South Kaibab-Bright Angel Loop — Page 4

Andy Approaching Skeleton Point

Skeleton Point

I am sympathetic to any hiker who goes farther down the Grand Canyon than they intended. It's hard to turn back. Every step, it seems, brings fresh wonders into view.

And, of course, going down, you can quickly cover a lot of ground. After Cedar Ridge the trail proceeds in a straight line past O'Neill Butte, all the way to Skeleton Point without a switchback—the maximum distance the park recommends for day hikers.

O'Neill Butte South Kaibab Trail & Tonto Plateau Switchbacks Grand Canyon & Tonto Plateau Yaki Point Skeleton Point

Past Cedar Point the few other day hikers I've been leapfrogging gradually turn back, leaving me feeling as if I'm the only person in the canyon today.

This sense of solitude might be hard to imagine for those who've only experienced the busyness of the South Rim and Grand Canyon Village, but the canyon is a big place.

Get far enough into it, even on one of the main corridor trails like the South Kaibab, and soon enough you'll find yourself entirely alone.

Though the trail between Cedar Ridge and Skeleton Point runs straight, I can see an extended section of switchbacks ahead. Soon, enough, we'll be losing elevation again.

Here on this last flat section before the drop to the Tonto Plateau, the ridge offers another round of stirring views, including a dropoff-overlook to the north.

I stop to scout my return route. In the distance I can just make out the thin line of the trail to Plateau Point, an overlook near the Bright Angel Trail. In this moment, the scale of my planned loop hits home.

Behind me now is O'Neill Butte, and far beyond that, the lofty summit of Yaki Point and the rim. Already, I feel a long way down, though I'm still not even halfway to the river.

No doubt about it: this is an intimidating hike.

The last bit before Skeleton Point is a flat plain that seems to hang over the rest of the canyon. It would be easy to mistake this section for the Tonto Plateau, but in fact the Tonto is still another thousand vertical feet down.

I put my camera on a rock and snap a shot of myself.

One of the the things that is lost to visitors on the rim is the true depth and breadth of the canyon.

Seen from the rim, the perspective tends to flatten. But when you begin hiking down into the Grand Canyon, you quickly come to realize that the Canyon is actually a vast, three-dimensional space. Thus I find myself now on a large, flat plain that feels much like a valley floor. And below this tier is the even-larger expanse of the Tonto Plateau, which is perched itself above the Canyon's Inner Gorge and Colorado River.

Hiking the Canyon, you develop a physical sense of the topography, seeing it not merely as a great hole in the ground, but rather a dizzying labyrinth of soaring buttes, plunging ridges, and yes even broad, flat regions like the one I'm presently traveling. What is perhaps most striking is the way these disparate zones abut each other, transitioning with jarring abruptness from one plane to another.

And so it is when I reach the alarmingly-named Skeleton Point. Here, the flats end in an impressive dropoff atop the Grand Canyon's Redwall Limestone layer. A hitching post for mule trains and a small wooden sign complete the amenities at this pit stop. Below, the trail aggressively descends through the Redwall's sheer cliffs.

next: To the Tonto Plateau

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.

Pray for snow.