Friday, December 6, 2019

Up The Bright Angel Trail

Warning - photo overload ahead!  Proceed at your own risk (or enjoyment)

"Down is optional - Up is mandatory" - warning sign along the Bright Angel Trail

Tired from hiking down the South Kaibab Trail (read about it here), I fell asleep at the ungodly early hour of 7 pm. Although crammed into a hiker dorm with 10 other women, I slept surprisingly well.  When the 5 pm wake up knock came, I was already awake and ready to go.  I felt better than expected, considering I'd descended nearly 5000 feet of elevation the day before.

Phantom Ranch area before sunrise

But now it was time for the true test - climbing back out of this canyon.  My sister and I shook off the mental cobwebs, flexed stiff muscles, and headed to the Cantina for an early breakfast.  In addition to dinner, Phantom Ranch also served a hearty breakfast in two shifts - 5:30 and 7 am.  Desiring to get an early start, I'd signed us up for the 5:30 am meal.  At this early hour neither of us were very hungry, but we dutifully filled our plates with eggs and pancakes, knowing we'd need the fuel.  After the previous night's terrific steak dinner, I had high hopes for breakfast.  Sadly, it fell short of expectations.

Sign photo op

After breakfast, my sis and I returned to the dorm and quietly tried to ready ourselves for the day's hike.  Half the ladies in our dorm had signed up for the later breakfast and were still sleeping (or they were until we came back).  It was difficult to quietly dress and pack up by headlamp light, but we managed.  The three sisters group, who were staying an extra day, eyed our coveted bottom bunks.  I could see the ladies plotting to snatch them up as soon as we left.

Mules ready for the day's ride

Worried about reaching the rim after sundown, I'd originally planned to begin today's hike before dawn.  But the Colorado River was so lovely, I couldn't bear the thought of hiking in the dark and missing out on the scenery.  So my sister and I decided to wait until daylight to begin our journey.  Packed and ready, we hung out in front of the Cantina and chatted with the three sister group.  We filled our hydration bladders and I took one last potty break.  When the clock struck 7 am and first light began to filter into Bright Angel Canyon, I decided it was time to go.

Friendly mule

Wandering back down the path, I again admired the colorful yellow cottonwood trees framing the red canyon walls.  We strolled past the mule pen, and discovered a half dozen mules saddled up, ready for their morning ride.  Since my sis and I had been too tired to get photos of ourselves by the welcome sign the previous day, we took the time to do this now.  Passing by the mule barn, we encountered a couple of baby deer grazing right beside the trail.  The deer were so tame, they barely moved to let us by.  (I tried to get photos but it was still too dark here)

The trail junction I almost missed

The trail from the river to Phantom Ranch that yesterday seemed endless, today was a mere quick jaunt.  Before I knew it the canyon walls surrounding the Colorado River came into view.  I passed right by the junction of the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails, and if not for my eagle-eyed sister would've continued back up the South Kaibab (yeah, and I was supposed to be the navigator!)  Luckily my sis saw the sign and righted our course.  Okay, Bright Angel Trail here we come!

Crossing Bright Angel Creek

After crossing Bright Angel Creek, we meandered past another mule corral and some admin buildings.  Another group of hikers with huge backpacks passed us, the only hikers we'd see for the next 2 miles.  Then up ahead, I saw the suspension bridge that would take us back across the mighty Colorado River.  Nicknamed the "Silver Bridge" it was the newer of the two hiker bridges at the canyon's bottom.

Colorado River at dawn

Not only does the Silver Bridge transport hikers over the river, it also provides a support structure for the transcanyon water pipeline.  An amazing engineering feat, this pipeline draws water from Roaring Springs, near the North Rim, down Bright Angel Canyon past Phantom Ranch, across the river via this bridge, and the water is then pumped up the canyon to the South Rim Tourist area.  A whopping 500,000 gallons of water a day flows through this pipeline.

Crossing the Silver Bridge

Re-crossing the Colorado River on the Silver Bridge was just as thrilling as yesterday's traverse of the Black Bridge.  I noticed this bridge was much narrower and also didn't have the wooden decking for the mules.  (Only the Black Bridge is designated for mule crossings)

Silver Bridge

The scenery was even more spectacular from the Silver Bridge.  Especially at sunrise.  I was so happy now we'd waited until daylight to begin our hike.

Morning light illuminating the upper rim

The rising sun hit the very top of the canyon walls, illuminating them a rosy pink.  The Colorado glowed a light blue hue.  Absolutely breathtaking!  My sis and I took a break on the opposite side of the bridge just to take it all in.

The trail along the river was a delight

Our trail then followed the Colorado River for the next 1 1/2 miles.  This portion of the hike was a delight.  My sister and I both enjoyed watching the mighty Colorado as it churned through the narrow canyon.  The river bank was lined with lots of bushes sporting autumn hues.  The water itself was a beautiful aqua color.

