South Kaibab-Bright Angel Loop — Page 9

Grand Canyon - Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

Since leaving Phantom Ranch I have thus far mostly contoured about the banks of the Colorado, neither gaining nor losing much elevation. That's about to change.

As I join the Bright Angel Trail, I'll soon be climbing a series of sun-exposed switchbacks to escape the canyon's Inner Gorge, including the trail's notoriously-scorching Devil's Corkscrew section. This, to be honest, is the part of the hike I'm most concerned about—the stretch between the river and Indian Garden.

Pipe Creek Drainage Grand Canyon - South Rim Andy Hiking Bright Angel Trail A Trickle of Water Log Steps Devil's Corkscrew

Dripping water from Pipe Creek, I step back onto the trail and begin the long, slow journey upward.

I intend to re-soak myself every chance I get. And, since the trail mostly follows Pipe Creek on the way to Indian Garden, that should give me plenty of opportunities.

Even with evaporative cooling working in my favor, even given today's relatively moderate temperatures, even with the occasional shade from patchy clouds above, the canyon here is simply brutally hot.

It is inconceivable to me to even imagine trying to climb out the waterless South Kaibab on a day like this. If there is any mystery as to why the Bright Angel is the preferred route out of the canyon, it should be clear by now.

My pace is deliberately slow here, slower than feels necessary. I think of overheating as a barrier: once you've broken through, the damage is done, and it's very hard to get yourself put back together.

Heat, like altitude, is an insidious threat that erodes your mental capacity, leaving your judgment impaired when you most need it. As with altitude, wise desert hikers perform regular mental checks on themselves (or better yet, with a partner), to verify that brain and body are functioning smoothly.

Though perhaps smoothly isn't the best word choice. Even under the best of circumstances, hiking up in the these temperatures is a great strain on the body. Only experience will tell you when your suffering is threatening to turn into something more dangerous.

And maybe, crazy as it sounds, the best way to prepare for a hike like this is to go get yourself in trouble—in a safe place. Hike the streets of Phoenix in summer heat and see what happens. Cross over that barrier to see how easy it is to suddenly feel your stomach rebel, your vision dim, your legs collapse beneath you.

Or maybe, better still, hike the canyon well away from Summer's heat.

Slow, slow, slow.

The Bright Angel may be the most popular trail in the entire canyon, but I'm alone down here right now—alone, spooked, and being ever so cautious.

I stop to soak myself again. It doesn't feel like it's enough. I'm in the Corkscrew now, climbing up, a snail beneath the hot sun. Dwelling on how much climbing lies above doesn't do me any good right now. It's hard to drink water; food sounds disgusting. I try an old trick to cope with not wanting to eat: suck on some salty foods, then spit out the remainder without swallowing.

Higher up, the trail moves away from Pipe Creek, leaving me on a prolonged waterless section that coincides with one of the hardest parts of the climb. Heat—even in the shade. The temperature is still climbing down here, probably will keep rising almost all the way to sunset. But I'm holding my own here: measuring my breathing, pacing my steps, keeping it together.

Bit by bit, I'm making my way out of the Inner Gorge. Past the Corkscrew the trail joins the robust Garden Creek, rushing with water. Shade trees begin to pop up. The gorge's metamorphic rock gives way to Tapeats Sandstone. I give myself a much-needed soaking, relieved. I'm clear of the worst of it. Not out of Grand Canyon—not by a long shot—but safely out of the Inner Gorge.

next: Indian Garden

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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