Preparing for a Rim to Rim hike at the Grand Canyon is a daunting task. There are so many things to decide. How long should we allow for the trip, where should we stay, what do we need to take with us, can we make this hike on our own or should we join a guided group, how will my body react to the higher elevation, how far in advance do I need to start training, etc.? This list is long.
My husband, Dave Cramer, and I have previously hiked from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch and back out again the next day on two previous occasions. Having those two past experiences were invaluable in planning this trip. Those trips were completed in 2011 and 2013. In 2011, we hiked as a twosome and had reservations at the Hikers’ Dorms at Phantom Ranch. In 2013, we invited friends, two other couples, to join us. On both occasions we were able to upgrade our reservations from the Hikers’ Dorms to cabins at Phantom Ranch. Also on both occasions we were able to obtain reservations for steak dinners on the day of our arrival and breakfasts the next morning at Phantom Ranch. That greatly decreased the amount of food that we had to carry with us on those trips. We hiked down on the South Kaibab Trail on Day 1 and up and out on the Bright Angel Trail on Day 2. We also didn’t have to tent camp on those two occasions. Another major difference with this trip versus the two previous ones is the North Rim wasn’t open when we hiked.
For a rim to rim hike, one of the first decisions to be made is which direction? Are we going to hike from the North to the South Rim or from the South Rim to the North Rim? The majority of hikers prefer the former because the North Rim is higher in elevation and therefore a steeper climb. The season available for a Rim to Rim hike is short as the North Rim is only open from May 15th to October 15th of each year. Some hikers elect to make their hike a Rim to Rim to Rim hike which avoids the problem of how do I get back to where I started?
We elected to go with the majority of hikers and start our hike from the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Campground which is located at the Colorado River. From there we will hike up and out of the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail which is the same trail we hiked out on in 2011 and 2013. Tent camping Below the Rim requires a Backcountry permit. There are three campgrounds on our trail route – Cottonwood, Bright Angel and Indian Gardens. The National Park Service utilizes a lottery system to issue the Backcountry permits due to the high demand. Hikers can submit their applications four months prior to the start of their hike. For instance, to request campground permits for a hike in May, ensure your request is received between Dec 20th and Jan 1st. All early requests received during this span of dates are treated exactly the same. Requests are combined together into one pile, duplicates are removed, and then processing begins using a computer generated random order. We requested 1 night each in consecutive order for each of the three campgrounds anytime during the period 15 May to 31 May. We received notification on January 6th that we were lucky enough to be granted a permit as requested beginning on Friday, May 26th. I contacted the National Park Service requesting information about the number of tent campers and received the following response:
“For overnight hikers, each day we have about 40 at Cottonwood, 90 at Bright Angel, and 50 at Indian Garden. Each night there are also about 90 more staying at Phantom Ranch Lodge (at the bottom next to Bright Angel Campground).”
Now the real work of planning the trip began. We had not been able to make any other reservations until we knew the dates we were granted on the Backcountry permit. We travel in a forty foot Class A motorhome and tow a minivan for local transportation. Do we leave the motorhome on the North Rim and get a shuttle from the South Rim after the hike or vice versa? There are a couple commercial companies that provide a Rim to Rim shuttle service once a day each way. While it is only 24 miles to hike from rim to rim, it is nearly a five-hour road trip by car.
Keep in mind that it is just 4 short months from the time of the hike at this point. We are trying to make reservations in places that are sold out 12 months in advance. We knew that we needed to spend a couple days on the North Rim to allow us to acclimate to the higher elevation. I was unable to get reservations at the Lodge at the North Rim but was able to get two nights in a “cabin” at Kaibab Lodge which is approximately 30 minutes from the North Rim. I was also able to obtain one night reservation at the South Rim at the Maswik Hotel on the day we were scheduled to hike out. The Maswik is within walking distance from the Bright Angel Trailhead. Although it took weekly phone calls for 3 months, I was also able to reserve meals at Phantom Ranch – two sack lunches and two steak dinners on our arrival day at the bottom and 2 early (5 a.m.) breakfasts and 4 sack lunches as we left the bottom. Remember we still need to eat on those two days we are taking to hike out of the canyon.
