A year and a half ago, my brother called me and said, “Let’s hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!” The time had finally arrived.
After a hearty breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge with my wife and our mom, Aaron and I gathered our gear, took the obligatory trailhead photo, and began our descent into the Grand Canyon.
My brother Aaron chose Bright Angel as the trail to deliver us to the bottom. The other option, South Kaibab Trail, was a bit further away on the South Rim since we were staying in the Grand Canyon Village. Naturally I hadn’t done an ounce of research and placed my hiking fate in my brother’s capable hands. He was told Bright Angel Trail was best to hike going down and would take us four to five hours to reach Phantom Ranch.
It was cold atop the rim that morning. With the addition of the early sun, the temperature was in the low 30s around 8:00 AM when we began. The first 500 feet or so was quite crowded with curious adventurers outfitted in casual clothes and tennis shoes, many accompanied by children. Who could blame them? The opportunity to have just a slight taste of descending into the Grand Canyon, even if it was for just a few switchbacks, must be difficult to resist. The result, however, was a rather congested trail.
As I soon discovered, the canyon revealed itself in many layers as we descended, almost as if every 1000 feet down or so existed a unique ecosystem unto itself, though still staying within the Grand Canyon landscape motif. This first layer at the top was comprised primarily of dense pine trees, juniper, and multiple underbrush varieties, complemented by the staggering view of the canyon below and handsome cliff faces.
Though stunningly beautiful, particularly with the morning sun across the stratified canyon walls, along with the difficulty of dodging people was the challenge of traversing patches of ice. It was still cold enough at the top that in shadowed areas of the trail, ice was present. We encountered multiple patches, and at the second patch, though doing my best to cross the downward sloping ice patch with confidence, I ended up sliding about four feet before I could grab the wall. Gliding with grace and a zen-like air of calm (inward panic), once I became stable and reached the end of the ice patch, it didn’t take long for my brother and I to attach our Yak Tracks crampons to our shoes, which our mom gave to us for Christmas. After my slide, we only encountered two or three more patches of ice, but the Yak Tracks performed admirably and walking across ice was no trouble at all. I highly recommend these additions if hiking in an area of possible ice.
Soon we reached a point where I was ready to shed a little clothing. The further into the canyon, the warmer it got, and when we reached the first restrooms (there were three on the Bright Angel Trail) I quickly changed out of my running tights and pants, and into some shorts. I also swapped my wool lined hat for the wide brim hat my mom bought me for my upcoming birthday (what would we do without our moms?). I kept the long sleeve underneath a short sleeve shirt.
The crowd thinned a bit with each bathroom as, I assume, they created a logical place to turn around. It wasn’t until we reached Indian Garden, a small oasis in the arid climate, where we reached the final bathroom stop, though it was only about half way to Phantom Ranch. It was also the final opportunity to refill water. Aaron and I stopped here for an extended time, snacked, visited the bathroom, and changed out of the last of our warm clothes. It was shorts and tee-shirts after this.
Indian Garden was a lovely place to stop. There began a very small spring fed stream that eventually turned into a creek that then fed into the Colorado River at the bottom. It was populated with towering Cottonwood Trees and Redbuds, which happened to be in bloom. There were camping sites and a number of picnic benches.
It was our halfway point on the hike down, and we were happy for it. Looking back up to the path we had taken, we felt accomplished with our progress. The South Rim was so far away that we could not longer see people standing on the top. It turned out we would see very few people for the remainder of our hike, which was nice (preferable actually) but also a little eerie as we descended into a much more rugged, more alien landscape. Apparently Indian Garden was the place where day hikers turned back.