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Monday, September 24, 2012

Big Weekend in a Big Canyon

An opportunity arose to hike the Grand Canyon this past weekend, and the timing was too perfect to pass up.  Matt had the weekend free and was going to tag along with a local hiking group.  Having no plans of my own, I asked if I could join him.  The invite was sent to Ben and Ryan and soon we had a solid foursome.  The plan went as follows:  Drive to the park Saturday morning and hike down Grandview to explore Cave of the Domes and circumnavigate Horseshoe Mesa before ascending.  Camp at Mather Campground Saturday night and hike the Miner's route (via S. Kaibab) to Phantom Ranch and back up Bright Angel on Sunday.


Arriving at the trailhead just after 9:30am and starting the hike at 10:00 put us in somewhat of a time crunch if we were to explore the mining camp, caves, and Cottonwood Canyon, then hike around Horseshoe Mesa and get out before dark.  The hike down Grandview is a steep one...and felt twice as steep ascending.  It literally drops 1,200 vertical feet the first mile!  I was very much in awe of the construction of the trail and how/why the miner's chose this route to Horseshoe Mesa, but by the looks of the canyon walls, it must have been the best option.  Down we went.  In less than an hour we were on the mesa and began the search for the caves. A few dead ends later we found it. A small entrance opened to a much larger cave and tunnels going back in different directions. We climbed around for a while and found some interesting graffiti from the late 1800's.  It was now noon and we needed to get going.  A quick back-track on the mesa to connect with the cottonwood springs trail is where we descended several hundred feet to cottonwood spring.  I remember Ben making a comment along this section of trail.  He said "This is what I think of when I think of hiking."  Taking everything into consideration (trail conditions, remoteness, etc.), I knew exactly what he meant.  This was hiking!  Even though it was hot, humid, steep and strenuous, there is something about being in the canyon that allows you to ignore the discomfort and simply take in the beauty all around you.  Maybe that's why we put ourselves through it.  The clock was ticking and daylight fading, in order to reach the trailhead by 5:00pm we had to move quick, even on the uphill.  OK, so it was all uphill from here on out.  Almost five thousand feet of climbing and thirteen hard-earned miles later we were done!  The nice part was, we had enough time to make it to the showers and set up camp before dark! 


Sunday morning I rolled out of the tent with some seriously stiff legs...and hips...and back.  That Grandview trek certainly took it's toll on my lower half!  No room for complaining, we had a longer hike lined up for today.  The original plan was to start at the South Kaibab trailhead, hike down a few miles to the notch route, and follow the miner's route to the river.  We couldn't find either one of them.  So instead, we continued along a similar route I did back in April 2011 (South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel), that makes a nice U-shaped loop near the South Rim on the most popular trails in the park.  Ben was at a loss for words as this weekend was his first trip to the canyon and second hike in the park.  Descending SK is without a doubt breathtaking.  I've been down it a number of times now and it never ceases to amaze me.  Reaching the river is a whole other experience in itself, and being in the canyon is quite humbling when you get down that far.  I really like this route because you get the great views going down Kaibab, cross both bridges over the Colorado River, and hike out on the more moderate Bright Angel Trail.  It really has a lot to offer in only seventeen miles.  Ben and I had a good laugh when Matt pulled out the topo and the area we covered was only about the size of a quarter on a huge map!  I told Ben that means we'll just have to go back and cover more ground.


Matt, Boone, Ben and Ryan at the S. Kaibab Trailhead


       

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