Long story short, after numerous unsuccessful reservation attempts for both the South and North Rims, we elected to leave the motorhome at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV. We drove the minivan to Kaibab Lodge on the North Rim. It seemed the best option since that allowed us to have our minivan for transportation during the two days prior to beginning the hike. We left the minivan at the North Kaibab Trailhead. We made reservations with the Trans Canyon Shuttle for the day following our hike out.
Now that we had all the required reservations in place, it was time to start getting our gear together. Although we had done extensive day hiking in over 30 National Parks, we had never done any overnight tent camping on our hikes. We needed everything! Not only that, the weather is very, very unpredictable in the Canyon. You might encounter snow on the first day of the hike starting at the higher elevation of the North Rim. This is the description of the second day of our hike from the National Park Service website – “Because the entire 7.2 mile stretch is at low elevation, it becomes extremely hot from early morning to late afternoon. The gorge of black rock through which the trail passes becomes like an oven and can be compared to walking through a parking lot in Phoenix or Las Vegas in summertime.” Bottom line, it is a difficult trip for which to pack.
We had kicked around the idea of going on a “guided” trip where the commercial company provides everything. They take care of arranging transportation, preparing the meals, and supply all the equipment for the hike. If we had had a group of people going together then we may have gone that route but since this was likely going to be our last trip “below the Rim”, we wanted to be sure we could control what we did when instead of having to go along with a group of strangers. Plus the guided trips are not inexpensive and at least this way, we will still have any equipment that we purchased for the hike. Plus on the guided trips, they may prepare the food but you still have to carry it.
Although we had backpacks from our day hiking, we elected to purchase larger backpacks better suited to carrying more weight.
2 – Backpacks – 4.5 pounds each
2 – Sleeping bags – 2.2 pounds each
2 – Blow up air mattresses – 0.9 pounds each
2 – Rain Ponchos – 1.5 pounds each - double duty as waterproof tent footprint
2 – Three liter hydration water packs – 7 pounds each when filled with water
Tent with rainfly, stakes, and poles – 7.2 pounds
2 – headlamps
2 – water shoes
2 – sun shade hats
Sunscreen & Sunglasses
First aid kit with Aleve, band-aids, ointment, moleskin, insect repellent, prescription medication
Hiking GPS, GoPro camera & regular camera, spare batteries, and cell phones.
We also made up a Just in Case Kit with Water treatment tablets, signal mirror, water purifier drinking straw, knife, matches, ace bandage, knee brace, and ankle brace.
Add in Food, extra water, clothing, wallets, cell phones, minimal toiletries, car keys and extra batteries and we were carrying just over 30 pounds each. Trust me when I tell you that we looked at each item several times before making the final cut on what made it into each backpack.
We spent two nights just outside the National Park North Rim at the Kaibab Lodge in a Hiker’s cabin. It is rustic basic lodging but it had a private bathroom with shower. There is also a restaurant on site which was convenient as well as a gas station with a few basic supplies across the road. There is no tv, no cell phone service, no internet and no wi-fi at Kaibab Lodge. We spent those two days adjusting to the elevation and checking in with the backcountry office. We also confirmed the current weather forecasts for both rims and at Phantom Ranch. Because we had already seen many of the roadside viewpoints when we visited the North Rim on two other occasions, the Ranger at the Backcountry office suggested a drive out to Fire Point. The Ranger said we should be ok so long as our tires on the minivan were “good”. It took us nearly 2 hours to drive out to the point. It was a stunning view unlike any other that we had seen of the canyon from either Rim. The road was really not appropriate for a minivan and I was really hoping we didn’t get a flat because we didn’t see more than 4 vehicles after the first two miles. It was 17.5 miles one way. It did keep us distracted while we were waiting for the “Main Event”.
We both woke early on the first morning of the hike. We did one last check of our gear and hit the road. We arrived at the North Kaibab trail head parking lot and were lucky enough to snag a spot in the parking lot. I really didn’t want to leave the car by the side of the road for 5 days.
