Everyone needs a change of pace sometimes. For me, it’s trading the woods and waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the high deserts and canyon lands of the southwest.
The Grand Canyon is a place that everyone should put on their bucket list of things to see at least once in their lifetime. After driving for hours to reach the South Rim, I joined hundreds of tourists from all over the world as they marveled at the panorama of a mile-deep canyon opening before them. I heard languages that ranged from eastern and western Europe to the orient. Everyone had the same reaction: “Wow!”
I was soon joined by my friends who had driven up from Tucson. We spent the evening catching up on each other’s news, sharing ur assortments of energy bars, comparing gear, and packing up for the next morning.
The day of our descent dawned clear and cold. Well, my southern friends thought 26 degrees was cold – I was happy to have it start out “cool”, since the Grand Canyon actually gets warmer as you go down (which is counter-intuitive). We took a shuttle to the trail head for the South Kaibab Trail: 7 miles downhill of switchbacks, no water stations, and breathtaking views. We stopped often to drink, eat, and visit with each other and other happy hikers. Bunkhouse rooms and a family style steak dinner awaited us at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Those, and an ice-cold stream that was perfect for soaking tired muscles and joints from the descent.
Wake-up call the next morning was at 4:30am. Still dark in the canyon, but the folks at the bottom like to get the hikers fed and on their way before the heat of the day sets in. It’s a long way to the top! 9.6 miles up the Bright Angel Trail, to be exact! This trail offers more greenery and a gentler climb, following the Bright Angel fault where it cuts a gouge off the Colorado River. Streams and springs offer enough water to foster willow and cottonwood groves, leading to a “greener” trail than the South Kaibab. Water and rest stops also insure that you’ll see more “tourists” on the Bright Angel – people who have ventured down from the South Rim to experience the Grand Canyon at least in part.
While at the bottom of the canyon, we were told that 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year. Of that number, only 1% actually venture down off the rim to hike some of the trails. And only 1% of that group actually makes it down to the bottom. So I left feeling like I had accomplished something special. I’ve come back from my trip down the Grand Canyon with wonderful memories, beautiful pictures, and calves that are still sore from 17 miles of switchbacks.