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Grand Canyon - Rim to Rim

Duration: 4 days backpacking (17th – 20th May 2014) 
Distance: 23 miles (North Rim -> South Rim)
Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous (depends totally on weather conditions)
Trail: North Kaibab (here) -> Bright Angel (here). Also river trail, Tonto Trail, Rim Trail
Camping: Cottonwood (night 1), Bright Angel (night 2), Indian Gardens (night 3)
Type of permit required: Backpacking permit. See here for details.
Best time of year to do R2R: Spring, Late summer (early winter)
Topo/Map: here
Elevation profile & waypoints: here

  
a. Plateau point    b. Colorado river - bright angel trail

Photos: here

I am going to describe this trip over each day and then too I cannot make justice to the beauty and the “grandness” the Grand Canyon. Firstly, I would like to thank Ang for putting this trip together and of course every else on the trip – Evan, Angela, Jihyun and Anthony who made it one of the most memorable backpacking trips in the US. I remember this quote when I think about this hike –
“Going up is optional but coming down is mandatory” – Ed Vestures 
In this case however it would read:
“Coming down is optional but going up is mandatory”  :-)

Pre-hike:
North Rim Lodge       
As always where I’m involved we did have quite a few adventures over this trip. To begin with, we were supposed to reach Las Vegas at around 03 am on Saturday but the flight from San Jose was delayed. Anthony and reached Las Vegas at 1:30am to find Angela and Ang sleeping at the baggage claim area. And at the other end, Evan who was to get to the North Rim from the other rim (south) by the rim-to-rim shuttle had almost missed it. By the time we were at the North Rim Lodge, it was 7:30am.


Day 1: Saturday (17th May 2014)

The Grand Canyon that is situated in the hot & dry region of Arizona isn’t something that can be trifled with during mid-day. The predicted temperatures for the week was not very comfortable but it definitely could have been worse. It was going to hit a 100 degrees Fahrenheit at Phantom ranch – the very bottom of the canyon that day. This motivated us to change our plan of hiking down to the first campground (cottonwood) to 2:00pm in the afternoon. Loosing altitude would mean increase in temperature but approaching evening would also pitch in for some relief from the unrelenting desert heat. Having nothing specific to be doing, we decided to tour the north rim – just walk around like a tourist. 

North Rim Lodge
The Grand Canyon lodge at the north rim is the sole civilization provided shelter, food and water. It is an architectural wonder perched at the very edge of the canyon rim. Walking into the lodge immediately transports you 30 years back in history. We walked down the corridor towards the dining and sitting area, which also hosted a grand piano. As many other people before us, we were also spell bound by the amazing views that the gigantic glass windows provided of the canyon. It’s a lot to take in at the beginning. Walking outside the lodge balcony takes you to a vista point that overlooks the canyon – a magnificent 270-degree view is what we got to see. Having had less sleep over the night, I was fast asleep as a child on the most comfortable looking wooden couches. I felt Royal.


The bright angel point trail was as I had seen it before – beautiful and mesmerizing. The quarter of a mile hike was well rewarded by the panoramas of the Grand Canyon. At 1 pm we filled up water, packed our bags and were ready to start the hike. We drove to the N. Kaibab Trailhead which is about a mile prior to the lodge on the same road. We started what would be the most amazing 4-day trip in the canyon at 1:35 pm. The initial few switchbacks were sandy and slow. There was a lot of traffic on the trail – both foot traffic and mules. Every time a mule party was in sight, we had to scoot to a corner to allow the “horse like mules” pass us without panicking. The first marker was the Supai tunnel, which also marked the presence of a water fill station along with toilets. The trail descended quickly after that but the end was nowhere in sight. 

North Kaibab Trail
  

After what seemed like a couple of hours, a bridge came into view – the first bridge crossing. According to the National Geographic map that Ang carried, we were about a little more than a quarter way to the campground. Oh wait a minute, rewind. Before the bridge we saw some amazing rock formations along with a water fall – the roaring springs itself. This is the source of water for the campsites all along the entire canyon from the north rim to the top of the south rim. The water from this spring is pumped up to the rim. The Colorado river is left alone for the same. Evan who had hiked in well before us was waiting for us at the campsite. A couple of folks climbing up to the north rim informed this to us. We decided to pick up some pace and catch up on the time we spent on photography and admiring the park.

