The Grand Canyon in Arizona. One of natures greatest wonders on Earth. Over millions of years the Colorado river dug its bed into the rock of the Colorado Plateau, creating a specteculare canyon, which is between 6 to 30 kilometers wide and up to 1800 meters deep.
It was my dream to hike and experience this incredible place. This time I wasn't traveling alone, but shared this adventure with two travel companions,
Jolanda, a friend from Switzerland, and my brother. Both were just as eager as I to experience this once in lifetime backpacking trip.
We started our journey from the NORTH KAIBAB TRAILHEAD on the North Rim. Over the next four days, we gradually made our way down, into the canyon, to the Colorado river and back up on the BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL to the South Rim.
The evening before....
...scouting the North Kaibab trail from the top of the North Rim.
It's a 1280 meters descent over 11 km, from the trailhead to Cottonwood campground. The trail is broad and easy to walk. At least downhill. Hiking uphill is a different story. The trailhead is at 2512 meters altitude! Many will experience some effects of the high altitude: breathlessness and tachycardia and possibly headache or nausea.
Remember, the Colorado Plateau, into which the Colorado river dug the Grand Canyon, well, it is...a high plateau. The landscape up there is relatively flat and even we were surprised to find out we were on a high elevation above 2000 meters.
Along this stretch of the trail, from the top to Cottonwood, there are two water faucets, where thirsty hikers can fill their bottles with drinking water. Unless the water line is broken (see text below: "...Water On The Trail")
The cliffs on the North Rim are painted with colourfull streaks. The artist is nature itself. Water, rich on various minerals, seeping down the rock face painted the colourful streaks.
Crack...Bang! Only 20 minutes into the hike of a life time and this happens to me!
A step on a loose pebble, my 20 kilo backpack jerks on my shoulders. My foot twists and rolls over. An audible crack in my ankle. IS THIS THE END OF MY TRIP?
Everybody comes running back to me. I am sitting in the middle of the trail. Shocked.
What shall I do...? What shall I do...?
After several minutes I decide my foot is fine. I will not give up on my trip. I will hike on. Carefully.
24 hours later my foot shows a nice bruise and my ankle swells up. Sweet. Maybe not all is fine. Obviously did some damage to my foot. Whatever. This won't stop me. I hike the Grand Canyon down and back up on a sprained ankle.
Camping permits are mandatory for all camping below the Rim. Information regarding permits can be found on the Grand Canyon National Parks website.
When I applied for the permits 2017 I had to download an application form (PDF format) from their website, fill it out and then send it via fax (can also be send by post a.k.a. snailmail) to the office. The earliest date for application is three month prior the date you plan to camp there. Often there are more applicants than permits available. Campers must keep their permit with them and attach it to their tents. Mind you, every evening a ranger came by and controlled if everyone had their permit. No cheating.
September 2017 the price for our permit was 10 US$ per permit, plus 8 US$ per person per night.
On day two it is only a little more than 500 meters descent over 11 kilometers. A rather gradual descent. The trail is broad and in very good condition. Walking is
easy. Luckily. Even with a sprained ankle.
It would all make for an easy day hike, if the temperatures wouldn't keep rising and rising that day.
The landscape becomes visibly drier, the vegetaion adapted to arid conditions. The copse of pine and juniper trees, which threw some shade onto the trail and granted some relieve from the sun are gone. Instead there are cactuses, yuccas, Utah aggave, needlegrass.
...Water On the Trail
This day I carry more than 3 liters of water with me.
On the first day there were two water faucets along the trail, where we could fill our drinking bottles with cool water and quench our thirst. On the lower trail though, between Cottonwood and Bright Angel, there are NO water faucets. The only water sources along the trail are the Bright Angel Creek itself or its tributary streams . The water of those needs to be treated before drinking. Carry plenty of drinking water and always have a water treatment method with you, in case the water pipeline - which supply the faucets on the upper trail and the campgrounds below - breaks. Which it DID, only 3 days later! Luckily for us, this happend a few hours AFTER we had hiked out of the Grand Canyon.
Before leaving Cottonwood campground I filled all my water bottles up. Over three liters of water. Adding quite some grueling weight to my already very heavy
backpack. But I reckoned I could still pour water away, if it was too heavy to carry all the way. That day the heat kept rising merciless. Instead of throwing water out, onto the trail, I kept
pouring it down my throat. Thus my load was lightening quickly. The heat reached fever pitch at mid day, with no sign of letting up. In the smaller water flask, attached on the side of my
backpack, there was some water left. It had begun to taste stale and, although thirsty, it repulsed me to drink it. There were only two more kilomters to go on and I still had some extra water
left in the watersack inside my backpack. So I threw the stale water over my head and front of shirt, hoping for some refreshment. Instead, it was as if I had doused myself with hot water out of
the bathtub. Just without the nice lavender bubble bath fragrance. Dripping lukewarm water from my hair and now very grouchy from the heat I trudged on. Only ten minutes later I was again dry as
old skunk bones, bleaching in the sun, and, without doubt, smelling just as lovely. Even my hiking poles become so hot, it burns my skin, when I briefly tuck them under my arm, to have my
hands free for the video camera.
