one of the Seven Natural
Wonders of the World, is really all about.
Kathy, Tim, Tom, Chuck, and Mike at the North Kaibab Trailhead
The Grand Canyon is simply one of those things in life that one must see and
experience for one’s self to even begin to appreciate and understand what
it is all about.
Better yet, is to take several days and walk down into the unseen depths of
the canyon, all the way to the river that carved its way down to the canyon
floor, and to be totally and completely surrounded and enveloped by it, to
take it in with all of one’s senses.
On this spectacular Saturday morning, five members of the Motorola Hiking Club
are about to embark on just such a journey of discovery and self-renewal, as we
gather at the North Rim, ready to begin our descent on the North Kaibab Trail
and enter into the magical realm and hidden worlds of the Grand Canyon.
For the next few days we will be living in a different world, a world ruled by
the laws and forces of nature, a world as rugged and stark, as isolated and
beautiful as can be found anywhere on Earth, a world that will quite literally
overwhelm our senses and humble us beyond our imagination. Let us begin our
journey through time and experience the world of the Grand Canyon of Arizona,
as relatively few are able to see it.
It is a rather long trip from the Phoenix area to the North Rim, and we had
taken the better part of Friday just getting there.
Mike Wargel (our intrepid
hike leader for this event), Scott King (our designated van driver),
Kathy Robertson, Tim McAlpin, and I met at Tom Van Lew’s house at 6:30 AM
for the start of our long journey to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
The Transept from the North Kaibab Trail
Angela Lien was to join us, but she unfortunately had to cancel at the last
minute because of personal problems.
We ran into a minor glitch from the start with Scott’s motorcycle, which
had a steering and/or wheel balance problem, which forced him to leave it
behind at Tom’s house and drive up with me.
After loading our backpacks into the back of Tom’s pickup and
kissing Jeannie Van Lew goodbye (oops – that is, Tom kissing Jeannie
goodbye), we caravan in three vehicles, bound for Flagstaff, where we would
pick up our van that would take us to the North Rim.
Arriving in Flagstaff, we encountered another glitch in the form of a defective
tire on Tom’s truck. (Sure hope these problems are not an omen of things
to come on this trip). Luckily, he caught it before we hit the long road out of
town, and we were able to take care of it at a local tire store. We grabbed
some lunch while waiting for repairs and then dropped my truck off at Adrienne
Van Lew’s apartment in Flagstaff, where she attends NAU. This would serve
as Scott’s return vehicle to Phoenix, when he would bring the van back to
Flagstaff on Saturday afternoon, after dropping us off at the North Kaibab
Trailhead. Scott was originally scheduled to go on this backpacking trip as
well, but later decided to bow out, since he was leading another hike into the
canyon on the following week.
Tom and Mike, one switchback below.
Finally arriving at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim about mid-afternoon, we
drove to the Backcountry Office parking area, where we parked Tom’s and
Tim’s vehicles and transferred all of our gear and ourselves over to the
van for the last leg of our journey to the North Rim.
Late in the afternoon we arrived at Marble Canyon, where we would catch our
first glimpse of the mighty Colorado River, just a few miles down stream from
Lees Ferry is only a few miles below Glen Canyon Dam, which now regulates the
flow of water through the Grand Canyon.
Stopping here for a well-deserved rest break, we got out to stretch our legs
and walk across the original bridge that first spanned the river and now
serves as a footbridge
(a nearby second bridge now carries vehicle traffic across the river).
About mid-way across the bridge we are looking directly down into the dark
green, swirling waters of the Colorado River, flowing a couple of hundred feet
below us on its journey to the east end of the Grand Canyon.
Moving along, we are now enjoying an expansive view of the colorful Vermilion
Cliffs to the west before steadily gaining elevation, as we start to enter the
heavily wooded Kaibab National Forest and pass through Jacob Lake.
After another ten miles the forest abruptly comes to an end, and we are
traversing the high Colorado Plateau, as we drop in elevation on our way to
our home for the night in Fredonia, just south of the Utah border and its
sister city of Kanab. It is now nightfall, as we finally arrive at our
accommodations at a place with the unlikely name of Crazy Jug’s.
After checking in and getting a bonus room in the process, we quickly head
over to Crazy Jug’s Restaurant, where we would probably enjoy our last
really good meal for the next five days. Retiring to our rooms after dinner
and conversation, we determined to get a good night’s rest for the next
day’s 7.5-mile trek into the depths of the Grand Canyon.
We awoke bright and early to partly cloudy skies and surprisingly warm
temperatures in the mid-fifties, loaded up the van, and made our way back
to Jacob Lake and a last hearty breakfast, before heading into the canyon.
Making our way south out of Jacob Lake to the North Rim, we are treated to
beautiful stands of golden Aspen, many at the peak of their color. We also
catch sight of a number of Kaibab mule deer in the meadows as we journey
along. Further down the road, we catch a really rare glimpse of a flock of
eight wild turkeys foraging for their morning breakfast. This is a sight
you don’t see every day in Arizona. We soon pass the turn off for
our trailhead, as we make our way to the North Rim Visitor Center. Here
we will pick up some trail information, talk to the rangers, and study an
interesting 3-D model of the canyon, which paints a pretty realistic
picture of just what we are getting ourselves into on this journey to the
bottom of the Grand Canyon. Last chance to back out. Anyone?? Nope –
we are all determined to do this now.
We decide while we are here to take the extra time and explore at least one
of the lookout points and choose the closest one near the visitor center,
Bright Angel Point.
Although the lookout points on the North Rim are fewer in number than those
on the South Rim, they are even more spectacular since, at 8,200 feet, we
are a full thousand feet higher on this side of the canyon.
We are certainly not disappointed, as our winding trail takes us along
breathtaking and panoramic vistas of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons,
where we would soon be hiking, and a large arm of the canyon known as The
Parts of these canyons are literally ablaze with a riot of fall colors, as
aspen, maple, alder, and oak put on their annual fall show for us.
Our timing couldn’t be more perfect, and this setting is nothing short
After soaking in these fantastic views and taking a number of pictures, we
all meet back at the beautiful Grand Canyon Lodge, perched right at
After checking out the lodge and getting a few more group pictures, we all
pile back in the van one last time for the short trip back to our trailhead.
Waterfalls along Bright Angel Creek
After Scott parks our van in the trailhead parking lot, we get all of our
gear out of the van and set it on the ground, making final checks and adjustments
to our backpacks that we would be carrying for the next five days through the
canyon. Comparing backpack weights, mine actually comes in heaviest at close to
sixty pounds with water. This is not an enviable record, however, and I am not
exactly thrilled to be the heavy weight in this category. It turns out that
Kathy actually has the record in terms of percentage of body weight, with a
38-pound pack on her 100-pound frame. I watch as she gets her pack on with
Tim’s help and catch the grimaced look on her face, as she feels the full
weight of the pack settling on her back. I am not in much better shape with my
load and wonder now if I really want to go through with this. This is, after
all, the final chance to turn back and return to Flagstaff with Scott, before
we lose our transportation and last link back to civilization. Absolutely the
last call. Anyone? Guess not. What the hell – let’s do it!
