Welcome to my long-awaited, and much anticipated hiking tour of the Grand Canyon, from the South Kaibab trail, down to the Colorado river and Phantom Ranch, then up the Bright Angel trail to the top. This hike was done on the 16th of April, 2008. The weather was perfect for hiking, 30s in the morning, then by the time you hit the Colorado river, it’s in the 60s, then going up Bright Angel trail in the afternoon it was still in the high 50s. Remember, it gets hotter as you descend into the canyon. At the bottom by the river, say Bright Angel campground and Phantom Ranch, the temperature is about the same as what it would be in Tucson or Phoenix. At the South Rim in Grand Canyon Village, the elevation is 7000ft (2134m), so there’s about 4500ft (1372m) in elevation change, and around 20° (7° Celsius) temperature difference. Do not do this hike in the summer months, like June through August, it’s just too hot.
The hike is presented on two pages, each with nearly 40 pictures. I’ve heavily compressed the pictures so dial up users can view them without waiting an hour to load. Each page is approximately 3.7mb.
I’ve been wanting to hike the Grand Canyon for several years now, so I decided to do it this year. I wanted to experience both trails, which are vastly different, in one hike. I also wanted to do it in one day, because I don’t really like camping out all that much. My hike started at the Backcountry information center, which is where you pick up the hikers express (early morning) shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trail-head. There is no parking at this trail-head, you either have to have someone drop you off, or you can park in one of the Grand Canyon parking lots and get a shuttle bus. I chose the Backcountry information center as a starting point because there is a nice big parking lot where you can park all day for free, and it’s a close walk back from the Bright Angel trailhead at the end of the day. It’s also where the hikers express shuttle bus originates. I took the 8am bus, but, depending on the time of year, you can get it earlier, or later. There’re no fees for a day hike, or the shuttle bus, it’s included in the $25 seven day pass you buy at the gate. The entire hike is close to 18 miles (29k).
This gives you an idea about where the trails are and where they lead.
This is the South Kaibab trailhead, elevation 7200ft (2195m). On my visit there were about half a bus load of hikers that left the Backcountry office at 8am. It gets bunched up in the beginning of the hike, but it thins out quick.
You start descending right off the bat, and begin one of many switchbacks, especially near the top on both trails. I’m out of the gate at 8:28am
As you can see, the view opens up fast, and stays open nearly the whole trip down.
This is what I mean about getting “bunched” up. I had to yell at these people to get out of my way. You can’t really see it here, but there’s a Park Ranger farther down ready to give a speech about the canyon etc. We’re now about half a mile down.
This is the point where the view starts to get spectacular. There’s also a nice red/orange tint to the soil to make it interesting. It was hazy in the morning, but it cleared off a couple hours later.
This is the basic view for the next hour. I think the wind and haze helped the colors out this morning.
I like the last shot and this one the best. As you can see, there’re still a few people to meet on the trail.
That’s O’neill Butte sticking out to the right. You pass around it on the way down. It was named after the the famous Buckey O’Neill, a bold individual and lover of the Canyon. While serving in the Spanish-American war, Buckey was shot in the head and died instantly after declaring “the Spanish haven’t made a bullet that will get me.” It really says that in the South Kaibab trail guide book I bought.
This is Cedar Ridge. I didn’t see any Cedar trees around, maybe Juniper. There is no water here, but you can tie up your mule is you want.
Here’s the commode if you need it. Also note the thermometer on the other side of the shed. This day it read 50° (10° Celsius). So far, we’ve come 1.5 miles (2.4k) in 32 minutes and descended 1200ft (366m).
A nice well-groomed trail heading towards Skeleton Point!
Skeleton Point is 5200ft (1585m) in elevation, so we’re down 2000ft (610m) from the rim. We still have about 3.4 miles (5.5k) to go before crossing the bridge at the river. Skeleton Point is so named because pack mules occasionally fall off the cliff from switchbacks below this point, and bones are visible from time to time. Again, I’m not making this up, it’s in the Trail guide book!
More switchbacks, but nicely groomed. I think this is called the “red and whites” section, referring to the limestone walls.
This is the Wrangler. When you meet up with the mules, you’re supposed to go to the inside of the trail, stay quiet, and obey the Wranglers orders! The mules scare easily and disaster will ensue.
