The Arizona Trail Day 9 – Passage 39, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 16)

Grand Canyon’s formations on the north side of the Inner Gorge around Bright Angel Canyon, as viewed from Tipoff on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park. In the Inner Gorge, the Silver and Black Bridges can be seen, along with the mouth of Bright Angel Canyon and the creek delta, and Phantom Ranch. Formations such as Zoroaster’s Temple tower above.

Took a rare opportunity to sleep in a bit this morning. I’m familiar with the hike out from Phantom Ranch to the South Rim, even along the steeper South Kaibab Trail, so I’m relatively confident in even getting a slower start and still making it out by early evening. (Note – If I had not spent 6 months working here and accustomed to hiking here, I would not do this, so for those of you who may be considering hiking at Grand Canyon, please allow yourself plenty of time to hike out to the South Rim – ideally twice the amount of time that it took you to reach the bottom if you start from the South Rim, or about the same amount of time it took you to reach Phantom from the North Rim.). I get some breakfast at Phantom Ranch, the famous lodging within the Canyon designed by Mary Colter for the Fred Harvey Company and built at the bottom of Bright Angel Canyon just up from its junction with the Colorado River. Originally named Roosevelt Camp, Colter had the name changed to Phantom Ranch. All building materials other than rock (a prominent one, unsurprisingly) had to be hauled down by mule. Today, it is one of only two places in the United States where mail is still mailed by mule (and the cancellation stamps at the canteen proudly say so).

Around 11, I’m hiking out. The South Kaibab Trail turns east along the Colorado River from the mouth of Bright Angel Creek and passes Bright Angel Pueblo. The pueblo is 900-1000 years old, and was visited by John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Colorado River expedition, the first successful non-native attempt to raft the entire Grand Canyon.

The Kaibab Bridge from the South Kaibab Trail near Bright Angel Pueblo, Grand Canyon National Park
Bright Angel Pueblo, Grand Canyon National Park

From the Pueblo, the trail reaches the Kaibab Bridge, or Black Bridge, over the Colorado River. A 440 ft suspension bridge, it is the crossing for all mule trips from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch, and along with the Silver Bridge downstream (visible from the Kaibab Bridge) it is one of only two crossings between the Navajo Bridge at Lee’s Ferry and Hoover Dam. The construction materials for the bridge were carried down the newly constructed South Kaibab Trail in 1928, with 42 Havasupai tribesmen carrying each 1 ton, 550 ft suspension cables down the trail. The materials weighed 122 tons in total. It is a major civil engineering landmark.

Downstream view from the north side of the Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River. The Boat Beach and Bright Angel Creek delta are visible in the center of the image. Walls of black Vishnu Schist with pink Zoroaster granite intrusions rise over 1000 ft above the river.
The Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park
Downstream view from the Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River. The Boat Beach and Bright Angel Creek delta are visible in the center of the image. Walls of black Vishnu Schist with pink Zoroaster granite intrusions rise over 1000 ft above the river.
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Downstream view from the Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River. The Boat Beach and Bright Angel Creek delta are visible in the center of the image. Walls of black Vishnu Schist with pink Zoroaster granite intrusions rise over 1000 ft above the river.
Upstream view from the Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, showing the cableway system that predated the bridge.
View across the Kaibab Bridge to the south side of the river, Grand Canyon National Park

Visible from the Kaibab Bridge are the Silver Bridge downstream, which the Bright Angel Trail uses to cross the river, as well as the cableway next to the bridge. The Black Bridge is the fourth crossing of the Colorado at the location. The first was a ferry, but this was extremely perilous. The second was the cableway, a 6×10 ft steel cage to carry passengers (mules and people) across the river. Theodore Roosevelt used it on a 1913 visit to then-Grand Canyon National Monument. A successor suspension bridge opened in 1920, to be succeeded by the Kaibab Bridge in 1928.

