I woke up the next morning feeling pretty good. I had been able to get a decent night sleep in spite of my leaky air mattress and the cold. There was a bit of wood left so I got a nice little morning campfire glowing to keep the chill off while I packed up my site. I walked over to Gary’s camp and woke him up, and I made him some coffee.
Once we had our sites broken down we made our way for the Back Country Office to adjust Gary’s permit to include me. Neither of us were sure how difficult this would be, but we both felt good about our chances. His permit already provided for camp space so adding me shouldn’t be a thing. Turns out it wasn’t at all, and the Park Ranger made the change and took my $10. Done and done.
We stopped by the incredibly well stocked market and picked up some last minute provisions. I bought a few canned goods and food stuffs and forced them down into my pack. Once I had that pack synched down I was very surprised by how heavy it was. I thought I had packed a bit lighter as all that was really in my bag was a change of shirt, underwear, and socks, my sleeping bag, some food, a couple Foster’s beers to crack open once we’d reached the bottom, a days worth of water, and my 4/20 kit.
I’m not stranger to heavy ruck sacks since my days in the military, but it had been a long time since I threw one on my back and took off for a long walk. I helped Gary get his ruck straight and packed a little smaller and we were off to the Visitor Center where we instructed to leave our vehicles. Gary let me throw my extra gear into his Altima, and we found the shuttle bus that would take us to the South Kaibob Trailhead.
Once we started down the trail it was hard not stop every few minutes to take some pictures of what lay before us. The Grand Canyon being huge is an understatement. I had always heard that you are not prepared for the scale of this hole in the ground and pictures could never do it justice as the immensity of the canyon stretches so far past a picture frame edge.
Towards the beginning and top of the trail we constantly around day hikers. There was a bit of an obstacle course to get around them as we made our way down. There wasn’t much annoyance at this as we both knew that these hikers would start turning around and the trail would eventually be left to the two of us.
The trail has rest stops set up every mile and half or so on the way down the 7 mile trek to the bottom. At our first stop we chit chatted with a couple young women who had been able to secure a walk up permit as well. Gary and I decided to pull the 4/20 kit out and slide down the side of the canyon a bit to put the kit to good use. Once we were in the right mindset we took off again ever downward into that hole. The day hikers were fewer and farther between at this point. Signs appeared that said “Going down is optional. Going up is mandatory.” I think this put things in perspective for the day hikers. It certainly did for me.
We came to an outcropping as we hiked where a large pile of stones had been assembled by passers-by. I realized that we were supposed to add our own stones to this pile as a sort of right of passage. I picked decent rock and scrambled my way to the top of the pile to set my stone on the top as this is where I always put my stones when confronted with a pile. I’m sure it will rest there for a million years or until the next guy puts his stone on top of mine.
At about the half way point down the trail my knees and ankles started to complain with not so subtle aches. With each step down my knees would get a bit more wobbly, and Gary and I both agreed that we should have bought some hiking poles. I had always wondered what those hiking poles were for and I finally understood. They provide stability and relief from the constant pounding of the stepping downward with a full pack on your back.
The deeper we got into The Grand Canyon the more the scenery and trail began to change. Everything started resemble a hike through another part of the world and not what we had been accustomed too. The trail was meticulously maintained and at points appeared to be carved out of the cliff face. A solid rock wall would be on one side of the trail while a sheer drop of hundreds of feet would be on the other. It was obvious that a loss of balance could lead to an early demise. We continued our downward path stopping frequently to take pictures. Gary took more photos than I did. The wide open space of the canyon was amazing to Gary. He was stoked to be on this adventure just as I was, but as this was the first real adventure of his life the awesomeness of the scenery slowed his pace as he took it all in. I would hike forward a while and then stop to rest as I waited for him to catch up. We weren’t in a hurry and I wanted him to enjoy every minute of his adventure.
We rounded bends. We walked through draws and canyon corners. Every now and again a spot in the trail would be so ideal that I would have to stop to take a few photos. After about 3 hours of working our way down each level of the canyon we found our first glimpse of the bottom and the Colorado River. It was green.
As the day progressed some dark clouds began to move in and suddenly I was forced with the realization that we may be caught in a rain storm. This left me uneasy as the trail would turn to slippery mix of gravel and red mud. We had both experienced slips in balance on the dry trail and trying to continue on through a wet trail scared me a bit. We pressed on dirty, sweaty, and tired deeper into the canyon.
I wasn’t expecting to see man made bridges crossing the Colorado, but after a quick look at my map I saw that the Bright Angel Campground was actually on the northern shore of the river. We made our way towards the bridge and eventually came to a man made tunnel dug out of the cliff side. We passed through into the darkness walking in the pitch black of the tunnel. As we came out the other side the canyon floor and Colorado River opened up below us. We were awestruck in the beauty of this oasis at the bottom of The Grand Canyon as neither of us were expecting such a thriving and lush ecosystem. The temperature had been slowly rising as we hiked down the trail and at the bottom was easily 15 to 20 degrees warmer at about 75′. It was perfect and beautiful.
As we reached the other side of the bridge we made our way past thousand year old Native American ruins and vegetation. The beach of the Colorado at Bright Angel was calling my name but but there was to much to do before I could enjoy it. The sun was setting, my lower body was screaming at me to put my pack down, and I was starving from the long hike.
I was not expecting to find the little Ranger/employee village at the campsite. Decent sized cottages were spread out across the shore that housed the workers and lucky ones who got to live at the bottom of The Grand Canyon. I could not think of a more amazing place to live.
The Bright Angel Campground sat adjacent to a crystal clear stream that was so cool and refreshing that I drank it from my cupped hands as I washed the grime of the hike off of myself. I stashed my Fosters beers in the creek to cool off and went about setting up my camp. Once our tents were up we sat at our picnic table and talked about the day as we heated up our meals and drank our beers. Campfires were not allowed at this campsite or anywhere within the canyon so we ate and talked in the dark. After a while Gary and I decided to head down to the river front and enjoy the night sky which was framed by the canyon walls. I sat on the beach and felt the sand between my toes until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.