We’re now on the Tonto platform, were we meet true desert conditions. The area in the distance is called the Tipoff, here you can relieve yourself, or make an emergency phone call. There is no water. This is also the intersection of the South Kaibab trail and the 95 mile (153k) Tonto trail. Indian Garden is 4.6 miles to the left, or west.
After we leave the Tipoff, we start to descend into the deep granite gorge, 1600ft (488m) below.
This is the first view you get of the river. The green trees in the background are from the Bright Angel creek and campground.
The next several shots show my favorite section of the hike. It was like some of the Mars Rover pictures.
Hikers traveling along the ridge-line.
The first good view of the Colorado river.
More crazy colored soil, it makes a mess of your socks and sneakers.
This time of year and at this elevation, you’ll see a lot of yellow Brittlebush flowers.
I let these people mosey along in front of me for a while because I wanted to show some scale in the pictures.
Here’s a 504mm telephoto shot of Phantom ranch/Bright Angel campground, you can see the north bridge over Bright Angel creek.
I think this is Panorama Point. I also think it’s pretty much a panorama all the way down.
Here’s a full telephoto of the Black Kaibab Bridge, or Black bridge. It’s not as close as it looks here.
You’ll see a lot of choppers in the air. You can take a ride in one if you have some spare cash burning a hole in your pocket.
It’s steep going down to the bridge, with endless switchbacks.
This image shows the layout of the campsites and Phantom Ranch in relation to the Kaibab bridge.
This is a telephoto shot of Bright Angel campground and lower Phantom Ranch. You can also pick out the Silver suspension bridge over the river. We’ll be crossing over on this one to go up Bright Angel trail, but the trail there is actually called the River trail. There’s also a chopper landing pad close to the building by the river in case you can’t make it up.
If you don’t want to cross over the river, just take the river trail, to the left, it’ll meet up with the Bright Angel trail and save you a mile or two maybe.
Now we’re close to the bridge and our descent is nearly complete.
You go through a tunnel to get to the bridge, maybe 50ft (18m) long or so. The cable anchors are above. The bridge is 440ft (134m) long. Each of the 8 main cables is 550ft (168m) long, and had to be carried down the trail on the shoulders of men. This bridge was built in 1928.
This is your view as you come out of the tunnel. This is also the bridge the mules cross, as the Silver bridge doesn’t have a solid bottom and is only for human foot traffic.
This is looking back to where we entered. There’s no tunnel on this side. When I actually started across the bridge, the wind was blowing like crazy, and some people behind me were having trouble crossing, so I turned around to take a picture (with my Olympus SP-550) as they were holding on for dear life, and wouldn’t you know my camera batteries died at that very moment, and I couldn’t even get the lens to extend in so I could put it in my waist pack. I had to hold on to my hat and camera as I stumbled along to the other side. Next time, I’ll check my batteries before I try for a shot of a lifetime. I had my little Panasonic FX100 in my backpack, but I wasn’t about to fetch it ’till I got to solid ground. The reason I was holding on to my hat was so it wouldn’t fly off in the Colorado river and be gone. Without it, out in the sun, the top of my head would look like beef jerky by the end of the day.It took me 2:29 minutes to get to the bridge, 6.3 miles (10.1k) with no breaks, and I probably used a quart (litre) of water. Keep in mind the temperature was nice and cool, and I was descending; going up will be different!
Boat beach is where the river runners pull up for a rest and to exchange people at the Campgrounds and Ranch. You can see the elevation here is 2400ft (732m) the lowest point during out hike. We’ve descended about 4800ft (1463m).
Also close to Boat Beach is a 900 year old Anasazi Indian pueblo. There is a nice sign that tells a little about it. This site was mentioned in Major John Wesley Powell’s Journal while stopping here on his expedition in 1869.
Just a short walk down the trail and we come to a more modern establishment. This is the beginning of Phantom Ranch. I’m not sure of the function of this cabin.
If you go straight, you’ll end up at the lodge at Phantom Ranch, maybe 400 yards/m farther. Turn left and you’ll head towards the Silver bridge. There’s also a nice shady picnic area with running water. The bridge pictured below is off on the left trail. If you want to learn more about Phantom Ranch, check out this PDF page. There’s a grave off to the right and behind us that marks the final resting place of Rees B. Griffiths, who was killed by rocks in 1922, “in the Grand Canyon he loved so well,” according to the trail guide book.
This is the lower bridge across Bright Angel creek. This leads to Bright Angel campground and around to the Silver bridge.