At 5:30 a.m., we put on our packs, picked up our hiking sticks, took a deep breath and started down the trail, eager to begin the adventure. Now is probably where I should tell you the biggest mistakes we made on the first day were one, underestimating the Canyon and two, overestimating our ability based upon our two previous trips below the Rim. We were planning on getting to Cottonwood Campground and setting up camp and still having enough time to make a side trip to Ribbon Falls. Our third and fourth mistakes were hiking too fast and not taking enough rest breaks because we were so eager and pumped up to finally getting on the trail after all the months of planning. We made it to the first landmark, the Coconino Overlook at 6:00 approximately ¾ mile from the trailhead. We stopped very briefly and did not take off our packs. We arrived at the Supai Tunnel at 6:50 which is 1.7 miles from the trailhead. The Supai Tunnel is the furthest that the mules go on the North Kaibab Trail. We barely slowed down at the Supai Tunnel. Our fifth mistake of the day was relying on the distance tracked by our handheld GPS. We have no excuse for this mistake either, we knew from previous hikes, that the GPS was likely not that accurate because we were so far down into a canyon. The reason the GPS being off was a problem is that the GPS always showed that we had gone further than we had. That made us think we were closer to our goals than we were. We kept thinking, “we will take a break when we reach x” but X landmark was always further than we thought it should be.
We reached the Bridge in the Redwall after approximately 3 miles. We did stop for a few minutes and took our packs off, and had some food and water. After the bridge is where The Needle portion of the trail begins and that is when the adventure really started for me because of my fear of heights. I vividly remembered the sheer drop offs on the South Kaibab Trail at Skeleton Point from our trips in 2011 & 2013. I thought the North Kaibab Trail couldn’t be worse than that. Well, it was worse and it was much worse for much longer stretches. I didn’t so much enjoy as I did survive, most of the next two to three miles of the trail. I was okay once Roaring Springs came into view. Because I was distracted by my fear, I didn’t really notice as soon as I should have noticed, the growing pain that Dave was in. The rangers had told us that the view of Roaring Springs from the trail was better than the view we would get if we took the side trail to Roaring Springs so we pushed on to the Manzanita Rest Area at the Pumphouse. Dave was in a great deal of pain by that time and we still had 1.5 miles to go to Cottonwood Campground where we would spend our first night below the Rim. We rested 30 – 40 minutes, eating and drinking throughout our rest break.
Dave’s pain was mainly in his thighs and calves. It was obvious when we left the Pumphouse that Dave was NOT enjoying himself. It was supposed to be 6.8 miles to Cottonwood Campground from the trailhead. Dave’s pain continued to worsen but that GPS was reading 6.5 miles, then 7.0 miles, then 7.5 miles, then 8.0 miles. At 8.1 miles on the GPS, Dave agreed to let me go ahead to the campground, pick out a campsite, leave my pack and then come back to carry his pack. I was just heading back up the trail to him, when Dave came into sight. We dropped our packs onto the picnic table at Site 7, moved it into the shade and Dave laid down on the picnic table for a good long break. There are two ammo bins at each campsite for food storage. We took everything out of our packs and placed the food in one ammo bin and all our other supplies in the other ammo bin. Then we hung the packs on the provided rack with all the zippers open to keep the local rodents from chewing through them. The National Park Service strongly recommends against bringing any food into your tent or even anything that may have the scent of food on it such as your back pack. Keeping a clean campsite is very important to keeping the rodents from becoming aggressive looking for dropped food bits. I wanted to keep the rodents away because I really didn’t want to attract the animals, such as snakes, that eat the rodents so we kept a really, really clean site.
The ranger station is normally not manned at Cottonwood campground but a ranger happened to be at the Campground checking in with the day hikers and campers. This is probably a good time to mention the “day hikers/runners”. Because it was earlier in the season, March and April, on the two previous occasions when we hiked below the rim, the North Rim had still been closed due to snow. We were not prepared for the greatly increased number of people we saw on the trails. On this trip which also happened to be on Memorial Day weekend, we encountered MANY, MANY day hikers and runners who were going from one Rim to the other in a single day. There were numerous signs posted warning against trying to hike down to the Colorado River and out again in a single day but that didn’t seem to be deterring too many people. One sign indicated that there are 250 people rescued from the depths of the Grand Canyon each year. A surprising majority of those rescued are males between the ages of 18 and 40. The rangers also told us that most of those rescued were day hikers not tent campers largely because day hikers were less prepared for something not going according to plan. But I digress, Ranger Kate at Cottonwood campground suggested that we soak in the cold water of the Bright Angel Creek. We soaked a couple times that afternoon which helped Dave’s aches and pains subside quite a bit but I was still feeling an immense amount of guilt for having gotten Dave into this situation. A rim to rim hike was mainly my goal not Dave’s. Ranger Kate also suggested that we start our 2nd day of hiking before daylight to avoid the heat as much as possible.
The view of the night sky that first night in the tent was spectacular. We could see the lights from the Lodge at the North Rim. We could see so many stars in the sky they didn’t even seem like separate stars; they looked like the clusters of stars that you see in photos taken by telescopes. We had practiced setting up the tent several times before the hike but this was the first night we had slept overnight in the tent. We heard runners coming by on the trail until we fell asleep around 8. I remember feeling so glad that I wasn’t them with a long hike in the dark remaining. Some were heading up trail towards the North Rim over 7 miles away and some were heading down trail, probably towards Phantom Ranch, also about 7 miles away.
We had set our alarms for 3:15 a.m. and were able to get a pretty good night’s sleep. We had headlamps that we used for packing up all our gear. We were able to hit the trail by 4 a.m. even though one of our brand-new Bushnell headlamps stopped working while we were packing up. We got by with a cheap $1 cap light that we had gotten from Harbor Freight. Dave’s legs were still pretty sore and we were concerned that they would be a problem as the day went on so we elected to bypass the side trail to Ribbon Falls which was about 1.5 miles down trail from Cottonwood. Even though today’s trail wasn’t nearly as steep as yesterdays, we wanted to err on the side of caution. Did I mention how guilty I was feeling about having gotten Dave into this? At this point I just wanted to make sure we made it out without getting on the evening news as part of a rescue story.
Ranger Kate’s advice turned out to be excellent! We made it through the narrow section of the trail known as “The Box” before the sun was completely up in the Canyon. That meant we were able to entirely avoid the extreme temperatures that can occur on that section of the trail. The walls of the The Box reflect the heat and temperatures can reach into the 130’s. We arrived at Phantom Ranch at 8:10 a.m. We thought we had seen a lot of day hikers the day before but that was nothing like the crowd of day hikers we encountered at Phantom Ranch. We estimate there were 40 – 50 day hikers either inside or outside the canteen building. The Canteen at Phantom Ranch has limited snacks, lemonade and water available; plus, they have ICE. There are also shade trees so it makes a great place for a rest.
Meals are available at Phantom Ranch but must be ordered in advance. We had ordered two sack lunches for the day of our arrival, two steak dinners, as well as two early breakfasts and four sack lunches for the next day. We picked up our two sack lunches and headed on down the trail about another 1/3 of a mile to the Bright Angel Campground. The thermometer at Bright Angel read 120 degrees in the sun when we arrived just before 9 a.m. Since we arrived so early, we were able to select a campsite that would get lots of shade throughout most of the day and that was also near the restrooms and fresh water supply. This restroom even had flushing toilets and running water!
A friend of ours had prepared smoked beef for us for the trip. It was excellent and I don’t know what we would have done without it. After a day and half of beef jerky and trail mix, we had what felt like a feast eating the bagels from our sack lunches before setting up the tent. Dave’s legs were doing much better than the first day but were still pretty painful.
I had an idea when I was picking up the sack lunches in the canteen at Phantom Ranch when I noticed the Duffel Service listed on the board. I knew that duffel service for supplies could be arranged in advance but was it still possible to arrange to have a mule carry out some of supplies so we could lighten our packs? After two days on the trail, we knew we were VERY prepared for this trip, meaning we had overpacked and therefore our packs were overweight. Dave stayed at the campsite while I trudged back to the Canteen to investigate the duffel service.
Hallelujah there was space available on a mule! Turns out for $75 they will give you a feed sack and you can load it with up to 30 pounds of “stuff”. They could have told me twice that amount and we would have paid it. When I got back to the campsite, Dave and I were able to prune away 19 pounds of gear including the rain fly for the tent, some of the tent stakes, the two rain ponchos, insect repellent wipes, dirty clothes, snap lights, dead batteries, one sleeping bag, a couple ankle braces, a second ace bandage, and the trash we had accumulated so far. There are no trash cans on the trail; you are expected to carry out everything that you carried in. Now that we had our feed sack packed up, we both hiked back up to the Canteen to drop it off. It would be at the South Rim waiting for us.
