Dan and Hannah Hike the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Bright Angel Trail – 1     Danny Boy – 0


Bright Angel Trail by Wayne Boardman

That score has been burned into my mind for the last two years.  Not wanting to miss out on our beloved breakfast of biscuits, scrambled eggs, and fresh brewed coffee and reading the USA Today, Hannah and I did not arrive to hike the Bright Angel Trail of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon that day two years ago until 10A.  What were these kids thinking?  Starting a desert hike mid-morning?  Were they smoking something?  No,  but we had taken the bright out of the Bright Angel Trail.

Bright Angel Trail at 3 Mile Rest Stop

Bright Angel Trail at 3 Mile Rest Stop

On that day after two hours of hiking into the canyon we began our ascent from Indian Gardens a little after noon.  Mistakenly I had the idea that if I drank enough water, I’d be fine.  I wasn’t fine.  I wasn’t good.  I wasn’t fair.  I was rotten.  Dizzy and light-headed, I soon learned from a canyon volunteer during our assent that I was suffering from hyponatremia – basically too little salt in my system.  Indeed, I had broken the Second Commandment of the Trail – Eat salty snacks with water, D. B.  With Hannah’s help I wobbled, nay teetered to the top, consumed peanuts and gorp on the rim, and before long was reasonably coherent; clearly the Bright Angel had kicked my butt.  For two years, I  have been looking to settle the score.

The desert landscape of the Bright Angel Trail

The desert landscape of the Bright Angel Trail

Today, driving the 78 miles north from Flagstaff on excellent two lane roads at 540A, we encounter very little traffic and are able to park on the road in front of the Bright Angel Lodge.  Staying at the South Rim takes planning and forethought as the rooms fill up months ahead of time.  Getting reservations for the BAL a year ahead of time is not too early.

View of the Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Lodge

View of the Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Lodge

Ready to hike a good two plus hours earlier than two years ago, we descend the Bright Angel Trail at 7000 feet with water bottles, Salty Cajun Trail Mix, and liberally-applied sunscreen to begin the nine mile round trip to Indian Gardens at 4000 feet.

Bracing our knees with each descending step, we enjoy the clearly marked rocky trail, though in most places only wide enough for one, with its panoramic views without a cloud in the sky.  After having lived in Tempe. Arizona for ten years, we know this is a typical desert day: blue skies and hotter than Charles or any other dickens.  Stepping aside against the canyon wall and carefully avoiding the prickly pear cactus when the mule trains pass, we smile and wonder why everyone climbing out looks so beleaguered.  We have short memories and continue to “good morning” everyone.  Unfortunately our desire to verbally engage goes for naught.  It seems three quarters of all trail hikers today are European, and most of those German, who are not confident enough in their English to engage or just find our upbeat manner a little too annoying.

Mule train from the South Rim to Indian Gardens

Mule train from the South Rim to Indian Gardens Travels Faster Than We Do

Within two hours, we are at Indian Gardens and snacking on peanut butter and crackers as well as gorp under the shade of covered picnic tables with water available at a nearby fountain.   The thermometer in the shade by the mule hitching posts indicates a temperate 78F.  It lies.  Opposite is another thermometer in the sun bragging of its 110F.  It’s 10 AM and there is no shade on the Bright Angel Trail.

Indian Gardens - Dan and Hannah's Turn Around Point

Indian Gardens – Dan and Hannah’s Turn Around Point

Our ascent is hot and shadeless and we are not so chatty.  The Bright Angel Trail is strutting its stuff.  On steeper inclines our breathing gets heavier.  Being the stronger hiker, Hannah sets the pace where my mantra is:  Get to the rim, just get to the rim, Danny Boy.  Nasty smelling mule urine distracts me, but only slightly.   There is water at the three-mile hut and at another hut within a mile and a half of the rim to supplement our trail mix.   Approaching the top I have nothing left to give.  Plodding and surviving accurately capture my condition on those last steps to the rim.

The trail near Indian Gardens

The trail near Indian Gardens

Yet, let’s update the score.

Bright Angel Trail – 2 (Very good and still champion)     Danny Boy – 1 (Bloodied (metaphorically) and bowed but still standing)

As always when hiking, be ye olde or be ye younge, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

The switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail

The treeless switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail

3 thoughts on “Dan and Hannah Hike the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

  1. Your hiking posts always make me smile. This one brings back memories of a younger, fitter me who hiked the BAT all the way to the river, waded there, and turned around to hike back up. What I remember about the hike up is mule dust, passing and being passed by the same groups, and grinning when we all turned up at the ice cream stand at the rim. May be the dirtiest I’ve ever been. Keep hiking.

  2. Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the Canyon makes a great refuge for a night or two and a chance to explore down below. Clean beds, a shower and meals can be arranged. Very nice, and you can start hiking out before sunrise avoid the misery! I’ve been enjoying your stories, as I am a New Englander myself (grew up in VT) but have been living in AZ for the past 25 years.

    • Hi Lisa,
      My wife Hannah and I lived in Tempe for ten years. We moved to Maine in the early 80s to raise our three kids. Thanks for the feedback. Hannah and I ran for 30 years so our knees have taken a beating so Phantom Ranch is out of the question. We do hike to Indian Gardens on the Bright Angel Trail. Hiking and biking still suit us at 65. Best to your family. Dan

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