Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail
“The most exhausting, yet rewarding, day hike in Grand Canyon punctuated with a stunning river view” read the sign describing the 12.2 mile, 6000 foot elevation change, 8-12 hour Bright Angel Trail. Sarah and I stood alone shivering in front of the still closed Grand Canyon visitor center early in the morning haven woken up early to beat the crowds that had yet to materialize.
We had left Texas three days earlier, stopping for two nights in the picturesque city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. There we visited the Bandalier and Pecos National Parks observing and learning about the various Native American pueblo cultures that preceeded the white man’s arrival, and touring the slightly creepy nuclear science museum in Los Alamos, home of World War 2′s Manhattan Project. A full day’s drive from New Mexico with a detour through the Petrified Forest of Arizona took us to the edge of the Canyon.
There were other hiking options besides the Bright Angel Trail, including a Rim Walk with no elevation change, but we were prepared for a challenge. We came sporting our hiking pants and boots and were carrying four large bottles of water and plenty of food. We both agreed to the hike and started our descent walking past snow on the ground, traveling back and forth along a narrow trail alternating between shade and sun. Eventually we warmed up as we went lower and our jackets came off and remained off for the rest of the day.
We breezed past the aptly named 1.5 mile turnaround and then 3 mile turnaround point. Each location had a few benches, water stations we unfortuately hadn’t known existed (although they had just been turned on for the season that day), and signs warning of dire consequences to the unprepared. One witty sign said that to continue “Down is optional, but up was mandatory” while another showed a picture of a young fit guy and stated that most rescues were of males 18-40 years old. My personal favorite showed a squirrel biting off the finger of someone who tried to feed it. Another mile and a half down took us to the third turn around point, Indian Gardens, and from there we hiked for an additional 40 minutes along flat terrain to the Plateau Point overlooking the Colorado River. Now I have to say while the top of the canyon is impressive, the views inside the canyon are a bit of a letdown until you reach this point. Here you can really appreciate how far down you came and see and hear the river below.
We had taken about 4 hours to descend but anticipated a longer return since the Grand Canyon is an atypical hike in that the difficulty increases when you turn around. After eating our lunch and drinking more water we began our trek upward. Putting our heads down and one foot in front of the other we made it back in surprisingly not much more time than it took us to go down. At the top the crowds had clearly arrived walking around and snapping pictures with way too much energy. Our adrenaline ebbed as we walked back to our car and we continued to hobble around very slowly for days afterward.