Sunlight hitting the canyon made lovely reflections

And best of all, sunlight hitting the upper canyon walls made lovely golden reflections in the river.

More golden reflections

Lots of photography breaks were taken!

The River Resthouse - a much appreciated surprise restroom!

Our trek along the river ended all too quickly.  Before we knew it, the River Resthouse came into view.  This marked the point where the Bright Angel Trail turned inland and began its climb to the South Rim.  Happily, there was a surprise restroom here, which my sis and I took full advantage of.

Leaving the Colorado River behind we start climbing through a lovely canyon

Then my sis and I bid a sad "goodbye" to the Colorado and turned away, following the Bright Angel as it began to wind through a side canyon.

By the second day, we were sick of dodging mule poop

It's here I have to say a word about mules, specifically what they leave behind (aka "road apples," "meadow muffins"....)  There seemed to be quite a large amount of mule poop on the trail.  Although it had only been a couple of hours into the day, my sister and I were already getting tired of dodging these smelly bombs.  That's probably the only thing I really disliked about hiking the main Grand Canyon Trails.

Morning light beginning to creep into the canyon

I was really surprised by how beautiful this lower portion of the Bright Angel trail was.  Tall rocky cliffs towered above, glowing pink and orange in the morning sun.  A lovely babbling brook paralleled the trail, lush vegetation covering it's channel.  It was like a little oasis.  So unexpected!

A lone, yellow cottonwood tree

A lone, yellow cottonwood tree made for a great photo op amongst the red cliffs.

My sis admires the rock formations

After enjoying a relatively flat stroll along the Colorado, our climbing began in earnest.  It felt good to be finally going uphill after descending all day yesterday.  The temperatures were pleasantly cool for uphill hiking.  Still a bit of chill in the morning air and for awhile we also enjoyed  shade from the canyon's walls.

An rare, unshaded portion of the trail

Then our trail began winding through open, sunny spots.  Oh was there a temperature difference!  My sis and I both began sweating in the morning sun.

Near Indian Gardens the fall colors were fantastic!

I started seeing more and more yellow changing leaves.  They were so pretty - I was pulling out my camera continuously.  About this time we met our first downhill hikers, a nice man and woman.  The man told us there was a stretch up ahead that was full of beautiful fall colors.  He also informed us that most of the trail from this point would be in shade.  After toiling uphill in the open sun, it was welcome news.

Golden grasses

That friendly downhill hiker was spot-on.  Soon after our encounter, my sister and I came upon a canyon full of golden vegetation.  Absolutely stunning!

Autumn paradise

Progress slowed to a crawl as I attempted to capture it all.

Deep canyons and fall colors

We wound through some impressive canyons with tall rocky walls rising hundreds of feet high.

So beautiful - progress was slow in this area

High, rocky bands of the upper canyon began to come into view.

Winding through this narrow canyon

One portion of the trail was merely a rocky shelf that appeared to have been chiseled out of the side of a cliff.  A tiny waterfall gurgled in the narrow chasm below.

One of my favorite images

The image above is one of my favorites.  The large rock formation above is lit up by the sun, there's golden cottonwood trees in the foreground, and a glimpse of the rocky trail along the cliff.

My sis even stopped for photos!

The autumn color area stretched on for a glorius mile.  According to my gps, we were supposed to be getting close to Indian Garden, our next official rest stop.  By now my sis and I both needed to use the restroom, but there was just enough hikers on the trail that we were afraid of getting caught if we stopped and dropped trou.  So on we trudged - it couldn't be too far, could it?

Indian Garden is up there somewhere

The final half mile to Indian Garden seemed to take forever.  By now I was hangry, had to pee, and needed a rest break.  We hiked through a wet, brushy area, squishing through some mud.  Tall trees made it seem like we were walking though a tunnel.  Would it ever end?  And then, just when I was ready to take a break right where I stood, we glimpsed the rooftop of a restroom building.  Indian Garden - finally!

Saddle-sore mule riders

Indian Garden was a busy place.  There was a large restroom building, ranger station, covered seating area, and a construction crew doing some sort of maintenance nearby.  We saw quite a few hikers already sitting on the benches having lunch.  Dropping our packs, my sis ran off the the potty, while I took a load off on a nearby stump and proceeded to inhale my sandwich and chips.

I wondered why some of the mules wore muzzles

While my sis and I were resting and enjoying our lunches, a mule train arrived from the rim.  My sister noticed one older man seemed to be grimacing as he rode by.  The riders all dismounted from their mules for a break.  The older man and his wife were so saddle sore they could hardly walk.  It was so funny, my sister and I couldn't help laughing as the couple gingerly limped uphill to the restroom.  My sister and I both decided then and there we preferred hiking up the canyon to riding a mule.  As my sis put it, "I'd rather have sore feet than a sore butt."

Perfect timing for fall colors

The food and rest put some pep back into my body and I now felt ready to tackle the final climb to the rim.  So my sis and I shouldered our backpacks and bid Indian Garden, and the mule riders, goodbye.

Rock walls soared to the sky

 As we exited the rest stop, my camera was treated to a final show of autumn yellows in a grove just below the canyon's red rim.  Although already containing dozens of these images, I couldn't resist adding just a few more to my memory card.  I couldn't believe my luck - it appeared we'd hit fall colors at their prime.

Climbing out of the valley

The trail wandered through a fairly flat plateau bordered by towering cliffs.  Gazing up, I realized we had some serious climbing ahead of us if the rim was truly only 4.5 miles away.

How will we get up this tall cliff?

The trail led my sis and I towards an immensely tall wall of rock.  It appeared to be blocking our way.  As we approached, I kept thinking "How are we going to get up that?"

This is how - lots of switchbacks

Turning a corner, I quickly found out how - switchbacks, lots and lots of switchbacks.  Coiling around the side of the cliff we slowly began our steepest climb of the day.

Squiggly trail

However, once I'd climbed a ways, it was kind of fun to look down upon the squiggly trail we'd just ascended.

Warning sign at 3-Mile resthouse

Past Indian Garden, my sis and I began to see our first dayhikers venturing from the canyon rim.  We joked about the distance from the top vs the number of unprepared hikers on the trail.  We both agreed when we began to see selfie sticks, we'd be close (and it was true!).  This ominous sign at the 3-Mile Resthouse warned visitors of the dangers of hiking too far down into the canyon.

Covered seating area at 3-Mile resthouse

After a long, steep climb, the 3-Mile Resthouse was a welcome sight.  A shaded seating area had been constructed from native rock and it appeared to blend into the surroundings.  I couldn't help noticing the thermometer hanging on the outside.  Thankfully heat wasn't an issue today.

More fabulous scenery

Sitting in the resthouse was a group we recognized from Phantom Ranch.  Curious about the cabins, my sister had asked them if we could peek inside theirs.  The group remembered us from the previous night and we had another nice chat during our rest break.  The people in this group were really funny, and we had lots of laughs and entertainment.  (One guy offered to do a few cheerleader jumps in exchange for a handful of my gummy bears)

One of many rest breaks

From the 3-Mile Resthouse was more steep, windy uphill climbing.  Although the trail was dusty and rocky, the scenery was breathtaking.  The layered, multicolored canyon walls were so interesting to see.  And as we climbed closer, my sis and I got some up-close views of the many rock layers making up the Grand Canyon.

Approaching 1 1/2-Mile resthouse

Either my gps was off, or the distances were longer than they showed on the map, because it took an extremely long time to reach the next stopping point, the 1 1/2-Mile Resthouse.  My gps measured nearly 2 1/2 miles to reach this destination, not 1 1/2.  My sis and I were both relieved to see the Resthouse's 2-story restroom perched over a vertical dropoff.  We weren't far now!

Still a long ways to climb

Hot, tired and dusty, my sis and I sat in the shade of some bushes and snacked on the crumbly remains of our two-day food supply.  My potato chips were smashed into small pieces, and my baggie of oreos a mass of chocolate crumbs.  I began to fantasize about the glass of salted caramel porter I planned to order from the bar at Bright Angel Lodge once we finished.

Looking back

For the final three miles, my sister and I had been lapped two older men who'd also spent the night at Phantom Ranch.  It got to be a joke between us, they would pass us when I took a photo break, and then we'd pass them a short time later.  I kept telling the men we'd see them at the bar.

Rare photo of your favorite blogger  :)

Since I let my sister lead most of the way, she was in quite a few of my photographs.  Approaching the top, my sis insisted she take a few shots with me in them instead.  I didn't realize until after she'd clicked the shutter, but the two older men were following behind and walked into the shot.  My sis called out to them "Now you're going to be in my sister's blog!"  (And they are!)

We reach the lower tunnel

From my previous visit in March 2018, I remembered a tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail not far below the rim.  What I didn't realize is that there's actually two tunnels, and the lower one is still a mile from the top.  Thinking we were almost done, I was really excited when my sis and I passed through the lower tunnel.  But it didn't take long to realize we still had a bit more climbing ahead (insert frowny face.....)

The spot of yellow far below is Indian Gardens

Although the last mile was tough, the fabulous scenery helped buoy my spirits.  I was torn between stopping and taking photos and just wanting to get this hike over with.

My sis is ready for a beer!

We began to see more and more people on the trail.  Lots of well-meaning folks tried to tell us we were "almost there." (We weren't)  But when I spied the distinctive rock column that I'd remembered seeing from the rim, I knew we were finally close.

