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. What follows is the second day, part one.
After a long, but tremendously rewarding, eight hour hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon via Bright Angel Trail, my brother Aaron and I were rewarded with a steak and potato dinner as we barely made the dinner bell at Phantom Ranch.
Phantom Ranch certainly made for memorable accommodations. Built in the 1920s, it is a member of Historic Hotels of America. If my memory serves, there were 12 cabins and two dormitories, one for men and one for women. There was also a cantina where breakfast and dinner were also served. Our cabin had two bunk beds, a stand alone sink, a toilet, and a heater/air conditioner (no thermostat).
Just outside each cabin door sat a bench which Aaron and I made use of frequently due to the pleasant view it provided. Cabins were set up around the perimeter with a small common area in the middle with grass, picnic benches and an area for ranger talks. The area was well shaded with cottonwoods as well as an assortment of other non-native trees for foliage. For instance, there was an enormous fig tree next to our cabin. Just to the west of the ranch ran the Bright Angel Creek and on either side, rich red canyon walls. Each night around dusk, a few deer also came through the camp, relatively unconcerned about our presence.
Having no connection to technology we were left to our thoughts and conversation as the sky began to darken. The cantina opened at 8:00 PM which we were both happy for. I had some hot chocolate and Aaron was quite excited about the lemonade. We drank and conversed with other hikers, then attended a ranger talk about one of the architects of the American West, Mary Colter. After that, it was to bed. It couldn’t have been any later than 9:30.
The next day we woke before our alarms went off and dressed for breakfast. The great thing about a place like Phantom Ranch is that no one worries over their appearance. We all were there for the same reason, and nature really isn’t overly concerned over what a person looks like. We had a hearty breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, and coffee.
As we conversed with our table-mates (meals were served family style) we were stunned to hear that it only took people three to four hours to hike to the bottom. Five hours at the most. We sat astonished, wondering what we had done wrong. Not to brag much, but Aaron and I are relatively fit guys. Eight hours seemed a very long time in relation to others.
Our confusion was cleared up when we discovered that most people take the South Kaibab Trail down to Phantom Ranch and go up Bright Angel Trail. We, of course, had done the opposite. The slack-jawed, astonished, and bewildered looks we received when mentioning we were going to hike up South Kaibab Trail were concerning and kind of hilarious. The table was unanimous in the opinion that going up South Kaibab Trail would be a physical trial not for the faint of heart.
“Be sure and rest up beforehand!”
“There’s no water stops. Don’t dehydrate. Take plenty of water.”
“Oh man, that’s gonna be hell.”
“You might die.”
Okay, no one said that last one, but it represents the sentiment.
Despite the universal concern, there was no way we weren’t going to go up South Kaibab Trail. It seemed a waste of experience to take the same trail up that we had taken down. Apparently, Bright Angel Trail, which we came down, was less physically demanding. It was nine miles in length, but the elevation change wasn’t as rapid. The South Kaibab Trail we were intending to take up was only six miles, but apparently it was six miles of almost constant increase in elevation.
Of course Aaron and I found the situation funny, as we do with most situations. In fact, us taking the least recommended way down was pretty much our standard method of operation.
After breakfast we laced up our boots for a short morning hike, wanting to catch the cantina, which didn’t open until 8:00, before we went out for the day. We followed the nearby Bright Angel Creek down to the Colorado River. Going slightly off-trail through some low scrub brush, we emerged on a sandy shore facing the river.
How does one convey the beauty witnessed? If sometime you find yourself out in the mountains and canyon formations of the American West, take time to experience the surroundings during sunrise and sunset. The morning sun was cresting over the encompassing canyon walls leaving half the river in shade, half in light; half the canyon rock lit up in brilliant hues, half in slumbering shadow; half the river illuminated as a jade stone held to the sun, half a reassuring greyish-blue.
All this wonder was framed by the beauty of the surrounding landscape, jagged red rock walls accompanied by flora of varying yellow-green degrees. In the near distance crossed the second suspension bridge that led to the South Kaibab Trail.
I knew it would not be our last outing to the river, but I hated to turn my back on its beauty, contemplating its existence and what it possibly meant. Our intention was to take the short, circular river trail, but once crossing the bridge and climbing a few switchbacks, we thought best to save our legs finding the trail a little more arduous than we had expected. It was back to camp to pick up our lunch and the cantina.
Aaron was happy to once again partake in some lemonade at the cantina. I had myself some coffee, and after securing our lunches it was off heading northward along the Bright Angel Creek on the North Kaibab Trail which held its own beauty and charm.