We are all now fully loaded up, looking and feeling a bit like two-legged mules,
as we stagger our way – feeling the full weight of our backpacks for the
first time – to the North Kaibab Trailhead with Scott, where he will take
group shots of us with everyone’s cameras. This is, afterall, a truly
momentous occasion, something the average person will probably never do (and
something some of us may now be wondering if we should really do). Scott decides
he will keep us company for a while longer and hike down the trail with us for
a short distance. It is now precisely 11:00 AM and a cool and cloudy 67 degrees,
as we start our descent from 8,250 feet into this great chasm we call the Grand
Canyon. Our destination is Cottonwood Campground, 7.5 miles and 4,170 below us
in the mysterious and unseen depths of Bright Angel Canyon.
Kathy and Tim at the first footbridge.
Before we can reach Bright Angel Canyon, however, we must traverse this steepest
section of the North Kaibab Trail, where we will be dropping 3,400 vertical feet
in 4.7 miles through Roaring Springs Canyon.
On our 14.5-mile journey to the Colorado River we will be passing through four
of the seven major life zones of North America and 21 sedimentary rock layers,
from the upper Kaibab Limestone layer to the lower Vishnu Schist layer, that
together record nearly two billion years of Earth’s history, all written
in the rock wall layers of the Grand Canyon.
These ancient rock layers record the advance and retreat of seven seas and two
major periods of mountain building that lifted the Colorado Plateau to its mile
high altitude of today.
Some three to six million years ago the Colorado River began performing its
manifest destiny of cutting its way down through these layers, and with that,
we will conclude Geology 101 for now.
“The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock – cliffs
of rock, tables of rock, plateaus of rock, terraces of rock, crags of rock –
ten thousand strangely carved forms; rocks everywhere, and no vegetation, no soil,
no sand. One must think of a whole land of naked rock, with giant forms carved
on it: cathedral-shaped buttes, towering hundreds or thousands of feet, cliffs
that cannot be scaled, and canyon walls that shrink the river into insignificance,
with vast, hollow domes and tall pinnacles and shafts set on the verge overhead;
and all highly colored – buff, gray, red, brown, and chocolate...”
Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration Of The Colorado River And Its Canyons.
About a half mile below the trailhead, Scott King decides to part company with us
and make his way back for the return trip to Flagstaff. We thank him once again
for volunteering for van driver duty and wish him a safe trip home. We would hear
his voice once again about twenty minutes later over our Motorola TalkAbouts, as
he was pulling away from the parking lot. Unbelievably, a little over a mile down
the trail, Mike Wargel’s voice comes over the TalkAbouts, announcing that
he and Tom were encountering a rain shower. Mike and Tom had quickly taken the
lead on this hike and would not relinquish that position for the next five days.
Kathy and Tim hiked as a pair most of the time and would play trail tag with me,
as we passed one another up from time to time. Within minutes, the rain shower
reached me, as I was hiking alone, and I sought shelter under the branches of a
large Ponderosa Pine at trail’s edge. The shower was quite refreshing,
cooling down the unseasonably warm air along this stretch of the trail.
The rain did not last too long, before the sun came out once again to play tag
with large fluffy white cumulus clouds drifting along in the bright blue Arizona
sky of this beautiful October day. About three miles down the North Kaibab, we
all rejoined at the only water stop until Cottonwood for a lunch and rest break.
Kathy had some hot spots on her feet that she had to attend to, while Mike and
Tom had their boots off to cool their overheated feet, as they munched down some
lunch. Replenishing our water supplies, we slowly make our way down the trail to
our next stop at Roaring Springs, a little over 1.5 miles away.
Roaring Springs, at 4.7 miles from the North Kaibab Trailhead, lies near the
confluence of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. We stop only briefly to
admire and photograph the springs gently cascading in a long series of waterfalls
down the hillside opposite our trail, since it is getting late in the day, and
we need to reach our campground before dark. This is a vital and constant water
source that supplies much of the water for both rims of the canyon, as well as
Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground. The nearby Roaring Springs Pumphouse
sends this water out to its various destinations via a complex network of pipes.
The winds are now picking up speed, and the skies are an omnibus and threatening
gray, as a storm system is rapidly sweeping up Bright Angel Canyon in our
direction. We now make haste to reach Cottonwood Campground and set up camp,
before the skies open up on us. Even Bright Angel Creek, which will parallel our
trail and accompany us all the way to the Colorado River now, seems to be
speeding up its flow to match our pace, as we hasten to reach our campsite for
the night. Soon, in the distance we catch glimpse of the large, towering
Cottonwoods that protect and shelter Cottonwood Campground. Mike and Tom, of
course, were already settling in and setting up camp, before Kathy, Tim, and
I eventually arrived.
It is now 4:30 PM on this cloudy and windy afternoon, as we hasten to set up
our tents before the gray skies start spitting rain at us.
Tom is no doubt now starting to regret his decision to save weight by leaving his
tent behind. He decides to set up camp under the tables after dinner to keep dry.
As we are setting up camp and thinking about dinner, a couple of likeable guys
with the names of Jason and Brian appeared and asked Mike if we had enough space
to accommodate them for the night.
We all sat down to prepare our dinners, just as the rain started to fall.
Time to break out the ponchos now. Hunkered over our stoves to heat water for
the first of many freeze-dried meals, we listen, as Jason and Brian tell us
The two are good friends, and both are physical therapists in the middle of
their internships, Jason interning at Chinle on the Navajo Reservation, and
Brian interning on the Zuni Reservation in New Mexico.
They were doing a rim-to-rim hike, making their way from the South Rim this
morning to the North Rim, before deciding to call it a day and hoping to find
a campsite for the night without permits. Since we had a permit for eight and
a party of only five, they were in luck when they found us. It was now pitch
dark, and the rain was falling persistently, as we make a decision to turn in
early (jeezŅit’s only 7:30!) and get a long, long night’s rest
before the last leg of our journey to Bright Angel Campground and the Colorado
River, another seven miles down the trail through Bright Angel Canyon.
The steepest and most difficult part of the North Kaibab Trail was now behind
us, and tomorrow should be a lot easier going for all of us.
Unfortunately, tentless Tom is now realizing that sleeping under the tables
was not such a great idea afterall, since he cannot turn over under the seats
without hitting something. He then decides to move to a fairly dry area under
one of the sheltering cottonwoods. He is snugly cocooned in his sleeping bag,
with a waterproof space blanket covering him and anchored in place with a few
rocks. The occasional wind gusts, however, are playing havoc with this setup,
so I offer some help by placing larger rocks along both sides of his rain cover
to help hold it in place. This seems to work okay for now, but it is going to
be a real challenge for him to crawl out in the middle of the night to answer
a nature call and then get safely back in.
It was indeed a very long night, with intermittent rain showers throughout
the night. We awoke early Sunday morning to gray, overcast skies and a rather
soggy campground, with the temperature hovering at a surprisingly warm 60
degrees, no doubt due to the overnight cloud cover. At least the rain has
stopped for now, as we fire up the stoves for our morning breakfast of
rib-sticking hot oatmeal. As we roll up our soggy tents and break camp,
Jason and Brian come by to thank us for our hospitality, before they make
their way to the North Rim. As we wish them luck, Mike tells them we will
be at Bright Angel for the next two nights and still had extra space if
they needed it. Wondering if we would cross paths with this intrepid pair
of interns again, we set out for Bright Angel Campground at 9:00 AM under
heavy cloud cover.
