South Kaibab-Bright Angel Loop — Page 11

Grand Canyon - Bright Angel Trail

Switchbacks and Shadows

The Bright Angel isn't just chosen as an exit for its water. It is also preferred because of its shade. Afternoon sun is blocked by the trail's narrowing, U-shaped side canyon.

Until that sun goes down, it is capable of doing a lot of damage, especially on exposed heads and skin. Bring a wide-brim hat (vented is better) and wear light-colored cotton clothing (synthetics will dehydrate you faster). Finally, when it gets to be crunch time, make like a lizard and hide in the shade.

Leaving Indian Garden Bright Angel Trail Climbing the Redwall Hikers Hide in Shade UP is Mandatory Grand Canyon & Bright Angel Trail

Leaving Indian Garden, the sun makes itself known as soon as I'm out from beneath the Cottonwood canopy.

I eye the sky hopefully, looking to see if any thunderstorms will develop. Nope. Not much help from clouds, today.

This straight section of trail heading toward the switchbacks above surely isn't as hot as anything down below, but it's hot enough to unhinge you just the same.

Most of the people who leave Indian Garden at the same time as me set a fast pace upward, moving quickly up the trail and then beyond sight.

I'll be seeing them again, I know. They're about to get their most important Grand Canyon hiking lesson: going up isn't the same as going down.

My own pace, meanwhile, feels like a slow shuffle that won't ever get me atop the rim. Patience, I tell myself.

The day and the sun are still more than hot enough to cause trouble, and indeed as the trail starts to climb, I feel my own temperature start to rise uncomfortably once again.

Soon, those same speedy folks who rushed ahead reappear, now hiding in the Bright Angel Trail's shadowy nooks, eyeing the rim high above with a newfound sense of respect.

During summer months there are two water sources above Indian Garden, fed by piped water, at the Three-Mile and Mile-and-a-Half Resthouses (distances are from the rim). As at Indian Garden, weary hikers collect at these resthouses, trying to refresh and recharge before continuing the long slog out of the canyon.

On this section of the Bright Angel, your fellow hikers become neighbors of a sort. We all settle into roughly the same pace, rest stops included, so that I'm often climbing step-for-step with the very same people, hour after hour.

Occasionally our eyes catch, and we give each other a grim sort of smile, half encouraging, half pleading. A very few hikers crunch up from below and race upward even this high up. Almost without exception, they eventually reappear as well, usually bent over at the side of the trail, pale and frightened, laid low by the heat and, now, altitude. All of us watch that advancing shadow-line to the west with great interest, eagerly awaiting its arrival.

Meanwhile, the view behind us grows ever more inspiring—if you can find it within yourself to admire it. The Bright Angel, of course, is Grand Canyon National Park's premiere trail, and to hike it in the deepening light of late afternoon is to see it in all its glory. Looking back, I am particularly struck by how far down the Tonto Plateau and Plateau Point appear—to say nothing of the river, hidden below.

Inspiring views aside, however, for me (and many others), this part of the hike is just pure misery. My brain feels cooked, and I can barely stand to keep my hat on. My leg muscles are now threating open revolt, giving my stride a plodding, robotic clunk. Ordinarily I'd skip right up this easy slope without a care, but the day's effort has left me utterly spent. How much farther can the rim possibly be? Another thousand vertical feet? Maybe?

next: Finishing the Loop

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When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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