I really didn’t sleep well last night, woke up constantly…so by the time it was 4 am I got up to get going, even though my alarm was set for 4:30….ah well.
It was FREEZING outside, so I got to waer my fire-hydrant-red new puffy jacket 😀 . The drive up to the canyon wa uneventful and I found a parking spot at Bright Angel Lodge immediately. Since I’ll be coming out at the Bright Angel Trailhead (next to the lodge and therefore the parking lot) that worked out perfectly.
There’s a special hiker shuttle bus that takes us crazy people directly to the South Kaibab trailhead. And along with about 70 other people I got on the bus excitedly for the first view of the canyon.
And even though my first thought when someone mentions the Grand Canyon is usually ‘well, that’s a really big hole in the ground’ I always forget just HOW BIG this freaking canyon is. It is always breathtaking, and unless you have actually seen it for yourself, you can never imagine the sheer size of it by only looking at pictures.
A short walk from the bus stop we all came to the start of the South Kaibab Trail, where of course everyone had their picture taken. The nice thing about Aericans is that most of them are always up for some chatting it’s easy to get someone to take pictures of you when you’re out there solo.
Which is by far the most astonished question/ reaction I received whenever I started talking to someone…’You’re not out here alone are you?!?’
Well hell yes, I bloody well am and I’m gonna rock this bitch of a trail!
And so I started walking…..at around 6:45 in the morning. While it was still cold, it wasn’t too bad. The trail is pretty well graded, although pretty steep at times.
What is most annoying (to me) is, though, are all of the inconsiderate people. I mean WHY do you have to either play music out loud on your phone’s speakers, yell at each other as if you’re standing a mile apart, even though you’r like a foot apart, overtake me and then wait for me to pass you, just so you can overtake me again (repeat about 20 times)??
The trail is mostly switchbacks, which is a necessity because you need to descend 4780ft/1457m in 7mi/ 11.3km – and even though on paper it doesn’t seem like much, it is freaking steep. You really need some good knees and shoes with room for your toes. And I absolutely loved my trekking poles for this, they take a lot of the impact on the downhill.
I passed up the first rest point/ photo opportunity (aptly named Ooh Aah Point) because there were simply too many people for my taste. I made it to Cedar Ridge 1.5 miles and 1.140ft/ 2.4km and 348Hm in by 8 am. There are pit toilets here, but I skipped those and kept on going.
By 9:45 I made it to Tip Off, 3.4 miles and 3.260ft/ 7.1km and 994Hm into the descent, where I had to use the pit toilets. And they were indcredibly awful….the smell stayed in my nose for a good while. Yuck. There was also a group of riders at the rest point, about to head up. It is possible to get to the Colorado River and back on these trails without ever taking one own step…using mules or horses. these are guided rides, although i don’t know how expensive they are. For people who aren’t physically able to walk down these trails (and more importantly – UP AGAIN) it’s a good option to be able to explore the canyon.
The last part of the trail is the steepest, descending 1.520ft/ 463Hm in 2.6 mi/ 4.2km until you FINALLY get to the Colorado River, which is so much wider, faster and wilder than I ever imagined. And it is COLD. It is forbidden to swim in the river (with good reason, looking at the velocity and the currents), but you can dip in your big toe at the boat beach, which is just a very short detour away from the trail. Of course…I did 😀
I got to the river by 11:30, almost 5 hours after I started the trail, then I took a break in the sun, soaked my feet and knees in the icy water, which felt oh so good, had some snacks, chatted with some people….and just let it sink in that I just WALKED DOWN INTO THE GRAND CANYON.
About a mile and a half past the beach turnoff you get to Phantom Ranch. For those lucky enough to snatch a spot in one of the cabins (lottery system, months in advance) there are meals included, as well as an awesome place to stay in the canyon. I only took a long break, made some food, and tried to fight off the squirrels trying to steal my stuff.
Unfortunately, I still had another 7 mi/ 11 km to go to my own night’s rest. With about 1600ft/ 488Hm incline to go, i thought it would be a breeze…..but it really wasn’t. Sigh. It is incredibly beautiful though. just make sure you make use of the toilets at Phantom Ranch before moving on.
It’s a nicely graded trail that first winds its way through a canyon with sheer cliff walls on both sides, opening up near the end of the 7 miles. In total you have to cross 5 bridges before the canyon ends and then the seemingly endless slog towards the campground begins. By that point I had already gone about 8 hours on pretty hard ground – the gravel and rocks really take a toll on your feet – so I was really ready to be done for the day.
On the way I met a documentary film crew with a bunch of wild mustangs (so beautiful) filming the journey of a disabled woman through the Grand Canyon. I got to hang out with the horses while they took a break, as well as talk to the crew and the trainer. I’m really looking forward to how the film will turn out when they’re done – apparently they will also take the main protagonist to go whitewater rafting.
The last mile was the hardest. But it was also where I met Steve and Meghan, a very nice couple from North Carolina. We took a short break and walked a bit together. At the campground we found sites that were open and set up camp. It took a while to set up the tarp, because the ground was too hard for stakes, but I pulled it off using a bunch of huge rocks.
In the next site over was a group of five nice people that I ended up having dinner with, and since I realized my water filter was not working, they were nice enough to help me filter enough for the next stretch of trail (the next day).
After a dinner of ramen with veggies and a hot chocolate we were all in bed by hiker midnight (9pm) with an alarm set for 5:30am.
This first day was incredible. Hard, strenuous, wonderful, challenging, unforgettable.
The story continues with day 2….
Keeping you posted…
PS: I have never seen so many stars at night…