When I finally dragged myself into Phantom Ranch, parched and burned, I had no more than two cups of water left. I found my brother in the saloon of Phantom Ranche, washing the trail dust out of his throat with beer. I staggered to the machine that dispensed ice and lemonade. The heat had worn us down. Only Jolanda seemed completely unfazed by the scorching heat.
On the trail from Cottonwood campground to Bright Angel campground.
Then, shortly before reaching Phantom Ranch, hiking through a particulare beautifull stretch, where the Canyon of the Bright Angel Creek dramatically narrows in, called "The Box".
(Click on image on the left, to view video - 1:09 mins)
Rest & Relax
On day 3 we enjoy an extra rest day at Bright Angel campground. Everyone tries to rest and relax, choosing from various leisure activities: writing postcards, exploring Phantom Ranch, strolling around the valley, cooling off in the shallow Bright Angel Creek, which flows past our tents or hopping into the somewhat cooler Colorado river, 5 minutes to the South of the campground.
I assume a rest day will do my sprained ankle good. It's heavily swollen and bruised. I take off the stiff hiking boots and bandage, to let it breath and the blood circulate. Then I spent the noon hiking in flimsy sandals over uneven ground, on slippery rock and deep sand. Brilliant. Not the right treatment for a sprained ankle.
Late that afternoon the wind picks up. Suddenly everybody on the campground is running for their tents, as gale force gusts rip through the valley. Heavy rain drops
beat down. I dive head first into my tent. Not just to be out of the rain, but to weigh it down with my own body.
The ground on the campground is so compacted, it's almost impossible to get the tent pegs down into it. I used rocks to tie my tent down.
The outer fly of the Hubba NX is relatively high up from the ground. The sideway winds drive some spray underneath it.
(Click on image on the left, to view video - 0:49 mins)
On the fourth day it is only about 400 meters ascent and 7 kilometers to hike to Indian Garden, but we have another grueling hot day before us. Having learned from our previous mistake - when we started hiking too late in the morning - we break our camp before dawn and are on the trail by 6:00 am. Our uphill journey on the Bright Angel Trail begins.
For our early start we get rewarded with a beautifull dawn. As the sun rises, the Rim is basking in its light. Vivid colours of molten gold with amber run
down the canyon walls, while we, down at the river, still walk in the dark. We walk uphill on a narrow ledge in the cliff, with the river 20 meters below us. Jolanda sees it first and calls me. I
look down....and stop. The Colorado reflects the colours of dawn and melds them in his own fashion. The river adds deep blues and dark greens. It is magical. Breathtaking.
As we walk on, we watch as the hue of the rock changes with every breathtaking moment, with every glance up and at every turn of the trail. Now the canyon walls glow from inside.
From Bright Angel Campground to Indian Garden Campground there are no water faucets. So we have to fill our water flasks with enough water to last us until we reach
Indian Garden. There are few natural water sources along this stretch. The creek is pretty much inaccesible for most of the time, as the trail curves up on the side of the canyon, leaving the
stream deep below.
With only 400 meters ascent and 7 kilomters this is a relatively short hike and thus I only carry about 2 liters of water.
This is the final day on our Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim hike. We have 925 meters ascent and a distance of 8 kilometers ahead of us before reaching the South
Again we break camp quickly before dawn and are on the trail at 6:00 am, to make the most of the cooler morning hours.
My brother hikes ahead, to clear the trail. Then I follow on my sprained ankle. Jolanda is trail sweeper, in case I break face down on the trail.
Shortly before 11:00 am the rising sun reaches the bottom of the Canyon. Until then we had been enjoying the relative cool of the shade. Now it is on. Sun and heat start chasing us up the trail.
Fortunately along this stretch of the trail there are two water faucets, where hikers can fill their water bottles. Hiking uphill the Three Mile Resthouse is the first one we reach. A little later follows the One-Point-Five Mile Resthouse. With it comes a feeling of joyful elation, because now we know, it is only 1.5 miles to the top. This last mile is not without a certain challenge, because of the altitude, nearing 2000 meters. Breathing gets a bit shorter and the heartbeat faster. Additionally there is the heat to deal with. Not to worry. We are almost there.
At around 1:00 pm we arrive the trailhead at the South Rim. Exhausted but happy. We made it.
The next day we return to the North Rim with the Hikers Shuttle Bus. It costs 90 US $ per person.
Later that day, as the evening approaches, we walk to Bright Angel Point, for a last farewell. We enjoy a fantastic sunset over the Grand Canyon.
Two of the very rare Californian Condors soar past Angels Landing just as Jolanda is climbing up there.
Watch squirrel stress testing the Kaipack 28 daypack.
(Click on image on the right, to view video - 0:26 mins)