After some logistical planning we wrote down our route and figured out estimates of time with where we needed to be an when. We weren’t sure of what to do with the North Kaibab trail closure so just planned for 2 hours out from Phantom Ranch and then turn around which would put the total for the day at 12 hours. Perfect.
We headed to the South Kaibab trail around 7:15 and parked in a dirt parking lot and headed to the rim. I had informed Jessie that I was scared of heights and reminded her that if I’m crouching and hugging the wall, I’ll be fine just give me a minute to get over it. In truth, the moment before we stepped on the trail I had no idea just how much the exposure would bother me–I reminded myself to not let fear define my fate (and sung that song most of the way down). I had read and looked at pictures but I get nervous being on the third floor of the law school building and looking down.
We got on the trail, walked for a few yards and then Jessie asked if it was time to run, it was, and so we began going down. The trail was wide with a forgiving edge that gradually fell away instead of a shear drop off, and while a tumble would have resulted in death no doubt, I could at least trick myself into thinking I would survive. The views were astonishing and kept me focused from falling off the edge, it seemed the every corner we came around we would stop and just stare in amazement and then go, “how cool is this?!?” before proceeding on our way.
All the hikers going down were really nice about giving us room on the trail. At one point we came up on a big family and most of the group gave way, except for this 7ish-year-old girl with a red camelbak on, she stepped onto the trail in front of us with no fear and started running, so we followed her. We caught up to the next group of hikers and as we passed through, one of the group members goes, “is that for real?” Inquiring about the child, my response, “Yep, she’s our pacer!” The girl pulled off a little further down the trail, not too far from her family and it seemed like her group was spread out enough that we weren’t just leaving her.
It wasn’t too long before we saw the Colorado River and continued to navigate our way down the trail, and only encountering the two mule trains of the day on this section.
We crossed the bridge and rolled into Phantom Ranch area just before our estimated time. We stopped at the Ranger’s Station to ask about a trail that had been closed, the one going over the silver bridge to Bright Angel, she told us that it had opened this morning. This was great to hear because otherwise we would have to go back up part of South Kaibab and then over to Bright Angel on a cut-across with no access for water after leaving Phantom Ranch until back to Bright Angel. We headed over to the Canteen and pulled out some snacks and discussed the next part of the plan. It wasn’t even 10am. We couldn’t believe it, what would we do if we only went to the river and back, we’d be done so early so we decided to head up on North Kaibab trail and try to at least get to Ribbon Falls or Cottonwood Campground, even if it was longer than the allotted two hours.
We refilled our water, applied more sunscreen and set off again. We walked for a short period with a group of four hikers that were from Texas but then took off in front of them.
One thing that was sensational was how much the landscape changed from the top of the rim to the bottom, with the bottom of the canyon unfolding in a luscious landscape of shrubbery and color.
When I called a week earlier about trail conditions they said that Ribbon Falls Trail was closed and the only way to access was to cross the river, which is highly advised against. It wasn’t till we got to the trail junction that we saw this sign.
We decided to turn back around as some storm clouds began to encroach on us and at this point we were at about 15-17 miles, depending on whose watch you looked at. We started running and continued most of the way back to Phantom Ranch. Except for when we stopped to take Senior Pictures because when you’re in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, why not?
We stopped again at the Canteen to refill water and have a snack before beginning the 9+ mile trek out. We did some wardrobe changes and applied more sunscreen, then took off. We got on the trail and began going up, the miles flew by going down but the tedious task of going up made them drag on, fortunately the views did not suck. We stopped at one point and watched some rafters try to get their raft unstuck from the one rock in the river they could have gotten caught on. We ran into a few people, but not many, and kept climbing the switchbacks on our way to the top. At this point both our watches had died so we didn’t have the best knowledge of how far each point was. We were often greeted with patches of shade, which I was grateful for because it seemed that the South Kaibab trail didn’t offer much coverage and I didn’t want to get sunburned. Approximately 4 miles later we reached Indian Garden Campground, we sat down and talked to a guy who was hiking rim to river to rim, he had done it about 50 times in his life and this was his 4th time this year already–goals. He said out of all the times he’d only ever ran into two snakes. This knowledge made me feel better because in my worst nightmare I would run into a snake on the trail and try to avoid it only to fall off the ledge.
We refilled our water, ate a snack and the guy informed us we were still about 4 miles from the top and had about 2 hours to go.
We began going up, again, this time at a steeper grade than the previous four miles. Steps began to feel laborious and arduous– every 5 yards was met with a waterbar, which meant lifting our legs just a little higher than just hiking uphill. With our watches still dead (I know I was hoping they would magically turn on too) we could only go off of how far away the rim seemed. I couldn’t believe people ran up this section (the FTK on R2R2R is just over 5 hours–crazy!!). We passed time by talking about plans to come back in the fall, what we would do differently and how we would prepare (yes, we are planning on going again to get the full R2R2R). Most of our concerns centered around nutritional choices, packing sandwiches and more real food instead of makeshift protein and carbs in the form of bars and GU. We also passed time talking about what we would eat when we were done, trail mix was no longer cutting it but we kept force-feeding at 45 minute intervals to keep our energy up.
Realizing our sun was going to be going down soon, we made sure to take even more photos.
We continued up the switchbacks. My first trip to the Grand Canyon when I was 5, I have a picture of Wayne and I by this arch on the trail. Upon seeing the arch, I figured we were very close to the top, what 5 year-old with a fear of heights would venture that far down? Apparently, this one, especially if I was with Wayne. Thinking that it would only be about 100 yards from the top I thought we were almost done–I soon found it was definitely closer to a mile.
The top seemed so close but visually still far off. The day had started turning to dusk and I asked Jessie if I should put my headlight on. While it wasn’t necessarily warranted at this point, I had drug it around the entire canyon in the event of having to use it and well I wanted to make it worth it. She said no. We kept walking and came upon a second tunnel. I started laughing, I bet this is the tunnel we made it to when I was a kid, and here I thought I was a fearless individual as a child, good to know I’ve always been risk adverse. The second tunnel we went under was only .18 miles from the top (I looked it up later). We could see the lip of the rim peeking out above. It was dark enough now that I was able to justify my headlamp but only because I saw one below us. I told Jessie, “better to be safe than sorry” but in all actuality I just wanted to use everything that I had packed at least once. We reached the top of the rim, saw the trail sign, I said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we’ve made it!” and that was it. The finality was rather subdued. No fanfare, no one handing out water, no collecting a medal, and yet it was beyond comparison to finishing some races.
We grabbed some dinner showered and retrieved our car (taking enough steps already, we opted for a taxi). I think the dust I had collected on me made me close to the tannest I have ever been in my life. We went to bed early and the next day headed up to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
We’re planning on doing it again this fall with options for R2R (going before Oct. 15 to get a car on the north side) and doing R2R2R–if interested let me know!
Here’s also what I’ve been telling people, even if you have no earthly desire to ever hike or go down into the Grand Canyon- GO! I could have spent hours just sitting on the rim. We did 32-33 miles and 12 hours going into the depths of not only the canyon but my soul– being completely present and in awe of my entire life. I left with a cup overflowing of gratitude.
Here are some more photos from the adventures: