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Trip Report Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

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My husband and I recently joined my sister and her husband for a wonderful overnight hike in the Grand Canyon. We descended the South Kaibab Trail (five hours) and ascended the Bright Angel Trail (eight hours), staying one night at Phantom Ranch. We are all 50+, and in ok but not exceptional physical shape.

Day One

We drove from Las Vegas, stopping to see the Hoover Dam. Even though it was mid-February, the weather was nice and warm (+80F). Upon arriving at the Grand Canyon, we checked into the Bright Angel Lodge. Check-in was reasonably easy and even though it was dark, we managed to find the Buckey Lodge. My sister and brother-in-law had a room across the hall from my husband and me. Very sparse rooms but clean and comfortable. We had our own bathroom with shower and a double bed so what more do you need? We dined in the Arizona Room, which this month, is only open on the weekends. We had above-average service. The food was fine, although nothing special about the flavours or the presentation. We had a nightcap in the Bright Angel cocktail lounge, and hit the day.

The Bright Angel Lodge is a terrific location, right on the Rim. Lovely views, a couple of restaurants and because this is where you check in for Phantom Ranch and catch the hiker's shuttle, it was very handy for us.

Day Two

After a good sleep, we got up and had a great breakfast in the Bright Angel Restaurant. Again, the servers were exceptionally pleasant. Breakfast was good and filling.

We had understood there was a place to buy sandwiches, etc. to take hiking but in fact, the sandwich place at Bright Angel has limited hours (opened at 11am). We had brought some snacks from home and we picked up some trail mix and beef jerky from the gift shop (opened at 7am) which turned out to be enough food.

We put our luggage in our rental car (which we were permitted to keep in the Bright Angel Lodge parking lot) and caught the hiker’s shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead. The weather was so beautiful , we decided not to bother taking our extra jackets and YakTrax. In February, there is one shuttle at 8:00 and 9:00 - we took the later one. The shuttle took about twenty minutes or so.

Descending down the South Kaibab Trail was fun. We had read there is no water on that trail so we had packed about 3 litres of water each. In summer I suppose you would want more than that, but that was more than enough for us. The vistas at every turn were just breathtaking. We took our time so that we could enjoy the views and take lots of photos, etc. There were a couple of rest areas with bathrooms on the way down. The hiking isn’t overly strenuous but the steps down are not even and my husband found it difficult on his knees near the end of the day. We all had hiking poles and leaned heavily on them when we came to some particularly steep steps. The trails are wide and not scary at all.

We had to move over twice for mule trains but there was more than enough room to do that. Those mules are tall! And beautiful. We really enjoyed the hike down. It wasn’t very crowded at all; we saw very few people coming up or going down. We had a lot of laughs and lots of oohs and aahs.

After just under five hours, we walked along the Colorado River past the Bright Angel Campground and into Phantom Ranch. It is worth knowing that the office/canteen/store/dining room is all in one building. The building is closed during certain times as they prepare for the dinners. We arrived at the Ranch about 3:30 pm and easily checked in but because the building was closed from 4:00 to 5:00, we had to wait for a much-needed beer!

Our cabin had two bunk beds and a little bathroom. It was not luxurious but certainly was very comfortable for the four of us. There is a communal shower house, which happened to be near to our cabin. Upon arriving at the Ranch, we changed and rested until the 5:00 pm dinner bell. We enjoyed steak, potatoes, veggies, salad and chocolate cake. It was served family style allowing us to meet fellow hikers. Really pleasant.

At 5:45 pm, we were booted out and again, the building was closed until the next dinner at 7:00 pm. We wished we had brought our own after-dinner liqueurs as many hikers did. We sat outside and waited until the building opened up again at 8:00 pm. The canteen is closed in the mornings so we knew we had to buy our postcards, etc. in the evening. We quickly did that, had a nightcap in the lodge and turned in for the night.

Many people we met were staying down at Phantom Ranch for a couple of nights. This might have allowed us to rest our legs and regain some energy for the trip up. However, we did not do that and went to bed dreaming of the long trip up in the morning!

Next Installment: Going up the Bright Angel Trail!

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