Today we’ll return to the South Rim via the South Kaibab Trail, a hike of 7.6 miles with an elevation gain of 4700 feet. As the trail signs say, “down is optional, up is mandatory”. Excited and slightly anxious.

It’s another early morning. We have to get everything ready for the mules to take up by 6:30. Although we did some of the packing last night, most things must be done at the last minute: disassembling and packing our tents, putting the last of our clothes into stuff sacks, using the stove to make coffee (seriously, this is not negotiable) before the stove is packed as well. We take our snacks out of the animal-proof box and load our daypacks.

Once our gear is off to the mules, we have some time for a cold breakfast. Done, and then we get going. At least half the people in the 20 or so campsites seem to be stirring and preparing for a similar trek. We walk past the beach to the Black Bridge and begin the South Kaibab.

Black Bridge. It enters a short tunnel on the south side.

Most of these photos were taken on my phone, which hasn’t been charged in two days. The bridge is one of the last pictures I took before it turned itself off. Below is a picture from our trip mate Sandra’s camera, a little bit further up the trail. You’ll have to take my word for it that we made it out of the canyon.

Connor, Sean, Sandra, Marcy, Larry. Emily not shown.

The Bright Angel Trail follows a pipeline that brings water up to the rim. The pipes are tapped at Indian Garden year-round and two other stops above it seasonally (May – September), so that travelers can refill water containers. South Kaibab offers no water refill points, so we must carry all the drinks we need for our hike.

Bright Angel and most of the canyon’s other trails were originally work routes, providing access to mines and water. South Kaibab was created specifically for National Park visitors, and designed to be more scenic. It travels exposed areas of the canyon, giving much broader views than other trails. So, try to imagine:

Tip Off is an area at the top of the drop into the Vishnu Schist, where the Tonto Plateau slopes gently toward the rim. There is a bathroom stop (chemical toilets) here, and both hikers and mule riders take advantage. (We arrived barely two minutes before the mule riders did. Also fortunately, someone was cleaning the stalls at the time.) The Tonto Plateau is almost a mile wide here, snaking around the outcroppings and mesas. As we approach and wrap around a much taller feature, an arch is visible high off to the right. At the end of the Plateau, the climb becomes steeper again.

A series of switchbacks called the Red and Whites (because of the colors of the alternating rock layers) brings us to Skeleton Point. (I’ve also heard this area called Devil’s Staircase, but Arizona is no longer as fond of putting “Devil” in a name as Utah seems to be.)

Like Indian Garden on Bright Angel, the Park Services tells hikers to go no further than than Skeleton Point on a single day’s down and up. That’s unfortunate because the Point gives only a small glimpse of the river, and a few hundred easy feet further down reveals a much better river view including the area around Bright Angel campground, and a spectacular panorama over both sides of a ridge.

Continuing up, vegetation becomes richer and denser over the next few miles. Named stops include Cedar Point (with toilets and a wide area suitable for picnics) and Ooh Ah Point, both featuring noteworthy views. Ooh Ah is much more crowded, and after the comparative quiet of the lower canyon, it feels jarring. A little less than one steep mile attains the rim. So, we made it.

It’s really hard for me to wrap up this series of posts. I think the best I can do is to say that the Grand Canyon is just amazing and I spent the entire three days grinning and saying “wow, this is cool.” We all did. The pictures of me on this trip look much happier than I usually do. It’s that good.

Pre-trip | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3