It’s Doing What?!
The morning of our hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon started out easy enough. We woke at 5:00, got dressed, re-checked our packs, and enjoyed a cup of coffee while we waited to join Rick and Jean for breakfast at 6:00.
When we stepped out of our hotel rooms we were greeted by unexpected 28 degrees, falling snow, and 40 mile per hour winds. It was obvious, today was going to be an adventure.
The forecast had been for cold (temps in the mid 30’s) and snow on Friday afternoon….not Wednesday. Thank goodness we brought our down jackets, hats, and gloves!
We’re No Quitters
Not ones to be deterred by “a little bad weather”, we bundled up and headed off for breakfast.
After breakfast, we headed over to the bus stop to catch the 7:00 shuttle that would take us to Yaki Point where the top of Kaibab Trail is located. As we started our hike, the temperature had reached 30 degrees, the snow had slowed, yet the wind was still blowing.
The chilly temperature, falling snow, and 40 mph wind gusts made the hike “adventurous”, especially when the trail narrowed.
Since it was snowing when we left, we covered our packs with rain covers to keep everything inside dry. The wind gusts were so strong that Carl was sure a gust of wind would inflate my cover and send me flying over the edge. I think he was thrilled when we were able to take our covers off about a mile from Ooh Aah Point.
Ooh Ahh Point
We stopped here to enjoy the view. It’s so spectacular that it truly makes you say “ohhhh, ahhhh”. Rick and Jean joked that if we were going uphill instead of down, by the time we reached this point, we’d be saying “ahhhh, ohhhh” (as our legs would be exhausted from the steep uphill climb).
The WOW of South Kaibab Trail
The South Kaibab Trailhead is the perfect trail to hike down into the canyon as the majesty of the canyon is visible the entire way down.
It descends 4860 feet (6.8 miles) into the canyon. It is steep, has a lot of “steps”, and offers absolutely awe-inspiring views.
About those “steps”
Jean and Rick warned us that these “steps” were tough as the wear and tear from the mules causes deep ruts that requires you step in and out of one hole after another.
I was concerned how my knees would do as I have an “issue” with my right knee making me favor it when hiking downhill. I was concerned this would cause problems with my left knee and hoped that all our preparation hikes and leg strengthening workouts would pay off.
Luckily for us, the trails had recently been maintained in celebration of the park’s 100 years as a national park and the ruts were only slightly noticeable (until we reached the end of trail and then they became deeper).
JUST A THOUGHT…
This is the most scenic trail into the canyon and the constant down-hill of this trail-head makes for an easy hike. However, it also puts a lot of stress on the knees. If you plan on taking this trail to the bottom, we suggest going sooner than later as the more the mules walk the trails, the deeper the ruts will become again.
We also suggest preparing your knees in advance through a lot of downhill hiking and exercises to strengthen your legs/knees. We also suggest using two hiking poles and packing KT tape and/or knee sleeves (just in case you need some extra support).
Our first stop was 1.5 miles down the trail at Cedar Ridge. This was a flat area with a breath-taking view of the canyon. It was a perfect place to rest, have a snack, and most importantly, have access to the first bathroom on the trail. You read that right; better go to the bathroom before hitting the trail as this is the first bathroom you’ll encounter once you start hiking.
This area is also a rest stop for the mule trains that go in and out of the canyon. The advice Rick and Jean gave us was, “if you see a mule train with riders approaching, get to the bathroom quick or you’ll be behind a long line of mule riders.”
GOOD TO KNOW….
As we were taking our packs off and placing them on the rocks around this tree, Rick and Jean warned us to watch out for the squirrels. Apparently, they will sneak down from the tree and rip backpacks open looking for food. (Legend has it they are pretty fast and quite good at ripping through even the most expensive backpack).
Three miles into our hike, we reached Skeleton Point (given it’s name from a mule train that fell here). We got our first view of the Colorado River here and a visual of how far we still had to go to get to the bottom of the canyon.
After a short rest, we headed down some amazing switchbacks. Along the way we stopped for lunch and to got to watch a mule train go by. After lunch, we continued on the switchbacks until we reached the Tonto Plateau.
A TIP ON JACKETS
If you plan on hiking the Grand Canyon during the time of year where you’ll likely to encounter cold weather, we highly recommend investing in a good light-weight down jacket (preferably with a hood). Our jackets were taken off and put back on throughout the hike. Having a lightweight, easily packed jacket was huge when it came to comfort and weight.
I’m not going to lie, by the time we reached the Tonto Plateau, I thought I was out of “oh, wow’s”, but the view from the plateau proved me wrong. Thankfully, the folks you meet on the trail are always ready to help out with group photos so we were able to get a photo of all four of us on the plateau.
We continued our hike to the bottom of the canyon. The closer we got to the bottom, the larger and deeper the “steps” got. My knees were starting to feel the strain of the continual down-stepping and I was pretty excited when we hit the 3.8 mile point.
Cold, Wind, and now Achy Knees
Before we started the hike, I taped my right knee and put on a compression sleeve. Due to this, my right knee was feeling pretty good but my left knee was feeling the stress. If you have any concerns regarding your knees, I’d suggest taping and possibly wearing a sleeve from the very beginning of the hike.
On we hiked towards our final destination, Phantom Ranch. The closer we got, the warmer it got, yet we still spent most of the day layering and un-layering. Since the wind continued to blow and the sky was mostly cloudy, temps remained chilly (and sometimes still cold). Despite this (or because of it), it was a great day to do the hike.
Kaibab Tunnel and Suspension Bridge
“OH WOW!” Yet another one escaped my lips as we approached the last turn before reaching the tunnel that would take us to the Kaibab suspension bridge. The Colorado River was really moving and we could hear it roaring up on the trail.
The bridge was exciting to walk across (luckily there were no mules wanting to cross at the same time or we would have had to back up as they have the right-of-way). The view across the bridge was magnificent.
After a long day of hiking, Phantom Ranch was a welcome sight. We checked into our cabin, picked up our duffel bags, and headed over to the Canteen for a nice cold beer. If you travel to the Phantom Ranch, you’ll definitely want to reserve meals at the Canteen as it’s a fun dining experience with some very tasty meals.
About that cabin…
If we’ve piqued your interest in hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and you’ve checked out accommodations at Phantom Ranch, you probably know hikers stay in the dorms and mule riders get a cabin. So how did we score a cabin? SNOW!
Due to the snow that morning, many mule riders cancelled out which opened up cabin space. When we arrived at the Grand Canyon on Tuesday, Jean had put our name on the waiting list for a cabin. Luckily, we were first on the list and when a group of mule riders cancelled, we got a cabin!!! Our advice if you hike to the bottom: GET YOUR NAME ON THAT LIST!
Part 3 of Our Hike to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon will cover our day at the bottom and a hike along the Colorado River that is so worth doing.
If you haven’t read the beginning of this journey, you can check it out here.