South Rim - Bright Angel Trail
  

The mesmerizing landscape captured my complete attention not allowing my mind to divulge into logistics and time. It was already 6pm by the time we reached Cottonwood campground, just 6.8miles from the North rim. The steep descent over the first two miles was noticeable during the rest of 4.8 miles. Evan was waiting at the campground signboard for more than about 5 hours now. We quickly grabbed a campsite (I remember it to be no. 9) and pitched our tents. Dinner was cooked, some pull ups at the bag hanger bar and then a fierce battle of a game of chess with Angela. Angela – We are of equal strength:-D. We retired for the day by 9pm so as to get an early start in the morning. 

    

Day 2 – Sunday (18th May 2014)

Summer weather remained persistent even through the night. There was no need of a sleeping bag too. As planned all of us were up by 5:05am. It was breakfast time. I had decided to munch on some dried fruits and a granola bar for breakfast. It turns out that they are more calorific and carb providers than some of the other hot/cold breakfast food. We packed up pretty quick and were on our way on the N. Kaibab trail towards the very bottom of the Bright Angel canyon. The mighty Colorado river gushes through the grand canyon at the lowest point. It was 6:30am by the time we headed out of the campsite.

Ribbon Falls
The trail crisscrossed the stream (Roaring Springs) at many places. We almost always were walking parallel to the stream. Million’s of years of history could be witnessed by taking a trip down to the Colorado River from any of the rims. Distinct rock colors and types provide a picturesque representation of time. The canyon gave way to the skies and we now were walking into a massive area with the canyon walls far away standing tall and strong. 1.6miles down the N. Kaibab trail, we reached the intersection of Ribbon Falls trail and N. Kaibab trail. Ribbon falls is a must see place for anyone hiking the N. Kaibab trail & especially for people camping at Cottonwood campground. The diversion was about a mile away from the N. Kaibab trail. It’s less maintained but more secluded.


Ribbon falls is just magnificent. Words fail to describe it. Water cascades out from what seems like a giant hourglass or a funnel onto the mountain below that then forms another small bluff. The green moss formed over the face gives it a feeling of paradise on earth. Flowing water forms a white veil over what seemed a small cave. I however did not venture into it. We spent about 30 mins there, which seemed very short to me. Not having to hike in the hottest time of the day, we got back to the N Kaibab trail and towards our 2nd campsite – the Bright Angel campground.

Ribbon Falls
  

The bright angel campground is ironically situated close to the famous Phantom Ranch just before reaching the Colorado River on the northern side. This is a completely developed ranch with all
modern amenities including cabins, restaurant and a volleyball court. This is mostly used by people riding the mules down the canyon – a very luxurious way of experiencing the grandeur of Grand Canyon which is also part of the olden tradition. We found a nice campsite and relaxed there. We reached the campsite at 10:45am. The second day’s 7.2miles was done in 4 hours including a 1+ mile deviation to ribbon falls. So what followed was a nice relaxing day with a bath in the bright angel creek and a small hike of 3.4 miles to see the Colorado river. We took the river trail and walked over both the bridges – black and the new silver one to complete a loop. At night, we also went out to the river to view the night sky. Another night of food – chess with Angela (which again neither of us won) and we retired by 8:30pm. Oh I did forget to mention about the ranger program we had about the history of Phantom ranch and the Grand Canyon itself. 

a. Colorado River - Silver Bridge          b. Bright Angel campground
  

Day 3: Monday (19th May 2014)

Waking up to the first rays of sun at 5am allowed us to finish up with breakfast and head out by 6am. The itinerary of the day was to cross the Colorado River and take the Bright Angel trail up to Indian Garden Campground which is about 5.1 miles in distance. The hike up from the Colorado River was quite steep but it was enjoyable. We were quick along this trail so we got to Indian garden campground by 8:00am. We had the whole day to chill and relax. Evening we had planned to go to Plateau point which is about 1.5 miles out from Indian garden. So over the day we just hung there and attended a ranger led program on “soundscape”. The ranger “Ranger E” was amazing.

Indian garden stood up to its name. We had a couple of visitors there. The first was a squirrel keen on getting its nuts. Very boldly it came over to me and stood up innocently with a sorry face expecting its reward from me. The instructions were very clear as to not feed them. It was sad to not be able to give it some of the trail mix I was happily munching. The second was a deer happily roaming around campsites without an inch of fear in its eye. They were pretty agnostic to the presence of us higher beings around them. The experience of being in their company and especially
both us and them being comfortable was indeed a pleasure. The third visitor – two of them were the rattlesnakes of the Grand Canyon. The first one happily slithered towards the picnic table where I was sitting and where Angela was sleeping. We quickly cleared it’s path for it to slither away from the campsite. The second one however had slithered over Angela’s legs (that now would be something that she can never forget) and again went away happily. We did see some other lizards and funny creatures.


In the evening, we took the Tonto trail/Plateau point trail to Plateau for sunset. The trail took us along the face of the hills lined up running far away into the canyon towards what I could see – a clearing – the plateau. When we reached the tip of the plateau, I was zapped into this magnificent place that resembled what I would describe as “Heaven on Earth”. The 360 degree panoramic views of the canyons was just eye blinding. The great Colorado River meandered through at about 1000 feet below us with tall canyon walls all over the place. The north rim and the south rim were both visible from this point. I would definitely do this hike just for this view alone. The sun setting in the west shimmered it’s golden light across the vast faces of the canyon mountains. The red sandstone along with the rays of the sun gave the look of a red jewel. I absolutely can gather no words to describe the beauty I witness there.


The sun completely set at around 8pm and the crowd there departed to their cozy campsites to retire for the day. We decided to hang back there to watch the stars in the clear sky. We waited till 9:00pm peering into the vastness of space. The sky wasn’t as dark as I’d liked which was due to the presence of the moon. Although it hadn’t come up, the reflecting light was enough to lit up the sky a little to reduce the colors and intensity of the stars. However, being able to see what I could saw, it was totally worth the wait. The wind started to blow stronger and we decided to head back to the campsite too. This meant we had to walk back the 1.5miles to the campground. Since we had finished dinner before setting out to watch the sunset, we were pretty much ready to crash when we returned. Having practiced getting up an hour early every day, we decided to start early the next day (by 4am) so as to avoid the mid-day heat during the tough climb up the south rim.


Day 4: Tuesday (20th May 2014)

As planned we were up by 3:30am. We estimated a total of about 5hrs for the 4.8 miles climb from Indian Gardens campground to the south rim. It is close to a 4000 feet climb so we thought we would need the time going up. The ETA was 9:30-10:00am. This was planned because of the rim-2-rim shuttle we had booked prior to the trip. It was to leave the south rim (Bright Angel Lodge) at 2pm and drop us back at the north rim by 6:30pm. After a quick breakfast, we packed our stuff and were on the way up the south rim by 4:30am.


The trail turned out to be steep but it was easier because of how the trail was constructed ages ago. The multiple switchbacks made it easier to ascend at a constant pace. The higher we went, the higher the rim seemed to be. We somehow never got closer to the top. After two stops at rest houses we reached the top of the south rim at 7:30am. That was quite some hiking is very good time. We were all pretty astound by the fact that we only took 3 hrs to ascend the 4.9 miles up. The south rim was as usual buzzing with people – both people earning their daily livelihood and travellers/tourists clicking pictures of the Grand Canyon. It was quite windy and cold up at the rim.


    

What followed was a 2.5 mile hike to the Visitor’s center and then the ride back to the north rim. We did visit the lodge restaurant for lunch and tea in the morning and also the lodge gift shop for a Rim-to-Rim t-shirt J This marks the end of what was an epic adventure through the grand canyon.

Pictures: here


Since this hike is a very famous hike, I will not be describing the waypoints and mileage here since it can be found in numerous other hiking sites: here here and here. However, here is the hike table.

 Point Name Distance from N. Rim (in miles)
 Altitude
(in feet)
 Day/
Time
North Rim 0 8240 1/1:45pm
Supai Tunnel 1.7 6800 1/3:45pm
Roaring Springs4.7 -- 
Cottonwood Camp6.8 4100 1/6:00pm
Ribbon Falls8.5 3700 2/8:20am
Bright Angel Camp(Phantom Ranch)14.0 2480 2/10:30am
Indian Garden Camp19.1 3800 3/9:00am
South Rim 23.9 6860 4/7:30am