This is the NPS mule corral built by the CCC. Nothing was going on when I passed by, not a soul in sight.
Check out the neat looking rocks. It looks like a big block of chocolate. In the hiking brochure it says it’s Vishnu Schist. Roughly 1.7 billion years old. It was deposited during the Precambrian period as ocean deposits mixed with volcanic ash and lava flows. Crustal slabs driven deep below the surface melted under pressure. The resulting magma squeezed into the overlying rock to form veins of red Zoroaster Granite. This chunk obviously broke off at some point and rolled here.
We meet the Silver bridge finally, and begin our 9 mile (14.5k) trek back up to the rim. The rocks on the peaks across the river are the same as the close up I showed you above.
Does it really look like you’re at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Way in the back and top center is the Zoroaster temple, that’s what they call it. This image looks back at the NPS mule corral and the Black bridge in the distance.
Your gracious host for todays hike. The wind was blowing super hard, so I’m hanging on to my hat for dear life. I could feel the bridge swaying gently in the wind, but on calm days it probably wouldn’t do that.
Looking down at my dirty shoes, and cheap shoes that *fell apart all too quickly–brand name “Skechers,” we have the Colorado river. The black pipe below and center is the Transcanyon pipeline, which carries water from high in the north rim to Indian Garden, where it’s then pumped up to the village. *My shoes were comfortable though, and not new.
The sign points the way to the trails. We want to go right, on the River trail where we’ll eventually pick up the Bright Angel trail. I’m at the 3 hour mark now.
We start to climb a bit while following the river, but we’ll descend when we hit Pipe Creek.
There’re some nice sandy areas along the way, kinda tough to walk over though.
There’s actually an outhouse in the picture, though not very clear. Look at the center left, it’s a black square blob. Pipe creek empties just above it.
Ahead is Pipe Creek beach, complete with outhouse. No water here though unless you drink the river or creek water.
This is where I stopped for lunch. The River Resthouse was built by the CCC in 1936. It has a place to tie up your mule, or make an emergency phone call, it also has a nice porch. There’s no table or anything here, you just sit on top of the walls. This is where the River trail and Bright Angel trail meet. I spent about 25 minutes eating a Ham Sandwich, a Banana and a small bag of Doritos. I had my favorite candy bar, a 3 Musketeers, but didn’t eat it ’till I was in the car.
Check out the inside. There’s a trail registry book in the corner.
This little critter looks like he’s been in a few fights, and I know why! He’s a thief! I turned my back on him for a split second and he almost stole my Doritos.
This is another mule train coming down from Bright Angel. I’m not sure I’d want to ride one of these down. I think I’d be more comfortable hiking, and stopping where I wanted to take pictures etc. This image comes from the porch on the River Resthouse, Pipe creek in foreground. The Colorado river is only 100 yards/m away.
We’re heading up towards Indian Garden. The Trail is much more closed in than the South Kaibab trail, which follows a ridgeline for much of its length.
It looks like we’re near the top, but we aren’t. We’re gaining elevation, but not very quickly, and we have a long way to go. I like the colors here, unfortunately everything is kind of washed out looking.
The good thing about Bright Angel trail is the occasional drinking water and shade it provides along the way.
This image will give you a better idea about where you are now in relation to the trailhead. The shot looks down on Indian Garden from Lookout Studio, a couple hundred yards east of the actual trailhead by Kolb Studio. The long trail 1.5 miles (2.4k) to the left is Plateau Point, accessible from Indian Garden, the green in the middle is from the Cottonwood trees at Indian Garden. In the next picture we’ll be entering the Tepeats Narrows, which is a small canyon lined in sandstone.
Here’s some sandstone layers. Check out the massive chunk that fell off sometime in the past.
There’s a nice waterfall with minimal water, but enough to support a lot of trees and plants. Look at the top and to the left, where you’ll see a utility pole and lines coming down from the rim.
This is a closer version, but not the same pole. It looks like it’s original from the 1920s or 1930s.
There were plenty of flowers, but nothing much different than what I get in Tucson.
We’ve made it to Indian Garden in 4:56 minutes, don’t get too excited though, we still have most of the elevation gain ahead of us.
I think the sheer walls in the back are called Redwall limestone.
This is the pump house for getting water up to the village.
The sign points the way from the trail intersection. I wanted to take this hike out to Plateau Point, but I didn’t know how much time I needed, and how I would be feeling later on.
