Sometimes hikes are not the perfect scenario we have in our mind and become more difficult than planned. In May, 2018, I found this to be true, and due to many factors, my hike up the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon was much more difficult than it needed to be. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of strangers, not only did I have a successful hike, but I learned valuable lessons and left the canyon filled with gratitude. The difficulties of this trip made the success of reaching the top all the more special.
Plans and Preparation
I have hiked down the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon and also hiked in and back to Havasupai Falls so I knew a bit about canyon hiking. The heat, the dust, the steep hike up and the remoteness of the area are all factors I understand and respect. I love the canyon and wanted to share my love for this with Steve, who had never been there. We were looking forward to hiking down the South Kaibab Trail, spending a night at the bottom, and then hiking back up. the Bright Angel Trail. I applied and received a permit to camp Bright Angel Campground for May 2018. You have to have a permit to camp below the rim of the Grand Canyon. Follow this link for more information on camping permits. https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm
Steve is an avid gym goer. Me, not so much. As a matter of fact, I really don’t like the gym at all. He increased his training in January, the minute we found out we had a permit. I have always trained by just continuing my activity and adding a bit to it which has worked for me in the past so I figured I was good. Besides, I had just hiked Havasu Falls back in October and had no problems. Big mistake!
Unfortunately, since it was winter in Iowa, I couldn’t do my normal outdoor endurance activities such as rollerblading, biking, and swimming. I usually hike in the fall so I can build my endurance all summer. To make up for it, I ran up and down our steps at home, walked as often as weather permitted, and occasionally went to the gym. With the hike being in early May, and Iowa having a cold spring, there was no real acclimation to the unusual heat wave the Grand Canyon had the weekend we were there. Even though I knew the bottom was much hotter than the top of the canyon, we did not take heat acclimation and the drastic change in temperature into account.
What We Did Right
Luckily we did a lot of things right. which contributed to the success of our hike! Following tried and true tips from my own experiences and others, I knew to drink electrolytes, stop every hour to rest, hike early morning to avoid the heat, drink plenty of water, and eat salty snacks. We wore quick dry clothes, kept cook with water soaks, and took our time.
Arriving at the Grand Canyon
We arrived the afternoon before and Steve enjoyed his first Grand Canyon viewing from the South Rim. The view is spectacular and always awe inspiring. Part of the reason I wanted this backpacking trip was to see Phantom Ranch. I first heard about Phantom Ranch on my first trip here in 1978, I have wanted to hike down to see and experience it since. I was pretty excited this was about to happen. For more information on the Grand Canyon in general follow this National Park Service Link https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm .
We spent the night at the historic El Tovar. Beautiful hotel and wonderful dining experience. We ate dinner there and I had one of the most delicious steaks ever. The service was impeccable and the ambiance was perfect.
Down The South Kaibab Trail
Early in the morning we caught the first hiker’s shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. The sun had just rose and the colors of the canyon were showing off while the sun hit the canyon walls. It was a beautiful site to see. Steve and I headed down like a couple of kids going to their favorite park. The path was well packed and it was a nice walk down. We saw all the usual landmarks, Ohh Ahh point, Skeleton Ridge, and the Tip-Off. It started to get hot just before the Tip-Off but we kept snaking down. We could see the Colorado River and Black Bridge in the background getting closer all the time. Great information on this trail, along with a map, can be found on the following National Park Service Link. https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/southkaibabtrail.pdf
Once across the Black Bridge, which expands over the Colorado River, we passed Boat Beach, the hike from there to Bright Angle Campground was short and looked familiar to me as I had been to Boat Beach when I went rafting a few years ago. Even though it was early afternoon, we were one of the early ones to arrive at the Campground and had our pick of many spots. We chose a quiet spot along the creek.
Bright Angel Campground
After setting up camp, we sat in the creek for awhile. It was really hot out. We made the short hike over to Phantom Ranch. I was excited to be completing a bucket list item! It was packed inside. Between the heat and the long hike, I wasn’t feeling great but had a couple of bags of salty chips and felt much better! Steve had their famous lemonade.
