Being only a 7 mile (11.1 km) hike down the South Kaibab trail to Bright Angel campground us “retirees” were in no rush to hit the trail at the crack of a below freezing dawn. Instead we started hiking Grand Canyon at 10:30am.
Only a little snow on the rim and trail but we still put on our ice grippers then dropped over the edge to descend along switchbacks called The Chimney through the 270 million year old Kaibab and Toroweap limestones.
We continued our descent 1140 feet (348 m) past the 275 million year old Coconino sandstone to Cedar Ridge which sits on 280 million year old Hermit shale. This is a popular 3 mile (4.8 km) round-trip day hike destination where we stopped to snack and enjoy the spectacular views. Already two hours into our hike and only 5 miles (8 km) to go. Feeling good!
O’Neill Butte up close
This butte was named after Buckey O’Neill who prospected in the canyon during the 1890s and promoted the railroad to the South Rim.
The endless views stopped us in our tracks almost every step of the way. Or was it the subtle aching in our knees?
From Skeleton Point (don’t ask why it’s named that) I could see the North Rim in the far distance and with binoculars just make out the Grand Lodge.
Looking over the edge I could even see Phantom Ranch, our destination for the next two nights, nestled in the fall colored trees. So close yet still 3.9 miles (6.3 km) away.
The next 500 vertical feet (150 m) of switchbacks, called The Red and Whites, drop along the 340 million year old Redwall limestone.
I had to remind myself to look back up once in awhile and was rewarded with this natural arch high above.
Yet most important was keeping my eyes on the trail, like at The Tipoff which plunges into the 1600 foot (488 m) deep Granite Gorge. Only 2.3 miles (3.7 km) to go.
With more views…
…at Panorama Point.
Then only 1200 feet (366 m), straight down, plus just over a mile more to the tunnel, Black Bridge and Colorado River through the 1.7 billion year old Vishnu Schist. Oh no, not more down. By now my right knee was very tender.
Once again I could see our destination and it seemed so close at hand. But it wasn’t until after sunset that we walked into Bright Angel campground, 7.5 hours after having left the South Rim.
We were exhausted. This is the first time I’ve had problems with my knees going downhill. Thank goodness we could enjoy a complete days of recovery in the bottom of the canyon before making the climb back out.
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