Last month when I needed to get out of my house so the realtor could show it, I went a little farther than was required--I went to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with four backpacking buddies. I have lots of nice pictures, so I'm going to do more than one post on it. (That's a lie. I'm doing the first two days because that's all the farther I've gotten in editing the photos.)

The route was down the South Kaibab trail, then out to Clear Creek and back to Phantom Ranch before going out via the Bright Angel trail. We did a couple of dayhikes on layover days (being unclear on the meaning of "rest day").

The South Kaibab descends 4740' in about 7 miles to cross the river and land at Phantom Ranch. Weather was more than cool, so we didn't make any extraordinary efforts to get to the TH early, starting down about 8:45.

Ready to drop off the edge.

The trail descends aggressively through the cliff bands, then traverses through the eroded slopes of less cliff-forming rock.

Bighorn sheep are plentiful in the Canyon overall, but a trio of youngsters right near the top was all we saw on such a well-traveled corridor.

At Ooh-Aah Point about 2.5 miles down, there is a pit toilet and a broad flat spot suitable for a nice break (or for a turn-around for dayhikers). From there we could study the deep canyon up which the North Kiabab trail climbs.

About five miles down, at the Tonto Tip-Off. A shade shelter with emergency phone and another pit (actually composting) toilet. The mules were engaged in trail work (hauling dirt and gravel to fix eroded sections of trail).

The Tonto Tip-Off is the point where the trail drops into the Inner Canyon, the last vertical fall to the river, down through the basement rocks of the Vishnu formation. Here you can just make out the alternating dark Vishnu schist and pink Zoroastrian granite. At the bottom: the Colorado River and the Kaibab bridge.

The trail approaches the bridge through a tunnel; on the other side it manages some very tight curves to pass back under itself.

Now on the north side of the Colorado, running muddy and close to the color that got it the name.


For a bit of comparison, I'm throwing in this photo from a year ago, on the river near the bridge. It hadn't rained for some time and the water was clear and green. By contrast, we dropped into the Canyon in the middle of a series of rain/snow storms across the area, with the river running something between red and cafe au lait.

On the river, April 2021--about a week later in the spring on clean clear water.

We spent several hours hanging around the canteen at Phantom Ranch, in order to cook and eat our dinners there where there was water. About 5 p.m. we headed up to find our dry camp at Sumner Wash on the Clear Creek trail.

Loaded down with extra water for a dry night and tired from the hike down, it took us nearly two hours to hike the 2.5 miles and 1200 up from Phantom Ranch to our camp.

Looking back down to the bridge. We have climbed back up to the Tonto plateau.

A large cairn marked the end of the "no camping" zone (which was mainly enforced by the fact that until then the trail ran along a cliff). We saw the cairn, we saw the flat spots, and thirty minutes later (maybe less?) we were all in bed.

Morning brought a lot of moaning and groaning but also sun and a fresh look at the layered rock we all love.

Look closely and you can see some of my companions still packing up. It was going to be a hot day, and I wanted to get going.

In addition to the big scenery, there was a lot of cool small scenery along the Clear Creek trail.

Reflections in the potholes, filled with water after recent rains. We leave that water for the critters.

A field of prickly pears backlit by the morning sun. We were hiking more or less east, up river.

Barrel cactus close-up

Brilliantly red Indian paintbrush

Another view to the river before we turn and hike up a long way above Clear Creek.

Finally, a glimpse of the green that signals cottonwoods in the creek, and our camp.


Camp. Usually none of us would bother with tents in the Canyon, but the weather was more than unsettled, and while we didn't get enough rain to really matter, it was hard to tell if we would. For those who like to know such things: the tent is a TarpTent Protrail Li. Next to it, my food is sealed in a metal-mesh Ratsack to protect it from rodents.

The author at work "cooking" dinner. I.e., boiling water to be added to bags of food.


We spent two nights at Clear Creek, which gave us time to go in search of the elusive Chevaya Falls. Stay tuned for the next adventure! (or just click the "Follow-it" link below and be notified when I have the next batch of photos ready).

(If you really like to drool over amazing rocks, the rest of the story is at The Search for Chevaya Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Back Out of the Canyon.)

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
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