When I saw this rock column, I knew we were close

Through the final rock tunnel I could see the rim itself.  Wow, my sister and I were going to do this!  And we'd made really good time - it wasn't even quite 3:00 in the afternoon.  My fears of finishing in the dark were all for naught.

Trudging through the upper tunnel

Dodging tourists, my sis and I made our way up the final incline to the rim.  Then we walked over to the Bright Angel Trail sign and asked a nice lady nearby to take a few photos.  My sister and I raised our arms in victory.  We'd done it!  I'd read somewhere that only 1% of the visitors to the Grand Canyon venture below the rim to the Colorado River.  I told my sister we were now part of an elite club. 

Now it was time for that beer.......

I was torn between capturing the beauty and just getting done

Knowing after our big hike we wouldn't want to walk very far, I'd booked a room in the nearby Bright Angel Lodge.  We lucked out with a parking space right outside the lodge, so my sis and I walked about 200 yards to the car, dropped off our backpacks, and headed straight to the bar!  The tall, cold glasses of Porter tasted so good, we decided to split a third.  But our waiter, misinterpreting my request for "one more" brought us each a second glass.  After hiking all day and then drinking two pints of beer, my sister and I were feeling a little loopy.  Time to hit the showers, and then get some food.  Which is exactly what we did.  Funny thing, while having dinner later in the Bright Angel Lodge, who should we see but the Oklahoma couple we'd started our hike with the day before.


For something planned over a year in advance, things couldn't have gone more perfectly.  We had fabulous weather, beautiful fall colors, and my sister did great!  Even with our leisurely (aka "lots of photo stops") pace my sister and I were able complete our climb up the canyon in about 7 1/2 hours.  We both agreed that the downhill was much harder than the climb up, and we both thought the Bright Angel Trail was much prettier than the South Kaibab.  My sister and I also both wished we would've stayed another day at Phantom Ranch to fully explore the canyon.  And we decided that next time we're going to try for a cabin instead of the dorms.

Next time?  Oh yes, we're already plotting a return trip for November 2021.  I can't wait to do this again.


  1. The photographs were wonderful of this amazing place. Well done the 2 of you. it is great that you are already planning a repeat excursion.

  2. Gorgeous photos. I've seen lots of photos taken from the rim and always wondered what it was like down there at the bottom. Well, now I know and I'm surprised that there are trees growing in such an unlikely location.

  3. Hello, you and your sister had a wonderful hike back to the rim and lodge. The photos are views are fabulous. Great trip report and post. Enjoy your day, happy weekend!

  4. Espectacular este belo trilho de montanha.
    Gostei de ver estas belas fotografias.
    Um abraço, bom fim-de-semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa

  5. ...thanks for sharing this hike that I most likely will never make!

  6. I so enjoyed this. Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed post AND your blog is NEVER too photo heavy!

  7. Wonderful, wonderful pictures! I felt like I was right there with you smelling the mule poop. :-)

  8. Great Job! See you in Prescott in 2021 if you want to stop over you are welcome. And of course we will see you in Portland in 2020!

  9. Awesome photos and description of your trip. Just when you think the trail can't get any steeper it does! Amazing to look back and see how steep the trail is.

  10. What an amazing adventure you had! Congratulations to both of you for making it happen. Looks like you couldn't have had better weather or timing; the autumn colors were incredible! I can't wait to read about your 2021 trip.

  11. Nice going ladies! I love that you had such perfect conditions, your photos are fabulous!

  12. Fantastic trip. Great photos and memories to keep and look back on.

  13. I completely loved "hiking" with you and your sister. Your narrative and accompanying photos made me feel like I was right there!

  14. Yeah! What a hike! So fun to see through your eyes! :)

  15. The photos are awesome! Thanks again for being the tour guide!

  16. Totally, totally awesome photography. Congratulations and goodluck for 2021!

  17. You girls are a freaking FORCE OF NATURE! Great photos always but as usual as I sit at my desk working, your athleticism astounds!

  18. Hi Linda.. What a fabulous fun post. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

  19. Wow! Great pics and a fascinating post. I remember reading "Brighty of the Grand Canyon" as a kid, and marveling at the illustrations.

  20. It is really hard to get a cabin, but if you don't get one in the lottery, you can go on the website and check for cancellations. Look at Phantom Ranch Availability and just keep putting in all months (though I'd stay away from June through August). That is how I got a cabin for one night this December. Now you need to get off the corridor and explore the Tonto!

  21. What a gorgeous morning, all that gold on the water and then on the trees too! Truly a wonderful trip and hike.

  22. Amazing! Brought back memories of my halfway hike in July back in the 90's! We hiked down the South Kaibab along the Tonto trail and then back up the Bright Angel Trail - all in a day. A bit mad but it was great to explore the canyon. Realy enjoyed these posts :)


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