Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Hiking Grand Canyon's Bright Angel trail to Plateau Point, and back up (12 miles round-trip, 3100 feet of elevation change, 40°C in the canyon)

1.5 Mile Resthouse Today would be our longest hike on the trip. We had decided to hike down Grand Canyon's Bright Angel trail. Considering that it was summer, and in the canyon temperatures were topping 40°C, we hadn't set a specific goal on how far we would venture. The advice every guide book and information panel seemed to give is that hiking up takes twice as much time as hiking down, so with that in mind we ventured on.

The first part of Bright Angel trail can be divided into three parts, with rest houses every 1.5 miles. Then, you either head to Plateau Point, or you continue down to the Colorado River. On the steep descent towards the 1.5 mile rest house, we still saw lots of average American tourists. That, and lots of horse manure and the horses themselves. The rule is that whenever a group of riders approaches, you need to let them pass. It was funny looking at the people on the horses - some were looking so not relaxed, and so not enjoying themselves that I had to ask myself whether it wouldn't be more enjoyable to them to either walk, or stay at the rim.

We progressed fairly well, passed a few less experienced hikers, and were crossing a number of overnight hikers who were already on their way up, again. Seeing how we had reached 1.5 mile rest house so easily, 3 mile rest house was the next logical destination.

Looking back at the South Rim (6900 feet) from Indian Gardens (3800 feet), after 4.6 miles of hiking After the 3 mile rest house, the trail became less steep, and only slowly descended into the first plateau towards Indian Garden, located at 4.5 miles from the rim. There, we rested for a while, and my mother decided to not head further down, but hike back up - she considered this more prudent. I still decided to venture on, but chose the more level trail to Plateau Point, rather than the descent to the Colorado River, which would have meant a significant elevation loss, and worse, more feet to hike back up later on.

The mid-day sun was mercyless, and there was no shadow whatsoever. I was dragging along a heavy backpack with lots of water, my camera and a tripod. Still, I made good progress and finally reached Plateau Point. The view was breath-taking, and all the better because there were only very few other hikers. From Plateau Point, excellent 360° panoramas can be made (which I did), and after doing my photographs in the blazing sun, I decided to retreat towards the shadow of Indian Garden.

This is where the fun started. My hiking boots proved to be uncomfortable, and I was glad that I had brought along a pair of Nike running shoes. These would have to do for the way back up. I let my feet soak in the water, ate my last food supplies, filled up my water bottle, and was on my way back up. Not only did I have to brave the heat, but also make good between one and two hours to catch up with my mother.

Looking back down at Bright Angel Trail, with the trails to Indian Gardens (at 4.6mi) and Plateau Point (6mi) visible To make matters worse, I started getting a headache. And I felt horrible. A thermometer near Indian Garden indicated temperatures of around 40°C. I was making use of any small spot in the shade to rest for a minute, but eventually made it back to the 3 mile rest house. There, I drank more water, sat in the shade, and people-watched.

From then on, things improved. I was moving faster, and being surrounded by like-minded hikers (although I hardly exchanged a word with any of them) was a motivation to press on. "If they can do it, so can I" could have been my motto.

At the 1.5 mile rest house, I caught up with my mother, but we would once again separate on our final ascent, seeing how I had hiked more miles, and was lugging around more weight. Somewhere on the way to the rim, I saw a helicopter landing at the 3 mile rest house. I assume some hiker didn't manage to make it up to the top on his own, and this was a confirmation for my decision not to do the rim-Colorado-rim hike that day, as well as a reminder of how perhaps I wasn't too far away from this unfortunate person's fate. I'm not sure what exactly happened - I assume it was nothing too bad, but alone the cost of being flown out of the canyon is prohibitive.

After finally having made it to the top, I was desperate to recoup lost energy and calories. With my mother driving towards Kingman, I was happily spooning my quart of ice-cream and drinking another quart of strawberry-flavoured milk. It's strange what eating habits physical effort provoke.

Motel/Hotel Accommodation: Comfort Inn (Kingman, AZ): $68.63 plus 9.75% tax

Written on Sunday, February 9th 2003 in Luxembourg.