Back at camp, we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the creek and just hanging out. We went to bed early, actually so early that it was still light out! Steve fell asleep on his sleeping bag and woke up freezing shortly after midnight! I am always amazed at how chilly the canyon can get at night!
We awoke well before dawn, packed up our gear and were off by 4:00 am. I felt renewed and refreshed. It was going to be a hot one and we wanted to avoid the heat. Hiking in the dark is both exciting and a bit nerve racking. The only lights we saw were from our headgear. It was overcast so no stars were showing. I can’t begin to explain the feeling to be the only ones we could see on the trail in the darkness. Definitely feeling very small in this large universe!
The Hike Up Bright Angel Trail
We hiked along the River Trail with no problems. Dawn was breaking as we reached The River house. I’m not exactly sure where the River Trail ends and The Bright Angel Starts or if they are concurrent We started uphill, knowing we were approaching the Devils Corkscrew. The early morning sun was peaking through the canyon wall. We felt great and were enjoying the sites of the canyon. Great information on the Bright Angel Trail can be found, along with a map, at the following National Park Service link https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/brightangeltrail.pdf
The Devils Corkscrew
The Devils Corkscrew was in front of us looking intimidating. We attacked it and actually had no problem with it, enjoying the views, resting as needed, and trudging ahead. We both felt great and were excited to be getting closer to Indian Gardens.
We started entering the lush area before Indian Gardens and enjoyed hearing the birds, seeing the waterfall and enjoying the breeze. It was warm out but not dreadfully hot. We saw the first of early morning hikers coming down the trail. It was great seeing other people.
Indian Gardens was busy with people. Some coming down the Bright Angel Trail and some going up. We rested there for a good half hour. My ankles were starting to swell which was unusual for me. We heard horror stories from those coming down about how awful the rest of the way up would be. I didn’t remember it being that bad, but last time I was going down, not up! It was getting hot so we soaked our shirts and hats in water before continuing on.
Continuing On Bright Angel Trail to 3 Mile Rest House
The hike up to 3 mile Resthouse was tough. Lots of switchbacks. I stopped a lot. I was fatigued and for some reason my legs were swollen. There were more people coming down, most letting us know the worse was yet to hike! I didn’t really need that anxiety, but I’m sure they meant well. We continued to hike slow and steady, stopping for snacks and electrolytes and we kept adequately hydrated. I was slowing down and my pack felt heavier all the time. We reached the rest house with out any significant problems, but I was beat. It was obvious that Steve’s extra gym days really paid off and my less than stellar preparation showed.
After a long break at the 3 Mile Rest house we again soaked our clothes in water and headed on up. The switchbacks were no better. They were becoming steeper and more frequent. I was resting about every 15 minutes. It was hot and my legs were aching. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I wasn’t feeling quite right. Once we arrived at the 1.5 mile Rest House, I was beat. There were tons of people there and there was a line for water. Once we rested, snacked and soaked our selves we headed up.
On to Mile and a Half Rest House
One Step at a Time
I was beat. After about 10 minutes we found some shade and rested. I must not have looked too great as a group of people coming down asked if we were ok. We told them I was just a bit beat and was going to rest for awhile. They shared some Vitamin C powder with me and that seemed to help. So many people who were walking down offered water, electrolytes or snacks, we thanked them all and told them we had all that on us and just needed a rest.
A Hiker named Katherine
I made it up a couple more switch backs and was ready to rest again. This time I didn’t feel I could do much more. I told Steve I was ready to just leave my bag there or stay put until it either cooled off or I had a nap. A young gal heard me and said she was just on a day hike and would be more than happy to carry my bag to the top and leave it at Bright Angel. I couldn’t believe my ears, I was amazed that someone would offer this. She insisted, she said if I was her Mom and her Mom was having trouble she hoped someone would give her a hand. I felt a renewed energy and gave her the bag. Her name was Katherine and she was from Toronto . She took our phone number and headed off.
