Day 14: Hiking into the Grand Canyon

The Rim Trail

I woke up before dawn and took the first bus to Hermits Rest, where I would tick off yet another item on my ‘bucket list’ and watch the sun rise over the Canyon. There were very few people at the viewport as the sun began to emerge from the canyon tops.

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With the sun rising higher in the sky, I began to start my hike along the 13 mile Rim Trail, taking in all the vistas that are positioned at the upper tip of the canyon.
Starting from Hermits Rest, (the furthest West point of the trail) I headed East to Pima Point, the Abyss, Mohave Point and Hopi Point. Despite each lookout being no more than a mile apart they offer completely different perspectives of the canyon valleys below. At Mohave Point, I stopped to watch two condors soaring high in the morning thermal currents.
After 8 miles of relatively flat and straightforward walking along the upper-most gorge of the canyon and complete with a flux of interesting information and historical facts that accompany the trail, I had made it back to the Bright Angel Lodge and the central hub of Grand Canyon Village.

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Back at the Bright Angel lodge, I grabbed a small lunch and decided against walking the remaining 5 miles in favour of jumping on the park bus and heading over to the, more sparsely populated, South Kaibab trail head- This was partially to get to the trailhead quicker, as it was now approaching midday, but mostly to avoid the annoyingly substantial crowds that linger around the 1 mile perimeter in which the main views and closest parking spaces vacate.

If there is one thing that winds me up about the Grand Canyon it is that the main bulk of the South Rim is overloaded with hauls of tourists. Understandably so-it is an incredible world wonder and I would urge everyone to visit, but make the effort to explore it; Walk the trails and gain a true perspective of it! Having spent the last 10 days in smaller national parks around the Colorado Plateau, where everyone is on the same agenda; to delve into as much as they can, become lost in the surroundings, traverse off the typical trails into deeper territory and to camp in tents under starlight; to then come to the South Rim of the Canyon where people have arrived in the bus load from Vegas, observing no more than a one mile radius of the Rim; who complain constantly about the lack of phone signal, convince themselves it’s not worth walking any further as the ‘views are the same’ and who require the services of horses and donkeys to ship them along the trails into and out of the canyon doesn’t do the national wonder justice. Obviously this doesn’t apply throughout and maybe if I had visited the Grand Canyon first, before the various other national parks I wouldn’t have developed such a thought process. Also its  not to say that I would rather camp in a tent in the middle of nowhere for a week and eat scraps- the lodges here and the service looks insanely good! But I would definitely not sacrifice making the considerable effort in exploring the deeper reaches of the canyon!

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The South Kaibab Trail

At the start of the trail head there are signs everywhere pleading to people to ‘never hike to the bottom and up in a day.’ Stories of tragedies and emergency call outs are further reminders not to try and accomplish this feat.
I followed the advice and would recommend anyone else to do the same, not because it is too difficult or strenuous, but primarily because it would mean rushing so much, that you would miss out.
Having already scaled higher altitudes and much further distances in the last 10 days, I had no doubt that I would have been able to reach the Colorado River and back had I started earlier in the day- I was in fact surprised at how deep I managed to venture into the canyon in such a short time!

Starting at the cutbacks near Yaki Point the first landmark is ‘Ooh Ahh Point’. It took me about 30 minutes to reach this point, descending along some fairly straightforward switchbacks and forever protected by shadows of the Goliath canyon walls.
As suggested in the name, the lookout provides a stunning ‘ooh ahh’ panorama of the canyon, fragmented from all sides by the Colorado River.

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About an hour further down the ridge line and 2.5 miles into the canyon lies Cedar Ridge, one of (if not the only) place with toilet facilities.
It is from here that you get the first clear overlook at O’Neill Butte and can observe the trail as it sinks down the side of the huge rock sediment below.
As the sun hit its hottest point, at about 2pm, I, along with a group of 5, decided to rest here in the shade on a rock; napping with my feet dangling over a drop off into the lower depths of the canyon. Shortly after, a group of about 10 were ridden, mule-back, down to Cedar Point before turning back and heading up out of the canyon. The mules looked completely knackered- provoking several remarks from some of the other hikers.

