Rim to River on the South Kaibab Trail

Gabriela on the S. Kaibab Trail

1999 Gary Morris, San Diego, CA

South Rim, Grand Canyon September 16,1999

It's just a hike, and it's downhill all the way. How hard can it be? That's what I keep telling Gabriela, who says it isn't just a hike, it's the Grand Canyon. We've been planning this trip for six months. How much water should we carry? Will we need jackets? What if it rains? Will our packs be too heavy? We plan to travel light but plan for whatever might go wrong. Hopefully nothing will.

We left a little after 6 AM to have breakfast in the cafeteria at the Yavapi Lodge. There's light in the sky, the sun will rise in about 10 minutes. I stocked up on carbohydrates and protein, a good excuse for a big breakfast. We caught the 7 AM shuttle bus out to the trailhead at Yaqi Point.

Yaqui Trailhead (7,240 ft) - We're traveling light for this trip, each of our packs are about 35 pounds, including sleeping bags, tent, and most important: water.

There's no water on the South Kaibab Trail, and no shade, which is why it is not recommended for climbing from the river up to the rim, especially in the summer. We decided to take 3 liters each. The book says the hike down should take 3-5 hours to cover the 6.9 miles to Bright Angel Campground.

View from Yaqui Trailhead  


Somewhere down there is Phantom Ranch, Bright Angel Campground and, of course, the Colorado River. We haven't seen any of those yet, but the view of the canyon is breathtaking in the early morning light. Every descent and turn brings a new panorama into view. All the stops for photographs will probably add hours to our hike but we have all day so we can take our time.

It's a clear sunny day, temperature forecast to be only 75 F at the rim, but that means 90-95 F at the river. There's also a chance of afternoon thunderstorms.

  Tonto Plateau and Inner Gorge


Cedar Ridge (6,360 ft) - We've arrived at Cedar Ridge, our first rest area after traveling 1.5 miles down. Our view towards the bottom is dominated by O'Neille Butte (left) and we can see the trail as it winds its way down at the base of the butte and off towards the lower right.

There's a small wooden building at Cedar Ridge, with three solar dehydrating pit toilets. The South Kaibab Trail is one of the canyon's corridor trails. It is the second most traveled trail in the Canyon, after the Bright Angel Trail. We'll experience that one on our climb out in a couple days.

O'Neill Butte (6,071ft)  

As we head down the trail from Cedar Ridge look back up. There's no Cedar Trees on the ridge, but there are lots of wildflowers.

It's now the end of the monsoon rain season at Grand Canyon. Officially it ended yesterday, September 15, but who knows with weather. I hope we don't get drenched along the way, though we have rain ponchos in our packs just in case.

O'Neille Butte - We're at the base of the butte, which is on our left now, and we can see down the trail that follows the ridge line.

There are clouds building over the North Rim (left and below) and some to the east of us. I guess those might turn into the scattered thunderstorms that were forecast for the afternoon.

Skeleton Point (5,200 ft) - The trail follows the ridge line out onto a small, green mesa in the center of the photo (right). This is Skeleton Point. The mesa drops off into a series of switchbacks that drops about 1,000 ft in about a mile. Anyone who tried to come up this way in the summer would die when they saw the switchbacks, at least that's the explanation for the name.

We actually found a crowd of people (about 8) sitting at the mesa at the top of the switchbacks. Looking down into the switchbacks we can see why, there are at least 3 different mule trains coming up through the switchbacks. But we're not ready to stop yet, we'd like to get to the tipoff and have lunch there.

We started down the switchbacks and after about a quarter mile we stopped to let the first mule train pass us by. Just as we step off the trail the wrangler decides to stop and give his mules a rest, and enjoy the view. This mule train is hauling duffel bags up from Phantom Ranch. A very handy service that we plan to use to reduce the weight of our packs for the trip back up.

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We can see two more mule trains down below working up through the switchbacks. These have riders on them. This is the group who spent last night at Phantom Ranch (below). Each day the new group goes down the Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch, while yesterday's group is coming up the South Kaibab trial.

The clouds are giving us shade off and on, and keeping the temperature down. It's a perfect day for hiking, the temperature must be around 80 F at this altitude.

Switchbacks - We had a fewl long rest breaks as we wait for the mules to pass us. We wait off the trail on the uphill side as recommended. The mules like to walk along the edge, but they tell us no one has ever been killed riding on a mule in the canyon. Those mules are dedicated to getting back to the barn, all they care about is getting fed at the end of the trail.

The Tipoff (3,970 ft) -We've reached The Tipoff, where there's a hitching rail to tie up your horse or mule. There's another solar powered toilet here and about 15 people sitting around in various groups. It's time for a lunch and a rest.

As we leave the tipoff area we pass the emergency phone which connects you to a park ranger. From the tipoff point you have your first view of the Colorado River (below) and Bright Angel Canyon.

The Colorado River -Our first sight of the river surprises us that it is so muddy looking. The monsoon rains washing through the side canyons have silted up the river. We also have our first glimpse of the trees in Bright Angel Canyon where Phantom Ranch is located in the middle of the right half of this photo, but the next photo below shows a better view of the Ranch in Bright Angel Canyon.

Phantom Ranch - We reached the point where we can look down into Bright Angel Canyon from above. You can clearly see the trails and buildings of the Ranch. Bright Angel Creek comes down the canyon and you can see where Bright Angel Campground is on the left side of the creek, but you can't see the campsites hidden in the trees.

Bright Angel Creek Delta - The creek joins with the river and makes a nice beach where rafters pause on their trip down the river. Some even hike over to Phantom Ranch for a cold beer or a lemonade. Down here at this elevation it is much warmer, somewhere in the upper 80's, less than the 95 of the past few days due to the clouds overhead.

River Junction (2,700 ft) - Here the South Kaibab Trail meets with the River Trail. To our left the River Trail follows the river and to our right the trail continues down to the bridge and across to Phantom Ranch.

Kaibab Bridge - This is the suspension bridge we will be crossing and the tunnel. It is commonly called the Black Bridge. This is the bridge the mules travel into and out of Phantom Ranch. The Silver Bridge is about 2 miles down river but is only used by hikers.

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Kaibab Bridge  

The Tunnel - The Black Bridge is attached to the side of the cliff above the river and you get onto the bridge by going through this tunnel and stepping out onto the bridge.

The Black Bridge - Halfway across the bridge we look back towards the tunnel and the suspension cables going up into the side of the cliff. Each cable is 1.5 inches thick and weighs over 1,000 pounds and had to be carried down in one piece. Carried down the Kaibab Trail on the shoulders of many men spaced out along the cable.


Bright Angel Creek (2,450 ft) - We've arrived at our campground. The trail into Bright Angel Canyon is in the trees along the left side of the creek (photo right) and the campsites are spread out among the trees on the right side of the creek. This photo (right) show the creek from the bridge that crosses over to the campground.

At this point we decided to dump all our gear at a campsite and go wading in the creek. So this is the last photo for the day.

I hope you enjoyed the photos as much as we enjoyed taking them. They don't even come close to capturing the feelings inspired by the canyon. Every step down the trail brings a new panorama into view and these photos only give you a sampling of the vistas.

Gary & Gabriela


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