Our early night last night turned out to be a good idea since we were up at half past 6 in order to get to the South Kaibab Trailhead for 8am to join the ranger led hike down to Cedar Ridge. This trail, described as “steep with expansive views”, would take us down 1.5 miles into the canyon, with an elevation change of 1,140 feet.

Cedar Ridge - as far down as we went on the South Kaibab Trail.

Missing the first bus by about a minute, we thought we were going to be late and miss the hike, but got there in plenty of time. The ranger introduced himself and talked to the group while we all stood shivering in the cold morning. He explained how the South Kaibab Trail was built by the park service after several years of unsuccessfully trying to remove the toll on the then privately owned Bright Angel Trail. Once the South Kaibab Trail was complete, access to the river and the inner canyon became free again. He took us slowly down the trail, stopping to point out interesting things or to chat to us about the canyon. He told us that by hiking below the rim, we were part of an elite 5% of the 5,000,000 yearly visitors, 95% of whom do not venture into the canyon itself. He also mentioned that those who hike down to the river and stay overnight account for only 1% of the yearly visitors. To be honest, we were both a bit shocked at these figures, especially that only 5% of visitors hike any distance down into the canyon. We reached the first rest point after about 45 minutes, which we probably could have done faster on our own, but without all the interesting things that the ranger was stopping to tell us. This point was called Ooh Aah Point, but is unsigned after 4 signs disappeared in as many days and it was too expensive to keep replacing them. It would never have happened if they had given it a less amusing name… Continuing down to Cedar Ridge the trail got quite steep and gravelly in places, the guide had said that at some point someone would fall over, and I was determined that it wasn’t going to be me. It was very nearly the lady in front of Liz on several occasions, since she insisted on viewing the world through her camera, even after almost falling twice… idiot.

Posing at Ooh Aah Point on the way back up.

We reached Cedar Ridge, and the end of the hike at about 9.20am, which is where the ranger left us, well, he waited to answer questions for about 20 minutes before leaving us to hike up at our own pace. After a brief sit down for snacks and water, admiring the view and photos, we began the steep ascent back to the canyon rim. Although the sun was now out, it was still pretty cold, but we soon warmed up once we started hiking uphill. The return trip took the same time as the descent, with frequent stops for photos and to make friends with the local wildlife. We reached the rim at about 11am and ran to catch the bus that had just arrived. Back at the campsite we sat in the car for a while to warm up while we waited for the showers to reopen (closed for cleaning), after more coin operated showers we spent a large portion of the afternoon drinking gin in the sunshine. Late afternoon, we caught a succession of buses back towards Hermit’s Rest trying to recreate a photo from our first day. The weather wasn’t as nice, and the sun was in a different place, so it didn’t go too well, but we found the spot. We then caught another bus headed back towards the village and watched the sunset from Mohave Point over the canyon.

Final Grand Canyon sunset.

It was one of the clearer sunsets that we saw, but my camera chose this point to decide that it was nearly dead, which was less than helpful. After catching the bus back to the village we headed back to El Tovar in search of dinner (we had spotted some delicious looking chilli on the bar menu) and more cocktails. There were no tables when we arrived so we sat at the bar, and ordered our Cactus Lemonades (made with vodka, Limoncello, prickly pear syrup and a little lemonade). The two older guys next to us immediately offered to pay for them, we thanked them but said that this wasn’t necessary. As the evening progressed they talked to us more and more, particularly Steven, the one closest to us. He wanted to hear all about our trip and offered to put us in touch with his kids (around our age) for places to stay in Seattle and New York as well as recommending places all along the way. When it was time for us to head back to the campsite, he insisted on picking up our entire tab, dinner and all, and got the barmaid in on the act when we tried to at least pay for the food… “Your tab is $0.” Eventually, we accepted defeat, and thanking Steven and leaving a tip for the bar staff, Robby in particular had given us lots of advice about places to go and things to see in Vegas. Slightly tipsy after a few Cactus Lemonades we ended up running to catch the bus, rather than wait half an hour in the cold for the next one. Back at the campsite, we put on all our layers for the final time, activated our “hand warmers” that we had found in the general store and went to sleep. (It turns out, that while the hand warmers were very warm, we both got a little freaked out by the warnings about them causing burns or possibly catching fire and threw them out halfway through the night!)