Grand Canyon – Part II: Bright Angel Campground [2014/12/05-06]
If you haven’t read Part I, check it out first. You should see all the work I put in before you see me lounging and drinking beer…
All said, it took me about 5 hours to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A lot of people told me it would take 3-4 hours, but I guess I took my sweet time. Once I got there, my dogs were barking. I picked a camp site right next to Bright Angel Creek. The rushing water was relaxing.
The view was really pretty from the camp. It’s really hard to believe to get to this serene vista, I had hiked nearly 8 miles and almost a mile down. The canyon walls are quite high at this point, but you see basically none of the outer canyon. It’s its own world.
After relaxing for a while, I decided to check out the rest of the campground. There were deer just wandering around, uninterested in the comings and goings of hikers. The deer below was much closer than this picture suggests. There are a number of support buildings for USPS personnel right out of the frame.
Phantom Ranch is really pretty. The paths wander through these golden trees to cabins and bunk houses.
Did I mention that it was pretty?
Below is the view back towards the campsite and Bright Angel Trail. I’m not sure, but that may be the South Rim. It’s really hard to judge scales when you’re at the bottom. The mini canyon that Bright Angel Creek carved out is substantial by itself, saying nothing of how big the actual Colorado’s gorge is.
It’s really hard to overstate how unbelievably vast the area is. All the pictures until I get back to the Colorado are in a small side area carved by Bright Angel. I’m not sure you could even pick it out from the South Rim.
I was happy to be down here.
I don’t have any pictures of it, but that evening, I ate at Phantom Ranch. It was a family style meal in the dining area. The stew was delicious. There was a couple who had begun their day on a day hike. They called Phantom Ranch and got a last minute reservation. So they hiked down with what they were wearing. I was impressed. After dinner, they reopen as a beer hall. I had a couple cold Grand Canyon beers and hit the sack. When I woke up, I ate breakfast at Phantom Ranch (because why not?) and went back to the site to relax. As soon as I got back, I saw a group of deer drinking right across the creek from me. The pictures aren’t great but it was awesome watching them from my chair.
Below is my campsite. #10, creek side.
What I didn’t get pictures of on the trail were the mule trains. The first surprise of hiking down was the amount of mule poo that littered the trail. The brochures make a big deal about humans defecating X number of feet from the trail in a cat hole, but I’ll be damned if there isn’t mule shit the whole way down. Here is a train of mules bringing supplies to Phantom Ranch. I would not want to ride one of those stinky things up or down. But I was happy they brought meat and beer.
After lollygagging for a few hours, I decided I better begin my ascent to Indian Gardens. They say it takes about twice as long to go up as it does down. I figured since I took five hours getting down, I should expect about 5 hours each day getting back up. On the way out (and in), you pass underneath this ominous overhang. The sign, which you may not be able to read, says something to the effect of “Hurry, you gonna die from rocks”. I hurried.
I didn’t even get out of Bright Angel before a group of deer blocked my path. Here’s the guy that wouldn’t let me leave.
Here is the Silver Bridge on the West side of Bright Angel. The night before I walked out onto the bridge to watch the moon rise. It’s really amazing for a city slicker like me to see shadows cast by the moon. The moon was so bright, I could walk without a flashlight. I smoked a nice cigar in the middle of the bridge (so as not to burn down the Grand Canyon). It was quite the experience. The Colorado is so wide and loud and the moon was so bright. It’s hard to describe the scene, especially for someone of my, er, engineering proclivity. It was nice. Really really nice.
The first time I crossed the bridge as the sun was going down, I was a bit.. eh.. terrified. The bridge sways a bit, the gratings clang and settle, and the Colorado is not exactly small (nor close). I was a little more brave the second and third times.
It’s big. And has rapids. This is looking back towards Bright Angel (to the left) and the Black Bridge.
Looking downriver, you may be able to make out the river portion of Bright Angel Trail on the left.
I don’t look nearly as scared as I felt.
I don’t care what you say, that’s scary.
From Bright Angel Campground it’s, I believe, about a mile of level hiking along the river before you start to ascend. The last view of the river at its level is not particularly dramatic but it was memorable.
That’s all from the bottom! Lest it look like fun and games, continue on to Part III to see the Colorado River to Indian Garden.
2 thoughts on “Grand Canyon – Part II: Bright Angel Campground [2014/12/05-06]”
I’ve been slowly taking this trip with you. The site is a wonderful adventure. I understand you will be doing the North Side in the future. How difficult is the trail? When is a good time to go and how many people do you meet on the trail?
This is my understanding of the trails at the Grand Canyon: There are three primary trails that are pretty well patrolled and maintained: S. Kaibob, Bright Angel, and N. Kaibab. Bright Angel is probably the most well traveled trail since it is easily accessible from the main park. The S. Kaibab trail is only accessible by bus so it gets a little less traffic. N. Kaibab is only accessible between May and October due to the North Rim being closed to traffic during winter. Both S. Kaibab and Bright Angel have regular mule trains and traffic from Park Rangers. I’m not sure of N. Kaibab, but I would guess that at least one “official” hiker makes it during the part of the year that is open.
As far as difficulty goes, I don’t think the N. Kaibab trail is that much more difficult. The ending elevation is about 1000 feet higher and the trail itself is longer, but this just makes a smaller grade. Looking on the site (http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/trail-distances.htm), it looks like from North Rim to Cottonwood Campground (first campsite) is 6.8mi and about 4200ft of elevation change. This is basically equivalent to the S. Kaibab-Bright Angel route I did the first day (7mi/4780ft). The second leg from Cottonwood to Bright Angel Campground is 6.8mi/1538ft. It would be a pretty tough way to come out for me, but I think descending down the N. Kaibab and going up Bright Angel would be no more difficult than S. Kaibab to Bright Angel (albeit a bit longer overall).
When I spoke with the ranger about doing the Rim-to-Rim, and he said that it’s a little tricky because by the time the North Rim opens, it’s already getting pretty hot at the bottom. The better time would probably be right before the North Rim closes, right at the beginning of October. Everyone I spoke with said hiking in the winter on the South Rim is best because there is so much less traffic on the trails. In the five hour descent down S. Kaibab, I only saw a couple day hikers at the top and passed maybe a half dozen overnight hikers farther down. On the other hand, on the last day, the trail between Indian Garden and the Bright Angel trailhead was pretty heavily trafficked, especially the last 3mi.
As far as difficulty, it’s hard to judge. There are people I talked to that do rim-to-rim-to-rim (40+mi) in a single day (18-20 hours). There were trail runners who did the whole trail I did over three days in 5 hours. These people are obviously in much better shape than I am. That being said, I was never worried about getting out. The last few miles I was really tired and extremely short of breath, but it only took me 5 hours to do the last 4.8mi. It’s not good time by any stretch, but I was never worried about being stuck on the trail or anything.
I did get a new permit for the South Rim for four nights this April (20-25 I think). It would basically be the same trip I did this time but with two nights at Bright Angel and two nights at Indian Garden. This would allow me more time to explore the areas around the campground as well as more down time to just enjoy the scenery. I might consider trying to get to Cottonwood Campground as well. If you’re interested, I can almost certainly add people to the permit. Just sayin’….
I don’t think I’m going to be able to do rim-to-rim before August when I return to Atlanta, but there are a lot of other places both in the Canyon and elsewhere that I should be able to do. I saw some fabulous pictures of the Havasupai Trail/Falls (http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/havasupai.htm) which is pretty close. Also, both Yosemite and Sequoia are relatively close, so I think I’m going to try to get a couple nights in those before I move back East.