Phantom Ranch is the last official mail-by-mule route in the country. We were prepared on this trip with approximately 20 postcards already addressed to family and friends. We enjoyed the air conditioning and drinking lemonade for an hour while we filled out our postcards. Then we headed back to the campsite. Remember I mentioned that Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel campground are about 1/3 mile apart? It starts to feel like a lot further when you make your 3rd or 4th trip between the two in the heat but at least we were able to leave our backpacks at the campsite. The Bright Angel Creek runs right next to the campground with even easier access to it. We both went down and sat right down in the Creek. It felt heavenly after two days on the trail. It was very cold but you adjusted quickly. We spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between soaking in Bright Angel Creek and napping in the tent. By the time, 4:30 p.m. rolled around, we were ready for our steak dinners so it was back up the trail to the Canteen for the 5 p.m. seating. There is always plenty of good hearty food served family style and it has been excellent every time we have had it. The servers have the process down to a science.
Since this was very likely going to be our only Rim to Rim hike, I had wanted to document this entire hike on video so I had borrowed a GoPro camera for the trip. It was one of the older ones with an internal battery and no view screen so there is no way to confirm if I was taking video or still shots or bursts, etc. I had practiced with it on my backpack several times so I felt like I knew how to use it. I had also purchased extra mini SD cards and an external battery pack to recharge it. I had calculated how many hours of video I could fit on each of the mini SD cards but I had failed to realize that the internal battery would only last just over 3 hours before it would need to be recharged. The battery died just as we were reaching Roaring Springs on the first day of the hike. I didn’t get back to trying to recharge the camera until after we arrived at Phantom Ranch on the second day. Consequently, we don’t have any video of the second day of the hike, only still photos. I realize now that the memories we have of the hike will always be better than any videos that we could have taken.
The first night under the stars had been beautiful but stressful. This second night, we were able to enjoy the stars and solitude even more. As the evening goes by, the campground quiets down and the number of day hikers drop away and you feel the beauty of the Grand Canyon surround you. The walls of the Canyon change as the sun goes down in a way that I can’t find the words to describe.
The third day of the hike began with another great meal at the Canteen. Breakfast at the first seating at 5 a.m. Again, everything was served piping hot and tasted excellent. Pancakes, bacon, eggs, fruit, and more that I am forgetting. We picked up our four sack lunches for the trail and then it was back to the campsite. We were now officially halfway through the hike and were starting to feel pretty good about our chances of making it out alive! We were packed up and on the trail by 6:05 a.m. and feeling confident about the day ahead since it was going to be our shortest distance so far. Plus, now we were back on familiar ground having hiked the Bright Angel Trail twice before. On those occasions, we had hiked all the way to the South Rim in one day; this time we had two days to cover the same distance. I know Dave was looking forward to hiking up-hill instead of down-hill. While hiking up-hill is harder from an aerobic point of view, hiking down-hill is much harder on one’s muscles and joints. Dave’s treadmill training was going to give him a distinct advantage for the next two days. My training had been attending a Boot Camp for Ladies which focused more on muscle tone vs aerobic. And let’s not forget that our packs contained 19 pounds less “stuff” that had been sent up on a mule.
When we left Bright Angel Campground, we left the North Kaibab Trail behind us. I do not believe we will ever be hiking The Needle, the portion of the North Kaibab trail between the Redwall Bridge and the Manzanita Rest Area again. I might be convinced to hike DOWN to the Redwall Bridge or UP to the Manzanita Rest area again but never again will I hike the narrow steep section in between those two points. I’m glad we did it but I don’t need to do it again.
There are two bridges that cross the Colorado River approximately ½ mile apart; the Black Bridge on the South Kaibab Trail which both the mules and the hikers use and the Silver Bridge that is only used by the hikers. The River Trail runs along the north side of the Colorado River for just over 1.5 miles. After crossing the Silver bridge, the trail goes gently up and down for as long as it follows the Colorado River. It is very sandy which makes it difficult to hike. There is a bath house with pit toilets where the trail turns south into a small canyon. We were in and out of the sun while along the Colorado River but once we made the turn away from the river, it was like going into an air-conditioned room. We slowly began to climb and crossed the creek several times (no bridges) until we reached the Devil’s Corkscrew portion of the trail. This section climbs steadily and is the majority of the 1400 feet elevation gain that we made that day. Dave was still having some leg pain but he was waiting for me instead of the other way around from the first two days. Even with our later start after breakfast, we did the 5.5 miles to Indian Gardens Campground in just over 3 hours arriving at 9:15 a.m.
We thought Indian Gardens was the nicest of the three campgrounds because the sites were larger and each had a covered area to provide shade over the picnic table. We were able to set up camp quickly now that we had a couple nights of experience. I fiddled with the GoPro camera for a while and then we settled down for a little nap after lunch. I should also mention that a Ranger checked in with all the campers at each of the three campgrounds and made an entry into their log. Because camping is allowed by Backcountry permit only, the Rangers have a list of who and how many campers to expect each night and will know if someone is missing. There is also an emergency phone at each of the three campgrounds.
We had planned to take another side trip on our third day out to Plateau Point which is approximately 1.5 miles one way from Indian Gardens. Even though Dave was feeling better, we elected to again be prudent and we did not make that side trip. We knew we still had the steepest section to hike tomorrow plus the point of the Plateau Pointe hike is to see a panoramic view of the Colorado River 2000 feet below. At the time, I didn’t really mind not going since the anxiety I had felt on Day 1 from all the panoramic views was still very fresh in my mind!
We had plenty of food for lunch and dinner between the four sack lunches, the beef jerky and the other food that we had brought with us. It was more difficult to see the stars on our last night below the rim due to the tree cover over our campsite but we appreciated the shade during the afternoon.
We were up before daylight on our last day. We had 5.5 miles to the South Rim. We were on the trail by 4 a.m. Our goal was to be off the trail not later than 10:30 a.m. but I think we were both secretly hoping for 9:30 a.m. to ensure we beat the heat of the sun.
The first mile or so of the hike is fairly level so we made pretty good time on that stretch. Seeing the sunrise from down in the Canyon was beautiful beyond words. We arrived at the 3-Mile Rest area at 5:10 a.m. which is approximately 3 miles from the South Rim and 1.6 miles from Indian Gardens where we started that morning. We took about a 20-minute break to eat, drink, enjoy the view and reflect on how very blessed we were to be able to make this hike.
From this point, the trail gains 1000 feet in elevation for EACH of the last three miles to the South Rim. We knew from experience that this would be the slowest leg of the entire 4 days. It is getting hotter as the sun is coming up, one’s legs are getting tired, the air is getting thinner with the increase in elevation and there are more hikers on the trail due to the large number of visitors to the South Rim who want to “go down just a little way” on the trail.
We arrived at the 1.5-Mile Rest area at 7 a.m. which put us ahead of our goal for reaching the South Rim! We took an even longer break of about 30 minutes. The 1.5-Mile Rest area holds a special memory for Dave. I mentioned our previous hikes in 2011 and 2013. In 2013, we had two other couples accompany us on the hike. One of the wives in that group developed hiker’s knee on the first day on the way down into the Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail. It is a very painful condition. On the way back up, when it became obvious that she would likely not be able to complete the hike out in a single day, we split into two groups of three; I took one couple on up to the South Rim and Dave continued at a slower pace with the other couple. Our thinking was, better to deal with a situation involving three people rather than six. Even with the hiker’s knee issue, Dave’s group was able to make it to 1.5-Mile Rest Area but they just couldn’t go any further that day. The other couple and I had already advised a Ranger we encountered along the trail of the other group’s situation. Dave used the Emergency phone to report the current status of their situation. Dave was given the code to the cache of emergency supplies maintained near the rest area. It contained two sleeping bags and some food. There was no water in the cache and the water faucet was not turned on yet because it was only early April and there was still a strong possibility of freezing temperatures overnight. Luckily, they had planned well and still had water remaining as well as some food. The three of them spent the night in the covered 1.5-Mile Rest area huddled together in the two sleeping bags. It turned out to be a good decision to split up so we didn’t have to share those two sleeping bags between the six of us!