The river itself, unlike when I departed from Lee’s Ferry, is a deep brown today due to rain upstream. At such times, the river takes on its natural brown color, which in fact was what led to its name – “Rio Colorado,” meaning “colored river” or “red river” in Spanish. It’s refreshing to see it as it was seen for all of history before the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s.

In stark contrast to the North Rim at around 8800 ft, the Colorado at Phantom is only around 2500 ft, or around the same elevation as Phoenix, so the weather it experiences is more akin to Central Arizona valleys than it is the rims of the Canyon. A hike through Grand Canyon crosses between 5-8 ecosystems, depending of where the precise boundaries are drawn, and can be like hiking from Mexico to Canada from an ecological perspective. Below the rim, one passes through the riparian zone along the river, the Lower Sonoran Desert, Upper Sonoran Desert. The North Rim features ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests, and the South Rim ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper forest.

Passing through a brief tunnel on the south bank, the trail quickly ascends around 1500 ft to The Tipoff on the edge of the Tonto Platform, the rim of the Inner Canyon. During this climb, I am treated to some great views of river trips launching again after having lunch at Phantom Ranch. The trail crosses the Tonto Platform and begins to climb toward Skeleton Point, through sections of the South Kaibab with colorful names such as the “Red & Whites,” and with outstanding views of the formations and scale of the canyon.

Downstream view of the Inner Canyon including the Colorado River and Bright Angel Creek delta, Grand Canyon National Park. The Silver Bridge is visible downstream.
View of the Kaibab Bridge from the South Kaibab Trail climbing out of the Inner Gorge, Grand Canyon National Park
River trip launching on the Colorado River from the Boat Beach on the Bright Angel Creek Delta near Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park
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River trip launching on the Colorado River from the Boat Beach on the Bright Angel Creek Delta near Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park
Downstream view of the Colorado River, Inner Gorge, Bright Angel Creek delta, Bright Angel Campground, Phantom Ranch, and the Silver Bridge over the Colorado. Grand Canyon National Park.
Zoroaster Temple (the sawtooth ridge) peeks above the lip of the Inner Gorge from the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
River trip continuing downstream on the Colorado River in the Inner Gorge, as viewed from Tipoff on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
Zoroaster Temple viewed from Tipoff on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon’s formations on the north side of the Inner Gorge around Bright Angel Canyon, as viewed from Tipoff on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park. In the Inner Gorge, the Silver and Black Bridges can be seen, along with the mouth of Bright Angel Canyon and the creek delta, and Phantom Ranch. Formations such as Zoroaster’s Temple tower above.
North panorama centered on Zoroaster’s Temple from the South Kaibab Trail crossing the Tonto Platform, Grand Canyon National Park
Zoroaster Temple from the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
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And then everything changes.

I came around a corner below Skeleton Point, just below the Red & Whites to find someone sitting in the middle of the trail. Upon my asking if they were OK, they said no, they thought they had broken their ankle. When I asked why they thought that, they said that “I tried to stand up, and it just flops to the side.” Yes, that’s a break. I say that I can splint it, but other than that we’d have to get more help down to get her out. But I ask if they want me to use my new inReach to contact GRCA SAR and get it, which they accept. I hit the SOS button on my inReach, and a hiker behind me helps splint it using their poles and cord that I carried while I ran to Tipoff to call GRCA SAR directly. Unfortunately it was too windy for a helicopter medivac at that time, so we had to wait about 2-3 hours for a medic to reach us on the trail. We got a firm splint on the ankle and lucked out – eventually they did get a helicopter window and managed to land and take the individual down a slope to where they had landed. Ended up hiking out with the husband of the individual in question; we topped around around 9-10. I have to say, given the wind we experienced on the upper South Kaibab, I’m shocked the helicopter managed to reach us at all. The backup plan was apparently to have them spend the night near Tipoff and launch in the morning.

So glad that I opted to carry an inReach for this trip, now. I didn’t expect it to pay off so soon, but, of course, that is the nature of an emergency.

Departure of the medevac that I assisted with.
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Arizona Trail, Day 36 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.

