Friday, October 24, 2008

It's All Downhill from Here

Each morning, the hikers shuttle departs from the Backcountry Information Office and goes directly to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Since we're hiking down the South Kaibab, and back up the Bright Angel trail, we've left the car at the Backcountry Info Office until we get back in a couple days.

Almost every seat on our 7 a.m. shuttle was full. I tried not to get psyched out by how fit and experienced the other hikers on the bus looked.

After a short ride, we were at the trailhead. The waiting canyon looked beautiful in the morning light.

The park service rescues many hikers in the Grand Canyon, often due to heat exhaustion and other heat-related problems. This sign warns us again about the dangers of heat and dehyddration. (So different from New Hampshire, where even in summer we have to be cautious about hypothermia.)

We let most of the hikers on the bus head out before us. Many of them are hiking quickly, on a mission. We want to go slowly and enjoy the trail in relative solitude.

Plus, every few minutes I stop and ask Jim to take another picture (as if he isn't already snapping plenty.)

The South Kaibab Trail was built by the National Park Service shortly after the Grand Canyon became a national park. At that time, a miner had laid claim to the Bright Angel trail. The miner charged a $1 toll for everyone who used the Bright Angel Trail - and would make about $20,000 a year from tolls. That was serious money at the time. (It's not exactly chump change now.)

While the Bright Angel Trail follows a stream for much of the way, and is tucked into a ravine, the South Kaibab Trail was built to have spectacular views. It descends along a ridge into the canyon.

October is a great time of year for hiking here. The intense summer heat has dissipated and it's unlikely that there will be snow, ice, rain or lightning.

Starting out on our hike, it's about 35°. By the time we reach the canyon floor, it will be in the 50's on the rim, and in the 80's in the canyon. In the summer, the inner canyon gets up to 110° or 120° on a daily basis. I'm a northerner - I don't do so well exercising in heat. October is a good month for me to be here!

Looking back, we can see the progress we've made descending those switchbacks.

There are gorgeous views everywhere.

Ahead I can see Cedar Ridge. Viewing this section of trail from the rim yesterday made me a little apprehensive. I'm not even afraid of heights, but the dizzying heights and skinny trails are spectacular and a little intimidating.

Past Cedar Ridge, I can see O'Neill Butte. We've been looking toward it all morning so far. It still seems far away.

Looking back up the rim, I can tell we've made some progress.

Cedar Ridge is getting really close. I start reciting my mantra for the day, "If mules can do it, so can I. If mules can do it, so can I."

Looks like it's time for my Cedar Ridge moment of truth. We're walking in red dust now, instead of the white limestone dust in the first layer of the canyon.

Phew! That wasn't so bad!!! We're about 1/3 of the way to the bottom, but this section had me scared. Now I'm feeling more confident!

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