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After my nap, I continued further, now 2000ft into to the canyon, reaching Skeleton Point. The steep nature of the worn dust rail does have a gradual effect on the knees, but was no more demanding than the hikes in Yosemite and Zion. The rock within the canyon also began to change, converting from a charred soil with specks of green bushel to a much drier, orange soaked tinge.

Skeleton Point was another welcome flat section in an otherwise constant crescendo of downward spirals. But from now on the hike, which was hard, but not overly difficult, reached a more demanding level. Long gone was the protective shade of the outer canyon walls. Instead the dried, rocky breakaways revealed an enormous set of cutbacks, known as ‘the devils staircase’.

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With the sun beginning to drop, I hunched down the set of switchbacks, walking alongside a group who were fulfilling my initial plan-to hike down to the campground, camp by the Colorado and head up the Bright Angel trail the following day-They revealed how they had applied over a month ago for the permit to do so.
As I reached a further set of giant hairpin cutbacks I considered turning around to ensure I would make it out before sunset.
But as there was one small group behind me who, also had to hike out, I decided to delve deeper for at least a half hour and see if I could reach a lookout to the Colorado river- which had been obscured for the entire descent.

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Reaching the base of the devils switchbacks, by far the most demanding section of the hike, I walked for 15 more minutes along a relatively flat but brutally arid dustbowl, deep within the canyon, to reach the Tip-Off, where a breakaway in the lowest Buttes of the canyon revealed the murky Colorado River.

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Ascending from the Canyon

By now it was after 4pm and I was no more than 2 miles to the bed of the river and the campgrounds at the base of the canyon, but without the required permit, I had to ascend 6 miles back on myself, up 2000ft and out of the canyon.I knew the first hour would be the toughest in negotiating the knee-buckling gradient of the ‘Devils Staircase’ up to Skeleton Point. It didn’t disappoint and proved to be a real challenge.
Upon reaching Skeleton Point, I was surprised that there were still a large number of people resting and absorbing the final hours of light from the perched rock podiums. The entirety of the days heat was now locked into the canyon walls and oozing from the rock faces, creating a desirable resting point. It created the perfect final overlook from within the canyon, yet, considering the rapid rate of diminishing daylight I thought everyone would be in a rush to ascend to the top.

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I finished my remaining food resources and generally followed the crowd, taking my time and copying their motions of resting, moving, taking photos, climbing and stopping.
The ascent was much quicker and easier to negotiate than the descent, which was slippy along the worn surfaces. Barely and hour since we had left Skeleton point and half an hour quicker than the descent we had reached the final set of switchbacks to the top.
20 minutes later and I was atop of the canyon and back amongst the vast crowds that had come to Yaki Point for the sunset.

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Sunset at Yaki Point

By the time I had surfaced the sun was at eye-level, only 20 minutes from diminishing. I sat in a slump at the edge of the canyon and watched in silence as the sun dropped, triggering the various shades of red, amber and browns to illuminate from the canyon.
Zion, Kings Canyon and Bryce were good, but I don’t think you can get a much better sunset than the one over the grand canyon. Its awesome!

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Final Night at the Canyon 

I again headed over to the Bright Angel Lodge, to charge my camera batteries and upload images from the days hike.
Ensuring I was clothed in several layers I then headed out to Mather Point, braving the chill to take a few more night shots of the Canyon.
It was a pretty eerie feeling, being the only one on Mathers point- normally one of the busiest lookouts of the canyon. Also, with some occasional cloud cover in the sky and lack of moon, it was completely pitch black and I was incredibly anxious about losing my footing or edging too close to the canyon edge.
I took about a half hour to immerse myself in the starred world above, before hastily retreating back to the truck, where I parked up in the darkest corner and got some well deserved sleep.

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