Part 3 of 3: Grand Canyon Hike
After getting a pretty good night of sleep in one of the Phantom Ranch dormitory cabins (bunkbeds are better than sleeping on the ground), my brother and I got up about 4 a.m. and got our gear ready. We hit the trail by 4:45 a.m. and for the first 15 minutes I used my headlamp, with small bats flying right in front of me for a final meal of bugs before the sun rose. By 5 a.m., we were back down to the Colorado River and it was getting light enough to see the trail. We took the path to the right and quickly came to the Silver Bridge, suitable for hikers and mules, and crossed over.
The canyon was still and very quiet in the early morning as we walked west along the sandy River Trail. After a mile or so, we turned south and headed up the Bright Angel Trail towards the South Rim, which loomed high above us despite being miles away. It was almost two hours before we saw any other hikers, about the time we hit the first major section of switchback trail. Despite being named the Devils Cork-Screw, that section of the trail wasn't bad and we continued up the trail. It paralleled the Garden Creek and there was a surprising amount of vegetation and trees.
At about 7:30 a.m., we entered Indian Gardens, a true oasis in the canyon. Native Americans discovered the site centuries ago by following animals down a narrow trail from the South Rim. Indian Gardens is a green and peaceful campsite shaded by many large trees. It was a great place to sit down, drink some water and eat a snack. But after 15 minutes, we were on our way again as the day started to heat up. Already we had gained about 1,300 feet in elevation, but we had another five miles of trail and 3,000 vertical feet to go.
Continuing up the trail, we started to pass hikers on their way down. The Battleship, a prominent landmark in the canyon, loomed above us to the right and reminded us of how much further we had to go. We alternated between being in the sun and in the shade as the trail progressed south, so the heat wasn't bad as we made it to the 3-Mile Resthouse (three miles from the South Rim) in an hour. We took a quick rest, ate a snack and let a mule train of tourists pass by.
We continued up the trail and saw more and more hikers, with some probably being qualified as tourists, as many carried little more than a water bottle. This section of the trail was primarily red dust and our boots and lower legs turned a dark pink as we continued up. The worst part of the trail seemed to be the sections where small logs were dug into the trail - it made the trail into short sections of dusty stairs and made it more difficult to get into a rhythm as we pushed off on our hiking poles with each step.
After another hour, we made it to 1.5-Mile Resthouse (1.5 miles from the South Rim) and took another break. Although we were making good time, we could also tell that we were starting to fade a bit. Since we were in it for the experience versus trying to hit a specific time, we took it pretty easy the rest of the way and enjoyed occasionally sitting down on some shaded rocks and talking with some tourists along the trail. The most common question was "How much farther to _____?"
After another steep section of switchback trail, we walked onto a fairly level section of trail and knew we were close to the end when we saw several of the buildings on the South Rim not much higher than us. Walking through a short rock tunnel, we made it to the Bright Angel Trailhead sign a few minutes later and got some tourists to take our picture. We then walked the last short part of the trail onto the South Rim, gladly dumped our rucksacks on the ground along the Rim Trail, and drank some cool water. At just over 5.5 hours, we had made good time and were feeling good despite some sore muscles.
Of the 5+ million people that visit the Grand Canyon annually, a very small percentage actually go into the canyon. The hike was an incredible experience and well worth the effort and time. If you like to combine fitness, travel and the outdoors, you'll definitely enjoy spending some time hiking the Grand Canyon.
It's a place I'll definitely return to in the future.