Friday, October 24, 2008

Heating Up

O'Neill Butte has been the major landmark we've measured our progress against all day.

As we reach the end of Cedar Ridge, O'Neill Butte comes into focus.

There's a small viewpoint that some people visit on the way. Maybe we're the ones on a mission now, since we continue on the main trail.

As we approach O'Neill Butte, it feels much warmer.

The trail is very dusty. My legs and boots are turning red from the dust.

This section of trail from O'Neill Butte to Skeleton Point looks flat, but it descends at about the same rate as the rest of the trail. My legs were looking forward to a break from the constant descent.

Glad I have those convertible pants that turn into shorts. It's definitely getting warm now.

The tall flowers in this picture are agave plants. They bloom in a good year with a lot of rain - apparently like this year! They're often called "century plants", but it doesn't take 100 years for them to bloom. They do bloom only once in their lives, and it takes approximately 15 - 30 years for the plant to grow strong enough to produce this giant flower stalk.

Finally, we see our first view of the river on this hike. It's still a long way down there!

This next section of trail looked like a zigzag at the end of that long straightaway from the rim. Up close and personal it's even more remarkable.

We pass an abandoned mine as we start down this zigzag section of trail.

Believe it or not, we end up encountering mules on this steep section of trail. The rules around the mules are simple: stand still, facing the mules, on the uphill side of the trail.

Fortunately, at the end of a switchback we find enough room to stand comfortably and let the mules pass. The mules go in the opposite direction that we're going (they go down the Bright Angel and up the South Kaibab). We don't have to walk behind mules.

Mules are the professional climbers of the canyon and they're faster than all but the most experienced and speedy Grand Canyon hikers.

In the excitement of the mules passing us, we miss our chance to get a closeup photo of the halfway sign. I'm a little shocked that we're only halfway there. We've passed most of the landmarks we could see from the rim.

Plus I'm getting a little tired.

That little square sign is the official halfway point.

Now we emerge on the Tonto Plateau. There's a trail that stretches for miles along this plateau.

There's a small natural arch visible far above us. (This picture is zoomed in so you can see it!)

The Grand Canyon is home to a pink subspecies of the rattlesnake. These pink rattlesnakes are most frequently seen along the Tonto trail on this plateau. Fortunately, those sightings are rare, especially along the well-traveled South Kaibab Trail.

This is the last resthouse before Bright Angel Campground. Definitely one of the most scenically situated resthouses I've seen!

This area is where we start overtaking hikers who headed out quickly in the morning. Many of them are carrying backpacks, which makes their hike much more difficult than ours. Our packs weight about 10-15 pounds each - mostly due to the 4 liters of water that we're each carrying. There's no water available along this trail.

That green oasis down at the bottom of the canyon is Phantom Ranch!!!

We still have plenty of spectacular trail left to cover.

We got used to walking next to steep cliffs. A park ranger offered this bit of advice: "Always make sure there's a body length of ground between you and the edge. That way if you fall, you're just falling on something flat, rather than falling over the edge." These trails are wide enough that it's almost always possible to follow that advice.

The South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails are called the corridor trails by the park service. These are the recommended trails for people who haven't hiked the canyon before. Mules also use these trails, so the trails are wide and well-maintained, with good footing.

Looking at how much more trail we have to hike today, I'm feeling a little surprised.

There's another glimpse of Phantom Ranch.

Seems like a good time to pause in the shade of a rock for some rest and lunch. I'm feeling pretty fatigued at the moment.

During lunch, a group of pack mules passed us heading up the trail. Since the South Kaibab trail is the shortest route the mules can use, the pack mules go up and down the South Kaibab to supply Phantom Ranch and river rafters.

Luckily, lunch revived me!

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