Wednesday: We woke up about 4:45 a.m., dressed, ate breakfast, finished packing, weighed our duffel bags and left them for the mules to carry to the top of the South Rim (my bag weighed 14 pounds, if I recall correctly, and I was happy to have a mule carry it for me). We began hiking around 5:50 a.m., with Phantom Ranch being around 2788′ above sea level. The intent for starting the hike so early was to try to cover several miles before the sun rose high in the sky. Also, the temperature would be lower at the higher elevations, which would also make it easier for us.
6:04 a.m.: This little bridge spans the Bright Angel Creek.
This is another view of the Kaibab Suspension Bridge (also known as “the black bridge”), which we had seen when we arrived on our rafts. However, we were not hiking up the South Kaibab Trail, but instead the easier Bright Angel Trail.
6:08 a.m.: This is the silver Bright Angel Bridge (also known as “the silver bridge”). We had descended about 200′ to reach this bridge, over a distance of about 1/2 mile.
As you can see, the silver bridge is not very wide. The mules cross the river using the black bridge. The silver bridge only caries people, and it also carries the water pipeline. We were surprised to learn that the South Rim obtains water from the North Rim! Water is piped from the North Rim down into the canyon, through Phantom Ranch, across the river (suspended under the silver bridge), and then is pumped up to the South Rim.
6:37 a.m.: We were not officially on the Bright Angel Trail yet. Rather, we were on the River Trail, which ran for about 1.3 miles from the silver bridge to the “River Resthouse.” Between the bridge and the River Resthouse the River Trail rose and fell a bit, perhaps climbing 200 or 300′ and then giving up almost all of that elevation.
6:39 a.m.: Impressive lens flare.
We passed the River Resthouse about two minutes later, and began climbing the Bright Angel Trail.
6:54 a.m.: On the Bright Angel Trail. At least now my camera was starting to record the sky as blue instead of white:
7:21 a.m.: Gaining elevation.
7:30 a.m.: A very fat squirrel. Supposedly the most common injury on the Bright Angel Trail is squirrel bites.
7:39 a.m.: Gaining more elevation, the path of the trail below us, including switchbacks, can be clearly seen. By advance agreement, we were all hiking at our own pace, or at least we split up into a number of groups. Julie and I hiked together, while others in our party were ahead of us or lagged behind. I should mention that the oldest and youngest members of our group of 9, and in fact of the entire group of 22 that had been on the boats, was a 71-year-old man and his 13-year-old grandson. The Canyoneers crew said that they had previously hosted children as young as 8 or 9. Our guide was actually operating as a “sweep,” bringing up the rear to make sure that no one had any trouble.
7:47 a.m.: We arrived at a little oasis. Hikers said they had spent the night at the Bright Angel campground (not far from Phantom Ranch) and did not have potable water, so they were filling up with water from the stream. (They had filters to purify the water.) At that point we were not too far from a rest point that had potable water, so I don’t know if it was really necessary, but of course it’s good to be prudent and to have water available.
7:50 a.m.: Julie has crossed over a little stream:
7:55 a.m.: Passing an eroded sandstone formation.
7:59 a.m.: A small waterfall cascaded down the rockface:
8:06 a.m.: A rock formation is framed by a cactus on the left and a “Century plant” on the right.
At 8:08 a.m., we passed an intersection with the Tonto East Trail. Then at 8:14 a.m. we reached Indian Garden, about 3.6 miles into our hike, and at 3800′ elevation (about a 1400′ climb above the river). We were amazed at the good time we were making. There was a rest house and ample water at Indian Garden (in addition to a campsite that I didn’t see). Thermometers registered 69 degrees in the shade and 102 in the sun. The air temperature felt hotter than 69 degrees, but it wasn’t bad. We refilled our Camelbaks, rested for a few minutes, and continued our climb.
8:42 a.m.: Gaining additional elevation:
8:58 a.m.: We encountered the mules descending from the South Rim with their passengers. As instructed, we went to the “high side” of the road and gave them plenty of room to pass.
9:07 a.m.: More scenery from the Bright Angel Trail.
9:10 a.m.: I remembered to stop every so often to take pictures:
9:21 a.m.: We would occasionally run into others from our party, or into complete strangers, and offer to take photos of each other.
At 9:25 a.m. we reached the Three-Mile Resthouse, meaning we were only 3 miles from the South Rim. Three-Mile Resthouse is at 4748′ elevation, so we had walked about 6.6 miles and climbed about 2300′ at this point.
9:48 a.m.: More beauty.
9:55 a.m.: I’ve been told that it’s normal for the canyon atmosphere to be hazy in the summer, and we definitely saw some of that.
At the Three-Mile Resthouse, Julie had changed from her pink shirt (which matched the sandstone formations) into her fashionable Yosemite shirt (to match the increasing greenery).
10:02 a.m.: Gaining more elevation.
10:10 a.m.: The views were getting more and more expansive. I understand that the South Kaibab Trail has even better views, but it is a harder climb.
10:20 a.m.: As you can see, I have been stitching together many panoramas from this day’s activity. I didn’t have many opportunities to do that in the previous days, because while rafting the boats were constantly moving and so not conducive to panning the camera while taking multiple shots to later stitch together.
10:34 a.m.: More scenery from the Bright Angel Trail.
10:40 a.m.: The Bright Angel Trail appears as a ribbon far below us.
At 10:53 a.m., we reached the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, at an elevation of 5729′, after hiking about 8.1 miles and climbing 3300′ feet. A thermometer (I believe in the shade) showed 85 degrees. That seemed like a more realistic air temperature than the one I had seen at Indian Gardens that read 69 degrees.
Only 1.5 miles and 1000′ to go at this point. We also began encountering a fair number of day-tourists at this point, who decided to hike down the trail for a mile or until they got to the first resthouse at 1.5 miles.
11:05 a.m.: Getting closer to the rim.
11:23 a.m.: We reached the “second tunnel.”
11:30 a.m.: A nice view.
11:37 a.m.: Almost at the top.
11:48 a.m.: The “first tunnel.”
By 11:55 a.m., we had reached the South Rim, at 6860′ elevation, having hiked about 9.6 miles and climbed over 4400′, not including some additional ups and downs from Phantom Ranch to the river and along the River Trail. It had taken Julie and me six hours, but we were fine, not being sore or overheated. I felt it was an easier hike than the 7.1 mile, 4800′ elevation gain from Little Yosemite Valley to the top of Half Dome the year before (and plus, we had to then leave Half Dome and descend the same distance and elevation). We eventually reunited with the rest of our party. We learned that a couple of older teenage boys had done the hike in an amazing four hours! Another pair of hikers, with our guide Dave accompanying them, had required 8 hours. So Julie and I were right in the middle of the pack, at 6 hours.
Our reservations on the shuttle back to Flagstaff were for 6:00 p.m., so we had little choice but to spend a lot of time hanging out at the top of the South Rim. There had been an earlier shuttle, but we had no way of knowing how long the hike would take, so we had all been conservative and had booked seats on the later shuttle. So we ate ice cream; talked; went to the mule barn to collect our duffel bags, which the mules had kindly carried for us; visited a couple of gift shops, etc., and finally it was time to take the shuttle. The group rode back to Flagstaff, checked back into the hotel, reclaimed the possessions we had left there, and finally were able to enjoy hot showers.
Thursday: Julie and I bid farewell to the others in our group, took a taxi to the airport and caught the commuter flight to Phoenix, where we once again parted ways, returning to our homes.
It was an amazing trip, and I highly recommend white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon and hiking up the Bright Angel Trail, especially if you can do so with such excellent company as I enjoyed.