4:20am, wake up, drink coffee, breakfast bars and honey buns, load truck, put keys in hotel drop box, and drive to BackCountry Office parking lot.
We arrived at the BackCountry parking lot and wait for hiker shuttle to South Kaibab Trailhead. It is 22 degrees outside and we have all our layers on. Excited!!! The sunrise was at 5:02 am. So we didn't have to drive in the dark for very long this morning.
When we arrive at the South Kaibab Trailhead, the over achievers(trail runners) take off. We drink some water and top off our water bottles since this will be the last water till we arrive at the campground. Then a quick visit the pit toilet as this will be the last we will see of anything close to a bathroom for a while. Our plan is to take time enjoying the canyon, take lots of pictures as the sunrises, and avoid injury. As long as we arrive in time to setup camp and get to dinner at Phantom Ranch we are okay taking our time. We think it will be 8 hours of hiking today but that will be an under estimate.
Our packs are heavy. There is no water along this trail from the rim to the Colorado River. We must carry 4 liters each for 7 miles to Bright Angel campground. That is 8.8 lbs. of weight. This will be our heaviest water carry for the whole trip.
The trail has the wood across the trail to prevent erosion but the step downs are between 12" and 24"deep. This is very painful to our knees.
In just a mile, we took off our puffy jacket. Each mile later another layer was removed. It is warming up quickly.
Soon we came to OOH AAH Point. This is at one mile from the start and have dropped 600 feet. For many of the day hikers, this was the turn around point. Time for some posed pictures. The further we go the fewer will be on the trail with us.
From here we can see the trail down into the canyon.
Our next stop from OOH AAH Point is Skeleton Point. We have hiked 3 miles and dropped another 1400 feet or 2000 feet from the start of the trail.
It was a nice place for first lunch/third breakfast.... It's not only a Hobbit thing but a hiker thing.
A mule pack train came up as we were ready to continue.
We thought the first part of the trail was challenging but I think the remaining was even harder. Lots of step downs and amazing views. The Colorado is much closer now.
Shawna’s comments about the last of today's hike:
“The last 2.5 miles were not as steep but by then my knees and thighs would start to shake. I was worried I would fall on the trail. With sheer drop offs, this was bad. The last mile, I would stop every 15 minutes to rest and rub my thighs. Drink more electrolytes in my water and suck on hard candy for energy. We knew this trail was hard. There was a point where I knew we were not as prepared for this difficult of a hike. By then, it was too late to turn back, all we could was continue. I apologized to Mike for suggesting and encouraging him that we could do this. After reflecting on my weak legs, I believe that I did not eat enough carbs on the hike down."
Our normal speed on a hike is 1 mile every 45 minutes. We had planned on it taking 8 hours for the 7 miles knowing we would purposely be slow and steady, and taking many pictures. Toward the end, I just kept telling myself left foot, don't fall, right foot, don't fall, pay attention to hard drop downs, don't fall. Slow, steady gets you there safely. This isn't a race, just a journey and an adventure. We left the rim at 6:47am arrived at the Bright Angel campground at 5pm. Over 10 hours of pounding down 4,700 ft of elevation change. Temp down at the bottom was 82 degrees.
Seeing the river, black bridge, and the campground gives us hope that we will finish this day without injury. It was neat to see the rafters at the beach landing area on the Colorado River.
As the end of this day's hike gets close, we have to stop many times.
The tunnel to the Black bridge and the trail along the far bank gives us encouragement.
The hike was brutal even though it was only 7.1 miles. The drop in elevation was 4700 feet from the rim. There were dozens of switchbacks and many really deep step downs.
We did see some cactus, flowers and a couple of lizards.
We arrive at Bright Angel Campground just before sunset. As we walk past all the filled campsites hoping that one is still available. There should be one because though we don’t have a specific site reserved one site should be held for us to use. We reach the last two sites and they are empty. Of the two, we take the one on the creek side of the campground. Camp still has to be setup quickly because our reservation at the Canteen for a stew dinner is at 6:30pm and need to be on time. With our camp all set by 6:15 there is still another .3 miles to Phantom Ranch for dinner.
We got to the canteen with 2 minutes to spare. Feels so strange not carrying our packs but did bring head lights for the walk back to camp since sunset is at 7pm.
The building used to serve meals is original to the establishment of the ranch in 1922 and designed by Mary Colter. At least 50 or more can be feed at the same time.
From the beginning the ranch was popular with all kinds of people, including politicians, entertainers, the wealthy, and even European royalty wanting to “Rough it” in the canyon. Teddy Roosevelt loved the ranch and visited often and was not the only President to visit the ranch.
At 6:30pm, canteen door open. Everyone had an assigned seat. The food was very good and served family style with pots and bowls of food already on each table. The stew had plenty of beef, vegetables, corn bread, excellent salad, brownies, tea, water, bought an $8 can of wine as well. Conversations with fellow diners/hikers was great. So tired we had to tell ourselves to take a bite, chew, chew, take a bite and chew. It has become a mental game to do what is necessary. By the time, we stand we are full.
The meals are a bit pricey but how many people can say their food was delivered by pack mules? Our dinner is $42 each. Breakfast tomorrow cost us $29 each. They also sell lemonade, ice tea, beer, wine, and snacks.
Our campsite is #2, it is the furthest from the toilets. Wow, I didn't know we would have flush toilets, sinks with cold water and soap for washing up, luxury for a BackCountry campsite. Outside sink for dishes as well. Fresh water to fill bottles. We were expecting pit toilets. Each campsite has a cleared sand area for the tent, picnic table, food storage box big enough for all our food, and a T pole to hang our packs.
Taking off her boots Shawna discovered her feet were hurting from multiple blisters. She has never had blisters before on her toes. We have hiked with Keen hiking boots and DarnTough socks and never gotten a blister. She thought the heat in her shoes was just from tiredness and the day getting hotter as we hiked down. I wonder if the inserts we had added might have caused this. So she put on lueko tape and moleskin for padding. Her feet are going to be sore no matter what. We just need to protect them from infection. My feet were only sore but with no blisters.
Finally, to bed at 8pm. “Hiker Midnight”. It will be in the 50's tonight so we will be plenty warm in our 20 degree sleeping bags. Our sleep pad is insulated as well. It is very comfortable. The Bright Angel Creek has become a roaring river with all the snow melt coming down from the North Rim. It is very noisy with the sound of rushing water being constant and we hear rocks rolling in the creek. It is amazing and hard to believe we are here at the bottom of the canyon. We fall asleep quickly and hoping the sound of the water will not force us to make a middle of the night bathroom trip.
This hike was beautiful, wonderful, amazing, and awe inspiring, but it was also brutal, painful, and exhausting. It pushed us the most of any hike we have ever done over the years. With all the hardships of the day, as we hiked we still stopped to enjoy the beauty of each layer in the canyon. The view from the rim does not do it justice. From below it is so much more impressive and at night it is very dark. The lights are from people with flashlights walking to and from the bathroom.
We are a couple who have started on a new adventure...