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Trip Report, September, 1996 - Rim To Rim via North Kaibab to Bright Angel.

Trip Report, September, 1996
Rim To Rim via North Kaibab to Bright Angel.
By Chuck Arden

It took us four months to plan and prepare for our third annual backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon. My father, age 73, my brother and I would return to our favorite place in the world.

In May, 1996 we sent for our backcountry permit for one night at Cottonwood campground and one night in Bright Angel campground. A few weeks later we were delighted when we received our permit.

On September 28, 1996 my brother and I flew from Oakland, Ca to Phoenix, Az.. to meet my father at the airport. He took a different flight from Ontario, Ca. We all arrived in Phoenix at about 11:00 a.m., got a rental car and drove straight to the South Rim. That evening we stayed at the Best Western in Tusayan, just outside the national park.

In the morning of the 29th we walked around the South Rim near Bright Angel Lodge. We looked down Bright Angel Canyon to Indian Garden and beyond. The view was magnificent and we stood in awe of the Canyon’s beauty. No matter how many times we visited the Canyon, we still got the same wonderful feeling. We also thought about the fact that in three days we would be hiking up this portion of the canyon with heavy backpacks. From this vantage point the Bright Angel trail looked so small as it neared Indian Garden. We realized that our twenty five mile hike would be a long one.

At 1:30 p.m. we boarded a van from Trans Canyon Shuttle at the Lodge. The trip by van took five hours to the North Rim Lodge. We had reservations to stay in one of the cabins that night. We were fortunate to get a table at the North Rim Lodge cafeteria at 9:00 p.m. and we hit the sack by 10:30 p.m.

The next day, September 30, 1996 we awoke at 6:00 a.m. to a cool autumn morning. We took advantage of the buffet breakfast at the Lodge cafeteria and got a ride to the North Kaibab trail head by 7:30 a.m. As we set out on the trail we could see the bright yellow and orange leaves of the aspen trees. They appeared to be on fire and the morning sun shown brightly on them. (See Picture #1). We quickly saw how different the North Rim was from the South Rim. Since it is 1200 ft. higher in elevation it supports different plant and animal life. It is certainly greener and supports much more vegetation.

It took us about thirty minutes to reach Coconino Overlook. From this point one gets a great view of Roaring Springs Canyon. (See Picture#2)

As we descended the trail the temperature rose quickly. There were not many hikers on this portion of the trail. (See Picture #3) As we descended farther we could see Roaring Springs. We could see a large volume of water seeping out of the limestone. The water works its way down to Bright Angel Creek.

We reached Cottonwood camp at about 12:30 a.m. There we tried to find a shady campsite as the temperature was now about 90 degrees. After we set up camp we walked to Bright Angel Creek to stick our now tired feet into the refreshing water. (See Picture #4). During the evening since there were no lights nearby we could see forever. We could clearly see the lights of the North Rim Lodge seven miles away. Also the Milky Way was in its full glory.

We awoke at 5:30 a.m., the next morning and had a small breakfast which consisted of granola bars and nuts and dried fruit. My dad mentioned that he thought a skunk walked passed his head during the night. We were able to get all packed up and leave on the trail by 6:00 a.m. After about fortyfive minutes we took a detour up to Ribbon Falls. This side trip was well worth it as the falls were beautiful. (See Picture #5) My brother told us the story of when he spent the night at Ribbon Falls in 1974. He ran into bad weather and had to spend the night in a small cave near the falls.

After about a half hour we hiked back to the main trail and continued south in Bright Angel Canyon. The trail worked its way lower in elevation to the heart of the Grand Canyon. About four miles south of Cottonwood we entered “The Box”. There the trail skirts Bright Angel Creek and enters a narrow canyon surrounded by dense metamorphic rock called Vishnu Schist. (See Picture #6) We crossed three bridges over the creek in this area. We also noticed that some of the vegetation gave off a pleasant southwest smell as the sunlight struck it. The temperature was already 75 degrees and rising.

By midmorning we reached Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground. It took us about 3 and a half hours to hike from Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch. During this portion of the trip we must have seen about six other hikers. Of course once we reached Phantom Ranch there were many people including folks who came down from the South Rim by mule. However, everyone seemed to be in good spirts and very friendly. I enjoyed watching my father strike up conversations with people from all over the world. He is usually shy but being in the Canyon seemed to make him very outgoing.

There was a spacious campsite at Bright Angel Campground. After we set up camp we walked to the Colorado River and then up to the cantina at Phantom Ranch for a cool beer. I have to admit that beer was one of the best beers I ever had. I understand that mules haul it down from the South Rim.

That evening we took in a lecture put on by the Park Service about the geologic history of the Canyon. I recall seeing a large tarantula crawling around a nearby bench as we heard the lecture. By 9:30 p.m. we were in our sleeping bags for our last night inside the inner canyon.

The next morning, October 2, 1996 we got up at 5:00 a.m. and quickly packed our gear without eating. My dad wanted to get an early start up the Bright Angel Trail before it got really hot. About one hour into the hike we stopped to have some freeze dried granola. We noticed some clouds forming which created a nice sunrise. (See Picture 7). About another mile up the trail we met” Devils Corkscrew.” This consisted of some major switchbacks up the inner canyon to the Tonto Plateau. (See Picture 8). Once above the switchbacks we made it to Indian Garden by 8:30 a.m. There we took a long rest break and talked with more hikers. We could also see that many day hikers we arriving from the South Rim.

Farther up the trail we encountered our next set of switchbacks called “Jacob’s Ladder”. Right at the beginning of the first switchback the sky became very dark and the wind picked up a lot. Just before Three Mile Resthouse it started to rain heavily. We quickly put on our ponchos to cover some of our backpacks. As the rain pelted us my first reaction was one of angry thinking how this might effect my dad hiking up hill in the rain. However, to my surprise we saw that the Canyon was just as beautiful in the rain. The lighting had and interesting effect as it bounced off the canyon’s walls. The colors also took on a new and serine appearance. Moreover, since it was now raining heavily very few hikers were coming down the trail leaving to more hardy soles. I also noted that my dad seemed to enjoy the Canyon this way. (See Picture #9).

We did spend more time at a few of the covered areas on the trail to dry out. We made it to Bright Angel Lodge by 1:30 p.m. From there we drove to Flagstaff and spent the night. The next day we boarded our plan and vowed that we would return again as long as our bodies could hold up.

A footnote: The three of us did another backpacking trip to the Canyon in 1997 and have reservations to do another trip this year. It is still enjoyable to view the photographs of our hikes and reminisce about the great times we have had. I certainly hope that I can take my son on backpacking trips there when he gets old enough.

-- Chuck Arden, chuck@sonic.net

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