View to the west as we hiked along the Colorado on the Bright Angel Trail

We woke early (before 4:30 am) on Day 5 of our Grand Canyon rim to rim hike trip. I woke before the alarm sounded and pulled my equipment off the hooks on the wall next to my bunk so I could arrange it on my bunk. The bunk house was dark. I had expected more activity, even this early. I turned off my alarm and quietly prepared for the day. Sean and Mike were on top bunks also on the other side of the narrow walkway between the bunk-beds. I noticed Mike checking the time on his phone. He must have turned off his alarm to because it didn’t sound either. I climbed down off my bunk and noticed that the bunk below me was now empty. That guy got up early and must have been very quiet! I moved my stuff onto the empty bunk which made getting organized much easier. After my stuff was ready, I woke Sean up and had him hand me his things so I could pack for him while he put on his hiking boots.

We were out of the dorm in about 15 minutes, with all our gear. Only a few whispers had been exchanged. We walked toward the dining hall in the darkness to meet with Jenny. After dropping my gear with the others by one of the picnic tables I went to the back of the dining hall to pick up the bag lunches we we eat for lunch. I cooked up some instant oatmeal and coffee for a quick breakfast. After we redistributed some things and had the lunches stowed away in our small packs, we headed south toward the Colorado River crossing. We were on our way about 5:10 am, just a little before sunrise.

Leaving Phantom Ranch toward the Colorado River

We were to the Colorado and ready to cross a little after sunrise, although we would not see or feel the sun for several more hours thanks to the canyon walls.

The Silver Bridge crossing the Colorado River

Mike took a picture with a unique perspective of me crossing the bridge. I like the perspective, but I look a little like I’m waddling not walking. I don’t remember being sore at this point, so it must just be the angle…

Crossing the Colorado River on the Silver Bridge

The Bright Angel trail follows the Colorado for quite a ways after you cross the bridge.

Jenny and Eric Rial on the Bright Angel Trail above the Colorado river

Although we weren’t in the sun, it was lighting up parts of the canyon ahead of us as we hiked beside the river.

The Colorado winding through the Grand Canyon beside the Bright Angel Trail

It was much further than I remembered before we turned uphill, but eventually we did turn up hill. Jenny was happy to be going uphill after the long downhill hike the day before. She prefers the uphills to going down hill. I have no problems with downhill hikes, but was not looking forward to the steady climb ahead of us. The switchbacks make it easier, but eventually, after enough of them, you still feel it!

Switchbacks as you move away from the Colorado and climb on the Bright Angel Trail

Based on my memories of this hike last time, the I knew that as we got higher up the views would be pretty much the same as you looked out on the canyon, but before Indian Garden there would be some interesting and different views along the trail.

The group as we head up Bright Angel Trail June 3rd 2014

Another of my favorite parts of the hike is a little less than a mile before Indian Garden. There is a creek beside the trail and the trail curves along a canyon wall with the creek well below the trail. There is a small waterfalls and trees. It’s a cool place.

Small water falls along Bright Angel Trail a little ways below Indian Garden

Speaking of cool things, if there is a favorite part of this hike you want to share with someone, or you want to relive the whole trail yourself in the comfort of your home, check out the Google Street views of the Bright Angel trail. They also have street views for the South Kaibab trail and the area around Phantom Ranch. Here is the Google street view for the same location where the last picture was taken (click and hold the mouse button then move the mouse to “look around”).  I guess I can leave my camera in my pocket next time!

We had lunch at Indian Gardens on these benches.

Benches at Indian Gardens Campground

We had some shade, and the squirrels were entertaining when they weren’t annoying. They obviously live on human food obtained from inattentive hikers. They didn’t get any of ours but we saw one squirrel nab a bag of drink mix from some ladies over by the corral. He carried it in to a thick bush across the trail from us. That’s when it got interesting. A crow, obviously very interested in nabbing some human food too, hopped… cawing all the way over to the bush. Unbelievably the crow actually squirmed its way into the bush. There was lot’s of cawing, and rustling in the bush, but we never learned the outcome of the struggle! In such tight quarters, my money was on the squirrel.

After lunch we were back on the trail. It was a little after 10 am and we were about half way, but most of the climbing and heat was ahead of us.

A mule train passed us just as we were leaving Indian Gardens. Not sure I would enjoy a long ride on one of these, but on long backpack trips I’ve definitely considered getting a pet mule (to carry my pack)!

Mule Train near Indian Gardens June 3rd 2014

There was little to no shade once we left Indian Gardens, and no stream to cool off in so we took our time, rested in the shade, and used some of our water to keep our hats and shirts wet. This helped keep us cool, and making steady progress. There is an open canyon south of Indian Gardens as you climb the Bright Angel Trail.

View into the canyon south of Indian Gardens

At this part of the day it is dry, hot, and there is little shade to be found until you get to the end of this canyon. And then at the end of the canyon you get to climb seemingly endless switchbacks!

Switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail above Indian Gardens

Not too far after this first set of switchbacks is the 3 mile rest house. The reason Bright Angel trail is “the way to hike out of the Grand Canyon” to the south is the regular water stops. After Indian Gardens there is a water stop every 1.5 miles. The South Kaibab trail has no water stops! I hope to hike into the canyon on that trail one day, but I’m sure I won’t be hiking out that way.

We took full advantage of the rest houses on the way out of the canyon. We had no stew dinner reservation driving us, and at a certain point, usually around 4, it starts to cool off and the sun sinks far enough in the west to put parts of the trail back into the shade.

Although it feels like you are making good progress, all you have to do is look up, and you realize there is still a lot more switchbacks in your future!

