In 2008, I had my very first view of the Grand Canyon. The only reason I was there was due to a change in vacation plans. I had a half of a day open before heading to the airport in Las Vegas. I was amazed that we had enough time to drive from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon, so I happily said, “Let’s go!”
I was speechless when I set my eyes upon the canyon for the first time. I was amazed anyone hiked it today, let alone explored it a century ago. On that day, I vowed to myself that I would come back and hike across that giant chasm in the ground.
Over the summer of 2012, my husband and I planned the hike (along with a few family members), set up childcare while we’d be gone, and trained carrying our 25 pound packs up and down the tallest hill in our town. We planned our hike to be 4 days, mostly to enjoy as much of the journey as possible. Now, the time had finally come.
When we arrived at the south rim, we spent some time touring around before our shuttle ride. Being that we were only walking one way through the canyon, we needed to get a ride in the beginning of our hike or the end. Since we wanted to get shuttle trip over with first, we chose to get the Trans Canyon shuttle at the beginning of the trip. So after a few hours at the south rim, we took our 4 1/2 hour shuttle around the canyon to the north rim. We watched sunset from the North Rim Lodge, which I don’t recommend if you still have to set up your camp. We had to make our way to our campground in the dark with help from an employee shuttle service, and set up our campsite in the pitch black and cold. When you are on the north rim at night, you can hear the howling winds through the canyon. It was an eerie sound, to hear the winds and NOTHING else.
In the morning, we started our 5,800 ft descent on the North Kaibab Trail. Our destination for the day was Cottonwood Campground. Our first break was taken at Coconino Overlook. It was our first real look into the Bright Angel fault.
Soon the dirt path became more sandy and the rocks grew more colorful, as we hiked deeper in the canyon. We hiked through the Supai Tunnel and continued our way down, admiring the changes in the foliage and geology throughout the descent.
As we made our way to Cottonwood Campground, we saw a beautiful waterfall coming out of the rock. Here Roaring Springs cascaded down into Bright Angel Creek. This is the water that is pumped up to the south rim to supply the entire Grand Canyon area with fresh water. By now, we had hiked down 3,050 feet below the rim. Cottonwood trees scattered the landscape and temperatures were slightly warmer.
On our second day, we enjoyed hiking on mostly flat ground. Our ankles and knees enjoyed the much needed break! We took a side hike to Ribbon Falls which was tucked away in a side canyon, not too far from the main trail (North Kaibab).
Throughout most of day 2, we hiked through “the box,” which is a part of the trail where the canyon walls close in and reach the sky. It’s obviously not recommended to hike this part of the trail when temperatures are high, because temps are always higher here.
Arriving at Phantom Ranch was a welcome respite. Food, ice cream, cold drinks, and a small slice of civilization can be found here.
If you want to eat dinner at the ranch, you have to make reservations well ahead of time because there are only two seatings and demand is high. We were unable to snag a reservation, but we made sure to get some cold lemonade and snacks here, and sent the kids a postcard. Phantom Ranch is one of the few places in the U.S. that still delivers mail via mule.
That night we camped at the Bright Angel Campground, near Phantom Ranch. Access to the Colorado River is just a short hike away. There is a small beach there where rafting tours stop and where you can take a quick dip in the river. The 45 degree water was not my idea of a bath, so only my legs got cleaned. Too cold! The suspension bridge of the South Kaibab Trail crosses the Colorado here, and access to climb the bridge and overlook the river was a fun side trip.
To get to the top of the south rim, we chose to hike the Bright Angel Trail. The other option was to hike up the south Kaibab trail. So, on day 3, we left the Bright Angel Campground, and crossed the Colorado River on the Silver Bridge. We hiked along the river for awhile, gaining elevation while still next to the Colorado. Day three’s total mileage was less than five miles (to get to Indian Gardens) but it was an elevation gain of 1,300 ft, with most of the elevation gain at Devil’s Corkscrew.
