Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 1, Part 1

I woke up every one or two hours during the night, partially because of the cold, and partially because of my excitement and fear of oversleeping. Nearby, a large herd of Elk bugled all through the night. I was relieved when my alarm finally went off in the wee hours of the morning.

It took me all of five minutes to break camp in the national forest and get on the road to the backcountry permitting office. It was freezing cold at the bus stop outside of the office, but I decided against carrying the extra weight of a jacket, knowing that it would be warm in the canyon. As I waited for the bus to Yaki Point, the head of the South Kaibab trail, I struck up a conversation with a group from Seattle that had driven down to hike the canyon. There were four of them, all in their thirties. One of the guys, with a dark curly Mohawk and olive complexion, was especially friendly. We talked about traveling all the way to the trail head, where I left him, his wife, and their friends to start down the trail.

Honestly, the South Kaibab Trail was fairly uneventful. From the rim, I descended dozens of steep switchbacks, losing a thousand feet of elevation in just minutes. The Grand Canyon is rather unusual in that it is really a canyon within a canyon. Rather than being the steep continual descent that I had sometimes imagined, the trail actually levels out for significant portions of the hike.

After descending the initial rim, I hiked along the Tonto plateau for several miles, slowly going lower as the air around me began to get hotter. From the plateau on, there is virtually no shade, so I hiked very fast to avoid the midday heat, a feat which is virtually impossible because the climate gets continually warmer as you descend, with the temperature at the Colorado River being about 20-30 degrees hotter than the temperature at the south rim.

After only two hours of hiking, I began the final steep descent from a lower plateau, down the side of the inner canyon, to the mighty Colorado River. At the edge of the Colorado, the trail disappears into a cave, about 40 feet deep. The other side of the cave ends at a shear drop off, where Blacks Bridge, a ridged suspension bridge, carries you the couple hundred feet over the Colorado.

The trail was long and hot, but surprisingly not difficult, and I found as I finally saw the campground, less than three hours after I began the hike, that I was not especially tired. I passed many people who were also heading down, some of whom seemed to be struggling, and some of whom were fine, and I somehow managed to be the first camper at the camp ground, having started nearly an hour later than some of the other hikers that I passed.

To Be Continued…

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