When the other couple and I got to the South Rim, I had the difficult task of calling their oldest daughter, who I had never met, to advise them of the situation. I should also mention this couple were 71 & 70 years of age so I knew their daughter was already concerned about them making the hike anyway even without adding on the unexpected night on the trail. Two of us hiked back down the following morning with more food and fresh water. We met up on the trail about 1.25 miles from the rim. The five of us hiked out together in about 2 ½ hours. Everything turned out well in the end. Our experience in 2013 was on our minds as we planned for our much longer hike in 2017 and should provide some insight as to why we tried to be so very well prepared.
Back to 2017 again. Shortly after we left the 1.5-Mile Rest area at 7:30 a.m. we encountered one of those tourists who just wanted to “go down just a little way” on the trail. The gentleman from New Jersey was heading back up and wasn’t in trouble yet but he was already regretting having come down so far and doubting his ability to make it back to the rim on his own. We assured him if he stuck with us, we would make sure he made it to the Rim. We went slowly, stopping to drink water and rest often, and when possible in the shade. The trail winds back and forth so there are some bits of shade as it was still early in the day. Slowly but surely, we finished the last bit of the hike arriving at the Bright Angel Trailhead at 9:15 a.m. Four days and three nights after we left the North Kaibab trailhead, we had completed our one and only Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike! The gentleman from New Jersey, whose name I cannot recall for the life of me, took our photo at the trailhead sign.
It was amazing how lively we felt for the next few minutes as we walked over to the Maswik Hotel. We were hoping to check in early but no luck. We checked our backpacks with the concierge and had lunch in the food court of the hotel. It felt odd to be around so many people again especially with four days of trail dust and dirt on us. After eating, we hopped on the free shuttle bus service to go to the mule barn to pick up our “stuff” in the duffel brought up by the mule the day before. Even though the hotel was only about ¼ mile from the mule barn, we got back on the shuttle bus to ride the rest of the loop in the air conditioning. Once back at the hotel, we checked our feed sack duffel with the concierge and decided to eat again. It was surprising how had almost been having to force ourselves to eat while on the trail and then just a couple hours later to be feeling so famished.
We spent the next couple hours in the hotel lobby talking with a very nice couple who were also waiting to check into their room. Finally, at just before the 2 p.m. check in time, our room was available. We went to the concierge to pick up our two backpacks, the feed sack, and the box of clean clothes and toiletries we had left at the hotel 3 weeks earlier. We were both elated when we walked into the room and saw not only a shower but hallelujah, a bathtub! I don’t recall how many baths we took but it was at least two each. We spent the rest of the afternoon resting before heading back for another meal at that food court!
The next morning, we were up early, repacking everything back into the two backpacks. Even though the backpacks were loaded down again, they didn’t feel so bad. We had another big meal for breakfast and then made the ½ mile walk over to the Bright Angel Lodge to pick-up the TransCanyon Shuttle at 8:00 a.m. There were two groups on the shuttle with us; one was a twosome who didn’t speak much English and the other was a group of five friends, probably in their late 20’s to early 30’s, who were going to start their hike from the North Rim that same day. The five-some had backcountry permits to tent camp where we had just been the past few days. The just over 200-mile ride back to the North Rim took about 4.5 hours with two stops along the way. The shuttle departs the South Rim heading east on SR-64, then turns north on US-89, then turns west on US Alt-89 just south of Page, AZ, and finally turning south on SR-67. The route goes through some very beautiful scenery so if you ever take it, don’t plan on sleeping on the shuttle! The shuttle service will drop you anywhere you want along the route; Jacob Lake, Kaibab Lodge, North Kaibab Trailhead, Back Country Permit office, Grand Canyon Lodge, etc. We were relieved to see the minivan still in one piece back at the North Kaibab Trailhead parking lot. I was a little concerned that we might have developed a slow leak in one or more of the tires from our trip out to Fire Point the day before we started the hike. That felt like a lifetime ago! Then after a 4-hour drive back to the motor home at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, NV our adventure was complete!
Would we do some things differently if we had it to do again? Yes, certainly but all in all, I am very glad we made the hike. Are there still some areas of the Grand Canyon that I would like to see? Yes, Roaring Springs and Plateau Point come to mind. Dave also said he would be willing to hike below the rim of the canyon again. Who knows, maybe we will! I bought a tee shirt at the Grand Canyon that reads, Grand Canyon Adventure is Calling and I must Go!
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