This Body Hiked the Grand Canyon

Daryl and I awoke just before dawn at our campsite in Grand Canyon National Park. We breakfasted on oatmeal and granola and prepared our backpacks with the lightest gear we had.  I was using my ultralight pack and Daryl left his tent behind in order to save a couple of pounds. Today was the start of our lifetime, adventure hike from the canyon rim to the Colorado River, returning the next day on the grueling 4400 foot climb back from the depths of the canyon floor. 

We drove to the backcountry parking lot where a shuttle bus took us to the South Kaibab Trailhead and deposited us along with about 20 other hikers at the start of our backpacking adventure. It was sunny and cool with a forecast of warm, dry weather for all but the tail end of our hike. All the hikers, including us, swung packs to shoulders and paused for photos before decending on the narrow path that leads into the canyon. The date was November 7, 2010.  

There are two main trails that lead into the Grand Canyon, and surprisingly, both paths are quite different.  Most people hike down on what is called the Kaibab Trail and return on the older – more famous – Bright Angel Trail, forming a semi-loop of sorts.  The 8 mile Kaibab Trail follows the ridges of the canyon, traversing open cliffs and exposed walls.  The views are always expansive and panaramic.  The drawback to this trail stems from the fact that hikers in summer weather will find little shade and no water along the entire route. The Bright Angel Trail, on the other hand, follows a natural side gorge along the Indian Garden River and most of the scenery is limited to the walls that tower above the trail. Both routes are quite beautiful, abundent with breathtaking views, awesome in shear expanse,  and formations even the imagination cant rival.

Going down is hard on the knees. Both Daryl and I had our knee braces on and I think they helped. I use treking poles to take some of the shock of downhill pounding away from my knees and I think that helped also.  My leg muscles are sore today from the workout, but that will go away in a few days with no lasting effects. It was a good workout and nothing near as streanous as the Sierra Nevada hike. I’ve decided that never again will I go backpacking with the premis that we need to get done and be back by a certain time.  

I had imagined the campground at the canyon floor to be a quiet little area of a few tents and hikers, but it was more like a mob of humanity, mostly young people, a little roudy but polite just the same.  Hikers seemed to trickle in all day until every campsite was occupied and the daily quota of 90
campers was reached. Rangers told us that before the days of permits, there would be as many as 800 hikers all compressed into this small campground. The impact was just too great. Now they are very strict and check permits religously. 

Daryl and I chose a campsite with a little isolation from the rest and made our beds for the night. Daryl was just sleeping under the stars, but I can’t do that and need a tent for protection from things that crawl around in the night. It was still early afternoon so while Daryl took a nap I put on crocs and waded in Bright Angel Creek. Afterwards, we sat and watched hikers dribble in to the campground.  It was interesting to me that a few of the backpackers were young females hiking alone. You hardly ever see that in the wilderness. I guess this would be be considered a community hike – like the AT – where there is more comfort with a lot of people around.     

Later that evening, we listened to Ranger led programs about the CCC and Bats. They were quite informative and interesting. In between times, we enjoyed a fine Mexican backpack meal which we devoured with great gusto. Both of us were quite hungry.

The night was fairly warm. The low altitude and protection from wind kept us snug in our camp.  Early the next morning, rude flashlights and banging pans from the camp next door, woke us to pre-dawn darkness.  We cooked some oatmeal for breakfast, competed for a turn in the restroom, packed up, and were on the trail by 7:30.

It was a tiresome hike back out but we both expected that. Our packs were lighter with less food and water and for a couple of miles the trail followed the river, sparring us the assent until our legs warmed to walking. The miles slowly fell behind end eventually- after quite a few rest for me – crested the rim at about 2:00 pm. There we were met with a cold wind and swirling ice crystals. 

It was a great hike and a wonderfun experience, something I had long desired to do but never imagined I would have the oppertunity to do. Thanks Daryl.             

2 Responses to “This Body Hiked the Grand Canyon”

  1. Dick says:

    Sounds like a great trip. I think Dianna and I will do the burro thing sometime.

  2. Daryl says:

    This hike fulfilled a lifetime dream for me too. Dale, thanks for putting it together. You were in the right place at the right time when you found they had a couple of available permits.

    Richard — they are mules, not burros.

    For those hoping to plan a trip to the river — spring or fall are probably best. In the summer it is too hot at the river. Winter is too cold at the rim. When we went it was just perfect. But any time you go, you will have to apply a year or more in advance, unless you stumble onto available permits like Dale did.

Leave a Reply