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Danny Li | profile | all galleries >> Grand Canyon National Park Rim-to-Rim Hike tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Grand Canyon National Park Rim-to-Rim Hike

Date: 10/02/2006
Place: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Thanks to Lily and Ngoc for making all the travel arrangements for us. This trip would not be so smooth without their efforts. Especially for Ngoc, driving back and forth between the North Rim and South Rim by himself to drop off a car for us was a long journey.

Hiking across the Grand Canyon is always on the top of my “to do list”, especially after we did the Half Dome + Cloudsrest @ Yosemite national Park in 13.5 hours back in August 2006, I think I am ready for this trip. Just a little background history, about 10 years ago, I made my first Colorado River attempt in Grand Canyon with some friends, bunch of “brave” guys walked down the Bright Angel Trail under the 120° F hot summer sun with just a small bottle of water and no food….. before we even got to Indian Garden, 2 of my friends got serious dehydrated then heat exhaustion, what’s next? headache, weakness, dizziness, vomiting……I can’t even remember how we dragged ourselves back to the top…..a total disaster. We planned a lot better this time, we picked the beginning of October to avoid the extreme hot summer temperature, October is also the last month the facilities in North Rim remains open. We gave ourselves plenty of time to rest on this trip, although the hiking itself is just a one day event; we got totally 5 days for the whole trip. We also carefully selected the trails, we decided to go down North Kaibab trail then go up the Bright Angel Trail, although the Bright Angel trail is about 2 miles longer than the South Kaibab trail, but it’s not as steep and has multiple water sources, so we don’t have to haul a lot of water. Also, South Kaibad trail head is accessible via the free shuttle bus only during March to November every year, and we have no idea what time we will get up there and how late the shuttle service will run, therefore, we decided to go up the longer Bright Angel Trail instead.

On Oct 2nd, Monday, we arrived the North Kaibab Trail head which is about 2 miles north of the Grand Canyon lodge on the east side of the AZ-67 at 4:15AM, believe or not, at 4:00 o’clock Monday morning, the parking lot was almost full, we took one of the last few spots, We jumped out of the car, grabbed the backpack, strapped my headlamp on, reset my GPS…..at 4:20AM, we started the Rim-to-Rim hike, the trip I have been waiting for years.

From the trail head, the North Kaibab Trail slops down a pretty gentle grade, and soon the trail reached a series switchbacks, within less than a mile, we reached the Coconino Overlook, where you supposed to have a very nice view of the Roaring Spring Canyon, even the South Rim can be seen here on a clear day, but at 4:45AM, we didn’t see anything other than a few trees in front of us in the patch dark. Continued down, the trail descended on switchbacks thru the Roaring Spring Canyon which we still have no clue what it looks like, at 5:15AM, we reached Supai Tunnel, where seasonal water faucet and toilet stalls can be found, we don’t know if the faucet was working as our water bottles were still full. Again, we missed the opportunities to enjoy all the nice view of all the cliffs and rock walls there, that’s the only thing we missed by starting so early, but we rather miss some nice view at the beginning than come back in the dark at the end. So far we dropped about 1450 Ft in 1.7 mile within an hour, seemed a little slow but we tried to be really careful walking down this unfamiliar terrain in the dark, the last thing we want was to hurt ourselves so early in the game. The trail after Supai Tunnel became less sandy and more rocky, also the switchbacks became more intense. We crossed a bridge named “The Bridge In the Redwall” not much water we saw below, I was told that bridge was built after the major flood in 1966 which wiped out much of the North Kaibab trail.

At around 6:00AM, we started to see some beautiful morning light, and now we could actually see how the trail worked along the ledge around the curves and the cliffs, it was really an amazing experience by just looking around the surrounding. We were now walking in a dramatic section of the trail called “the Needle”, a huge spire blasted through the redwall right across the main trail. The trail squiggles through the redwall next to the Needle and lead us towards Roaring Spring. As we approaching Roaring Spring, well, not so much for the “roaring” part, we saw a small cascading waterfall bursting from the rocks on the other side of the canyon. I was wondering where does the water come from, it must be from the rain and snowmelt seep into the ground on the North Rim and percolate down through rock and eventually emerging at one point somewhere. I will leave that for the geographers and focus on the hike. Minutes later we reached a trail junction where the sign showed a side trail leading to the Roaring Spring and the main trail leading to the Cottonwood. It was 6:40AM, 2 hours and 20 minutes from the beginning, we have dropped 3250 feet so far. As the main trail continued past Roaring Spring junction, it past a residence house, yes, a residence house right in the middle of the canyon, we had some snack in front of the house and chatted with a gentleman came out from the house who claimed he was visiting a friend there, now I realized that house was the residence of the Roaring Spring pumphouse operator after talking to a park ranger in Phantom Ranch later that day. The trail lead us to a bridge that spans Bright Angel Creek, plants such as cactus and other plants that I don’t recognize started to appear.

