AVAILABLE IN PODCAST
3 Min read
1 Hike, Grand Canyon South Rim
5 Photos, South Kaibab Trail
It was 4:42 PM when I hiked the South Kaibab with my husband and daughter. The trail descended into the Grand Canyon along a steep series of switchbacks, with red dirt kicking up around my shoes. The path was held in with logs, secured by railroad type spikes. It was officially spring and a late start meant getting caught after night fall, when temperatures would drop from the sixties to freezing or below.
A tall man with worn boots and walking poles, his face weathered and kind, stopped on his way up to check on us, asking where we were headed. Into the canyon, down to Phantom Ranch, my husband joked. The ranger was sweeping behind the day hikers. To go into and out of the canyon would take two days, over 14 miles and 4700 feet elevation and he wanted to make sure folks were safe. The man wore a park uniform with name tag. He laughed and looked us up and down. I told him we would go to the rock shelf, maybe the ridge, one and half miles down before turning back. The elevation change of 1120 feet would take us one and half times longer, maybe twice as long, to return to the south rim.
The skies were clear and hikers were heading home. My daughter was fast and my husband and I were trail veterans, not as speedy, but steady enough to know that it would get cold. And, we might be in the dark.
At every step, the canyon was a wonder to behold. The view has a scale and beauty that no photo can capture. The look and feel of the place when you breathe the high desert air in long and deep, holding as much of it as you can, gives you this sense of infinity, of timelessness. Hikers below moved along like ants on a staircase from the heavens. The red mesas, green outcrops, the sheer walls dropping below where the eye can see, and the striated ridges fully enveloped me. The distant rim was a line beneath a cobalt sky.
Squinting at the sun, I figured it had two hours, maybe less, above the rim. As I descended, I watched its rays hitting the east as the bottom and west fell into shadow. Ravens circled overhead. It felt cooler, and snow and ice flanked the upper trail.
At Ooh Aah Point the corridor opened into panoramic views. Further down on Cedar Ridge, the canyon fully engulfed me. I sat on an outcropping next to a man with running shoes on. I’ve been here many times he whispered and he remains enthralled. We hadn’t looked at each other, our attention consumed by the display, and his voice seem to come in on a wind. When I stood to walk to the edge of the ridgeline, he was gone.
A condor* floated above, soaring, like a god with its black wings painted white underneath. The sun was dropping fast and the last hikers had left. We were alone. My husband said I needed to get going.
The bottom of the canyon was dark and I moved with deliberation, feeling cold after sitting. I followed my daughter and watched the waning light shoot its beams like fingers grasping at the day. When we got back to Ooh Aah Point, I stopped to catch my breath. The sun was falling below the rim. The faster I hiked out of the canyon, the more sunlight.
When we started hiking, I noticed an animal ahead. Elk, moose? It was smaller with a white rump. A goat.
The goat was the size of a deer, with full gray coat, white bottom and horns. I walked behind the goat and further along at a wider part, I stepped off the trail to pass and could see the animal’s eye. It startled me, with its black slit and orange iris, reminding me of the devil. Cloven foot and horns. The goat and I walked together for a while. Then it leapt up the rocks, stopped to look back, and was gone.
On the switchbacks, I climbed higher and higher. The sun was at the rim as we neared the top, its warmth waning. When I reached the trailhead the sun was fully above the rim. I looked down, searching for the goat. The ravens circled above me.
I hadn’t planned to hike Kaibab. The trail sign meant to shock and deter would-be hikers had a man kneeling with hand on the ground, vomiting. The ranger’s warning and the onset of night and cold kept us aware of the risks, but the golden hours rewarded me. I chased the day out of the canyon, enough to see the sun setting three times. And, if I met God and the Devil on the same trail, I lived to tell about it.
*South Kaibab Trail is listed as difficult and begins at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, at 7260 feet. The hike to Ooh Aah Point and then to Cedar Ridge is 1.5 miles one way with 1120 feet drop in elevation. That is 3 miles round trip with a challenging walk back up. We could have used more water, hiking in our jeans with water bottles we had in the truck. The hike took just over two hours and we were essentially chasing the daylight. Plan for three or more hours if you want to pack a snack and stay a while on Cedar Ridge. This was my favorite hike.
* The California Condor was nearly extinct with just 22 remaining in the world in 1982. Through a captive breeding and reintroduction program, the condor now has 437 in the world population with 231 living in Utah, Arizona, California and the Baja. It lives 60 years, weighs 23 pounds, and has a wingspan of 9.5 to 10 feet! They mate for life, the female has one egg every other year, and both parents look after chicks.
*Bright Angel Trail is the popular South Rim trail which we hiked the next day to the 3 mile point, for a 6 mile round trip journey. Plan for 4 plus hours and lots of folks to join you. The earlier you go, the more people you avoid. Early on you pass through two stone tunnels. Many hiked with us and the upper part is full of day hikers and tourists. It was fun to watch the mule trains, which ferry people and stuff in and out. They are tethered to each other and led by mule drivers.
*End of March only the South Rim was open and it can get cold, but the days are lovely and early spring hiking beats the summer heat and crowds.