Ascent via Bright Angel Trail
[Grand Canyon National Park, Sun, Nov 26, 2017]
I think I speak for all three of us when I say that we did not want to leave Phantom Ranch. I could have easily spent a week here hiking around and relaxing. Alas, we had an 11 mile trek back up to the top, so we had an early breakfast (5:30 am!!!), then packed our bags and headed out at dawn.
We took a different trail to the top. Bright Angel trail is more popular than the South Kaibab Trail we took on the way down. It’s longer but it’s not as steep, and it’s more easily accessible – you could park your car here, while South Kaibab is only accessible via the park shuttle.
Leaving Phantom Ranch, we headed the way we came, but soon veered off the to the right to cross the Colorado river via Silver bridge (we had crossed Black bridge on the way down). These two bridges provide the only crossings of the Colorado river for hundreds of miles. While hikers and mules are allowed on Black bridge, Silver bridge is for foot traffic only. Mules coming down Bright Angel trail take a detour along the river until they reach the South Kaibab trail and the Black bridge. While the Black bridge was build in the 1920s, Silver bridge didn’t come into existence until the 1960s. Silver bridge also provides a support structure for trans-canyon water pipeline, which pumps out 500,000 gallons of water per day and supplies the South Rim with all of its water. We did see the pipeline as we approached the bridge, but I didn’t take a picture because I didn’t know all this until I read about it here. 🙂
The trail continued along the Colorado river for a little while, then headed away from it along a side canyon. Looking back towards where we came, we recognized Zoroaster Temple, which we hiked to the day before.
Small streams were always nearby, which meant more vegetation and trees than we were used to on the other trail. Some of the trees were showing off their fall foliage! This part of the hike was just so pretty and barely looked like the “traditional” Grand Canyon.
We also had to cross the streams several times; luckily, this time of year the streams are small but we still appreciated having some bigger rocks to step on and our hiking poles for balance.
The first 5-6 miles went by quickly without too much of an incline. By the time we reached Indian Garden, the first rest stop along the way, we had only climbed out 1400 ft. We still had 3000 ft to go and only 4.5 miles to do so.
From Indian Garden, it was a slow and steep climb up. We saw another pack of mules coming down, and day hikers followed soon after.
We gauged how far we were from the top based on how well the day hikers were prepared – the higher we got, the more casually dressed people were. Still, the trail seemed like it was never ending. We had a couple of rest houses along the way – one 3 miles from the top, and another 1.5 miles from the top, which provided much needed benches and toilets. Our view of the canyon stayed pretty much the same – vantage point didn’t change, just the elevation we were at. Because of this, we liked the views from the South Kaibab better – that trail meandered a lot more, providing views of the canyon from different angles. The series of photos below should give you a good idea of the progression going up.
Finally, 6.5 hours after we started, we got to the top! It felt like such an accomplishment – almost like finishing a race, except we didn’t get a medal!
It was now almost 2 pm, and many people were congregating around the trailhead trying to decide whether they should descend for a bit and how far to go. We saw people in Uggs, in flip flops – we tried to encourage them to go down, but not too far in such footwear! People kept asking us how far down we’d gone, and they were flabbergasted that we’d gone all the way down and all the way back up – though not in the same day.
We caught the shuttle from here, and luckily we were just one stop away from Maswik lodge, where we were spending the night again. We made a bee-line for the food court, where we indulged in beers again. Hike, drink beer – it’s a great combo!
After much-needed showers and rest in the hotel, we went back to the visitor center to do some final shopping, then the historic El Tovar hotel, where we had dinner reservations. We got there just in time to see one last sunset over the canyon! That view never gets old.
El Tovar, which first opened in 1905, sits directly on the rim. Much like may of the hotels in Glacier National Park, it was built in conjunction with a railway (the Santa Fe railway in this case), which wanted to give its customers a nice place to stay at the end of their train journey. El Tovar cost $250,000 to build in 1905 money – that is over $6.5 million in today’s money. It was considered one of the finest hotels west of the Mississippi, and in 1987 it was designated a national historic landmark. It is one of the crown jewels of the national park lodges, and we were excited to be able to experience it.
The lobby was dark but cozy, the famous Oregon pine logs it was built with visible all around together with some elk and bear heads mounted high up on the walls.
The dining room was big and we sat at a table near a window with views of the canyon. We watched the sun set as we were ordering our food. We couldn’t help but compare our surroundings from 24 hours ago with our surroundings now. Way to go from “rags to riches,” if you will! I wouldn’t have it any other way! 🙂