Indian Gardens was awash in green Cottonwood trees. A small creek cuts through the area, providing the area with more plants and vegetation. Before our one night at Indian Gardens Campground, we took a side hike to Plateau Point for sunset.
On our last day, we hiked 5 miles and 3,060 feet up. We kept our eyes on the rim as the rocks became lighter in color and the pine trees dotted the landscape.
More and more hikers and tourists passed us by the closer we got to the rim. Our spirits lifted and before we knew it, we were at the top.
All in all, it was a wondrous 24 mile hike for me. A dream come true. The trip of a lifetime. And my husband and I were still talking to each other when the hike was over! Hiking together had actually brought us closer.
The planning, the training, and all the work associated with getting to the Grand Canyon and hiking through it, paid off. And even as I write this, I am hoping to plan another rim to rim trip soon. This time, I think I’ll bring my kids.
53old | 15th Sep 15
The mauve color in the white socks makes quite a keepsake…… 🙂
Julie | 16th Sep 15
It certainly does. 🙂
Phil | 2nd Jul 16
Julie your experience hiking the canyon brings back first memories of my hiking companion’s trip together. She had to live with expectations by my previous experience doing it alone and she did it with gusto at almost 60 years old.
We eventually moved from testing our conditioning to spending 2 days at Phantom Ranch with permits. Your right the planning is as rewarding as the trip. We did it yearly up to this past Dec. when cancer took her and my memories that we shared. No one else appreciated our accomplishments and pictures of distant places away from everyday life. I enjoyed your story and envy you have someone that shares your pleasures and interest. We also meet Bruce and Silas on trips on the N. Kaibab which was our favorite.
Julie | 3rd Jul 16
Thank you for sharing your story! I agree, it seems that others cannot begin to appreciate a hike/adventure, through stories. When you spend days in solitude working together, overcoming adversity, and viewing spectacular sights, you form a kind of bond that strengthens with every adventure. I applaud your hiking companion, getting out and exploring at her age, savoring what nature has to offer. I’m so sorry for your loss.
Phil | 3rd Jul 16
. In time the North Rim became our favorite for many reasons, fewer people and cars to deal with and the terrain driving in is more colorful and expressive of wilderness and its inhabitance.
To save travel time and money in future trips we modified our expectations of time and distance and eliminated shuttle expenses. The shuttle expenses were saved by starting and retuning on the N. Kaibab. The hike from the N. Kaibab trail head to Brite Angel Camp ground nonstop. The trail head can be easily walked to from the Campground. Than spending 2 days exploring the surroundings and taking in the atmosphere of watching the many travelers passing by us or the reverse at Phantom Ranch. We hiked out by way of the North Kaibab to the north Rim where our car stayed. With no sleep overs going up or down and a very early start for reducing the exposer to higher temps we would encounter. The night vision kicks in to the point of seeing the star light create shadows on the ground as we walked. Red Flash lights were used sparingly to maintain night vision.
I’m not the writer, my partner was. We worked well together. She said she was robbed of 10 years of her life. If she wanted she could plan an entire trip by herself. She was better at remembering directions and funny stories we experienced. I did most things alone until we started doing them together. People were envious of us and said so that their wife/partner would want to do these things.
We started by sleeping on the steel tables in the bright Angel Campground because we had no sleeping bag, tent, air mattress or backpack. We traveled light using a fanny pack for each of us. We worked our way up to the correct equipment for the task. She was the stimulant for much of my changes in equipment and clothing best suited for the job.
Julie | 6th Jul 16
I too am a huge fan of the North Rim and I actually prefer it to the South Rim. The woodsy atmosphere, less people, less noise, and a better view. I can’t imagine sleeping on the steel picnic tables at the Bright Angel campground! I would have to be pretty exhausted to be able to do that! Thank you for sharing your stories with me. The Grand Canyon is a place to make remarkable memories. 🙂
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