January 12, 2010

Hike Review: Grand Canyon - Bright Angel and South Kaibab

Title: Grand Canyon - down Bright Angel trail and up South Kaibab trail
Distance: 17.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation change: 7200 ft to 2400 ft
Time of Year: Late December, early January
Recommended Map: Trails Illustrated Grand Canyon East #262

How better to usher in the New Year than from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Our itinerary had us hiking down Hermit Trail and staying at Hermit Rapids camp for two nights. This is supposed to be a more remote and intimate experience of the Grand Canyon than the popular Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails. Weather demanded our plans to be altered. The road to the Hermit Trail was closed due to snow.

Grand Canyon from Bright Angel
We arrived at the park ($25 vehicle entrance fee) in the mid afternoon. Sunset is 5:30. We visited the Back-country Office and because the winter is the slow season for the Canyon we were able to dilatorily modify our plans.

We started out heading down the Bright Angel Trail and stayed at Indian Gardens Camp the first night. The camp (4800 ft) is approximately 4.5 miles down trail from the rim (7200 ft). Despite this being the Canyons slow season the trail was tangled with visitors. We hiked the last mile in the dark. The snow on the way down was slippery and crampons are highly recommended. Most backpackers do the this route in the opposite direction, staying at Indian Garden on the way out so as to cut the out hike in half. Indian Garden was about 2/3 full. We found a quiet spot among the fir and oak trees. The camp has drinking water, picnic benches with awning, a pay phone, and hole-in-the-ground restrooms (a spot distance away from the camp for obvious reasons). The temperature fell to the mid-20s.

The next morning the late blooming sun deceived us into waking much later than anticipated. We quickly ate, packed and got back on the trail. Starting time was 10:00 am. From Indian Gardens we hiked 3.5 miles to Pipe Creek Beach. The trail down was quiet and concealed from the sun. A handful of other hikers were encountered. Pipe Creek flows through an amazing canyon which leads to the Colorado River. The big river is a pleasant surprise as it immediately aggrandizes after a sharp turn in the Pipe Creek Canyon. We lunched at Pipe Creek Beach (2400 ft) to the roaring of the river.
Colorado River from Bright Angel
Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch
From Pipe Beach, the hike to Bright Angel Campground (2400 ft) is an easy flat 2 miles of river walk. Bright Angel Camp is on the opposite side of the river. We crossed Silver Bridge and arrived at the campground shortly before 2:00 pm. We were welcomed by a herd of mule deer amiably eating the wild grasses utterly unconcerned with their surroundings. The camp was about half full. We found a beautiful spot along the clear Bright Angel Creek and rubbed elbows with the mule deer the remainder of the day. We explored the area. It is recommended that one visit Ribbon Falls. The falls are an easy 12 mile round trip from the camp up Bright Angel Creek. The Bright Angel Creek is in a canyon called the Box. The walls are almost vertical and over several hundred feet tall. The temperate full to just below freezing that night.

The next morning we anticipated the trickery of the Grand Canyon walls and awoke much earlier. We began our ascent at 8:00 am. The hike out lasted four and a half hours. We ascended South Kaibab trail which is a 7.5 mile trek to the rim. We climbed at a quick pace.

Grand Canyon from South Kaibab
At the top, there was a free shuttle to bring us to the Back-country office which was where we had parked.

I highly recommend this hike to anyone, young and old. Although, it might behoove you to get an early start and run the route in the opposite direction in which I have described it. It is not as difficult as one might anticipate if you take your time, plan well, and exercise before hand. Permits should be obtained months in advance as this is an extremely popular hike. You will encounter people from all over the globe on this hike.