Our next destination is Ribbon Falls, about a mile down stream from Cottonwood.
It didn’t take us too long to reach the falls, and at the base of a
basalt outcropping we leave our packs to climb up over the smooth rocks and
make our way to the base of the falls. The falls are slowed to a trickle at
this time of the year, but are picturesque nevertheless, as the water sheets
over travertine outcroppings, heavy with jade moss and Maidenhair ferns.
We make our way up the trail and behind the falls, where we take a break on
a rock ledge and look out through the misty veil of the falls framing the
canyon scene before us. After taking a few group pictures, we reluctantly
leave this hidden little paradise, one of many such places in the nooks and
crannies of the Grand Canyon, and head back to our trail that would take us
to the Colorado today.
One major advantage of last night’s soaking rainfall was the
elimination of the ever-present trail dust in the canyon. The air was now
refreshingly clean and pure and the trail compact, as we make our way
through the canyon, with Bright Angel Creek gurgling and bubbling alongside,
cascading over rocks and boulders in the creek bed, as gravity dictated its
course to the Colorado River. We were now making very good time on this
relatively level portion of the trail and regroup for lunch on some boulders
at trailside at about 12:30. Tom broke out his cheddar cheese in a can and
some Ritz crackers that he shared with us, as the sun broke through and blue
skies prevailed once again. We would then cross over a couple more bridges
spanning Bright Angel Creek, before entering a narrow area of the canyon
known simply as The Box.
The Box is actually considered an inner gorge, but it is almost like a slot
canyon in places, with its 1200-foot high walls soaring skyward and providing
deep shade until the sun is almost directly overhead.
You feel like you could almost reach out and touch both walls in the narrower
areas of this part of the canyon.
Mike, Tom, Kathy, and Tim seek refuge behind the falls.
At one point we find ourselves navigating through what we could almost call
“The Swamp“ – an area of thick, heavy undergrowth that is
over our heads and almost overgrowing the trail in places, with muck and
large pools of stagnant water lying across the trail.
This is a true riparian paradise that no doubt provides shelter for many
canyon creatures that could not survive anywhere else in this canyon.
Going up and down through minor elevation changes and rounding bend after bend
after bend in the trail, we realize we must now be getting closer and closer
to Phantom Ranch and nearby trail’s end at Bright Angel Campground.
Sure enough, it isn’t too much longer before we hear Mike and Tom, in the
lead as usual, announce that they have finally reached the Phantom Ranch area.
Kathy and Tim are still a little ways behind me, when I finally approach the
Phantom Ranch welcome sign myself. Civilization once again! But wait: we are
here for the wilderness experience, not civilization. However, I can almost
taste the ice-cold beer and lemonade awaiting us at the ranch’s cool,
inviting cantina. Going through Phantom Ranch and following the trail once
again along Bright Angel Creek, we soon spot the footbridge that will take us
across the creek and into Bright Angel Campground, our home for the next two
Mike and Tom were fortunate enough to get the covered group site this time,
especially since the Phantom Ranch weather forecast called for a 60% chance
of rain tonight. Tom could sleep dry and comfortable under the covered area
tonight. We set up camp, get cleaned up a bit, and rest for awhile, while
thinking about what to fix for tonight’s dinner and discussing plans for
tomorrow activities. Tomorrow will be our optional day to do whatever strikes
our fancy, to strike out in any direction we want, or to simply kick back and
relax and enjoy the scenery. This is really a great campsite, with a sheer
cliff on one side and the swiftly flowing Bright Angel Creek on the other
side, all surrounded by a lush canopy of trees and shrubs providing
much-welcomed shade. Despite the rain we had last night and the threat of
more tonight and tomorrow, we are really getting a break in the weather,
temperature-wise, since it has been in the mid to upper nineties on the
canyon floor over the past few days. Today, we would not see the temperature
rise above a balmy 82 degrees, and tomorrow’s forecast called for more
of the same.
Tim and Kathy return from their excursion along the creek, where they sat
for a while and soaked their tired, hot feet in the cool, rushing waters
of Bright Angel. Mike decides to walk over to Phantom Ranch to check on
tomorrow night’s dinner he had reserved for us, and we all tag along
with him. He is told he will have to come back tomorrow, so we amble around
the ranch area for awhile and then slowly make our way back to our campsite,
where we start to make preparations for dinner. Let’s see now –
what freeze-dried delacacies shall we whip up tonight? Kathy, to no
one’s real surprise, turns out to be our master chef on this trip,
preparing such dishes as pasta, with pepperoni, mushrooms, sun-dried
tomatoes, and secret sauce. All of a sudden, my chicken and rice in a bag
doesn’t look all that appealing any more. We now know who will be
assigned as our group food preparer and cook on next year’s trip
into the canyon. Thanks, Kathy!
Just as we were finishing dinner, and nightfall was approaching, who should
drop by our camp and call out “Mike?” but the dynamic duo of
Jason and Brian. They had hiked all the way up to the North Rim after they
left us this morning and then all the way back down to Bright Angel, a total
distance of nineteen miles. As tired as they were, they were actually
considering resting and eating and then starting out for the South Rim
tonight. Are these guys nuts? Mike insisted they stay with us tonight and
then head out in the morning, a much safer alternative, which they agreed
to. Meanwhile, we had a 7:30 date with one of the park rangers tonight, who
was giving a talk on “The History of River Running on the Colorado
As expected, the very first name associated with river running on the
Colorado was none other than Civil War veteran Major John Wesley Powell.
In 1869 Powell and a crew of nine, with four heavy wooden dories, embarked
on one of the greatest adventures of all time on a 99-day journey down one
of the most dangerous rivers in the world, marking the first navigation of
the wild and fearsome Colorado River. We also heard about longtime river
explorer Bert Loper, known as the “Grand Old Man of The Colorado
River”. The veteran of countless river explorations, Loper died on
the river of an apparent heart attack at the ripe old age of eighty.
He had stood upright in his boat, clutching his heart, and promptly fell
overboard, never to be seen again.
Legend has it that whenever boatmen hear the mysterious sound of oars in
oarlocks in the middle of the night, it is probably the ghost of old Bert
Loper working his way down the river. The last story involved the
“Honeymoon Couple”, Glenn and Bessie Hyde, who disappeared
without a trace while taking a honeymoon trip down the Colorado in 1928.
Despite repeated pleas by friends and authorities, Glenn had refused to
allow lifejackets in his boat; and, despite repeated pleas by his new
bride to turn back, he would hear none of it and insisted in pressing on,
resulting in a tragically short honeymoon.
Side canyon on the North Kaibab Trail.
“The river is very deep, the canyon very narrow with walls
more than a mile high. There is no steady flow of the river, and the waters
reel and roll and boil, and we are scarcely able to determine where we can go.
