Rim to Rim — Page 7

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek

Where trails (and therefore safe passage) are concerned, the story of the Grand Canyon involves two key factors: the geologic feature known as the Redwall, and water.

The Canyon's layer of Redwall limestone is the most consistently vexing barrier to human travel, presenting itself most often as an 800 vertical foot wall, impervious to scrambling. A little human engineering aside, trails tend to take advantage of geologic faults across the Redwall for easier passage.

Hikers and Creek Inside the Box Yuri Lewicky M.D. Prickly Pear Cactus

But water remains the ultimate arbiter of Grand Canyon trail design, for without regular access to it, hikers simply cannot carry enough to survive.

And so the North Kaibab begins by following Bright Angel Creek northward, winding in and out of shadow mercifully provided by towering walls of rock—a stretch of trail known as 'The Box'.

This early part of the hike covers mostly flat ground, ascending ever so slowly alongside the gentle babble of the creek. Unseasonably mild temperatures and low-angle October sun make for truly pleasant conditions today, but beware: The Box is an entirely different beast in summer.

Due to the extreme heat and surrounding rock, which absorbs and then radiates the sun's heat, the National Park Service calls this a particularly dangerous section of the canyon—like crossing a blacktop parking lot in Phoenix in summer, they say.

In other words, in summer, stay away.

Seven miles of sand eventually make themselves known. My legs start protesting. My brother and I stop for a recharge break, drinking water and downing energy and electrolyte packs. Our spirits may be sagging a big, but it's still good to be here—and especially good to be here together.

Our conversation soon turns to the long-ago past. We're approaching Cottonwood Camp, somewhere not too far up the trail ahead. As kids, my brother and I hiked with our parents from the north rim to Cottonwood Camp and Ribbon Falls, where we spent two nights before hiking back out. Neither one of us has been back to Cottonwood Camp since.

We're both eager to revisit this part of the canyon, walk that same trail, and see how it compares to our childhood memories. We're also parents now ourselves, and we're both more than a little curious how our parents managed to pull it off—an overnight hike that deep in the Canyon, with the two of us youngsters in tow.

next: Yesterday

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.