I recently got the chance to spend 11 days hiking in the Grand Canyon. The first part of the trip was a five-day, 46-mile Royal Arch Loop off of the South Bass Trailhead in the western part of the park. I am still going through the myriad pictures and videos for that trip and will post about that soon. I hiked out the South Bass Trail on October 11th, got dropped off at the South Kaibab Trailhead in the main part of the park and hiked back down to participate in the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Service Project at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds. In addition to my work event, I managed to hike up to the North Rim and back out the South Rim, completing my first Rim to Rim to Rim over six days.
Day 1- After hiking out the South Bass Trail in the morning to complete my Royal Arch Loop, I got dropped off at the South Kaibab TH at 3:45 pm to hike back into the Canyon for the annual GCHBA Service Project. I had a spot waiting for me at Bright Angel Campground and a stew dinner reservation at 6:30 pm. Food and beer have never been a greater motivator, and I flew down the South Kaibab, which was in fantastic shape. After Skeleton Point, passed this guy who you could tell thought he was a big tough guy for coming up the South Kaibab. As I came practically running down the trail wearing a full backpack, smile on my face, loving the moment, he said, “Bet you won’t feel so good on the way up.” To which I replied, “Actually, I’m hiking back in, I’ve already hiked out today- have a great hike!” When I got down to the Black Bridge, I took a picture to check my hiking time and was shocked to see I’d made it down in 2:02! (for comparison, the first time I hiked down the South Kaibab in 2001 it took me over six hours and I literally limped into camp.)
Now that I had 45 minutes until dinner, I went over to the campground and was happy to see Ranger Della. I told her that I was supposed to stay in the stock site, and she told me to wait a minute and see if she could get me the River Ranger Residence instead. It was my lucky day for sure because instead of sleeping near the mules in the stock site, I now had an entire little house to myself at the bottom of the canyon. Shower, phone, laundry and a bed that were all going to feel so good after having been out for 6 days already on the Royal Arch Loop. But first- my stew dinner and a couple of icy Tecates.
Day 2- I started up the North Kaibab to meet up with the rest of my group at Cottonwood CG for the work event. The past five days of hiking had caught up with me and I was tired, but thankful that I had one of the easiest pieces of the GC ahead. I got to the Ribbon Falls turnoff and took the creek over to the falls. It had gotten really warm, so I decided a siesta on the flat rocks above the creek opposite the falls was in order.
After a short nap, I continued to Cottonwood where I checked in with Ranger Bil Vandergraff and met the rest of my work crew. Later, we made our way over to our lodging at the Pumphouse Residence, also known as the Aiken House, where I was greeted by our house mom with a icy glass of lemonade and some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. I chose to sleep under the stars rather than in one of the bunkhouse beds.
Day 3- We hiked over to Cottonwood to work on various maintenance jobs at the campground with Ranger Bil. I got to see some brand-new Arizona Trail maps that will be on display in the corridor campgrounds- it’s about time the AZT was signed through the park! Talked to Bil about creating and installing signs that give the mileage north to Utah and south to Mexico. He said- you build it, I’ll make sure you can install it. Sweet! After working at Cottonwood, we commuted back to the Aiken house.
Day 4- We had a free day and five of us wanted to hike the Old Bright Angel Loop. We got up to find that there had been a pipeline break and so we had to switch to backpacking mode at the house and carry up all our water from the creek. We went up the North Kaibab and got to see some spectacular stands of maples and aspen.
Video of the fall colors:
When we reached the trailhead, it was already 12 pm. After a comedy of errors involving trying to drive over to another trailhead for Ken Patrick Trail that looked like a shortcut but wasn’t, we realized to start down a trail notorious for routefinding issues with so few hours of light left was a terrible idea. So for our Plan B, we hiked along the Transept Trail toward the lodge and went for pizza, beer, and ice cream. Way to salvage the day!
