West: New Rhythm, South Kaibab to Bright Angel

Our trail experience and lessons learned.

EARLY BIRDS

On 7 September, via Highway 64 west of Flagstaff, we arrived at the Grand Canyon South Rim entry at noon the day before our hike. We setup our tent at Mather campground and then went to the backcountry office to find out which bus to catch for the earliest possible drop off at South Kaibab trailhead.  We walked along the paved Rim Trail near the Village so as to acclimate to the spectacular scenery & altitude.  20 minutes into our stroll, we had a solid reminder that you have to focus on one thing at a time i.e. Danger, danger. Avoid walking whilst simultaneously digging in your backpack for a granola bar.  We opted for  dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge. On the walk back to the car, we were surprised by a large male mule deer who walked out from behind a building.  We were way too close!   The next day we woke up around 3 a.m. to make sure we’d packed up and could catch the bus for the 5:30 drop of at the trailhead. Every day forward would be like this with us rising well before the sun to make our way.  That’s how we rolled because we were excited, a little nervous, it was incredible to watch the sun come up on the trail,  and it is worth it to make it to grab a campsite & relax before the temps get over 100F.

FLORIDA “FLATLANDERS” DELIGHT

S. Kaibab to Bright Angel Campground is a 4460 foot drop in elevation over 7 miles.  It took us longer than we expected, 6 hours.  We hiked in the shade the first part of the morning. Stunning, spectacular views. The trail itself was comfortably wide, at least 5 feet wide. We were amazed to encounter quite a few folks trail running. I was surprised there were no signposts letting us know how far we were along the trail. This turned out to be okay …better not to know.  Just keep walking, it’s all downhill.

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Mike on South Kaibab Trail

A couple hours in my knees reverted to a state akin to being near the end of the 1st and last half marathon I ever did 2 decades ago, only worse.   I got into steady turtle pace mode, stayed focused on my breathe, silently chanted Sanskrit prayers, made use of the trekking poles, thought about all the people I love, kept my gaze ahead and up, and kept picturing myself crossing the Colorado River with Mike.  Mike asked if I was okay.  My uncharacteristic response was, I don’t want to talk about it, keep going, please don’t wait on me.  I was concerned about being a Debbie Downer and having to ride out on a mule.   He pressed on just far enough that we could still see each other periodically, he’d remove my pack for me, and we’d take a snack and water break together. I knew my moves looked tenuous because every hiker that would come upon me would ask, You doing okay?  I’d smile and muster a chipper, Great, thanks!  Thankfully my knee situation leveled out after this day.   The morning we would hike out of the canyon, over breakfast Mike and I would have a laugh when he told me that on this 1st day he had worried that I’d have to be helicoptered out.

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Crossing the Colorado River

FIRE AND “ICE ICE BABY”

We were covered in red dust by the time we arrived around noon to the oasis: Bright Angel campground. I like this grimy feeling by the way, being dusted feels kinda like being completely salted after a day at the beach.  Here though, Cottonwood trees, pockets of shade, an icy cold water creek, a gentle breeze. My knees were on fire.  Popped some ibuprofen. Soaked the knees and feet in the creek.  Got a kick out of Europeans stripping down to underwear and lounging in the creek.  Wished all Americans were that relaxed and comfortable.

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Our little oasis at Bright Angel Campground

 

Gah! I forgot to pack eating utensils.  Beloved sporks were left in the car camping gear box, so we set out to improvise find wood to carve spoons.  What tha!?  While seeking wood we noticed people walking up the trail a ways and coming back with plastic cups of ice tea. We were only a short distance from Phantom Ranch. Air-conditioning, beer, ice, etc…It felt kinda weird because we ridiculously thought we were somewhat remote.  It was loud, beautifully raucous in there.  We stuck with ice tea, scored plastic spoons, and enjoyed camaraderie with other hikers outdoors and in the shade before heading back to our campsite, which registered a temperature like Hades. See 115+ Fahrenheit in below photo.

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Temperature at Bright Angel Campground, mid-day 8 September, 2016

Before sunset while the deer roamed around a few feet away munching dried cottonwood leaves, a ranger hailing from upstate New York came through.  She was completely covered up, full face cloth.  She was hand-watering trees with buckets of creek water and checking camping permits. We appreciated her nod of approval of our plans for next day pre-sunrise departure and we were happy about her suggestion for a twilight hike at next evening’s destination, Indian Gardens Campground. She also suggested we catch an evening Ranger talk at 7 at Phantom Ranch that night.  We loved the Ranger talk after dinner.  We slept pretty well sans tent rain fly,  in our underwear on top of our sleeping bags, despite it being close to 90F.  To me it felt like childhood summertime sleep in Alabama, but with the bonus of the sound of the creek burbling next to you.

OH WOW!

Secret sauce for blister-free feet:  Miraculously, for the 1st time ever, I had no hotspots or blisters.  I wore 2 layers of socks- lightweight SmartWool  5 toe socks under thin SmartWool regular liner socks. Hallelujah!

Rule of thumb:  A “safe distance” from wildlife is if you hold your arm straight our in front of you with your thumb up, your thumb should completely cover the animal from your vision, otherwise you are too close.  We learned this at the evening ranger talk at Phantom Ranch after fellow campers shared Canyon wildlife encounter stories.

Courteous camping illumination:  We learned that headlamps with a red light option are ideal for traipsing about the campground at night. With the soft, red light, you can see just fine and you don’t annoy fellow campers by blinding them with normal car-like headlight-style lights

LA COMIDA

As mentioned in the Come Up post Sustenance section, we meticulously made sure we had packed enough for energy, but not so much weight on our backs.  No cook Breakfast = (except for boiled water for) AeroPressed coffee (snobby, yes)  VitaMineral green powder shake, Chia\buckwheat\hemp cereal with water, trail mix. Snacks\Lunch = pretzels, beef jerky, granola bars, bagels, peanut butter. Dinner = rehydrated freeze-dried vegetables with couscous and vacuum-packed tuna. Dessert = dried banana slices and cacao nibs.

 


2 thoughts on “West: New Rhythm, South Kaibab to Bright Angel

  1. So glad to be reading about this finally! I claim to go to the ranger talks for the kids, but I invariably learn something or a bunch of somethings at each one.

    1. Cool, thanks! 🙂 I enjoy your travelogues and aspire to write mine real-time as you do on my next adventure. Night time Ranger talk – small group, lantern-lit, and bottom of the canyon – was a definite highlight for us, especially because her area of study was big horn rams. We got to hold a heavyweight ram horn and saw amazing photos demonstrating their power and agility. – mud crusted tracks disappearing into vertical rock!

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