Without my pack, I was able to slowly get to the top. It was very slow. Unfortunately a lot of non-hikers were walking down the trail as we were getting closer to the top. Not knowing trail etiquette of those going uphill having the right of way, countless numbers of them stopped in the trail blocking it, or just kept walking and almost plowed us over. This made the ascent more difficult as I would have some momentum going up, then I would have to stop and start the momentum over again. It was a struggle, not just the heat, but just putting one foot in front of the other!
There was a ranger on the trail checking on people ascending. Steve told him I had been having a tough time going up, and recapped our day to him. He reassured me I was doing everything right and he also was impressed by the story of the gal that carried my bag. I kept going, making it through the first and second tunnels was a milestone!
Almost To the End of Bright Angel Trail
We were getting close enough to the top that we could hear people above us but still had a way to go. Katherine called and told us where my bag was. Steve tried to get her address so we could send her a thank you and she told us the only thanks she needed was for us to pay it forward. What a wonderful person she is and I will be forever grateful to her.
With gratitude I continued up the trail, slowly and purposefully. We had just passed the Kolb Studio when a man was standing on the trail in front of us taking pictures, we over heard his wife tell him to hurry up. He replied, “Just a minute, I’m taking a picture of the hikers.” I turned around to look and see who he was taking pictures of and there was no one behind us. He was taking pictures of us. We were the hikers!! I had to grin at this because I didn’t feel like we were the best examples of hikers, especially me!!!
We Made It!! Ice Cream For Us!!
We had made it to the top!! In one piece! I had all the feelings. I even teared up I was so grateful for so many things. Having overcome all the obstacles on a not so stellar hike felt so rewarding. I always knew we would make it but wasn’t sure how long it would take or what shape I’d be in. The total time up for us was just over 11 hours. I swore I would never take another big hike without major endurance training again, no matter what time of year! We went and had an ice cream cone, because I had been talking about the ice cream at the top after a hike for months! It was amazing!
Bright Angel Lodge
We spent the night at the Bright Angel Lodge, with an amazing view of the canyon from our room, just steps from our doorway! We had supper at the Bright Angel and I have never enjoyed a cold beer more than I did here!
Checking out The South Rim
We awoke the next morning feeling refreshed, but not ready for another big hike! We walked along the South Rim Trail and then drove over to the Desert Watchtower. All in all it was a relaxing day. We ate dinner again at El Tovar after enjoying the sunset over the canyon.
The next morning when we left, I cannot begin to express how much gratitude I had for this experience. Lessons were learned, strength in myself renewed, and Steve and I had shared an awesome couple of days together.
Since this trip we are planning another hike down. I now go to the gym while still continuing my other workouts. Now, efore any big hike, I up my endurance training and I can tell the difference. Above all, I am grateful for so many good people on the trail, especially an angel named Katherine.
Whenever I plan a trip anywhere, I do a lot of research. The following Books and Trail Guides were very helpful.
James Kaiser’s book, Grand Canyon The Complete Guide, is truly a complete guide. He covers everything you need to know about The Grand Canyon, hiking, what to see, where to stay, and history. This guide includes beautiful colored pictures. Of all the books I’ve seen this is definitely the one to buy if you want a comprehensive guide to the Grand Canyon. Definitely glad I bought it.
The Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail Guide is another great resource to have. It is pocket sized and takes you down the Bright Angle Trail step by step, pointing out places of interest, a map and history. It is a great little pamphlet to take along in your pack and refer to as you hike up or down
The Grand Canyon South Kaibab Trail Guide is also a great resource. Like the Bright Angel Guide it is pocket sized and you can take it with you to refer to while hiking. It includes information on places of interests as well as a map and history. Both of these pamphlets have valuable information as you follow them through while hiking. I believe this series has information on most of the popular trails at the canyon.
Click on the Links Below for more of my Grand Canyon Trips and Tips