Indian Garden is nice and shady, and Garden Creek runs along side the camping area. This day the creek was running pretty strong and made it all the more refreshing. There’s also a lot of activity here, so if you like solitude, you’re out of luck. This is the site of an ancient Havasupai farming community. As the sign says, it’s 4.5 miles (7.2k) from the trailhead, and only 3000ft (914m) down. That makes it a good day hike, and very interesting hike for normal people, hence all the activity.
There’re several cabins and a Ranger Station here. I’m not sure what the cabins are for.
This is the base of a huge cottonwood tree. Unfortunately, nobody was sitting on the bench to give a sense of scale. The base of the tree was around 7 feet across (2.13m). As we leave Indian Garden, we’ll start to climb, gradual at first, then hard the last 3 miles (4.8k) or so.
This is mile and a half (2.4k) resthouse, which is 1.5 miles from the top.
The second tunnel, if you’re coming down, is located on the Bright Angel fault, which separated, and combined with erosion, formed the side canyon you’re hiking on.
Here’s one glorious sight; the Kolb Studio. See it at the rim in the center? The Studio is at the end in our case.
This is the first tunnel, and very close to the end. There’s a panel of American Indian Pictographs called Mallery’s Grotto just this side of the tunnel, up high. I didn’t see ’em while passing by.
Here’s a real bad shot from the front side as you would start out from Kolb Studio. Notice the little window to the right of the tunnel.
This is the Bright Angel trailhead sign. Notice you get hiking warnings in English, German, French and Japanese, very cosmopolitan!And now we come to the end of the road. The last 3 miles (5k) were rough. The hardest part of the trail comes at the very end when you’re hungry and tired. I hiked at a pretty fast pace so I would be sure and finish before dark. Since this was my first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I heard horror stories about having to spend the night down in the canyon with no blanket because the person wasn’t properly prepared, and couldn’t make it to the top because of blisters etc, then getting eaten up by scorpions during the night. The National Park service perpetuates those stories, and worse, like dying in the canyon because of dehydration etc. I’m sure some of them are true. I suppose they have to try and scare people to get them to take caution. Better safe than sorry, but it really isn’t as hard as some make it out to be. The signs at the trailheads warning hikers about the dangers of going to the river and back in one day are meant for people who visit during the height of the tourist season, in the summer when it’s really hot at the bottom of the canyon, and, the casual hiker and sightseer. I think I over-prepared and over trained, of course, that’s good. Here in Tucson, I hike the Catalina mountains, and the trails aren’t so nicely groomed as those of the Grand Canyon.
The elevation changes are about the same here as they are there. So the combination of well built trails, training, water sources and cool temperatures made it a breeze. As I said before, the last few miles were tough, but I had plenty of time to slow down and enjoy the day as it turned out.
Here’s some advice if you’d like to hike this trail. Make sure you can walk at least 20 miles with a backpack on with 3 litres of water and some food. Make sure you do some climbing excersises, this is real important. I practice in the summer when it’s too hot to hike by walking on the treadmill. Put the incline up to 10 or 12 degrees, or maximum. I make it even tougher by putting a 2×4 under the front legs to make it higher. Turn the speed to 3.5-4.0 miles per hour (5.6-6.4k) and walk for 90 minutes. If you can do this without too much trouble, you should be able to make this hike. Also, most of the people I saw having trouble, generally from Indian Garden on up, were having problems with blisters, and they were wearing boots. There are a lot of signs saying you should wear boots. I hate boots. I wear tennis shoes. Wear the most comfortable pair of shoes you have. If you have hiking boots that are comfortable, then wear them. Do not go out and buy new shoes to go on a long hike.
This was a very fun and rewarding hike. If you decide to go to the Grand Canyon on vacation, no matter where you’re from or how long you plan on staying, plan on hiking down in the canyon, even if it’s on the South Kaibab trail to the river only, which is less than 13 miles (21k) in length total, that would be my hike of choice if time and distance were a consideration, I thought it had the most spectacular scenery. Again, do not do this hike between June and August, it’s too hot!
My time was 6:49 minutes from the South Kaibab trailhead to the Bright Angel trailhead, including a 25 minute lunch and about 350 pictures from two cameras. Total length; about 18 miles (29k). I used 3 litres of water on the trip. Average temperature; about 50° or 10° Celsius.
Thanks for reading about my adventure.