Grand Canyon Backpacking, Part 2

Since we had the rest of the day at our disposal, we walked a short distance up the North Kaibab trail before turning down the Clear Creek trail. Though we only walked 5 miles or so, we climbed high enough to gain some nice views of the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch.

Bright Angel camp (2nd night)

Looking down on Phantom Ranch

The ranch is a primitive collection of cabins and bunkhouses popular among those who arrive via mule or raft; reservations supposedly fill up a year in advance.

Stone bench along the Clear Creek trail

We returned to our campsite fairly early in the afternoon, since we both thought it best to rest up for the long climb ahead of us the next day. I took a siesta while Allison worked on her thumb-twiddling skills.

After cooling off in the stream and cooking dinner (chicken vindaloo for myself and beef stroganoff for Allison), we retired early.


Friday was our designated “death march” day – 14.0 miles on the North Kaibab trail gaining 5761’ in elevation (with our heavy packs) in order to reach the North Rim, followed by another 5.3 miles of hiking on the rim between the trailhead, lodge, and campground.

Way too early to be hiking...

Needless to say, we hit the trail before dawn (4:29am by my watch) in order to stay cool. The first 7.2 miles of the hike was a nice and gradual path through a box canyon. We made great time, and even stopped for a short side trip to see Ribbon Falls (0.6 miles).

Easy first stretch through a side canyon

Looking down on Ribbon Falls

Part of the North Rim

We took a short break for “lunch” in Cottonwood campground around 8:00am before tackling the 6.8 miles of brutal switchbacks separating us from the North Rim. Although considerably less popular than trails on the South Rim, Allison and I both thought the North Kaibab trail was the most scenic of any we’d hiked.

Starting the climb

“I’d happily pay fifty bucks for a hamburger right now.”

North Kaibab trail

Along the way we got passed by two guys with Camelbacks who seemed really impressed that we were hauling our packs all the way up the North Rim in one morning. It turns out they were runners who’d started at the same time as us…from the South Rim. [Our turn to be impressed]

Matt on the Red Wall section

Allison on the trail

The final 1.7 mile stretch from Supai Tunnel to the trailhead was steep, agonizing, and covered in mule poo. We’d passed several helicopter pads on the way up, however, and knew there were actually two ways out of the canyon. Unfortunately, one of them bills for five grand. So we pressed on.

Crossing a bridge

We finally made it to the top around 12:30pm, where we were rewarded with the best campsite in the park (reserved exclusively for backpackers and cyclists). Our tent was perched mere feet from the rim of the canyon.

North Rim camp (3rd night)

The trip finally ended on Saturday morning when we forked over $160 for the five-hour shuttle ride back to the South Rim (only 10 miles as the bird flies, but 200+ by car).

Approximate Total Distance: 37.8 miles

Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 12:06 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Impressive trip – and one I would have loved to do as well. Thanks for sharing your trip. I loved it all!

  2. You guys rock, I am so jealous of you guys. Then again I love my caves! Great report over your second second instalment of backpacking in the Grand Canyon! I can’t wait to read some more. =)

  3. I’ve had the pleasure to visit many of these same destinations. Keep fit and you’ll have many years of adventures ahead!

  4. If you haven’t already, you two should also put the Grand Canyon hike into the Havasupai Nation on your bucket list. The aquamarine waterfalls are incredible and you can go all the way to the Colorado River if you choose for some extended miles and more solitude.

    • Sounds awesome! I’ll definitely look into that for the next time we go back.

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