Saturday, October 21, 2017
From: North Rim Campground
To: Bright Angel Trailhead (Maswik Lodge parking lot)
Elevation gain/loss: +4,671 ft; -6,182 ft
Total miles: 53.77
Thankfully the forest was still green and the campfires were out in the morning. We hiked out of the hiker/biker campsite at 5:45am, taking our time to avoid descending into the canyon in complete darkness.
We arrived at the busy North Kaibab Trailhead around 6:15am, where at least a dozen other headlamps were already bobbing down the trail. Everyone looked fresh and sounded cheery.
A few switchbacks before the Supai Tunnel we ran into 3 hikers doing the Rim2Rim2rim in one day. They had started at the South Rim at 8:45pm and were almost halfway done! One of the guys looked so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. How he would make it back to the South Rim 25 miles later was beyond us. We felt grateful for our wise decision to make this a 2 day adventure rather than 24 hour gig.
Initially our bodies were stiff but as we continued to descend our muscles warmed up and accepted the punishment. We played leap frog with other couples doing the Rim 2 Rim. Mr. Thai, who Andy nicknamed based on his Thai branded tank top, and his partner passed us frequently. Andy introduced himself to another couple saying that we may as well be on a first name basis since we would be seeing one another for the next 12 hours. Jake and Sally, a couple in their 50s, smiled.
The weather was cool and we made great time hiking down into the canyon. Unlike the South Kaibab Trail, the North Kaibab trail has many undulations and crosses the canyon a few times. We both found it more interesting to hike on this trail, but it certainly wasn’t as dramatic and open as the South Kaibab Trail.
While everyone we were hiking with stopped for water at Manzanita, we kept going and enjoyed quite a few miles of trail all to ourselves. We learned on the PCT that watering holes in the desert attract many hikers, so we took a bit more water at Supai Tunnel to bypass this one. It worked out beautifully!
We stopped briefly at Cottonwood Campground for water before taking the detour to Ribbon Falls. The bridge is ‘closed’ because it needs repair but it wasn’t blocked off, so we crossed it anyway. Andy later mentioned that a volunteer ranger told him it would be ok as long as we stayed along the edges. He neglected to pass on that information until after we had completed our hike. Incidentally we both walked straight down the middle of the bridge; it squeaked and moved a little but didn’t give way.
The sketchy bridge crossing was certainly worth it because Ribbon Falls was stunning! Given the time of year, it had decent flow and the drops of water cascaded down to a green mossy mound. The green in contrast to the red rocks was quite spectacular. Andy got very excited and ran up the trail that traversed behind the falls.
Laurie followed at a much slower speed. We followed the trail to the opposite side of the falls and along an exposed cliff. “Don’t think about it, just keep going. Don’t think about it.” Laurie said out loud a few times. She was willing herself along more than anything because thinking too long would have allowed fear to creep in.
As we entered more stable ground we passed a sign facing the opposite direction warning hikers not to go any further. Oops.
We returned to our dropped packs and took a shoes off snack break. We chuckled every time someone popped their head out of the bushes looking lost. We offered directions and encouragement as we had the same perplexed looks on our faces only 30 minutes prior.
Breaks always go by so fast. Before we knew it 30 minutes had passed, so we gathered our warm socks and shoes (they were drying on a rock in the sunshine), put away our snacks and kept going.
Instead of backtracking to the bridge and trail, we went downstream and forded the river. It looked easy enough yesterday and we don’t like backtracking so it was an easy decision.
Getting to the river was somewhat tricky because of the many use trails in the that area. The river was wider than Andy thought it would be but there were enough exposed rocks to hop across without getting wet feet.
We cruised through the canyon, aided by the gentle downhill and tailwind. There was very little effort on our part, it felt like our legs were propelling themselves. Because of our late start and the longer miles in this section, we had more sun through the canyon than yesterday but a lot more shade than we expected.
We reached Bright Angel Campground at 1230pm and went to Boat Beach for lunch and to soak our feet and knees in the mighty Colorado.
Once more, our break took longer than expected. But hey, what’s the rush?
We watched a mule train and tourists on horseback cross the Kaibab Bridge. It was cool to watch but even more fun to listen to the snap, crackle and pop as the mules hooves made contact with the wooden planks. It almost sounded like rocks falling!
Laurie was tempted to swim in the Colorado River but was dissuaded by the signs and warnings of being swept away by the current. She waded in to her thighs to offer her legs an “ice bath.”
Andy was content putting his feet into the beautiful green water. He was shocked at how cold the water was! With our feet in the cold water, we snacked and enjoyed watching the eddies form and disappear.
After Andy collected water for himself from the Colorado River, we were back on trail. Unfortunately we were once again stuck behind a large high school group from Sedona. Somehow even with our long break, they were right there with us. We hoped they’d be miles ahead.
Eventually we passed them all, but because the front runners and their leader were fast we didn’t really enjoy the beautiful River Trail. We were hiking as fast as we could to lose the boisterous bunch but they stayed on our tail.
Instead of becoming frustrated, Andy started a conversation with Scott, the leader of their group. While we were no longer consumed with negative thoughts about the group, we still were not enjoying our hike.
Later we discussed we should have listened to our guts, slowed down, let them pass and enjoyed this beautiful section.
The students stayed behind to get water at the junction while we kept truckin’ along. We couldn’t believe how much water there is in the Grand Canyon. We followed Pipe Creek for a mile or so before ascending through another canyon.
The views along the gently graded trail were spectacular. We were really enjoying ourselves and were in a nice groove. We hiked uphill at a steady 2.5 miles per hour, Laurie with her head down and Andy looking everywhere except in front of his feet.
At Indian Garden Campground we collected water. Actually, only Laurie collected water because Andy had gotten water from Garden Creek a half mile north of the campground.
With neither of us needing a break we continued on, staring at the cliffs around us wondering where the trail would take us.
By now the shadows were growing longer and longer and the heat was escaping the canyon. The temperature was perfect for hiking uphill.
“I see 3 carrots” Andy said to Laurie. As expected, Laurie spotted her targets, locked them in her sights and picked up her speed. Andy gets a real kick out of this because Laurie doesn’t even realize she hikes faster with people in sight.
The trail meandered about, gently switchbacking up, up, up. We passed 3 Mile Resthouse, then 1.5 Mile Resthouse. By this time there were lots of people on the trail. Some were Rim2Rimmers getting close to finishing their hike, while many others were day hikers who had hiked down a few miles.
Our bodies felt like machines. We kept hiking at our strong and steady pace. Just past 1.5 Mile Resthouse we passed Mr. Thai and his partner. He looked to be struggling but still, he put one foot in front of the other. Andy hopes to hike like him in his 60’s.
Finally, at 5:40pm, we rounded the final switchback and reached the top! We did it. A bucket list hike completed.
We were tired and ready to take off our shoes. But first we had to walk back to our car about a half mile from the Bright Angel Trailhead. Enroute to our rental car we saw an elk.
It was a great ending to a memorable hike.
We are very proud of ourselves and thankful to have made the time to do this hike. It was one we constantly put off for all kinds of reasons, but now, we are Rim2Rim2Rimmers!
We got to our car, took off our shoes, popped Laurie’s epic 2nd blister inside her left big toe and headed into the Maswik Lodge to wash our faces. With water in our bottles, we left the Lodge and the Canyon in search of real food.
After enjoying pizza in the town of Tusayan, we drove 10 minutes to a national forest campground , where we pitched our tent and collapsed onto our sleeping pads.
The air was fresh, our bodies were ready to rest and our hearts were happy.
Tonight we are grateful for gluten free pizza in small towns and our National Parks.