After a quiet night of writing and photo processing in the Kaibab National Forest, I returned to the South Rim for another expedition into the inner reaches of the Grand Canyon. Today, I would descend from the South Kaibab trailhead (7,200 ft) to the Colorado River (2,420 ft), climbing back up to the rim (6,860 ft) via the Bright Angel trail. Although the elevation change would be roughly similar to my extended exploits along the Tanto Plateau, this hike would clock in at roughly sixteen steep miles. Having packed away a mess of calories, a bunch of water, and warm clothes, I dropped below the rim into the raging winter winds of the Inner Canyon. My late night packing session, however, had left out one crucial item. As I brought my camera to my eye to capture the scene from the top of the trailhead, a small orange indicator in the upper left hand corner of the screen blinked “NO CARD.” I had left the SD card for my camera in my card reader the night before. While this was a frustrating development, it affected neither my safety nor my schedule. There was no way I was going to spend the next ninety minutes riding the bus all the way back to the Bright Angel parking lot where I had left my car. Today would be a day of mental pictures. You will just have to use your imagination…
While the weather gods had blessed my hike along the Tanto with sunshine, a gentle breeze, and moderate temperatures, I had no such luck on the South Kaibab. A wintery front had descended upon the canyon, bringing with it temperatures in the low 40s and winds gusting upwards of 30 mph. Each step deeper into the canyon, however, brought with it the promise of warmer temperatures. The elevation change in the Grand Canyon is so severe that temperatures often vary by 20° F. Steep switchbacks brought me closer and closer to the radiant warmth and lower elevations of the canyon floor. Every now and then, a massive gust would attempt to dislodge me from the trail, encouraging me down the precipitous slope just one misstep away. Luckily, a sturdy, grippy pair of shoes and a few well-placed trekking pole plants easily mitigates the risks inherent in hiking through an epic wind tunnel. Down I went, enjoying the relatively empty trails generated by the sub-par weather.
As always, the trip down flew by and I crossed the Colorado River ahead of schedule. Even though I had tried my hardest to dampen the shock to my knees with each step down the trail, they began to ache as I filled up my CamelBak. I guess descending a vertical mile has that effect on the body. My lungs, on the other hand, delighted in the oxygen rich air of the canyon floor. Not wanting to tarry too long with so much climbing left to complete, I quickly wandered Phantom Ranch and dipped my hands in the mighty Colorado before turning my eyes once more towards the rim.
As I hiked up towards Indian Garden campground on the Bright Angel trail, I couldn’t help but compare this daylight hike to my starlit hike the night before. Hiking among the stars felt introspective and mysterious. Night had obscured the trail beyond the limits of my night vision, only allowing my glimpses of other hikers and their headlamps far above or below. Now, I could see hikers above and below, plodding upwards, swaying in the incessant wind. The trail held few secrets, but promised extended physical exertion. Soon, the pair of tunnels that signal the end came into view and I could anticipate the warmth of Yavapai Lodge and the meal that waited at the top. Nighttime had dampened that anticipation, encouraging patience and an acceptance of the unknown. Now, my pace quickened and I strode towards the Bright Angel Lodge confidently.
Having knocked off the major items on my Grand Canyon bucket list, I spent the next two days exploring the South Rim, writing in Yavapai Lodge, doing laundry, and taking a long overdue shower (my first since leaving Los Angeles). On the rim, conversations and human interaction came freely. Every bus ride involved quick exchanges between total strangers. My time in the lodges netted longer discussions about politics, regional adventures, and the park. I chatted with a ranching couple from outside of San Diego who had carted their horses around most of the Southwest for their honeymoon. I waited for my laundry with a group of three hikers headed towards Page, AZ. Despite the epic Easter weekend crowds, I still started to recognize people everywhere I went along the rim. It may have been overflowing with people, but there was still a sense of familiarity.
Having hiked the length of the rim trail, I spent my last day driving down to Desert View before heading towards Vegas with the raspy voice of Edward Abbey telling me tales of the Colorado Plateau. Two things remained on my Grand Canyon bucket list: hiking Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim and returning to Havasu Falls. Next time!
Grand Canyon to Vegas