I even managed to get us a ride on the employee shuttle for the two boring miles back to the trailhead. Three of our group sped off to see how fast they could make it to the Aiken House, while I hung back with Russell and enjoyed the hike down, especially the last 45 minutes in the moonlight. The Aiken house is where Bruce Aiken lived and raised his family from 1973-2006 while tending to the pumphouse and painting in his free time. His kids used to have a lemonade stand for passers-by. I remember reading that Mary Aiken had to hike out the 4.7 miles/3600 ft elevation gain up the North Kaibab Trail from her house while pregnant to deliver her children. The youngest of their three children, Silas, has now returned to his boyhood home and is working seasonally as a ranger. It was really interesting to talk to him about growing up in the Grand Canyon. Silas also gave us a choice of postcards with his father’s paintings- I chose one of Ribbon Falls that looks like the perspective is from my siesta spot from a couple of days earlier. One last night spent sleeping on the helipad.
Day 5- After helping with some maintenance stuff at the Aiken House, we had the rest of the day to hike down to the River Ranger Residence where the group would spend our last two nights. On the way, we explored Wall Creek up to the first waterfall, which was about an hour in. Gorgeous canyon- the narrows and waterfall are wonderful- it’s definitely one I’d like to spend more time in. It was also nice to be somewhere that the Rim-to-Rim runners weren’t anywhere nearby. As this was the last weekend before the North Rim closed, Rim to Rim runners were all over the place. A strange breed indeed. I cannot think of anything less appealing than rushing through the Grand Canyon.
After Wall Creek, we realized that if we were quick about it, we’d have one hour at the cantina before it closed for the afternoon. Like I said before, beer is a wonderful motivator and we rolled into the cantina exactly at 3pm. Three of us chose to sleep in the Bright Angel CG rather than over by the ranger station, and after setting up our stuff, we went to the Boat Beach. Two guys showed up shortly after, Ethan and Josh, and I asked them where they were hiking to. They replied that they were thru-biking the Arizona Trail. I told them that it was their lucky day because I absolutely adore helping anyone trying to complete the AZT and I hadn’t adopted a thru-hiker for fall yet. So now instead of a thru-hiker, I get to help two thru-bikers!
Day 6- We worked all day with Sjors at BAC, hacking the grass out of the irrigation ditches. Not the most fun job, but a necessary one. Plus, you get to hear Sjors’ stories, which are always great. We were back at the river ranger residence for lunch and one of the guys offers me a popsicle for dessert. A popsicle in the Grand Canyon!! We talked about how funny it would be to stand at the black bridge and eat it, but none of us were that mean. After working in the afternoon, Chris Forsyth, the leader of the service project, took me and Russell on the Old Miner’s Route up to the Tonto and down the South Kaibab. So cool to see an historic trail. One last moonlit night at the boat beach and the service project was over for another year.
Day 7- After cleaning up the river ranger residence, we started the hike out on the South Kaibab. I was hiking with Russell, a contractor from Texas, and Taylor, a hiking guide from Phoenix. I have never had a more enjoyable hike out of the canyon before. We were totally taking our time, stopping for scenery breaks and chatting with people hiking downhill. Right before Skeleton Point, we stopped for a snack and Taylor pulls out a metal platter and slices a bunch of summer sausage and cheese onto the platter for hors d’oeuvers. We offered it to another hiker coming uphill, and he didn’t even crack a smile. I, on the other hand, could have died laughing.
It was unlike any hike I’ve ever had coming out of the canyon- instead of being happy that we were almost at the top, we instead were sad that the whole thing was going to be over soon. We made it out in a leisurely and enjoyable seven hours and I completed my first rim to rim to rim. There was one last wonderful surprise left- when I unpacked my backpack upon arriving home, I realized that my dear friend Chris had slipped a brand-new Golite Chrome Dome umbrella in my pack. Awesome.
For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a Harris Hawk that we’d had since it was a juvenile. After assessing its ability to fly and kill live prey, we recently released him back into the wild.