South Kaibab-Bright Angel Loop — Page 2

Hikers & South Kaibab Trailhead

South Kaibab Trail

The South Kaibab is a hiker's trail. By that I mean it has all the qualities that delight: it is the shortest, steepest, most scenic, most efficient path to the bottom of Grand Canyon.

From the trailhead on the the south rim, elevation 7260', the South Kaibab trail takes you to the Colorado River, elevation 2400', in a mere 6.3 miles. For much of the way the South Kaibab follows the top of a prominent ridge, offering arguably the most expansive views to be had from any of Grand Canyon's major trails.

The Start of the South Kaibab Hiker Warning Signs Grand Canyon Switchbacks Looking Down South Kaibab Trail & South Rim

Those stunning ridge top views come at a price, however. Aside from a water faucet at the trailhead and the Colorado River below, the South Kaibab is waterless in its entirety. It also offers comparatively little protection from the sun. Thus, the South Kaibab is a favorite of experienced canyon travelers for going down, but quite a bit less ideal for coming back up.

Thankfully, there is an alternative exit: the Bright Angel Trail.

More on this subject to come... For now, I'm having trouble just getting to the trail. Visitors can no longer drive to the South Kaibab trailhead; access to Yaki Point is via shuttle bus only.

After parking at the Bright Angel Lodge, I make a foolish attempt to hike to the trailhead via the Rim Trail. Eventually I give in and ride the necessary shuttle bus, but the roundabout costs me a full hour. I don't arrive at the trailhead until a very late 8 a.m.

I'm certainly relived to finally be on trail, but truth be told I'm more than a little anxious about today's endeavor.

Mentally I run the numbers, trying to calculate how long it will take me to get to the river and then Phantom Ranch—my official turnaround point. At Phantom I plan to rest and eat, then begin the long, long climb back out.

When hiking Grand Canyon's Walter Powell Route a few years ago, my brother and I tried beating the heat by resting for several hours at the river, hoping to avoid the heat of the day.

In actuality, the hottest temperatures in the inner gorge often occur in late afternoon, which pushed us to our limits when we tried to hike out. Unless you're willing to hike out in the dark, an alternate strategy is to reach the river early and then try to get out of the inner gorge before noon.

If you succeed, you will make it out of ostensibly the most dangerous part of the canyon before temperatures skyrocket. But if you miscalculate, you'll find yourself trying to climb out of the belly of the beast at the worst time possible.

Meanwhile, as you'd expect from a trail that drops one mile in six, the South Kaibab wastes no time heading downward. From the information sign atop the rim, the upper part of the trail immediately descends through the canyon's sheer upper layer of Kaibab Limestone via a series of plunging switchbacks that contour in shade along the north side of Yaki Point.

Enjoy the shade while you can—once the trail pops around the end of the point, the sun will be a constant companion. Quick and easy downward hiking gets me surprisingly far down the canyon in no time, through the Kaibab and Toroweap formations, and then through the Coconino Sandstone. I'm always amazed by how distinct Grand Canyon's layers are.

One moment you're tromping on chalky-white dust through Coconino Sandstone; the next, you're walking on the vibrant red-orange sand of the Supai Group—a little drama of diversity that replays itself over and over again. It's worth calling attention to the ease with which we're dropping down into the canyon. In this short and speedy half hour, I'm already nearing the Cedar Ridge overlook, over a thousand vertical feet—already—below the rim.

next: Cedar Ridge

About SierraDescents

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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