Jenny and Sean taking a break on the Bright Angel Trail

But we kept climbing!

Jenny and Sean ahead of me on the Bright Angel trail

By the time we reached the 1.5 mile rest house we were pretty hot and tired. It was around 2:30. My cousin Mike had hiked ahead of us after Indian Garden, and we had no “time goal” for finishing. We decided to hang out in the rest house for at least an hour to let the sun move a bit further to the west. We actually rested there for a little over any hour, and it was time well spent. Less than 15 more minutes up the trail we were back in the shade!

Entering the late afternoon shade on the Bright Angel Trail

At this point we could see the last big set of switchbacks ahead of us. This is also one of my favorite parts of the trail. The trail seems to dead-end into the shear white limestone walls.

Entering the late afternoon shade on the Bright Angel Trail

The same limestone walls frame the terrific view near the top of the switchbacks.

Near the top of the last set of switchbacks close to the top of the Bright Angel Trail

You know you are getting close to the top of the trail by the number of fresh looking/smelling people you see.

Nearing the top of the Bright Angel Trail

Even though I knew we were close to the top, when I saw the outcropping with the square tunnel in it in the distance I was extremely happy! We had made it!

Sqare Tunnel in limestone outcropping very near the top of Bright Angel Trail

All that was left to do was smile for the group picture at the tunnel…

Group picture at the tunnel near the top of Bright Angel trail

and at the Bright Angel trailhead sign.

Tired - Happy - Successful Rim to Rim hikers

I had given the keys to the Jeep to Mike before he went ahead of us, so we had to reconnect with him before checking in to the hotel. Mike had finish about 3 hours ahead of us. He got his picture at the tunnel…

Mike at the tunnel near the end of the Bright Angel Trail

and at the trailhead sign (a slightly different one).

Mike at the Bright Angel trailhead sign

Then he had headed to the pub! We got him on the phone and arranged meeting at the car (about a half mile from the trailhead). We drove back and parked right beside the Thunderbird (score on the good parking spot), then went to the Bright Angel lodge desk to check in. We were happy to be staying at the Thunderbird because the rooms were all air-conditioned. We had a non-air conditioned room at Maswik Lodge the first night at the Grand Canyon, and it had been uncomfortably hot all night long. Even though it got into the 40’s outside the room, and we left the window open, it had stayed in the 90 degree range all night in the room. After checking in, we grabbed our “fresh clothes” bags from the car and headed to the room.

As soon as I walked in to our room at the Thunderbird I got concerned. It was unbearably hot in the room. I checked the A/C controls, then I called the front desk! The A/C was broken, and would not be fixed! I was sounding terrible on the phone. My laryngitis was in full swing so my voice was a barely audible gravely whisper. I asked if there were any rooms available with A/C. They said there were, but only a couple of suites in the El Tovar Hotel. One suite had only one bed – a king bed but no room for 2 rollout beds. The other was the Presidential Suite! The woman on the phone was very sympathetic and said she would contact the manager and let us know if they could give us a break on the price. She called back just before I was ready to call and just pay full price. She said they would give us a really good price break for the one night. So we moved into the El Tovar Presidental Suite!

Our feet were a bit sore so as we checked in we asked if we could get reservations at the El Tovar dining room. Apparently this is easier to do last-minute when you are staying in the Presidential Suite. We had an hour to get ready. The room was amazing, the A/C felt great, and the very delayed shower felt even better! There was room for a very large party on the room’s balcony. I had taken a picture of the balcony, but it was hard to tell the size with no one there. So… Jenny looks very refreshed from her shower standing on the balcony!

Jenny on the balcony of our room at the El Tovar

Our dinner reservations were for 9 pm, and even though the showers had been refreshing and invigorating, we were pretty tired as we headed for dinner. We order salads with our dinner and had a fun conversation with our waiter. He had worked here for over 30 years and had lots of good stories. My favorite was the time, the first summer he worked here, that he and a couple of friends decided to make a lunch and “walk down to the river”. It was all fun and games going down and at the river. They thought they were giving themselves plenty of time to go back up, but realized very soon that hiking up was much tougher than hiking down. It was dark and very cold by they time they got out. They didn’t have coats or flashlights. Lesson learned!

Jenny and I had beer with our meals. We devoured the salads, but by the time the main course came all of us were done! No one managed to eat even half of their meal. It was enjoyable though and we had only a short walk back to the room and our nice comfortable beds in our nice cool room! What a great night’s sleep!

In the morning I woke about 45 minute before everyone else. I made a coffee with the Keurig coffee maker in the main room and went out to sit on the balcony. What a great place to relax and enjoy the morning. The balcony had a tremendous view of the canyon. I tried out the Panoramic Mode on my cell phone to get this picture.

Panoramic picture from the balcony of the Presidential Suite at the El Tovar

I had been sold on the A/C so this was just frosting! Very relaxed morning. Jenny was next up and she joined me for coffee.

Jenny having coffee on the balcony of our room

We all enjoyed the room and the views that morning, but eventually it was time to hit the road back to San Diego. We took one last group picture of the hiking Amigos y Amiga before checking out of the room.

One more group picture on our balcony at the El Tovar

I don’t know when I’ll be back to the Grand Canyon again. I do know that if you haven’t been you should go. If you have been there you should go again. Originally this was going to be my first rim to rim to rim hike. A cold that just would not go away (some antibiotics finally did it in a couple of weeks later) got in the way of that goal. So one of these days I’ll go back and I’ll get to hike down the South Kaibab Trail, up the North Kaibab Trail, then I’ll get to turn around and go back. Until then I have lots of great memories of this hike and the last one.

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