Grand Canyon – Part I: South Kaibab to the Colorado River [2014/12/05]

Grand Canyon – Part I: South Kaibab to the Colorado River [2014/12/05]

In December 2014, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I booked a permit for four a few months in advance but, unfortunately, my friends are lame… I booked two nights in the Canyon, one at Bright Angel Campground and one at Indian Garden. I spent the night before in Flagstaff in order to shorten the trip to the Canyon.

All packed up and ready to hit the Grand Canyon
All packed up and ready to hit the Grand Canyon

The drive to the Canyon was about an hour and a half. It was really foggy and I almost skidded off the road because of ice. The weather at the South Rim was chilly but pleasant. After hopping two shuttles to the South Kaibab trailhead, I headed down. There were a few people hiking around the top by the rim, but I was the only overnight hiker that I saw when I began my descent.

A few hundred feet down the South Kaibab trail.
A few hundred feet down the South Kaibab trail.

The fog was not very dense along the trail, but it lingered around the rim until midday.

Hiking further out along a ridge.
South Kaibab trail follows along the ridge below .

The photo above is of O’Neil Butte. The South Kaibab trail follows that ridge. Below is a view from that ridge at the level of the Butte. Panoramic photos are pretty awesome. You really should click on it to get a full view. Looks awesome.

A Panoramic picture from O'Neil Butte.
A panoramic picture from O’Neil Butte.

From the ridge, you can start to catch glimpses of the inner canyon. There, in my mind are three main regions. There is the upper canyon that comprises the Rims. Separating the upper and lower canyon are these vast green “plateaus” that are about a half to two-thirds of the way down. And then there is the inner canyon. A geologist would probably tell you I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but that’s OK. In the picture below you can upper portion of the North Rim shrouded in clouds, the green plateaus that sweep towards the inner gorge of the Colorado, and the steep drop off into the inner canyon.

The First View of the Colorado.
A view down towards the Inner Canyon

In the picture below you can see how broad this green region is and how small the inner canyon seems compared to the vastness of the entire rim-to-rim canyon.

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The wide green flat areas and a hint of the inner canyon.

Once I was a few miles down the trail, I was basically alone for the majority of the hike. I’d occasionally pass hikers coming up, but for the most part I was alone. While the trail is well marked and safe (and covered in mule poo), it still feels amazingly isolated. However, there are a few signs of life. In case you got stuck, you could still call for help.

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An emergency phone at tip off.

At the tip off, you get the first good view of the Colorado River. The inner canyon, which looked so small a few hours before now looks gigantic. I’m still over 1000 feet above the Colorado at this point.

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A view of the Colorado River from around Tip Off Point.

The Inner Canyon from Tip Off Point was actually my favorite part of the descent. While the views from the ridge are quite impressive, the inner canyon really feels like being deep inside the earth. The rock ledges are close and the river is getting closer. As opposed to being on a ridge, you feel like you’re skirting along the edge of a rock face. It’s really quite impressive.

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A little path along the rock faces. This was one of the few points you didn’t have open canyon to one side.

The sound of the river at this point is louder and you can start to see how big it actually is. In the picture below you can see the Silver Bridge, one of the two bridges that cross the Colorado in the park. This is the bridge that I crossed on the way out, not the one further down in this page. On the left side of the river is the Bright Angel Trail that heads back up the Rim. At the right below the bridge is the path to Bright Angel Campground.

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The Colorado River and the Silver Bridge

A bit further down you can really start to grasp the scale of not only the Colorado River but also the Inner Canyon as a whole. It seems from the top that the Inner Canyon is this narrow little slice at the bottom, but at this depth, you can’t really see either rim nor any of the features you saw on the descent. Down here is like a whole different world. The rushing din of the river is constant now. In the photo below, you can see the Silver Bridge to the left and the yellow colored trees are along the Bright Angel creek on the banks of which reside the Bright Angel Campground.  You can also see my fat finger.

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Bright Angel Campground and my Fat Finger

Below is another view of Bright Angel and the Colorado. I really was excited when I got to this point. It was about four hours hiking down when this photo was taken. I knew I was close, but it’s really hard to judge scale. I would guess I’m about 500 feet off the river.

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Another View of the Colorado and Bright Angel

At this point I figured it was time to take a picture so I could prove I made it at least this far.

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Smiling because I’m almost there!

I didn’t take many pictures that really grasp the scale of how far down you go, but this picture with my rather stern looking visage shows the cliff upon which I believe the earlier pictures of the Colorado were taken. It’s far.

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Looking back from whence we came

Once I was here, I knew I was close. There are a ton of switchbacks that make the final descent. You can see the Black Bridge that crosses as well as the tunnel that takes you there. It’s just one switchback after another.

Once I made it to the tunnel I was happy. Very happy.

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I was very very happy to make it!

This picture and the one below have probably been taken by 100,000 people or more, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to take them as well. The tunnel through to the Black Bridge was a pretty surreal experience. I’ve spent hours (about 5 at this point) descending, the river always seeming just a little further down. But finally, the river! The board down the middle was a little unsettling but hey, if 100+ mules a day can make it, I can make it.

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The exact same photo is in the official trail map.

The bridge is pretty long, much longer than it seems from even the closest views of the river. The Colorado is really raging below and the sound of the river is basically all you can hear. The picture below is looking back to the tunnel and the descent. You can sort of make out the final switchbacks just to the right of the suspension cables. I believe the cliff at the very top is what my earlier selfie tried to capture.

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Looking back across the Colorado and up the trail. It was about 4.5 hours to this point.


Next up, it’s time to check out the campground!

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