Now the boat is carried to the right, perhaps close to the wall; again, she
is shot into the stream, and perhaps is dragged over to the other side, where,
caught in a whirlpool, she spins about. We can neither land nor run as we
please. The boats are entirely unmanageable; no order in their running can be
preserved; now one, now another, is ahead, each crew laboring for its own
preservation. In such a place we come to another rapid. Two of the boats run
it perfect. One succeeds in landing, but there is no foothold by which to
make a portage, and she is pushed out again into the stream. The next minute
a great reflex wave fills the open compartment; she is waterlogged and drifts
unmanageable. Breaker after breaker rolls over her and one capsizes her.
The men are thrown out; but they cling to the boat, and she drifts down some
distance alongside of us and we are able to catch her. She is soon bailed out,
and the men are aboard once more; but the oars are lost.”
Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration Of The Colorado River And Its Canyons.
After the lecture, we head over to the Phantom Ranch cantina for some cold lemonade.
The place is completely packed, and there is a long line to the register. We all
buy the 2001 Phantom Ranch T-shirts and some lemonade and find a place to sit at
the very last table at the far end of the room, where we discuss, among other things,
the stories and legends of the Colorado River. After a while we decide to return to
camp and make our way back in the dark, flashlights sweeping back and forth, picking
out our trail to Bright Angel. There is a bit of excitement back at our campsite,
as Kathy tells us about the Ringtail Cat that she spotted trying to raid our
backpacks. There is a very good reason for suspending your backpacks on the provided
poles and securing all food items in the heavy ammo cans. These critters of the
night have been known to chew through backpacks to get at a tube of toothpaste or
a stick of deodorant.
We are in no great rush to get started early on Monday morning, since this is our
one free day without a specific destination or any timetables to adhere to. However,
it is not easy to sleep too late in the Grand Canyon, and one has a tendency to rise
with the sun and get on with the day, which we had pretty much planned last night.
Tom was really anxious to get down to the river and do some trout fishing. Mike, Tim,
and Kathy had decided to do the River Trail Loop, which traversed both sides of the
Colorado between the black Kaibab Suspension Bridge and the Silver Suspension Bridge.
Heeding Scott King’s suggestion from Friday, I decided to try the Clear Creek
Trail, which Scott said provided terrific overlooks of both Phantom Ranch and the
Colorado. After another hearty oatmeal breakfast, we all strike out in different
directions. We had already shook hands with Jason and Brian and said our good-byes,
as they struck out for the South Rim. They were going all the way to the top today
– no stopping off at Indian Garden for these two.
As I start back up the North Kaibab Trail, I have my Grand Canyon trail map with
me, but realize I still don’t know exactly where the trailhead begins.
Moving along at a much faster pace than yesterday, it is surprising how much more
ground you can cover without a 60-pound load on your back. In less than thirty
minutes, I was 1.4 miles up the trail to the Phantom Ranch sign, but still had not
seen any signs of the Clear Creek Trailhead. I had already asked a couple of other
hikers, and neither had ever heard of the trail. I pressed on and eventually
crossed the last two footbridges and hiked another half mile, before I was sure I
had gone too far. I backtracked all the way to the Phantom Ranch sign once again,
and as I paused there for a rest break, just happened to look up a fairly steep
hill to my left, when I spotted the trailhead sign about fifty feet off the trail.
I had walked right by it earlier.
Now looking up at a steeply climbing trail that seems to go on and on without
end, I ask myself if I really want to do this now, since we are going to be doing
some pretty serious hiking tomorrow, as we start our long climb back out of this
canyon to the South Rim (ouch — I almost forgot about the Devil’s
Corkscrew!). I decide to at least start out and see how it goes for a while. It
is a pretty steep trail, but without a heavy backpack the climb is much easier,
and even with full sun on me, a good steady breeze is keeping me cooled down.
I climb higher and higher and am fooled twice by false overlooks that provide
views of neither the ranch nor the river.
Kathy and Tim enjoy a moment of solitude
as the Colorado River rolls by.
I decide to try one more overlook, up a long stretch of ascending trail, about
a quarter mile ahead.
Reaching that, I am at last rewarded with a great view of Phantom Ranch, about
a thousand feet directly below me (if I had the urge, I could swan dive right
into the mule corral), as well as views of the raft beach area of the Colorado
River, the Kaibab Suspension Bridge, and Bright Angel Creek flowing into the river.
There is also an interesting massive stone bench that was built by the CCC back
in the thirties.
Taking several photos, I try to reach Tom on the radio and find out that he has
caught one small rainbow trout, which he is just about to take back to the
campground and prepare for dinner.
I cannot reach anyone else, and inform Tom that I will be heading back down
shortly and should be back in camp in about an hour for lunch.
Arriving back in camp, I find, much to my dismay, that Tom has already finished off
his trout lunch. Not even a small morsel left! I guess it’s going to be peanut
butter once again. Kathy and Tim are taking it easy somewhere along the creek.
I decide to take a short nap after lunch and lay out on one of the tables for a while.
Tom decides to do some more trout fishing, and we all head down to the confluence of
Bright Angel and the Colorado, where he had caught his last trout. Since I do not
have sandals, I cannot ford the creek without getting my boots wet, so go all the
way around on the camp footbridge. By the time I reach the river, I find Tim and
Kathy sitting on a couple of boulders, feet in the cool, clear waters of Bright
Angel Creek less than a hundred feet from where it ends its long journey through
Bright Angel Canyon and empties its waters into the swiftly flowing Colorado River.
On the other side of the creek, Tom is reeling in his second trout from the river
and holds it up for all to see, as Mike takes a picture for the record. Tom would
catch one more trout before leaving the river, but would have to throw both of them
back, since we were having dinner at Phantom Ranch tonight, and there was no way
to keep the trout overnight.
As I sit by the river’s edge, I notice a small piece of driftwood bobbing
swiftly by on the boiling current and, feeling how cold (a constant 47 degrees) the
river water is, realize the slim chance of survival one would face falling into this
river. I also couldn’t help but think back in time to the Powell expedition
down the Colorado in 1869 and the terrible hardships and sacrifices they had to
endure on their 99-day journey. It was a totally different river back then, of
course, wild and untamed by the hand of man. No man-made dams of concrete and steel
blocked the river’s 1,450-mile passage to the sea back in 1869, when on an
average day the river carried over 500,000 tons of sand, silt, and gravel through
this canyon. That daily load of abrasives cutting, grinding, and scouring its way
down through layer upon layer upon layer of the vast Colorado Plateau, combined with
colliding plates uplifting the land over a mile higher and then millions of years
of weathering and erosion, is what eventually gave birth to this mystical and
unbelievable place that we call the Grand Canyon. With that we now conclude
Geology 101. (Whew!)
“Every waking hour passed in the Grand Canyon has been one of toil.
Ever before us has been an unknown danger, heavier than immediate peril.
We have watched with deep solicitude the steady disappearance of our scant
supply of rations, and from time to time have seen the river snatch a portion
of the little left, while we went hungered. Danger and toil were endured in
these gloomy depths, where clouds often hid the sky by day and but a narrow
zone of stars could be seen at night. Only during the few hours of deep sleep,
consequent on hard labor, has the roar of the waters been hushed. Now the
danger is over, now the toil has ceased, now the gloom has disappeared.
We sit till long after midnight talking of the Grand Canyon, talking of home,
but talking chiefly of the three men who left us. Are they wandering in those
depths, unable to find a way out? Are they searching over the desert lands
above for water? Or are they nearing the settlements?”
