For an outdoor enthusiast, the United States is a playground of infinite opportunity. Sometimes I forget just how incredible the offerings are. Living in Southern California is especially beneficial, as I’m a short drive from beaches, mountains, deserts, and countless National Parks. This weekend, Julia and I completed a hike I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, a rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon. This was my first visit to Grand Canyon National Park, and certainly wont be my last. The three days we spent at the park over Labor Day weekend was just enough to whet my appetite, as I don’t think I’ll be able to hold off for long on another trip. Where else can one walk through nearly 2 billion years of geological history in a single day, and leave with their feet covered in tapeats sandstone, bright angel shale, and redwall limestone before the clock strikes noon? As fascinating as the Grand Canyon’s geological history can be, it also tells the stories of the abundant life that remains supported by the Colorado River. For a lover of all things outdoors, this hike truly is as good as it gets.
We arrived at Grand Canyon National Park just as the sun was setting on Friday and made our way to the Bright Angel Lodge, where we would be staying for the night. For those booking this trip too late to secure a camping spot and not wanting to sleep in their car, the Bright Angel Lodge is an affordable option. We had all of our gear ready to go by 9PM and did our best to get some rest before our hike. The alarm clock on my phone forced my already awake body out of bed at 3AM, and I quickly ate some breakfast before going through my pack list for a final time. The best thing about staying at Bright Angel Lodge is that the Hiker Express Shuttle leaves from right outside it’s doorstep. The 4 AM shuttle departure is the earliest one in the park arriving at South Kaibab Trail Head. We were joined at the shuttle station by 4 other hikers, and picked a few more up along the way when we stopped at the Backcountry Office and the Visitor Center. The total time of the shuttle ride was about 25 minutes, and after adjusting our packs and trekking poles we began our hike at about 4:40. The weather was fairly warm for this time of day, but a nice breeze kept things nice and cool as we made our way down into the canyon. We were able to cover a lot of ground before the sun began to rise, and as the photons of light began to hit the canyon walls just short of daybreak, we realized what an incredible journey stood before us.
We were making great time in the the morning darkness, but our pace came to a screeching halt as light began to pour into the canyon. Varying cloud formations arched high above us, reflecting a myriad of colors that changed with every view. At this depth we could really start to see the handiwork of the Colorado River, with buttes and pinnacles in every direction.
One of the steepest sections of the South Kaibab Trail is the one that leads down to the Black Suspension Bridge that crosses the Colorado River. We hardly noticed the change in terrain beneath our red earth covered feet. There was far too much to see and breathe here, the landscape changes every second in these hours, and to look away is to miss it forever. The darkness of the tunnel that leads out to the Black Suspension Bridge brought us back to the darkness with which we began our day and spat us out over the flowing brown waters of the Colorado.
After walking a few hundred meters from the north end of the suspension bridge, we came upon the junction for the Bright Angel Trail that leads back south to the top of the Rim. We continued on past the Bright Angel Campground and took our first break at Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is a rustic canyon village rich in history. There is a small store that was still closed when we arrived, but there are multiple options for potable water. Our stop here was supposed to be short lived, but just as we left the camp a young deer approached us as if to make friends. There are countless signs throughout the park telling visitors to help keep wildlife wild. Well, this little girl clearly spent too much time with those not heading the advice. She had no fear, and made a point to spend quite a bit of time with us between her mouthfuls of opuntia.
The next stretch of trail is about 6 miles of flat land heading north to Cottonwood Camp. We made very good time on this stretch, passing over quite a few bridges. Our starting time of 4:40 was really starting to pay dividends as the high canyon walls shielded us from any sun.
Cottonwood Camp was where we took our second break for the day and refilled our hydration bladders. For the first time we could feel the triple digit heat beating down on our backs. Luckily, this was the part of the hike where we would begin to quickly gain elevation and make our way to cooler temperatures. The North Kaibab Trail leads upwards to the Northern Rim, and for the first time we were coming across hikers making the journey in the opposite direction.
We reached the North Rim after a little more than 9 hours hiking and completed our Grand Canyon rim to rim hike! From this point we only had a 1.5 mile walk over to the lodge, where we had pizza, beer, and more incredible views waiting for us. The Lodge at the North Rim is a beautiful building with three large windows in the main room overlooking the Grand Canyon. Inside the Lodge is a sit down restaurant, and just outside is a gift shop, a saloon, and a convenience deli with pizzas, hot dogs, sandwiches, and other great post hike treats one would hope to find at a park snack bar.
After some food and a little rest, we made our way back out to the Grand Canyon to take in the views from Angel Point. Much like the sunrise we had experienced earlier in the day, the artistry of the sunset used every inch of the canyon to cast it’s ever changing palette of colors.
True to form, we made our way back to the deli after sunset and ordered another pizza. Our GPS watches told us we had lost north of 5000 calories for the day, so we really needed the extra slices! I can think of few times in my life where sleep came so easy, I closed my eyes with my body and mind in perfect harmony.
We woke up the following morning and took the shuttle back to the South Rim. It was a spectacular drive through Navajo country, and gave me another glimpse into the many beauties in Arizona. This was the trip and hike of a lifetime and I’m so thrilled to have finally had the chance to do it. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to visit the Grand Canyon, but don’t be surprised if this becomes something we do every year.