Meet the Bright Angel Trail

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Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

Grand Canyon National Park

North America's crown jewel, the Grand Canyon deserves all the hype.  Its immensity is unreal.  Hiking the canyon, you will feel minuscule and larger than life all at once.

You will not tire of staring into this wonder of the world.  It holds you hypnotized, transfixed by its endless colors and shapes.  Hiking the canyon at sunrise or sunset is truly the grandest thing to behold.  The light holds this place in a way that brings calm and peace to the soul.

Hike down into the canyon, if you are brave and strong.  This is no joke.  You must prepare for this hike.  Get into shape and purchase the right gear.  To really experience this place, you need to get dirty.  Go hiking.  Looking down is one thing, but you have no idea what you are missing by staying on the rim with the stifling crowds.

You descend miles of switchbacks hiking to Indian Garden.  A sign reads "Going down is optional.  Going up is mandatory".  This is the truth.  You must be in good shape to meet a Bright Angel.

The Bright Angel Trail will take you all the way to the Colorado River.  You can sit and watch the green river up close.  You can look up from the bottom of what looked bottomless from where you stood long ago on the rim.

Our Experience

We set up camp surrounded by elk.  They cared nothing for our presence and merely continued to graze unperturbed.  There are campsites as far as the eye can see.  A trip to the visitor's center was absolutely overwhelming.  The crowds here, at the South Rim, are unbelievable in the Spring.  It is too much to bear.

Out on the paved rim hike, it is no better.  People jockey for a spot to selfie.  Every outcrop and railing is full.  There are trash and noise.  It is truly difficult to find a place where you could sit quietly and process the wondrous thing in front of you.

Tomorrow we will break free of this zoo.  Tomorrow we will meet a Bright Angel, and she will kick our proverbial butts.

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

We arise when the first bus leaves our campsite.  Although we tried six months ago to get a permit to camp at Phantom Ranch, they were already reserved.  So we must hike the entire distance down to the Colorado River and back in a day, hence, the early-bird start.

We are used to backpacking long distances; therefore, the 16 miles does not intimidate us.  However, the elevation gain/loss will be almost 9,000 feet.  This is going to be one of the most challenging hikes we have ever done.

The switchbacks down are a joy ride.  In fact, we run some of them.  When you are used to backpacking, a day pack feels like nothing.  The immense South Rim still shades us from the sun's heat, and the temperature is comfortable.  At the Indian Garden, we are surrounded by trees and the sun is starting to climb.

As we leave the garden, we are sure to carry plenty of water.  The cottonwood trees are losing their cotton to the wind, and the air is full of gently floating whisps.  There is water on the trail this year in the Spring, and it flows down smooth pour-offs as we descend miles and miles of switchbacks down to the river's edge.

The Bottom of a Canyon

The Colorado River meanders lazily in front of us.  Its green color is bright in the afternoon sun and sparkles glint off its surface.  The smoothness of the water belies its power.  It is a force that should be respected and revered, and we keep a healthy distance up on the sandy beach.

It is a shame to leave, but we know the return journey will be a fight unlike any we have had before.  Miles and miles of elevation gain lie before us, and we must get back before dark.

The climb up is like rewinding a video.  You pass things you noted before, only everything looks a bit different this time.  When you are tired, you rest.  When thirsty, you drink.  Knowing all along that this is the type of experience that you will remember your whole life.

Sure.  You will recall the sweat and your tired muscles and aching feet, but mostly you will remember the beauty.  This is it.  This is your life.  Is it not incredibly beautiful?

One foot in front of the other and eventually you will arrive.  This is one way to keep on when you are so exhausted that you would rather lie down and sleep than walk.  Eventually, we reach both our starting and ending point.  We can close the loop, and all we can think about is ice cream.

You reach a certain point, when the hiking is tough, where things become primal.  Have you ever been so hungry that you can think of nothing else but ice cream?  It is a shame that the line at the South Rim's ice cream shop is long beyond belief.  Sigh, I guess its back to the tent for some good old camp food.

Leaving the Grand Canyon was hard, but we were ready to see some amazing sunsets as we hike in Saguaro National Park read here.

Hiking Tips:

  • Take plenty of water.
  • Wear sunscreen and polarized sunglasses.
  • Get into shape before you attempt a hike.
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