At 7:45AM, we reached the Cottonwood campground, where drinking water and restrooms can be found, there was a temperature gauge there showing it was at 70 degree, very present temperature for hiking. Another 25 minutes, we reached the Ribbon Falls trail junction, we saw a small bridge runs along a stream from where we were standing, we actually had a little confusion on which trail to take there, the sign only showed one direction to the Ribbon Falls and the other one to Cottonwood which was where we came from, we had to pull out a map and learned the Ribbon Falls is short side trip, so we continued on the main trail, minutes later, we could actually see the Falls from the main trail across the stream, it was a very small waterfalls, may be less than 50 feet. The main trail ran along the bright Angel Creek for the next few miles, portion of this stretch was pretty wet and muddy, picture IMG-7317 below will give you a better idea what I am talking about here.

The main trail continued down the Bright Angel Canyon , past through a deep inner gorge known as “The Box”, as the name suggested, the high canyon wall in this area made us feel like we were walking inside a box, most of this section is covered in shade, in some area, you could only see the sky thru a small gap in between the red wall on both side of the trail, you couldn’t see too far ahead of you either, the trail twisted and turned through the very tall and pointy red rock walls, walking through “the Box” really gave us an isolation feel, it was like we were cut out from the rest of the world, pretty neat!! Since this 4 mile long corridor was pretty flat, so we were able to get through it pretty quickly.

At 10:00AM, we reached Phantom Ranch, where you can find a small canteen, drinking water fountain, restroom and ranger station, we filled up our water bottle there and took a 10 minutes break, then headed down another quarter of a mile and reached the Colorado River, the destination I have been thinking for years. It was 10:45AM when we reached the river, we have walked 15 miles so far and got about another 9 miles up hill to go. We figured out this will be a good place for lunch break, so we went down to the river bank, found a shady spot and relaxed for about 30minutes.

At 11:15AM, we crossed The Silver Bridge ( I have seen it called “Bright Angel Suspension bridge” in some publication and maps), one of the two bridges that spans Colorado River at the bottom of Grand Canyon, you will take the Kaibab Bridge if you go up via shorter but water-less South Kaibab trail. Moving forward towards the Bright Angel trail via the River trail, past the River Resthouse, just before we entered Indian Garden, there was a sign warns people “do not attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day and each year hikers suffer serious illness or death from exhaustion…..”….bla bla bla, Of course we gave it a good laugh as we walked by it.

At 1:30PM, we reached the Indian Garden, there is a temperature gauge right next to the drinking water fountain showing it was at 88° F, my GPS showed we just gained 1400 feet in elevation from the river. Continued up, we ran into a series of rapid back and forth switchbacks knows as “Jacobs Ladder”, I have seen pictures of it from postcards and other on-line photo album, but this was first time walking up this dramatic section of the trail by the Redwall formation, quite a different experience. As soon as we got out of those rapid switchbacks, we saw the 3 mile Rest house, a very welcome sign after a 10 and a half hours of hard work. A short walk to a open spot behind the rest house could give you a pretty nice view of the side canyon. I refilled my water bottle, took an energy bar, and continued up the trail in the irregular loops through the red rocks, we reached another small hut, look much like the 3 mile Rest house we saw but with less view, it was the 1.5 mile Rest house, and it was 4:00PM. Knowing we have only 1.5 miles more to go definitely gave me an incentive to hang in there. We didn’t even bother to stop at the rest house and continued worked the way up, minutes later, we past a small tunnel, then another tunnel, we could see the Plateau Point Trails from a distance very clearly from here, probably one of my next short day hike destination. Surprisingly, up until now, we didn’t encounter any mule train, but we noticed their smelly leftovers on the trails as we approached the South Rim.

At Exactly 5:00PM, we reached the Bright Angel Trail Head at South Rim just right next to the Kolb Studio. That wrapped up our 25 mile Rim-to-Rim journey, total time spent: 12.5 hours. We hugged, high-five and congratulated each others!!!

PS, the pictures at the end starting from IMG_7821 are not from the rim to rim hike,they were shot somewhere along the way back to north Rim to pick up our car.
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