Major John Wesley Powell, on emerging from the Grand Canyon with his exhausted
and tattered band of river runners on August 29, 1869 (the three men Powell
was referring to, who left the expedition one day before it was completed,
were never seen or heard from again).
We soon leave the river behind and head back to camp to wash up for our 5:30
dinner appointment at Phantom Ranch.
Unfortunately, we would have to eat in shifts, per Phantom Ranch rules of dining,
with Mike, Tom, and me going in at 5:30 for the steak and veggie dinners, and
Tim and Kathy going at 6:30 for the beef stew dinners.
We are lined up at the door, as the cook’s assistant explains the cantina
rules of dining to us.
Silver Suspension Bridge over the Colorado River
We apparently misunderstood him, since the actual, unspoken rules of Phantom
Ranch cantina dining are: run to your seat, dive in, and grab all the food you
can slam dunk onto your plate in the shortest possible time, because if you
politely hesitate, there ain’t gonna be anything left, and you are flat
gonna go hungry, pal.
This is our introduction to competition dining, Grand Canyon style.
We learn fast.
Mike is savoring his thick, juicy New York strip steak, making grunting and
chomping noises, as he tells us how utterly delicious every tasty morsel is to
his steak-loving palate. Meanwhile, Tom and I are forced to make do with a strange
looking concoction called “lentil loaf”, which has the appearance of
loosely compressed sawdust. One can only imagine what the actual ingredients are
in this mysterious loaf. Actually, as Tom puts it, it you really use your imagination
and douse it with enough ketchup, it tastes almost like a kind of poor man’s
meatloaf. The kind and benevolent lady sitting directly across from us has apparently
taken great pity on Tom, as he secretly admires her half-eaten steak, and insists
that he finish it for her, as she slides her plate in his direction. Tom only
hesitates for about a nanosecond, before stabbing it with his fork and proceeding
to eagerly devour it, expressing his undying appreciation. The rest of the meal is
rounded out with tossed salad, mixed veggies, baked potato, and then terrific
chocolate brownies for desert. On a more serious note, this kind woman informs us
that the bombing campaign has just begun in Afghanistan, as “Operation Infinite
Justice” gets underway in response to the recent terrorist attacks in New York
City and Washington DC on September 11.
We meet Kathy and Tim, as we are heading back to the camp, and Mike explains the
real rules of dining in the cantina and wishes them luck. We all agree to meet in
the amphitheater area at 7:30 PM for the ranger talk tonight on “Search &
Rescue in the Grand Canyon”. This turns out to be an interesting and somewhat
sobering talk about crime and hiking related deaths in the canyon, things you just
don’t normally think about while in the canyon, or even want to think about
for that matter. Most of the crime related problems occur on the busy South Rim,
which, as the ranger puts it, has all of the problems of any small city, including
traffic, noise, pollution, fist fights, road rage, and, yes, even felony crime.
Fortunately, there is not too much of this down in the canyon itself. She tells
us of an astonishing 450 search and rescue missions per year, on average, in the
Grand Canyon. Even more astonishing is the fact that on an average year between
twenty and thirty people die in the canyon, most from dehydration, heat strokes,
heart attacks, or from just plain falling into the canyon. Not too surprisingly,
there are also some folks who choose to commit suicide while in the Grand Canyon.
Pretty morbid stuff to go to sleep with tonight. At the end of the rescue talk,
we are given some really good tips on “How to Come Out of the Grand Canyon
With a Smile on Your Face.” These include: (1) Staying well hydrated,
(2) Eating plenty of food – you should consume 500 calories/hour while hiking
out of the canyon, (3) Pace yourself – you should never be breathing so hard
that you cannot carry on a conversation while hiking, and (4) Take a rest break
at least once an hour, elevating your feet and legs above your heart for about
five to ten minutes.
We decide to turn in early tonight, since we have a 6:30 AM breakfast appointment
at Phantom Ranch, followed by an appointment with Bright Angel Trail and a hike
up to Indian Garden. Morning always comes around fast when you need to break camp
and head out, and this was no exception. After a hearty breakfast of bacon,
scrambled eggs, pancakes, and canned peaches, we finish packing up and preparing
for our 4.7 mile hike to Indian Garden, with a 1,400 foot climb up through the
infamous Devil’s Corkscrew. With backpacks loaded up and ready to go, our
Sherpa porter, Tim, volunteers to carry them all across Bright Angel Creek and
deposit them on the trail on the opposite side, saving us the long walk back to
the bridge and then across. Thanks Tim! You probably shaved a good half mile off
the day’s hike for us.
It doesn’t take us too long to reach the Silver (also known as the Bright
Angel) Suspension Bridge about a quarter mile up the trail. It’s kind of
an eerie feeling walking across this bridge, as you feel it sway ever so slightly
and look directly down upon the swiftly flowing waters of the mighty Colorado
River about one hundred feet below. Loaded down with a full backpack, you
don’t want to even think about what would happen if ... Nope, we won’t
even go there. Safely across the bridge, we hit the river portion of the trail
(appropriately enough named River Trail) that would carry us for about 1.5 miles
along river’s edge to Pipe Springs. After climbing and then leveling off
a bit through a deep, sandy stretch of trail, we start a pretty good ascent up
River Trail that affords us some really great views of the river. At one point
on this stretch of trail, I come across a squirrel, busily digging up a store
of nuts right at trail’s edge. I think he was getting tired of too much
traffic so close to his food locker and decided to move it to a more secluded
At Pipe Springs the trail leaves the river and follows the springs up a side
canyon to the only resthouse until Indian Garden. It was here at Pipe Springs,
where Machell and Bill Short, our resident trout fishing experts on the last
two trips into the Grand Canyon, were getting in one last fishing opportunity
in the Colorado during our October, 1999 trip, that we ran into our first nudists
in the canyon. This is a very popular rest area, and that day was no exception,
with at least twenty or more hikers present, when a boat pulled into a sandy
beach area with six people aboard. Before we realized what was happening, one
of the two young couples was frolicking on the beach in the buff (Don’t
look, Ethel!), fully exposed without a care in the world. Of all the times not
to have my telephoto lens with me. Damn!
Shortly after leaving the rest house, we cross over the springs once more
before starting our gradual ascent for the next mile and meeting the dreaded
Devil’s Corkscrew, a long series of tight, winding hairpin turns and
switchbacks through a thick layer of Vishnu Schist, the oldest exposed rock
in the Grand Canyon. As we wind our way through the corkscrew passages, gaining
more and more altitude, the views become more and more impressive and expansive,
looking deep into the Inner Gorge, with its endless temples, buttes, pinnacles,
and spires, constantly changing colors with the movement of the sun and the
passage of towering cumulus clouds. The Grand Canyon is anything but static,
and no two days spent here are ever quite the same. Just when we start to think
there is no end to these switchbacks, the trail tops out at last and affords
the hiker the best view yet of the canyon, as well as a view looking down on
the corkscrew trail and the tiny figures slowly working their way up the trail
that we, thankfully, have now just completed.