Arizona Trail, Day 35 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

It is brutally cold this morning, making it hard to even move much before 11. I believe it was around 20 at 9:00. Packing is a slow process in these temperatures. But, I pick up a few things that might make future packings faster in these temperatures, like doing most of it inside the tent at first and having a solid plan in advance to minimize time spent debating with oneself in the cold. Once packed, I head east along the forest road until coming to a trail crossing. There is a problem; the trail crosses on both sides. Clearly I missed a turnoff in the twilight yesterday evening. In both my purist nature and out of curiosity to see just where I made a wrong turn, I take the trail to the right, and it winds through the ponderosas back to Shuff Tank. It is clearly new, so this must be part of the new reroute, which has gone around the road stretch that I walked to get to the junction earlier. Instead of following the road on the north side of the tank, the trail now follows a singletrack around the west and south sides of the tank, then crosses the road on the east.

Arizona Trail, Day 34 – Passage 30 (Mormon Lake), Day 3

It’s brutally cold this morning, notably because of the strong wind that whips across the clearing to the west. Not setting up the tent last night was a mistake. I ultimately fill up for the last time at Navajo Spring and run into a few dayhikers who have completed over 300 miles of the trail themselves. Two of them are the Grouper and the Oracle. I continue south, aiming for Gooseberry Springs TH and Passage 29, Happy Jack.

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Arizona Trail, Day 40 – Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)

Managed to push through the entire Blue Ridge Passage today, one of my best days on the trail. I left the Blue Ridge Ranger Station this morning and headed south for the Rim. Saw a herd of elk near the Blue Ridge Campground and Elk Tank while climbing Blue Ridge itself. The trail also passed through an active prescribed burn, though it was low intensity so probably not considered a public hazard at this point. I’m familiar with them anyway, having worked as a PIO (public informations officer) on one over the summer at Grand Canyon. The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing.

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

It’s cold and raw after the rain the night before. I walk about 3 miles up the road to Double Springs and then use the AZT to get back to my prior campsite to grab the sleeping pad, then retrace my steps again. Did it hail up here?

Arizona Trail, Day 32 – Double Springs to Mormon Lake (Passage 30, Mormon Lake)

Heading south the trail passes an overlook of the ridges and of Mormon Lake itself, Arizona’s largest natural lake. It’s low (it often dries up under drought conditions to become Mormon Meadow) but the spring was wet enough that it hasn’t disappeared. It’s so windy that I’m almost blown off the overlook and my glasses ARE blown off (thankfully I catch them before they fall).

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Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Mormon Lake)

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road, the trail follows an old logging railroad grade for much of the route and in places the ties are still visible. Very cool. The forest turns into a dense mixed conifer and I have a chance encounter with a mountain biker named Chris who recently moved here from Idaho. We talk about the trail ahead and some I’m looking at doing in Idaho.

Coronavirus and National Parks: All COVID-19 Impacts and Park Reopenings

Another period of big updates across the National Park System.

Here we will look at the status of all 500+ national parks and affiliates, see which have changed status or will soon, and look at the details of what is or is not currently available at each park.

Disclaimer: please observe all CDC recommendations for the safety of staff and visitors alike. They are there to help and serve you, please do them the courtesy of helping keep them safe.

Arizona Trail, Day 30 – Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 and 30, Walnut Canyon and Mormon Lake)

The trail reaches Lowell Observatory’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI). The NPOI measures precise relative positions of stars in the sky for the Naval Observatory to use as reference when determining geographic positions of locations on both Earth and in space, as well as for use in timekeeping. Over four football fields long, it uses a six-mirror array directing multiple light beams from a star to a single point, enhancing image detail and separating stars that are so close that even the largest conventional telescopes cannot separate them visually. Near the NPOI is an excellent view of Upper Lake Mary in the valley of Walnut Creek below, after which the trail continues across Anderson Mesa.

After reaching Horse Lake, I make camp for the night. The sky is black as coal and the night is filled with coyotes howling.

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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

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