Trail Description : Old Bright Angel Trail
Not much is know about the Old Bright Angel Trail but people have apparently started using it again. One reference to the trail even refers to it as Old Kaibab Trail. The route is not marked on my older 1989 Trails Illustrated topo map, but it is marked on the newer 1994 revision.
The Old Bright Angel Trail and the current Bright Angel Trail have nothing in common except the name. They are on opposite sides of the Canyon and worlds apart for all practical purposes. This should not surprise anyone who has been to the Canyon as a good number of things there have Bright Angel as part of their names. But with a trail that is supposed to go from one place to another, it just confuses the issue.
The Old Bright Angel Trail was originally blazed by a man by the name of Francois Emile Matthes, who surveyed the area for the United States Geological Survey in 1902. The original trail supposedly criss-crossed Bright Angel Creek 94 times before it reached the Colorado River. The trail was upgraded between 1924 and 1928 by E.D. Woolley and the Grand Canyon Transportation Company in an effort to bring tourists across the Canyon to visit the north rim. After the Park Service complete the modern North Kaibab Trail the Old Bright Angel fell into disuse and deteriorated.
The Old Bright Angel and North Kaibab trails make a good, but rather long, one-day loop hike. It is recommended that you use the Old Bright Angel Trail for the descent as it is much easier to follow going down than up. The round-trip loop is about 16 miles and should take about 10-12 hours.
To reach the trailhead of the Old Bright Angel Trail follow the Ken Patrick Trail about 4 miles northeast to the head of Bright Angel Canyon. The trailhead is clearly marked with a sign. The trail bears downhill and to your right (southwest), until it gets into some really, really heavy scrub oak and thorny thickets. If you are the first one on the trail at the start of the hiking season you may experience some trouble getting through all of the growth and unless you've got a machete to hack your way through it you will most likely have to find some other way around the densest parts. The top mile or so of the trail descends quickly through the Kaibab Limestone and then meanders slowly down and along the Toroweap Formation for another mile or so until it comes to a break in Coconino Sandstone that allows you to descend into a normally dry, western tributary of Bright Angel Creek.
Near the top of the trail, for the first mile or so at least, it is very easy to loose the trail. Good routing finding abilities are a must for the first few miles of the trail. Stop and look around and you should be able to find the remains of the old trail heading down the left (east) side of the drainage. Be careful that you are on the main trail and not on a game trail or someone else's mistake. There are a number of places where you must make a decision as to which fork in the trail to take. Some of these alternate paths may eventually bring you back to the main trail but I did not follow them to find out. You must stay high and towards the left until you get to the proper spot be descend through the Coconino, which is just behind (north of) the small butte that sits out on the tip of the arm along which you are traversing.
The descent towards the dry creek is about a half mile and is accomplished via a quick set of switchbacks. It does not bring you immediately to the bed of the creek itself but rather stops just short of if and continues high up along its eastern side in the Hermit Shale. After another half mile or more the trail finally descends to and then continues along the floor of the creek bed until it comes to a high, dry falls. The view from this point on the trail is magnificent. The main arm of Bright Angel Creek enters from the east and joins with the tributary canyon through which you have descended. You should now be able to hear the water racing along, 600-700 feet below you.
After you pass the falls the trail continues on the right (west) side of the drainage, along the bottom layers of the Supai Formation. After another half mile or so the trail finally comes to the correct break in the Redwall Limestone that permits you to continue your descent. Like most Redwall descents this one is a quick scramble and in only a little more than a quarter mile, it's over.
Shortly beyond the Redwall descent the trail contours back around the arm of land, along which you have been following, and begins to descend toward another small drainage entering from the north. The trail turns northwest to cross the creek bed just behind another falls. If there is any water flowing here it makes a very pretty falls as the drop through the Muav Limestone is not a sheer one but rather a very steep slope along which the water spreads itself like a veil.
After crossing the creek bed the trail continues its south-southwesterly course. At this point the trail gets somewhat confusing. It appears to stay on the right (west) side of Bright Angel Creek for longer than it should according to the trail shown on the topo. It descends down through the Muav Limestone and into the Bright Angel Shale and comes close enough to the creek for you to cross. This is a trap and if you cross the creek there is apparently no where to go on the other side. I do, however, believe that this is where the topo shows the trail crossing the creek so there maybe something on the other side that I just didn't see. When you get to this descent you should stop and try to locate the main trail as it continues on higher up above the creek. If you do descend to the creek there is another trail, which is a major scramble that will bring you back up to the main trail a little further to the south. I think this scramble was made by the attempts of numerous people to escape this trap without backtracking their original descent.
Once past this spot the trail makes another false descent towards the creek bed and then rises back up again. The third descent is the real one. If you didn't know better though, you would think that it is messing with your mind again. The trail is difficult to follow as it leads you through a heavily vegetated area to a good spot to cross to the other side. Looks for cairns placed on top of the larger boulders if you can't spot the actual trail.
After you cross the creek the trail climbs up and away from the creek a little and then proceeds quickly down the creek along the left (east) side. After a little more than a mile you will come to the confluence with Roaring Springs entering from the northwest. The trail crosses the waters of the combined flow immediately below the confluence. If you follow the trail that continues along the east side of the creek you will come to Cottonwood Camp in about 2 miles. Just below the confluence the creek enters a deep chasm in the Tapeats Sandstone and there is no way to cross it. If you get to this area and had intended to cross the creek and ascend via the North Kaibab Trail you will need to backtrack and look for the right place to cross the creek. The trail across descends through the top layers of the Tapeats and crosses the creek just below the confluence.
Once across the creek a short scramble up the other bank will put you on the trail. The trail heading south is the North Kaibab Trail, while the trail heading north is just a side trail that leads to the Roaring Springs pumping station. If you head up towards the pumping station you can also pick your way through to the picnic area just north of it, that is used by dayhikers as well as the full day mule trips coming down from the north rim. A side trail located there will lead you up to the North Kaibab Trail.