We awakened early for the drive to the Canyon. The details are blurry but I remember it was quite cold, and after we parked, we had to take a shuttle bus to the beginning of the trail. It was clear from the outset that most people were venturing down only for a quick peek over the edge and very few were as laden down as we. In fact, a number of people asked us if we were planning to move there.
Our route took us down the South Kaibab trail to the river in one day. Once at the bottom we would camp at Phantom Ranch – in the campground; no cabins or hostel for us! The next day we were to go half way up the Bright Angel trail, camp at Indian Gardens and then hike the rest of the way up and out.
Soon into the trip it became apparent that we’d found the one type of terrain where my relatively short stature was a benefit. With a center of gravity a lot lower to the ground than the two over six foot males behind me, I discovered that I was able to practically jog along the switchbacks without losing my balance. In fact, for the first and one of the only times in my hiking career I kept having to stop and wait for the others.
The beginning of the hike was quite populated. There were bus loads of high school kids, many from abroad, swinging cameras and trying to hike in wildly inappropriate footwear. Apparently the packing list hadn’t included a section on outdoor gear. It was actually terrifying to watch some of them teeter and totter next to what was a pretty steep tumble to the bottom.
The journey down was a trip back in time. Starting with streaks of tan sandstone, moving down toward strips of an almost turquoise. Cell phone coverage soon (and thankfully) ceased. And as we went lower and lower there were far fewer people – although now and then we did have to move over to let the famous mule trains pass.
About half way down there is a trail called the Tonto that runs along the side of the canyon. It’s like a green stripe running horizontally and I’ve wanted to hike it ever since I saw it. And when you get below that you can start to hear and see the Colorado. It’s a ghostly shade of blue green due to the effects of various dams. The rocks shift toward black, almost like marble, and you feel as though you have returned to the bowels of the earth.
The campground at Phantom Ranch was populated with a number of odd characters, some of whom seemed to spend their entire lives just hiking around the canyon. There’s a complex of cabins, a hostel of a type, and a shop where you can buy a postcard or a beer.
We hiked up the other side of the canyon for just a bit. The sun cast long shadows off of the black stone. As the sun set into the depths of the canyon, it took with it all the trappings of our 21st century lives, leaving us only with a pitch black cover of night, punctuated by the light of millions of stars.