Hike From The Bottom of the Grand Canyon - Phantom Ranch to the South Rim Via the Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona
Day two of our hike from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the bottom and back out. This hike on the Bright Angel Trail was longer than the descent on the South Kaibab Trail, and the steepest three miles were right at the end. However, the first half of the Bright Angel Trail on the ascent had a stream running alongside and the feel of the trail was quite different. For a couple of out-of-shape hikers, we were pretty proud of ourselves for accomplishing this challenge.
Well, this the second part of our hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back over two days. Check out day one here: Grand Canyon Hike - South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch.
Today's hike would total about nine and a half miles with close to a 4,400 feet elevation change. And the last three to three and a half miles would be steep and quite a challenge.
Someone came around and knocked on our dorm doors at 4:30 a.m. as a wake-up "call". There is a 5:00 a.m. breakfast and a 6:30 a.m. breakfast. We were in the 5:00 group.
The orginal plan was to have breakfast, grab our pre-prepared, pre-reserved lunch bags, and get on the trail by 6:00 a.m. However, when we arrived yesterday, we put our name on a waiting list to perhaps spend an extra night. And there was a pretty good chance we could have done that.
However, this morning, with the muscles not aching as much as I thought they would be, I was ready to hike out. Linda concurred. Don't get me wrong, our calves were barking, but not enough to require a day's rest - plus our soreness could have been worse the next day.
We weren't going to do any day hiking from Phantom Ranch and risk putting ourselves in worse shape for the hike out. Also, as we mentioned yesterday, we didn't see any place comfortable to hang around. Also, it would have cost us another couple hundred bucks for the lodging and meals.
So, we had a wonderful, hot, all-you-can-eat breakfast, took our name off the waiting list, and got ready to go.
After filling our water bladders, we set out on our return hike to the rim on the Bright Angel Trail around 6:30 a.m. With it being twenty to thirty degrees warmer at the river than at the rim, jackets and gloves weren't necessary, and I started out in shorts.
A sign at the campground pointed us .....
across a small bridge over Bright Angel Creek.
Colorado River (Silver Bridge) to Indian Gardens (4.7 miles; Elevation change 1,320 feet)
We followed the trail out to the river to cross a silver bridge (a different bridge from the one we came in on last night).
An early morning look downriver from the bridge.
View back upriver from the River Trail which connects the Bright Angel Trail with the S. Kaibab Trail.
The sun was climbing up over the rocks behind us.
We walked along the river for a little over a mile - a wonderfully peaceful, mostly flat, beautiful section.
At the intersection of the River Trail and the Bright Angel Trail, we found the first pit toilets.
There was also a rest house (top center) and a place to take on water.
From that point on to Indian Gardens, the trail ran alongside Garden Creek. We had to cross the creek a few times.
Here's Linda completing her first crossing.
Stopping to admire the early morning scenery.
We didn't have the brilliant blue skies of yesterday, but it made for a nice, cool hike. Eventually, we came to the toughest part of this lower section of the hike - a set of switchbacks known as Devil's Corkscrew.
It was a rough section, but we took our time and it wasn't too bad. Here's a look back.
And here's a look down at the switchbacks we just came up.
Continuing on the next level of the canyon.
A couple of hikers were cooling off in the small waterfall (lower left corner).
Moving forward, the creek ran right next to the trail, and Linda dunked her hat in the cold water.
We were at the beginning of the Indian Gardens oasis.
Another creek crossing.
Redbuds were blooming along the trail.
We were ready for a break, but we didn't want to stop with all the other hikers at Indian Gardens Campground ahead. So we scoped out our own rock for a lengthy rest.
We stopped for thirty minutes and that was the longest rest we took on either day of our hike. Linda lied down on the rock and put her feet up.
We ate several snacks while listening to the sound of the stream and admiring the views.
Eventually, we were ready to move on and Linda was looking refreshed and happy. She said she loved me then ... not so much later.
Next we came to this lovely little section that included another waterfall below the trail.
Sorry about the audio in this video -it's a bit scratchy.
We eventually came to the place where the Tonto Trail intersected with the Bright Angel Trail. At that point, we were a third of a mile from the Indian Gardens Campground.
We kept walking amongst the huge cottonwood trees and blooming redbuds.
But then we vacated the trail briefly to let a mule train pass.
Finally, we arrived at Indian Gardens, the half-way point of today's hike at about 4.7 miles.
We hit the restroom and re-filled our water bladders. Again, each of our Camelbaks carries two liters and we each carried a Platypus container with another liter. This would be the last place we could take on water this time of year. It was about 11:00 a.m. when we left, so we had been on the trail four and a half hours and averaging a pretty typical 1-mile per hour including rest stops and picture-taking.
Indian Gardens to Bright Angel Trailhead at the rim (4.6 miles; Elevation change 3,060 feet)
We knew the biggest challenge was ahead. Though we were half way by miles, we were just over a third of the way in elevation. I had originally estimated that it might take us anywhere from nine to twelve hours to hike out at a nice, slow pace. When we left Indian Gardens, I was thinking we would be thrilled to reach the top by 4:00, another five hours.
We told our friends, Michael & Kelly, that I was guessing we would make the rim between four and five o'clock. And Linda told them one of us would be wearing a bright orange vest so they could spot us if they happened to be looking for us.
From Indian Gardens, I'm guessing we had another mile or so of gentle upslope, and Linda donned one of our lightweight safety vests.
