Rim to Rim — Page 5

Grand Canyon: The Inner Gorge

Inner Gorge

The South Kaibab Trail is flat across the Tonto Plateau and then suddenly it isn't. The horizon drops and the Grand Canyon reveals its big secret: a hot pink center.

Winding through the middle of it is the blue (today) ribbon of the Colorado River, distant yet also close enough, if you listen carefully, for us to hear its roar. Across the river is an inviting grove of cottonwood trees—Phantom Ranch, the very bottom of the Canyon.

Hikers & South Kaibab Trail The Inner Gorge & Colorado River Mule Train Black Bridge

No matter how times I see this view, I will never be tired of it. I walk right up to the edge of that incredible chasm and stop for a minute to just plain gawk at it.

These are the Canyon's oldest rocks, seabeds nearly two billion years old, transformed by time and unfathomable pressure into today's metamorphic schists and granites and neisses.

While the landscape above is open and expansive, the Inner Gorge is constrained and narrow, intimate even, offering the Canyon's deepest and perhaps most striking color palate.

From my perch atop a rocky ledge, the river is close in absolute distance, but still some fifteen hundred vertical feet below. The South Kaibab is visible ahead, descending back and forth repeatedly on its way to Black Bridge and the Colorado River.

It is a pleasure today to find moderate temperatures inside the gorge. This isn't just the deepest part of the canyon, it's also the hottest, usually shockingly hot, often life-threateningly so.

Today intermittent cloud cover mitigates the sun, and temperatures seem to be hovering nicely in the seventies, making for flawless hiking weather. My camera comes out repeatedly as I work my way down toward the river—there's just too much to pass up.

And it may be worth noticing here that there are two kinds of people, though of us (like me) heading down, and those who are coming from the bottom and heading up. While those of us on the downhill are generally still a fresh and peppy bunch, people hiking up are already red-faced and breathing in great gasping whooshes.

I feel a slight twinge of anxiety knowing I'll be joining them soon, but for now, the pleasures of the descent are too great to ignore. Down, down, down the switchbacks I go. Though the river remains stubbornly distant, the rush of its rapids grows ever more prominent, mixing with my boots thumping on red sandy ground and the murmur of other hikers along the trail.

next: Phantom Ranch

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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