The trail now levels out for the most part, with most of the elevation gain
behind us, as it starts to parallel Garden Creek and threads its way through
the Tapeats Narrows and on into Indian Garden. This narrow corridor alongside
the creek all the way into the campground is one beautifully lush riparian area
full of Freemont cottonwoods, willows, ash, and redbud trees. Even though it is
now late morning, the trees and canyon walls on our left provide us with welcome
shade, as the sun gets higher on this beautiful fall day. I catch up with Kathy
and Tim once more, as they are taking one last rest break, with less than a mile
to go before reaching Indian Garden. I stop with them and rest for awhile,
before heading back out. The trail now starts to climb a little above Garden
Creek, which cascades over a series of several short waterfalls along the way,
before leveling off once again on its final approach to Indian Garden. It is
about this point that we get word from Mike and Tom that they have just reached
Indian Garden and our campsite.
As I get closer to Indian Garden, I spot a doe and her young fawn foraging in
a shaded area just off the trail to my left. Deer around these camp areas are
so accustomed to people, they barely seem to notice or even care about your
presence, so these two go about their business, oblivious to this hiker.
I guess if I were a deer, I couldn’t ask for a better (or safer) place
to be than this lush, cool oasis centered around Indian Garden. Finally
arriving at our campsite at high noon, I am somewhat disappointed to find
that Mike and Tom do not have my cheeseburger with fries and a large, ice-cold
Coke ready, as requested earlier over the TalkAbout. Jeez, guys, c’mon
already! What’s the problem here? Oh, well. Looks like another peanut
butter sandwich with pretzels and Gatorade. After we get out of this canyon,
it may be quite awhile before I eat peanut butter again. Within minutes Tim
and Kathy arrive. Hey, what’s with these squirrels sitting on the end
of the table? Are they going to be eating lunch with us? They sure are
persistent little guys, and though we shoo them away time after time, they
just keep coming back, looking for a handout. They are no doubt used to being
fed by careless campers. We finish our lunch, set up our tents for the night,
and settle down for a rest break, before heading out later in the afternoon
to catch the sunset at Plateau Point.
The 1.5-mile trail out to Plateau Point is by far the most level stretch
of trail we will encounter on this trip. The views from Plateau Point are
some of the most spectacular in the Grand Canyon, taking in vast, sweeping
expanses of the Inner Gorge, the Bright Angel Trail coming up from the
river, and some of the best views in the canyon of the Colorado River,
winding its way between soaring canyon walls 1400 feet directly below us.
One could literally swan dive off this point directly into the river, not
a very wise move, however. As the sun gets lower on the horizon, the colors
deepen in the buttes and temples on the other side of the river. Within
minutes the thin layer of cirrus clouds hanging over the canyon take on a
light orange hue, while we snap away with our cameras, hoping to capture
this magical moment on film. Just as quickly, the color starts to fade, the
moment is lost, and we start back for camp and our last canyon dinner.
Sleep does not come easy on our last night in the canyon, due not only to
anticipating the strenuous hike out early in the morning, but also from a
certain sense of sadness, realizing that our all too brief time in the canyon
is quickly coming to an end, our long journey from the North Rim nearing its
completion. We awaken at 5:30 AM on Wednesday morning, October 10th, to a
brisk 50 degrees and a light breeze softly blowing in out of the west.
It is just starting to get light in the canyon, as we prepare breakfast,
start to break camp, and make final preparations for this most challenging
leg of our trip, a climb of 3,100 feet in 4.6 miles to the South Rim. Our
goal is to hit the trail by 7:00, and we are not too far off, as we step
out on the Bright Angel Trail at 7:15 AM and bid farewell to Indian Garden.
The sun is up, and the temperature is still holding at 50 degrees, as a
brand new day dawns in the Grand Canyon of Arizona.
There are not going to be too many level places on this trail, as we start
a gradual ascent almost immediately outside of Indian Garden. This is
actually the easy part, and we veteran hikers unfortunately know what lies
in store for us ahead on the trail. Strange how our backpacks do not seem
to be getting any lighter, now that we have consumed most of our food
supplies and are not carrying as much water, since we will be hiking no
more than one and a half miles between water stops on this stretch of trail.
Our next stop will be the 3-Mile Resthouse, only 1.5 miles up the trail, but
“up” is the key word here, since we have to climb 1,120 feet in
elevation before we reach it. Mike and Tom, to no one’s great surprise,
are the first to announce their arrival at 3-Mile Resthouse. Tim and Kathy
are next, with me bringing up the rear again.
After a good fifteen minutes of rest and refueling and topping off our
water supplies, we head back out in waves: Mike and Tom, followed by Tim
and Kathy, and then myself a few minutes later. We soon hit the infamous
Jacob’s Ladder, a tight series of switchbacks that will carry us up
through several thick layers of Redwall Limestone. This segment of Bright
Angel seems to be especially slow, since we seem to be doing an awful lot
of hiking without gaining much elevation. By the time we finally reach the
1.5-Mile Resthouse, I would swear that we have actually hiked at least 2.5
miles. My backpack seems to have gained about ten more pounds as well.
By the time we reach the South Rim, I know my pack weight is up to at least
a hundred pounds. The rest of our group is almost ready to leave when I
finally arrive, having stopped a number of times for photo opportunities,
as I shoot up my last roll of film. At least that’s the best story I
can come up with for now, and I am sticking with it. We would not meet again
until the South Rim.
After too many switchbacks to count, we are finally through Jacob’s Ladder,
but the last 1.5-mile segment to the top is not really going to be any easier,
since we are starting to tire from lugging these packs up three miles of trail
and through over 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
Having seen several mule trains pass us on their way down to Phantom Ranch with
a fresh batch of recruits looking down smugly on us poor, struggling hikers, the
idea of mulejacking is now becoming more and more appealing.
Last view of Plateau Point from the Bright Angel Trail.
Oh well, it’s an entertaining thought anyway.
It is really easy to burn up film on this last stretch of the trail, as we get
closer to the rim and the canyon opens up to ever-expanding views of the Inner
Gorge, Indian Garden, Plateau Point, and Bright Angel Canyon, far off to the north.
Wow! Did we really come all the way down through there?
With that in mind, I think back to the rim-to-rim-to-rim runners we had encountered
on our first day in the canyon near the ranger station just below Roaring Springs.
These guys had started from the South Kaibab Trail at 3:00 AM that Saturday morning
and ran, jogged, and hiked their way down to the Colorado River, then all the way
up through Bright Angel Canyon to the North Rim, turned around and came all the way
back down to Roaring Springs, where we met them, and expected to be come back out
on the South Rim by 8:00 PM that night. They would cover an astonishing 48 miles in
18 hours, an absolutely remarkable feat for anyone. I believe that feat helped
energize me and propel me forward on this last grueling stretch of the trail, as we
near the top of the rim. Mike and Tom had made it out at 11:45 AM, while Kathy and
Tim were not too far behind, making it out a little past noon. I would follow in
about another half hour.
Little did I know as I emerged from the last tunnel and was finishing up the last
stretch of trail, that I would have a cheering squad at the top, urging me on.
I will let Mike Wargel provide the details on that, among other things, in his
following summary, along with a short report from Tom, Kathy, and Tim on their
experiences in the canyon. Finally, I would like to conclude this report with the
following two quotes:
“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which, so far as I
know, is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.
