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Trip Report - November, 1988 - South Kaibab, Tonto and Bright Angel Trails

Now that I had my Canyon legs I needed to see how Robin could do with this, so the next hike was an attempt to see how she would handle it. I was still hung up on this "corridor" hiking as that seemed to be the place where everyone started. I did not want to do the same hike that I did the first time because I wanted to see more of the Canyon myself; I wanted something different for me. I don't know how or why I came up with this choice because it was definitely an over-ambitious attempt as an introductory hike for someone who was not used to hiking, and Robin was even less used to it than I was. The hike I had planned was about 13 miles total in length:

  • 4½ miles down the South Kaibab Trail;
  • 4 miles across the Tonto Trail to Indian Garden;
  • and finally a 4½-mile ascent up the Bright Angel Trail.

This was a very ambitious day-hike indeed but I figured if we could do this we could do just about anything. I don't know why I didn't try to do a trip to the river and back in a day because that also could have been accomplished in about the same number of miles, though it would have added an extra 1,400 feet of elevation loss and gain. I don't remember there being as much negative hype by the Park Service trying to dissuade people from going all the way to the river and back in one day like there is now. So perhaps I was being at least somewhat cautious.

We started out the morning with a good breakfast and then drove our rental car out to the trailhead for the South Kaibab Trail, near Yaki Point. It was a gorgeous morning for a hike with bright blue skies, no clouds to speak of and plenty of sunshine. It was cool but not cold and we both started out with sweatshirts on over our T-shirts. When I did my first hike down to Plateau Point I had worn hiking boots but for this one I was just wearing sneakers, as was Robin. She didn't even own a pair of hiking boots yet. I had learned my lesson as far as water goes on that first trip and now we were both carrying these big 2-quart desert canteens. I had snack food with me for the hike down and also a good deal of food to eat for lunch when we got to Indian Garden. We seemed well prepared for a nice long day in the Canyon.

The hike started out easy enough and I remember going wild over the panoramic views we got from the top sections of the South Kaibab Trail. This was definitely a lot different from the Bright Angel Trail and the views of the inner Canyon were far superior to anything I remember seeing on the Bright Angel. Down, down, down we went, not stopping much except when I needed to take photos. We did take a short rest at Cedar Ridge to use the facilities there and both Robin and myself seemed to be doing fine with the first 1½ miles behind us.

Hiking from Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point, just above the Redwall descent, was easy enough. There was a little bit of a descent as we left Cedar Ridge but then the trail was long and reasonably flat for about a mile or so. We were still doing fine. I think the first problems started to occur during the descent from Skeleton Point to the Tonto Platform. Robin's feet were starting to hurt. I thought it was just because of all of the downhill and that was behind us now. Either was from this point we had about the same amount of climbing to get back out so we decided to stick with the plan and go to Indian Garden. At least Indian Garden had plenty of shade and water and would be a good place to take a long rest before starting the hike out.

From the base of the Redwall descent we still had a little ways to go to get to the junction with the Tonto Trail but that distance was covered in very little time and when we reached it we started hiking along it right away. The Tonto Trail was beautiful and this was probably where I fell in love with it. It had its little ups and downs as it meandered along the Tonto Platform, sometimes over hills, sometimes around them, sometimes around a drainage, and sometimes down into one side and up the other. The views of the Tonto Platform itself, the inner gorge, the south rim, the north rim, the temples and buttes were all nothing less than magnificent and I was soaking it all up.

Shortly after crossing through the first drainage heading west we had the surprise of our lives. Robin was in the lead so that she could set the pace for the hike and we were hiking merrily along when all of a sudden she just stopped and froze in her tracks. I didn't notice this at first and almost crashed right into the back of her. I asked what was wrong and she just sort of pointed and whispered the word "snake". I leaned forward and looked past her and sure enough there was a rattlesnake slithering across the trail just a few feet in front of us. She was probably scared but I did not give it a second thought and all I wanted was my camera. We backed off a little and I got the camera out of the backpack so I could try to take some photos. Unfortunately before I could do this, the snake had already crossed the trail and was now coiled up beneath a bush at the side of the trail. I did manage to get a photo but it was not as good as if the snake bad still been in the trail. I think Robin was a little concerned that I was taking photos at all and was probably worried that I was getting too close to the snake. I had a telephoto lens on the camera and I really was not that close. I was reasonably sure that I knew what the striking range was and I was well outside of that.

After taking a photo we continued along down the trail with Robin still in the lead and probably overly alert for more snakes at this point. I thought she was incredibly lucky to have seen a rattlesnake on her first hike in the Canyon as they really are quite rare and not most people will never see one. We just lucked out.

We arrived at Indian Garden around 1 pm, found a nice shady spot with a picnic table and prepared to take a long rest. I opened up a can of tuna that we had brought with as, mixed in some packets of mayonnaise and made us some sandwiches. We also had a had of potato chips. Robin's feet were hurting and she had several blisters and it was going to be an interesting hike out from here. We rested at Indian Garden for more than an hour, preparing ourselves for the hike up and back out to the rim. It was a warm afternoon and Robin had brought shorts with her and she changed into them before we started up. We also refilled our canteens so that we would have plenty of water.

The hike out from Indian Garden starts off easy enough and is fairly level with just a slight climb for the first half-mile or so. That just makes it all the worse when it finally does start to climb and you are looking at switchback after switchback with no end in sight. Robin did not deal too well with the climbing and we stopped frequently for her to rest. Every time we came across a suitable rock along the side of the trail she would sit herself down upon it, frequently saying something like "good rock" or "nice rock". We were in no hurry and I knew her feet were bothering her so it was no big deal.

It was late afternoon, just after 4 pm, before we finally got back to the rim and Robin was one hurting puppy. Her legs were now sore as well as her feet. We walked over to the Maswik Lodge, got checked into our room and she decided she was going to relax and take a bath while I walked back over to Yaki Point to retrieve our car. I probably could have taken a shuttle but I really did not feel that bad and walking back to the other trailhead would make it a real loop hike for me. I guess I sort of underestimated the distance involved and the lateness of the day because it was dark by the time I got to the car and the last mile or so of walking was very tiring. This easily added about 3 miles to the day hike for me making it about 16 miles.

After getting back to the room, I took a shower myself, got cleaned up and changed into some clean clothes. We went out for a nice dinner at the Arizona Steakhouse, something that from that point that has become a sort of end-of-hike tradition. It was a long day, it was a tiring day and it was a sore day... but had done it and it was sure something to talk about.

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Robin, South Kaibab Trail

Mules heading for Phantom Ranch, South Kaibab Trail

Lower Redwall switchbacks, South Kaibab Trail

Tonto Trail between South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails, Robin

Rattlesnake on Tonto Trail

Lunch and rest break at Indian Garden, Bright Angel Trail

Grand Canyon bighorn sheep, Bright Angel Trail

Sun setting on the Canyon, Bright Angel Trail

Sunset on the Canyon

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Copyright © Bob Ribokas, 1994-2017, all rights reserved. This publication and its text and photos may not be copied for commercial use without the express written permission of Bob Ribokas.