Then it started to get steep.
At Phantom Ranch, the cabins and dorms can accomodate about 90 people. And the campground can accommodate several more. Sidenote: a backcountry permit is required to stay at the "below the rim" campgrounds, but it is not required to stay at Phantom Ranch.
Of course, not all of the folks at the river hike in and out the same days, but there are a lot of people that we met that were hiking out. As I mentioned yesterday, there was quite a bit of leap-frogging as we went at a slower pace but rested less. So, folks would pass us, then they would stop and we would pass them.
We developed a camaraderie and provided encouragement for each other. It was much like what we had read in stories about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Many of us weren't experienced backpackers and several were not used to the elevation, so we needed all the encouragement we could get.
The real climbing had begun. This mile and a half-mile section was the second-steepest part of today's hike.
It's hard to see the people and the switchbacks in the photos, but they are there.
Eventually we made it to the Three-Mile Resthouse where there is shelter, an emergency phone, and pit toilets.
Several people do day hikes from the rim to this point and back, so we were seeing more and more people on the trail. The shelter was full, .....
so Linda plopped down in the little shade she could find.
As we were leaving, she was not at all happy about the uphill climb to the pit toilets and the return downhill which was painful on the muscles we used yesterday.
It should have been good news that we only had three miles to go, but we still had almost 2,000 feet in elevation to climb.
Linda was the pacesetter for the entire hike. We were slow but steady, and when she got her pattern breathing going, we hiked for long periods without needing a rest and often passed the much faster hikers. That slow, persistent pace would get us to the top.
Okay, so the next mile and a half was an elevation gain of 800 feet.
It was hard to believe we just came from waaayyyy down there.
Eventually, we made it to the Mile-And-A-Half Resthouse. But Linda was so sore that she had to use her hiking poles just to go up and down the steps to the pit toilets.
All of our hiking companions got a good laugh out of that.
Linda wasn't her cheery self anymore, so I had to take over video duties the rest of the way.
Okay, so we had a mile and a half to go. But it was the steepest portion of the hike. It would be an elevation gain of 1,140 feet in that last section. Now I was starting to see why the Phantom Ranch staff hikes in and out on the S. Kaibab Trail, and Linda wasn't loving me so much at this point.
It was easy to tell the fresh day hikers from the haggard hikers from the river.
A couple of folks decided that our pace was perfect for the final stretch and fell in line behind us. But we had to stop for one more ten-minute rest. Linda plopped down in the dirt and put her legs up, while hoping the passing hikers wouldn't kick dust in her face.
After that break, we were ready to knock out the last portion. And we clearly understood why the hiker etiquette says that uphill hikers have the right of way - it's very hard on them to get them out of rhythm or make them stop. We thanked the down-hillers that paused to let us come through, and those that didn't had to squeeze around 'cause we weren't stopping.
Finally, we rounded a corner and the trailhead came into view.
Once we got through this little tunnel, it wasn't far to the end.
As it turned out, Michael & Kelly had gotten to the trailhead early and were just getting ready to leave when they spotted Linda's orange vest. So they took these photos of our triumphant finish.
It was really nice to have someone waiting at the trailhead for us. We arrived right at 3:30 p.m. - a nine hour hike from the Colorado River with an arrival time a bit earlier than I had originally predicted.
We were quite proud of our accomplishment and so glad we took on the challenge of the magnificent Grand Canyon.
The first question is "Would you do it again?" The responses to that question when posed seems to be either "I loved it - I'd do it again in a heartbeat" or "No, never ever again - what was I thinking?".
Our answer is "Sure, we'd do it again. Especially if someone we knew wanted to do it and wanted some moral support." Next time though, we'd be better prepared and would likely backpack and stay at the campground at the bottom for a couple of days.
Now, we weren't in the best physical condition to do this two-day hike of over 4,000 feet of elevation change each day. I would have preferred to have been a good 15 pounds lighter, and I know Linda would have liked to have been in better shape.
However, because we did those three days of training at elevation the week before, we had confidence that elevation wouldn't be an issue, and that our bodies would be up for the challenge if we didn't ask them to do too much too fast. Also, we paid attention to what we would need in the way of gear, supplies, food, and water and we did our homework on what to expect.
In the end, when we came out of the canyon, we could barely walk to the Jeep 'cause our muscles were so sore. But we didn't have any breathing issues or heart rate issues or joint issues. Our feet were tired, but Linda had only one minor blister and our toes were fine.
We went slow, drank a lot of water with electrolytes (sipping as we hiked), we ate a lot more food than we normally would, and we took breaks when we needed them. Ultimately, we both came out much better than we expected.
Just like jumping into full-time RVing, not everything was perfect for the leap of faith. Heck, it was only three weeks ago that this hike was even a thought. It wasn't something on our "bucket list".
I just happened to call about a mule trip. The mule trips were booked until July, but they just happened to have one open bed in each of the male and female dorms at Phantom Ranch for one night in all of April. Sure, we'll take 'em - we can always cancel and get our money back up to two days prior. Fate led us into the canyon while preparation (as much as we could do in three weeks) and the love of natural beauty and a good challenge led us out.
Thanks Grand Canyon for an experience of a lifetime.
P.S. I told Linda at the river this morning that we will be rafting the Colorado through the canyon some day. Don't know when, and it takes a lot more pre-planning than we like to do, but some day.