HIKING DISTANCE: 30 Miles
VERTICAL: +5,980' / -6,380'
TIME: 11 Hours 51 Minutes
S. Kaibab to N. Kaibab to Ribbon Falls to N. Kaibab to S. Kaibab to Tonto to Bright Angel.
I rose early this morning to catch the first hiker shuttle from the Backcountry Office to the South Kaibab Trailhead, which got me hiking by 630a. Early bird and all that. And well worth it, as I caught the morning sun blasting the eastern face of Cedar Ridge, an iconic feature of the iconic-in-and-of-itself Grand Canyon. That view - at that time of day, in particular - never gets old. On the way down, I didn't see too many other folks, which isn't terribly surprising, given the early season. As I passed a crew of young people, they teased me about my pace and asked where I was heading, so I told them I'd originally planned the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim but was settling for a quick jaunt down to Ribbon Falls and back, since the Supai Tunnel was closed for a landslide. They smiled and said "Cool," then a minute later followed up with "Wait, all the way to the North Rim and back...in a day?!" I love when people react that way to hearing about my ambition. Little ego boost, not that I need it. Never gets old.
See what folks don't understand about my time in nature is that it's threefold. Nature is my cathedral, my canvas, and my gym. This early in the season, it's more the latter than either of the former. This trip was surprisingly challenging. It was only about 2/3 the demand of last year's R2R2R, and yet my body suffered nearly as much. Chafe wasn't so much a concern as last year, but my calves were locking up every couple steps for the last half mile of the final climb. I don't even know if I could've completed the R2R2R this go-round. I'm painfully outta shape. Time to get serious about trading pounds for endurance.
The bridge that provides access to Ribbon Falls was closed when I arrived. I considered fording the creek and heading up to the falls, but I ultimately chose to skip it. I visited the falls last year when I did the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, and I didn't feel very stoked about the prospect of getting my feet wet. Speaking of closures, the rumored closure on the River Trail makes three for three. The closure of the Supai Tunnel and the River Trail helped shape a pretty cool trek, actually. I'd be absolutely shredded right now if I'd gone the whole way; I think I'm in far worse shape this spring than last. And I'm stoked that I got to experience the Tonto Trail, which I wouldn't have done without the River Trail closure. All things for a reason. I've hiked the Grand Canyon a half dozen times in various ways and to varying degrees. It was cool to see it from a decidedly unique perspective. Worth the extra effort to cross the barren, esposed plateau in the heat of the day. Absolutely beautiful. The desert is alive with bursts of color- reds, yellows, and greens. Blooming flowers and cacti peppered the landscape- Indian Paintbrush, Red Columbine, Skyrocket, Crimson Monkeyflower, Fleabane, and others. And butterflies, so many butterflies. Shoulder seasons are my favorite.
When I finally reached Indian Garden below the South Rim Village, the sun was hanging low in the sky offering some relief from the oppressive heat, but doing nothing for the strain in my legs. I sat down on one of the benches among the Cottonwoods. Each moment I spent there made it harder to choose to stand up again. But then I noticed that I could see the American flag flying high on the rim. Talk about a carrot. All I gotta do, I thought, is keep my eye on the prize. Just the push I needed to stand up and be on my way. It didn't hurt that I got to enjoy the shade the whole way up, and then the setting sun just as I reached the top. Yes, all of that. And the dozen California Condors circling overhead as I climbed. Seriously. You can't make this stuff up. What an incredible little trip.