Trip Length: 10 Days
Highlights: Rim to Rim to Rim via Bright Angel Trail - South Kaibab Trail - North Kaibab Trail, Phantom Ranch, Sedona
Day 1 - Flight to Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix is a great city to fly into for the Grand Canyon. Cheap rental cars, and cheap flights from most locations in the US. We landed in Phoenix in the early afternoon. This provided us time to grab our rental car and hit up the SanTan Brewery. We were lucky ( I think) to see a massive sandstorm just outside of the city.
Day 2 - Sedona and the Energy Vortex
We made our way to Sedona, an interesting mountain town complete with kick ass coffee, tons biking, and best of all ENERGY Vortexes ;). Sedona is rouhgly 2 hours north of Phoenix. Most poeple come here for the amazing mountain biking. If you do stop in Sedona, be sure to hit up The Bike and Bean. They have amazing coffee, good beer, and bike rentals.
Day 3 - Road Trip to Grand Canyon
After waking up early, we commenced the roadtripping to The Grand Canyon. The south rim is about 2 hours drive north from sedona. We booked lodging at the Maswik Lodge in the Grand Canyon Village. We took the day to sight see, get our packs ready, go over last minute details, and get a good night sleep before the start of the hike.
Day 4 - South Kaibab to Cottonwood
Distance: 14.9 mile
Elevation: 4780 ft descent, 1600 ft ascent
We rose around 4:00 a.m. in order to catch the 5:00 a.m. shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. Before taking our first step on the trail that would take us down over 4,000 ft, bathroom breaks were welcomed and many photos filled with excitement and nervousness were snapped. We had unseasonably cool weather with spouts of heavy wind and intermittent rain. One thing to note is that fact that there are plenty of outhouses and the path was wide and well maintained. The descent was very taxing on the legs but the breathtaking views kept your mind distracted from aches and pains.
Eventually, the roar of the Colorado River caught our ear and the pace quickened. Seeing the chocolate milk colored Colorado River for the first time gives you a sense of just how a river can carve out something as magnificent as the Grand Canyon. Toward the bottom of the river you will reach a suspension bridge and a few tunnels, you are almost to Phantom Ranch.
Phantom Ranch is a welcome rest with plenty of trees and cool streams to soak your feet into. The group assembled inside for beers and some snacks, and later naps in the shade. One interesting thing about Phantom ranch is the Post Card service. They have plenty of postcards available and are stamped and carried out of the canyon by Mule.
After taking ample rests, we continued on to Cottonwood Campsite. This was slightly uphill but easy terrain. The campsites are nicely kept with running drinking water. Be sure to check the latest reports to confirm if the water is working.
Day 5 - Cottonwood Camp - North Rim
Distance: 6.8 miles
Elevation: 4161 ft ascent
We woke early, ate breakfast, and tied our boots for the long climb-up ahead of us. We wanted to get an early start this day to avoid the hot sun's rays as it crept up the western wall of the canyon. Another day filled with awe-inspiring views that left your mind wondering how such beauty is made. The terrain on this portion of the hike is much more different from the previous day. The trail meanders along the side of a vertical cliff in what feels like a path blown into the cliff side bringing with it rooftops overhead of rock and colors of reds, whites, and rust. Just when you think you're almost to the top, the trail enters a forest of trees and the path turns to dirt. Watch your step, many donkey droppings are ahead.
We reached the top of the North Rim mid-day, beating the heat (most of it that is). Now if you are lucky, you can hitch a ride with a tourist to the North Rim Campground or else you're hoofing it another mile or so. **Be sure to reserve your campsite ahead of time. Here you will find showers and laundry in addition to a small general store with snacks and supplies for purchase.
Day 6 - Rest Day!
We took this day to rest our feet, eat some amazing food at the lodge, and take in the views. There are many choices for restaurants and even a good saloon for some frosty beverages. If you haven't gotten in enough hiking yet, there are many day hikes in the area, as well as other activities like horseback riding.
If you're ever on a long extended hike like this, you may encounter an ultralight backpacker wearing a kilt (sports kilt to be exact). We did, and his name was Handlebar. Handlebar has a long white beard and hikes faster than people half his age. He is one of the most interesting people we have met, conquering almost every long trail in the US. We talked gear, trail tips, and how to lighten your load. From this day on, we would hike with Handlebar trying to keep up with his blistering pace.
Day 7 - North Rim - Bright Angel Camp
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation: 5761 ft descent
You never should waste a full moon, so we rose early enough to hike the first section of the day without headlamps using only the moon to light our way. Descending the same trail you came up, you can take a detour to Ribbon Falls, a lush oasis surrounded by scorched desert where you can take a dip in the cool waters of the fall. As the temperatures soared to 128 degrees fahrenheit between 11am and 3pm our group found a cool spot within the rock shelves where we waited out the dangerous heat like a pride of lions napping. This pause in our hike was also necessary to avoid the section of trail known as "The Box" which is basically an oven during this time of the day. The Box is coined this name as a result of the narrowing of the canyon rock which absorbs all of the sun's radiation and can cook you if you attempt to pass through it.
After the day "cooled" down, we continued our hike to Bright Angel Campground just slightly past Phantom Ranch. This campsite is situated right beside Bright Angel Creek where you can soak your feet or take a full dip to cool off. Although you are at the lowest point of the canyon, don't be fooled, the heat continues to radiate off the nearby rock walls making for a warm night of rest. **Keep an eye out for the ring-tailed cats waiting to nab your food when you turn your back.
Day 8 - Bright Angel Camp - South Rim via Bright Angel Trail
Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation: 4380 ft ascent
The hike out of the canyon is a lung-busting trip filled with switchbacks taking you through many ecosystems. After days of 'practice' and one day of rest, our legs were ready for the challenge of ascending out of the Grand Canyon. We made quick pace up while taking breaks along the way and again welcoming the many lavatories along the way. Close to the finish was a celebratory tunnel, standing as a landmark of your success in tackling the rim-to-rim hike of this natural wonder of the world.
Links contained in this article:
South Kaibab Trail Data: http://www.summitpost.org/south-kaibab/156764
North Kaibab Trail Data- http://www.summitpost.org/north-kaibab/156768
Bright Angel Trail Data: http://www.summitpost.org/bright-angel-trail/156766
North Rim Activities: http://www.scenic.com/visitor-information/grand-canyon/north-rim-activities-and-tours