To conclude 2017, I decided to tag along with my mom’s hiking club to the Grand Canyon. The club is made up of a group of Korean ladies in their 50s and 60s who share a common passion for hardcore trekking. We drove from Phoenix at around 2:30 p.m. and arrived at the KOA located in Williams, CA at around 6:00 p.m. We had rented two cabins to accommodate 8 people and 2 dogs. For $50 per night per cabin, the site came with a picnic table and a fire pit perfect for cooking and grilling outside. The biggest perk about this KOA site is the bathrooms! The bathrooms are heated and include free showers with warm water. I found myself hiding out in the bathrooms from time to time to get some reprieve from the below 12 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures. KOA cabins were the more convenient lodging alternative because we were planning on going down and up the canyon in one day. There are campsites at the bottom of the Canyon near the Colorado River for those who want to split up the trek and enjoy the scenery.
We left the KOA site at approximately 6:30 a.m. and started our drive to the Grand Canyon. The drive is about 50 minutes. We parked the car at the Bright Angel public parking lot and took a short shuttle bus ride to the South Kaibab trail head. No need to park at the beginning of the South Kaibab trail head! You will finish the hike near the Bright Angel Log and will need to take a bus back to your car if you parked at the South Kaibab trail head. Trust me, you will want nothing more than to hop in your warm car after a day’s worth of trekking in the canyons!
Here’s the beginning of the South Kaibab trail head. It includes a lot of warnings. Rightly so, this is a serious hike!
We started hiking at the beginning of the South Kaibab trail head and was granted the privilege of beautiful clear weather. Up, down, left, right, there was nothing but gorgeous canyons surrounding us as we began our way down the trail.
Here is a photo from the top of the trail head:
Be sure to grab a few photos at the ‘OOH AHH” point.
Keep in mind, you are hiking into the canyons, which means you must go down first before you come back up. It is important to pace yourself both mentally and physically because the way up is even more strenuous. My favorite thing about this particular hike is how nicely the trails are paved and maintained. It really frees up your mind so that you spend more time looking up and taking in the scenery instead of worrying about which step you are going to take next.
You can see the trail switchbacks snaking through the canyon as you make your way down:
It’s amazing how much the character of the canyons start to change as you go deeper and deeper into the canyons. Things become much more eye-level and you start to see the vastness of the different elements that make up the canyon. The rocks, cacti, shrubs, glimpses of the river, and the colors.
About two hours into the hike, you will start to see the Colorado River:
Another great thing about this hike is that there are bathrooms every few miles. First restroom is at Cedar Ridge which is about 1.5 miles into the hike. The second bathroom is located at Tip Off where the trail splits off into Tonto West trail and the Colorado River trail. The Tonto West trail is about 3 miles shorter than if you were to go all the way down to the river.
Here is the sign. At this point, you are at about 4.5 miles. If you have come prepared with enough snacks, water, and the right gear, I am jumping up and down as I encourage you to continue down to the river. It is one of the most beautiful nature sites I have seen in my old age of 31 😉 Take a break, grab a snack, pee and keep going!
Down and down you will go walking over a rockier less even trail. The river looks close but it is still about 2.6 miles before you get to the black bridge.
This is where the famous Phantom Ranch is located. If you are lucky enough, you can book an overnight stay here to soak in the beauty of your surroundings in a much more leisurely manner. This is a much coveted lodge and you now have to enter your name into a lottery in order to have a chance at staying here overnight.
You are also able to camp overnight if you have the permit. Unfortunately for my legs, the trek continues…The environment down here feels much more quaint and simple. There are more trees and little creeks that run off from the river. It was a flashback to the “Little House on the Prairie”:
You will see the Bright Angel Trail sign. This is the direction you should go if you are planning to hike back up to the top of the canyon. It will take you over one more bridge and then you will be well on your way…..UP! (There is a pretty nice bathroom down here too if you need to take a poo or pee. Be sure to empty as much as possible! Oh, and you can fill up with fresh water as there is a water fountain available as well!)
I honestly felt sad to have to leave this area so quickly. A feeling of calmness and serenity swept over me as soon as I entered this part of the Canyon. The river was so blue and quiet.
Knowing that it was all uphill from now made my stomach turn a little bit too. I would recommend taking a 15-20 minute break after walking across the bridge. On that note, breaks are incredibly important to surviving this trek. During your breaks, you should avoid sitting down because it’ll cool down your muscles and heart rate making it much more difficult to get going again. I snacked on some cured meats for protein, pickles for electrolytes, bread and honey for carbohydrates and the extra boost of energy.
Another 4.7 miles and you will arrive at the Indian Garden campground. It is a small campsite tucked away under a lot of trees and shrubs. It isn’t much as far as scenery, but there is a small creek that runs through the site that adds a little sparkle for the exhausted hiker.
The Bright Angel Trail continues to become more and more of an incline once you pass the Indian Garden campground. I found myself paying less and less attention to majestic views and more attention to all the aches and pains from walking more than half the day. It is at this point where you have to start working your mental stamina. I realized that where your mind goes, your body will follow so I sucked it up and told myself that I would make it. The sun starts to go down and the canyons start to change color. Don’t make the same mistake I did and look up and around as much as possible!
The soft pastel colors of the sky start to melt into the canyon around 4-5 p.m.:
The switchbacks become more frequent as you get closer to the top of the trail. You will see a bathroom at the 3 mile mark. This is a good time to take your final break before you finish out the trail. I recommend the Gu energy pouch. It is chalk full of vitamins and electrolytes that will buy you at least 2 more hours worth of energy:
Look who I ran into on the way up. Pretty sure he was cheering me on:
About 1.5 miles to the top, you will see the first tunnel of the trail. I took this picture off of google because I forgot to take a picture of it during the hike. My mom says its the gate to hell because of how difficult the last few miles of the trail are:
Once you see this tunnel you will feel a sense of relief but beware. With less than 1 mile from the finish line, I found myself getting more and more tired as the day was starting to get dark. Mom was right! I had passed through the entrance to hell!!
I sat down and tried to re-gain some strength but found myself getting even more tired and cold. I took a deep breathe and managed to take some time to reflect on the huge feat that I was about to accomplish on New Year’s Eve. The take away for me is this: “the body follows where the mind is”.
This is probably one of my favorite moments of the trek:
Thank you so much to my mom and her hiking club!! You ladies are truly inspiring and I am grateful to have tagged along without a care in the world! Happy New Year’s to you and me! I hope 2018 will bring many more worthy challenges, rewards, and gratifying experiences. Cheers!