Despite the addition of several more layers, it was another cold night in the tent, and thus we were awake pretty early. We started our day with coin operated showers ($2 for 8 minutes) and a trip to Park HQ to use their electricity to charge my camera and download the photos from Lizzie’s. Once we had done that, there was time for a brief caffeine stop before returning the laptop to the car and making ourselves packed lunches before catching the bus to the Bright Angel Trail.

The Bright Angel Trail

We got off at the wrong stop (my fault entirely) but it was a short walk from there to the trailhead. The Bright Angel Trail is described as “steep, but popular” and descends from the rim right down 4,350 feet to the Colorado River. The hike to the river and back is a 15.6 mile round trip and is not recommended as a day hike, so that was out of the question. We thought that the trip to the 3 mile resthouse (6 miles in total) descending 2,102 feet sounded about right for the day, and that we could continue the further 1.5 miles down to Indian Garden if we felt up to it when we got there. The descent, although steep, was quite easy, and the trail was quite wide and well used. We passed a number of exhausted looking people heading back up towards the rim, which concerned me for our ascent later (if all the fit and healthy looking people look exhausted, what is an asthmatic at 5000+ feet elevation going to look like doing the same trip? – A tomato with blonde hair, luckily there are no pictures!).

The somewhat daunting view of the trail back up to the rim.

As we approached the 1.5 mile resthouse (1,121 feet below the rim) the path under our feet changed from the light sandy colour of the upper rock layers, to the rich rust colour that stands out throughout the canyon. We stopped for a break at the resthouse, eating our salty snacks to avoid Hyponatremia (one of a list of heat/exertion related health hazards that hikers are made aware of in the canyon, this one caused by low sodium and over hydration) and refilling our water bottles. After waiting for the group ascending from the river on mules to pass (this looks and sounds cool, but is expensive and has to be booked 12 months in advance) we continued our downhill hike. The further into the canyon we got, the more exhausted the people hiking uphill looked, especially those carrying camping equipment, who had clearly camped overnight in the canyon. By this stage the sun was high overhead and it was getting uncomfortably warm. The 3 mile resthouse became visible several hundred feet below us quite soon after leaving the previous one, but the walk down took us about 40 minutes. Once there it was time for lunch and a much needed sit down in the shade. Over lunch we discussed whether or not we wanted to continue down to Indian Garden. Lizzie was keen to do so, but I was wary of my ability to deal with 4.5 miles of uphill hiking on the way back, having seen several signs telling me that while down was optional, up was mandatory! We decided at this point to split up, Lizzie would head down to Indian Garden, and I would start hiking back towards the rim.

more views over the canyon

I would, however, take it very slowly and wait for a while before leaving for my uphill trek, so that Lizzie might have a chance to catch me up along the way, if not, we would meet back at the campsite later. After putting her boots back on and filling up her water she was on her way, I waited perhaps another 15 minutes or so, enjoying the view while sitting in the shade. The view back up towards the rim from over 2,000 feet below is stunning, but somewhat daunting when you know that you are about to start hiking back up the trail. After refilling my water, it was time to start the uphill climb. It was just after 2pm and the hottest part of the afternoon, clearly the best time to be hiking uphill! Because of this I took quite a few breaks, ostensibly to admire the view and to take pictures. Lots of people passed me going both up and down hill, but this didn’t bother me, “slow and steady wins the race” and all that. After about 2 hours of hiking uphill in the sun I finally reached the 1.5 mile marker.

...made it!

I refilled my water, and copying what I had seen several others do earlier in the day, ran my bandana under the tap before putting it back on my head in an attempt to stay cool, which worked really well. I climbed up the steep steps to the resthouse and sat there for a while, glad to be out of the hot sun. I chatted with a few people there, who were surprised that I was hiking alone, before I explained that Liz had continued down to Indian Garden, but that I hadn’t quite felt up to it. After my rest here, I continued up the side of the canyon towards the rim, grateful that at least some of the trail was now in the shade, something that increased the further up the trail I got. Once again I was passed by quite a few people, but I stuck to my slow and steady pace, looking back every so often in an attempt to catch a glimpse of Liz coming up the trail behind me. Just before I reached the rim the wind, which I had been sheltered from in the canyon hit me and I started to get quite cold. I eventually reached the trailhead at exactly 5.30pm, but there was still no sign of Liz. There was still plenty of daylight left, and it had crossed my mind that she might have continued down to Plateau Point at 6 miles below the rim to see the view of the river below, so I wasn’t too worried. Arriving at the rim, the wind hit me full force and after several hours of being too warm I was now freezing. On level ground for the first time in hours, my feet complained loudly and I staggered off to find a bus back to the campsite. Back at the campsite all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap, with washing up to do, and nothing but cold water, I knew I had to do it then or be miserable and cold when I did it after sunset. Washing up done, I finally took of my boots to give my aching feet a break and curled up in the relatively warm car to make notes for my blog. As sunset approached, I started to get increasingly worried about where Liz had got to; surely it wouldn’t have taken her this long to catch me up? Just as I was about to head over to the bus stop with her coat and a torch (there is no lighting in the campsite at all) she appeared at the car window. It turned out that she had gone all the way down to Plateau Point, which was why the return trip had taken her quite so long; she had done 9 miles since I last saw her. After a tin of pears in the car, and a pear juice related clothing disaster, we headed towards the Canyon Café because I really needed some hot food. The queue for “real food” was enormous, and I was too hungry to wait, so ordered a hamburger, which certainly fulfilled the hot food and meat cravings that I was having. Once I was done, we caught the bus over to El Tovar, the most exclusive of all the Grand Canyon lodges, to sample the Prickly Pear Margaritas recommended in our 99 Best Trips book.

Prickly Pear Margarita . . . yum!

Although expensive, they were delicious and just what we needed after a long day. We could have happily stayed for another, but the bus schedule dictated that we head home, so catching the last bus, we returned to the campsite where we layered up and climbed into the tent, falling straight asleep after a tiring day.