My Dad and I had the pleasure of traveling to the Grand Canyon with 4 other guys whom we knew through the Ozark Highlands Trail Association for a 4 day, 3 night backpacking trip. We all got our Christmas festivities done and headed out the next day bound for the South rim just north of Flagstaff, AZ. The trip took nearly 24 hrs one way so an overnight stop in New Mexico was necessary. We arrived at the rim the afternoon of the 27th and was able to catch a showing of the movie that is played in the visitors center right before we went to catch our first glimpse of the canyon and its immense size. Standing on the rim is a completely different experience than even stepping a few feet down beneath the first switchback on a trail leading to the bottom. Five million visitors a year visit the rim of the Grand Canyon each year. One percent of those five million people take the time to tread, even a few yards, below the rim. Only 10% of that 1% will ever take the time to hike the more than 4,500 vertical feet drop from rim to river.
We started our hike going down the South Kaibab snow packed trails for the first 2 miles or so. We followed both the NPS and my mothers recommendations by purchasing yaktraks which I will admit was wise. The first few miles of trail is rather crowded by any Arkansas hiking trail standards but after you go 3 miles or so you leave all traces of day hikers. Many day hikers go further than they realize because of the easiness of going down hill without the realization of how hard it will be to walk back up.
There are no words that can describe the magnitude of this canyon, and we were in such a small section of it. The South Kiabab Trail has some amazing views as it continuously plunges towards the Colorado River.
The South Kaibab Trail is used for the mule train that delivers supplies to the bottom of the canyon. Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch have a history dating back to 1869 when explorer John Wesley Powell discovered the waters of Bright Angel Creek and was also home to a CCC camp in the 1930’s who is responsible for most of the infrastructure still in existence today. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the camp in 1913 for a hunting expedition and the camp was renamed after him for awhile.
When you finally reach the river a steel bridge makes for one of my more pleasant backpacking river crossings in recent memory. This is the bridge used by mule riders because of its solid wood floor. There is another bridge a short distance down the river that leads to the Bright Angel Trail and a river trail connects the two bridges.
The beach near the campground is a favorite place for river rafters because it usually has sun on it mid day. The guys in this picture were on day 6 of a 16 day, 272 mile rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.
Bright Angel Campground was a beautiful place in the bottom of the canyon. Mule deer were everywhere and acted completely oblivious to us to the point they even used the foot bridges to cross the stream on occasion.
We day hiked up past Phantom Ranch to the Clear Creek Trail. Clear Creek Trail makes its way up onto the Tonto Platform giving great views of the ranch and river below and the peaks above. It was an out and back hike and provided some amazing picture taking opportunities!
The next day we hiked out of Bright Angel into Indian Gardens Campground which is about half way up the Bright Angel Trail. This section of trail followed the river for a mile or so and then began to climb its way up between two narrow canyon walls most of the way. One particular set of switchbacks named Devils Corkscrew proved to live up to its name.
Indian Gardens was a beautiful campground to spend the night before making the final push to climb out of the canyon. When you sit and look up at the South Rim from the campground you can’t even imagine how a trail could possibly get up there. When we arrived at camp we took a short 1.5mi hike out to Plateau Point where we found a California Condor. Condors are almost extinct but have been reintroduced to the park so seeing one was quite a surprise!
We woke up on our final morning to 1-2 in of snow on the ground. It made for a awesome winter wonderland scene that isn’t seen all that often at Indian Gardens. The hike out Bright Angel Trail was breath taking from both the view itself and the hike out. The clouds and light changed all morning as we made our way back to the South Rim. The canyon was completely hidden from view at times. The light in the canyon changes constantly and makes for spectacular views but the snow and clouds enhance it even more. If your a serious backpacker then a trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon needs to go on your bucket list.