I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it, in your own interest and
in the interest of the country – to keep this great wonder of nature as it
is now. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can
do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all
who come after you.”
President Theodore Roosevelt in a 1903 visit to the canyon that became instrumental
in the formation of Grand Canyon National Park sixteen years later.
“One might imagine that this (the Grand Canyon) was intended for the
library of the gods; and so it was. The shelves are not for books, but form the
stoney leaves of one great book. He who would read the language of the universe
may dig out letters here and there, and with them spell words, and read, in a slow
and imperfect way, but still so as to understand a little, the story of
Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration Of The Colorado River And Its Canyons.
from Mike Wargel:
Hiking the Grand Canyon is always an experience to remember. Having never seen the
North Rim nor the bottom, the 2001 5-day trip should be doubly rewarding. I was
not disappointed. I left the Canyon exhilarated, excited, and anxious to make the
trip again in the future.
Seeing the North Rim, especially with the fall colors, created impressions of New
England in the fall. Spectacular shades of red, gold, yellow, and orange permeated
the landscape. Then to see the incredible views from the rim itself was magnificent.
The natural serenity found only in the more remote areas of the Canyon was
impressive as well. Will definitely plan a trip to the North Rim Lodge in the future.
Looking down into the Canyon from the Rim, I was hoping to see my planned route,
like the South Rim. The trail was nowhere to be found! Talk about unsettling the
nerves, only to see the steep walls with no trail! As we started down, I noticed
the trail needing to hug the walls, out of sight of the rim. More colors than
I’ve seen even in Flagstaff in the fall then down to the sandstone layers
and eventually talus layers. The trail drops quite a ways down before you even
round the rampart upon which the North Rim sits. Even when we got to Cottonwood
campground, we noticed we were still just below the North Rim Lodge! All that
hiking and no progression towards the Colorado River!
Rain the first night dampened my spirits, mostly with the thoughts of rain for
each of the next 4 days. Later that night (after midnight) the clouds cleared and
I saw the most brilliant display of moon and stars since a cruise I took in
’95. The moon created bold silhouettes of the buttes and ramparts.
“And I left my tripod at home!” I thought to myself...
Off and on clouds brightened my spirits the second day. Anxious to keep going,
knowing the next stop was nearly 7 miles ahead, I still looked forward to the
views along Bright Angel canyon. We stopped at Ribbon Falls. This amazing stream
waterfall was impressive beyond words. We could hike to the base and around the
backside to enjoy the cool wisps of falling water collect in the moss and fern
covered pool before continuing along the sides of the rocks. “How long had
this been going on?” I wondered...
As the Bright Angel Canyon narrowed, we entered the area known simply as
“the Box”. Imagine an S curve that lasts over 2 miles! The whole
way following along a fast moving creek that has carved this area for millennia.
Crossing several bridges provided relaxing respites along the way. Around each
bend, a spectacular view of a temple, or butte. Looking back, the sun highlighted
even more, detailing ornate natural formations in the rock. Some of the most
pristine samples of agave, prickly pear, and other cactus along the way. Bold,
brilliant green, undamaged by any pollution, the likes of these simply cannot
be found near home.
As we approached Phantom Ranch, the clouds provided much cooler temps and better
hiking weather. We were lucky to get the better of the two group sites as
sprinkles of rain dotted the area. Before long, the skies cleared for sunset.
Up above, the upper canyon walls were lit in brilliant shades of gold and crimson.
We listened to two ranger programs under the stars, by lantern light during our
stay. Learning about the canyon, and about ourselves, as it turned out.
Having a day to myself at the bottom of the canyon had to be the most relaxing
time I know. Went with Tim and Kathy on a morning hike across the river and back.
Stopped at a ledge about 100 ft above the river, still in the shade of the south
inner gorge rim. A steady breeze flowing by, the setting moon to the west, and the
soothing sounds of the river below made for moments of relaxation and reflection.
“This is Monday?” I thought...
Spending the afternoon with my fellow backpackers was quite memorable. Sitting along
the shore of the Colorado, reading a book about hiking the Canyon, Tom catching fish as I
frantically reach for his camera, Chuck shooting up more film just downstream, Tim and
Kathy boulder hopping, all in the afternoon sun. Clear skies, warm sunshine, and temps
below 85!! Shortly after the well-rested river rafters took off again, we returned to camp
for dinner and the 2nd Ranger program at Phantom Ranch.
I awoke Tuesday apprehensive about today’s leg of the trip. 4.6 miles straight up.
Knowing “The Devil’s Corkscrew” series of switchbacks was
eagerly anticipating my arrival... “Am I really ready for this? Do I have a
choice?” Tom made an excellent hiking companion. Helping me keep my pace up
and still take time to enjoy the scenery “Damn photographers”
didn’t get mentioned this time as we both took time to enjoy the impressive walls
of the inner gorge, taking in our last views of the Colorado. Taking time to rest before
tackling the Corkscrew and viewing a nearly hidden ribbon waterfall made the leg of the
trip much easier. Walking through a creek started from Pipe Springs with beautiful
cottonwood trees almost made me forget I was in Arizona, let alone the Grand Canyon.
After setting up camping, shooing away the squirrels, we ventured out to Plateau Point
for sunset. We could see the river now far below (over 1000' straight down!). The buttes
and temples of the North side and the Bright Angel canyon. “We were
there!” With wind swept cloud formations, colors more inspiring than an
artist’s palette, and light dancing across the canyon, sunset did not disappoint.
This was the time I had waited so long for. I can go home now. But alas, one more day,
4.6 miles, straight up the monumental upper canyon walls... “Bring it on”
There’s something to be said for seeing obstacles in your path and knowing you
have to overcome them, and eventually do, with a smile. That’s how I’d
describe the last day’s climb out. We heeded the advice of the rangers to rest
periodically on the trail. Hearing that the average backpacker burns 500 calories per
hour(!) on the climb out, I made sure I had plenty of food easily accessible, and I used it
all!! The rangers were right on both the food and rest. As we climbed out we stopped to
admire the views of Indian Gardens, the inner gorge, and the Bright Angel Canyon and
North Rim in the distance. We kept teasing ourselves, looking up thinking, awe
it’s not that far away! Heh heh heh!
I won’t mention the other hikers we saw on the trail in various stages of
conditioning and preparation (not!) only to say that to enjoy your trip in the Canyon,
you must respect the canyon, not only for its sheer beauty, but what it can do to you and
for you. We saw folks heading in via mule train, all with their cameras, binoculars, and
“Did you go all the way to the bottom? You came from the other side?
Don’t you have to go back to get your car?” we were asked by the tourists.
As we approached the upper portion of the trail, I was wary of my fellow hikers below
us. We casually joked of a race and that Tim and Kathy would pull a sneak attack and
pass us just before the top. They nearly did! “Tom, let’s go!
They’re catching up!” As I pointed to Tim and Kathy below.
“Hey wait just one minute! Why is this trail getting so steep?? Wasn’t it
supposed to flatten out near the top? Keep pushing on up!!” Last time through
here, Tom nearly got ran over by a ram. Down trail today, we saw two deer nervously
crossing the trail. We could almost reach out and pet them. No animals (other than
tourists) on the upper part of the trail today.
As we neared the top, the challenge was on! Tim and Kathy are just a few switchbacks
behind. “I know it’s not a race, unless I’m losing,” I
commented to Tom. The tunnel is just ahead, we’re so close!! One last
switchback, camera at the ready... Nearing the top, I can see the sign!
But what the... Tom decides to pick up and run to the top, pushing right past me...
“You’ve been sandbagging this whole time!!??” I yelled to Tom. He
simply chuckled (under baited breath!) as he pranced by stopping just short of the sign so
we can walk across at the same time.
We walked over to a nearby bench and tore off our packs. We had made it!! And in good
time! 5hrs with 1hr. between two rest breaks, in full gear! We instructed the others to
turn at the gate and come up by the studio to the steps where we were standing. As Tom
went to get his truck, Kathy and Tim reached the top!! Congrats all around. Chuck
coming up shortly. We heard him on the radio. Taking his time, enjoying the views (and
getting some good shots!). We anxiously awaited seeing Chuck reach the tunnel from an
overlook. Some new found friends from Europe were there enjoying the views too. We
told them our story of where we hiked and we were waiting for Chuck. “You left
him behind?” they asked. No, he’s taking his time. Shortly after we saw
Chuck come through the tunnel we all let out a round of cheers for Chuck!! We found he
had no trouble hearing us as he acknowledged our cheers, heading up the last two
We all enjoyed a well-deserved ice cream cone and one last view and picture of us on the
rim, looking out to the North Rim. A very exciting trip! One worth repeating next year.
Hoping the weather holds and need to make our plans a little earlier next time, hoping to
stay right on the North Rim itself.
from Tom Van Lew:
After completing the South Rim to Phantom Ranch hike in 1997, I swore I would never
go down again. Even though the Canyon was beautiful, the agony of climbing Bright
Angel Trail to get out seemed endless and extremely painful. The pull of the Canyon was
greater than my resolve, however, and I figured if I was going to give in to this call, I
would do the North Rim to South Rim. After all, I wouldn’t be doing this again.
Starting on the north rim, with the changing colors in the trees, made me think that this
was going to be a better trip. Weather forecast for 60% chance of rain the first night be
damned. I knew I didn’t need a tent. It wouldn’t dare rain on me. Soooo,
the first night was a little damp and extremely long. Who goes to bed at 7 PM?
Even though my knees complained when we finally reached Phantom Ranch, the
experience of fishing in the mighty Colorado River removed the slight discomfort.
Actually catching some trout added to the pleasure. The weather couldn’t have
been better while we enjoyed our stay in the bottom.
I still dreaded the hike out to the South Rim, but with Mike providing the incentive to
keep up, the hike became endurable. The backpack was heavy and uncomfortable but
stopping as the Rangers recommend made all the difference in the world. Lying next to the
trail and watching other hikers pass as we took in the views added even more to the
enjoyment of the hike. Last time I remember seeing only the trail in front of my feet.
Stopping and being able to look around is what it’s all about. Even took a few
Complaining about the weight of the pack and the drudgery of the steep uphill climb is
something I will always do, but this trip proved that I can enjoy the Canyon again.
Will I do it again next year? Maybe!!!!
from Kathy Robertson:
It has been a dream of mine to hike the Grand Canyon since moving to Arizona. As
opportunities come up though, I have always declined feeling I wasn’t in good
enough shape to make it. This time though, it was my year to reach my goal so with
excitement and determination I began preparing for the trip.
My excitement turned to worry however, after reading the details (elevation gain &
mileage) of the North Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel. It was as if reality set in and I would
need to start training and do what I cannot to endure pain or discomfort on the trip. I
searched endlessly on the web for articles on backpacking tips, types of food to bring,
how to pack your food, menu selections, preventative care for blisters, how to train;
basically as much information as I could. I also viewed photographs others had taken
while at the bottom and it looked so enchanting. Inside, I knew I would enjoy it and I did.
It was not as hard as I thought, it was very strenuous! Carrying an estimated 40-pound
pack at first really stunk. I was complaining for a bit and just grouchy that I have to carry
this. It became bearable after a few miles and I remembered this was supposed to be fun.
This was the first time I had ever backpacked before. I couldn’t walk for 2 days
and a few hot spots on my toes. It was very cool to finally see Phantom Ranch and the
endless mule trains bringing down people or sending the mail up. I got a real kick out of
the “Phantom Ranch Welcomes You” from the North Kaibab Trail. After a
long hike from Cottonwood CG.... I was hot, a little dehydrated with a pounding
headache and this sign was like, oh my gosh! We made it, we’re here and we are
being embraced!!! Now where’s the bathroom (they have soap! and a mirror! and
toilets that flush!)
The Canyon is just so beautiful. There has not been another place in Arizona that
compares to this. Tim asked me my favorite memory and it is sitting along the Colorado
River where Bright Angle Creek comes in, listening to the wind, the current of the river
and ripples of Bright Angel Creek. It was incredibly peaceful! I also remember when I sat
in the creek next to our campsite, it was around 4 PM. I was sitting on a rock and the area
was very still. I can remember listening to the wind blowing through the Cottonwood
trees above me, which lined the creek walls. The sun was shining behind them and the sky
was bright blue with no clouds. That’s where I want to go back to. I definitely feel
a lot of pride for having accomplished my goal and for making it in and out just fine.
The next time — Yes I would do it again —
Buy a camera and bring lots of film. I had a disposable camera and finished the roll 1/4 of
Bring more snack food. This is where inexperience set in. I didn’t realize how
much I ended up eating on the trail because you burn it off so quickly.
Stop every couple of miles and elevate your legs above your heart.
Bring all of my moleskin – I cut up small pieces before I left and figured I
wouldn’t need all of it.
from Tim McAlpin:
My experience in the canyon this time around was perfect in every way, from the
soothing rain on the first night to the ice cream waiting at the end of the hike. After
meeting Brian and Jason and seeing them trying to accumulate as many miles as possible
each day it reminded me of my previous trips in the canyon. Taking our time to see the
canyon is something I had never done before on any backpacking trips and it was well
worth it. I had never been to the North Rim before and it was every bit as good as
advertised. The forest was much denser then I thought it would be and with the splashes
of changing Aspen mixed among the evergreens it was beautiful. Spotting the wild turkeys
and mule deer on the drive in was an added bonus and having not seen any of my travel
companions leave the van I wondered how they had orchestrated such events. One thing I
enjoyed thoroughly was how the hike from North Rim to South Rim continually changed
each day. As we progressed through the canyon the rock formations and vegetation were
dramatically different, none better than the previous day, only different.
I am hoping for many more trips like this into the canyon and when returning on the 101
freeway in Phoenix with all the traffic in a hurry to get nowhere I had to wonder why we
had left the canyon. Thanks to Scott for the shuttle and thanks to Mike organizing a great
trip. And last but not least, thanks to Kathy, Chuck, Tom and Mike for helping me enjoy
Hiking from Cottonwood to Bright Angel, Bright Angel Canyon is beautiful.
Soaking in Bright Angel Creek, just watching the Colorado flow on by.
Watching the sunset on Plateau Point.
Turning around and looking at the views as we hiked up from Indian Gardens to the South