Nightside the Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim in one push - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 06-10-2014, 02:44 PM Thread Starter
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Default Nightside the Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim in one push

I wanted to do this one for a long time. Initial idea came several years ago during day-hike from South Rim (Full Report) - reaching junction with North Kaibab at Phantom Ranch I felt all too familiar sting: "how cool it would be to continue this way, instead of having to return back to South Rim"? Rim-to-Rim crossing is frequently done, but it has several logistic problems:

1) Due to high altitude (2600m), North Rim is closed till May 15. Although not deal-breaking obstacle, it poses significant challenge in terms of transportation.

2) Backpack is most popular option. Hikers take anywhere between 3 and 5 days utilizing Cottonwood Campground on descent from North Rim (North Kaibab Trail), Bright Angel Campground at Phantom Ranch (Colorado River level) and Indian Garden Campground on ascent to South Rim (Bright Angel Trail). However, reserving camp space is next to impossible - at least if you like flexibility, as I do.

3) Temperature - by 2nd half of May, inner gorge is already a scorcher during daytime. My crossing was on May 19; recorded day high at Phantom Ranch was 98 Fahrenheit!

For all these reasons I decided to try as day-hike. (Bragging rights might have to do something with it as well). Natural direction is North -&gt; South, due to less elevation gain (N: 2600 elev, S: 2200 elev). Night descent would allow me to spend only few hours of early morning at inner gorge, when temps are coolest. I utilized services of Trans-Canyon Shuttle (much thanks to fusti88 for the tip). Original idea was to shuttle back to North where I was camping for better part of the week after the hike, but knowing myself I thought I'd shuttle [u]before</u> the crossing. I left North Rim at 8am and drove to South Rim (4hr is enough), then left my car at Parking Lot 4 close to Bright Angel Lodge, recommended place for overnight parking, then shuttled back. This accomplished 2 things:

- I could not chicken out anymore. Car was on the other side!
- It was nice to have my vehicle, change of clothes, etc waiting for me after the hike, instead of spending another half of the day shuttling back when I already had enough of everything

[u]Down the North Kaibab</u>

I started just after 6pm. Most of the shuttle drive was spent dozing, so I was quite fresh. Thermos of ultra-strong coffee might have to do something with it. Pic at the start:

Idea was to descend to Phantom Ranch, cross to South Side, then rest till dawn at spot I was familiar with and finally ascend Bright Angel to South Rim before full heat of the day kicks in. North Kaibab is beautiful trail; well maintained, never too steep but also long - I did not carry GPS but according to National Park Service length is 14 miles (22.5km). Full details can be found here (PDF).

Most elevation loss happens in first part, until trail reaches Roaring Springs; afterwards it is almost flat. Initial bit is shared with mules and quite dusty; here I saw most of the people huffing and puffing climbing up; beyond Supai Tunnel I was on my own for remainder of the night. I don't have many pictures to share as it got dark around 8:30, when I donned the headlamp (descriptions in the image)

Section along Roaring Springs canyon is very cool, even a mite exposed at places. This is where it got 100% dark; but night was bright with many stars, and I felt quite pumped up about adventure lying ahead. Re-filled water bottle at Pumphouse Station, then continued descending and passed Cottonwood Campground where everybody seemed to be sound asleep around 10:30pm. My only regret remains that I wasn't able to do any side trips (i.e. Ribbon Falls) due to crossing fixation. Just past 11pm first crisis hit me and I started feeling sleepy; so I employed simple strategy: I'd walk for 45 minutes, find suitable rock, doze for 15 minutes (You can never really fall asleep this way), then continue. Occasionally I'd much with camera too, but this was without much success. Here is one photo around mid-point: Light is provided by my headlamp:

My main worry before the trip were rattlesnakes and scorpions; both are nocturnal and like to use cool hours of the night for venturing around. I chatted with Park Ranger about it, but he assured me I have nothing to worry about (He did comment on my plan though "I don't recommend it"). However, although I saw no rattlers, during one of my breaks as I was sitting down I saw scorpions and had to be careful. Never saw scorpion live before; they are much smaller than I expected. This is actually a bad thing; the smaller they get, the more poison there is - that actually wake me up, and I started paying much more attention. This is also the reason for rather unusual attire -- not too many people hike Grand Canyon with Gaitors, but I simply felt a bit safer that way.

Bottom part - about 2 hours - is spent hiking through "The Box"; ever narrowing Canyon of Bright Angel Creek with several bridge crossings. Here on several occasions I disturbed large groups of bats that flew out of their holes in the rock and buzzed around. I didn't feel too comfortable, but what could I do -- I needed light. Luckily no further accidents, and I reached Phantom Ranch around 2pm. It was still unbelievably stuffy and hot there; that made me happy for choosing night descent, and traveling light with only daypack.

[u]Pipe Creek Dawn</u>
Now I was back to familiar territory. After refiling water bottle, I crossed Suspension Bridge to South Side and hiked for 45 minutes (was quite slow by that point) to Pipe Creek beach where I was going to wait for the dawn. Managed to snooze for couple of hours on the rock, then as it started getting bright got up and had breakfast:

This is where it really hit me, that I was actually going to make it! However, ascent remained - although much shorter than North Kaibab, there was now 1400 vertical to be gained. I packed up my "bivi" and started heading up around 6am.

[u]Up the Bright Angel</u>
This part was totally opposite to my descent - besides the obvious (going up), it was very much different in terms of solitude. At times it almost felt like Grouse Grind in North Van: Endless groups of people going either way, most ill-equipped, many too loud. This was particularly true as I got nearer to South Rim; part above 3 mile resthouse felt at times like a zoo. Still it was not possible to spoil the mood I was in; despite ever growing weariness there was special feeling of accomplishment in me now, and something I'd consider as landmark of my outdoor life.

Bright Angel trail is covered to much extent, so I will not spend much describing it. For full details you can download PDF here

I climbed much of Devil's Corkscrew in the shade, but it finally started getting hot past Indian Garden. Steepest part with most elevation gain still remained, and I was getting quite lethargic. I was also overheating, until I figured the trick: Water is available on Bright Angel, so I did not have to save. So I'd walk from shaded spot to shaded spot, then pour 1/3 of water bottle over my head and let it dry on the breeze. This helped substantially to overcome the crisis. Near the top (just above 3 mile resthouse) Park Ranger was turning back people in flip-flops, without any water or equipment. Chatted briefly with him; after he heard what I've just done, he just murmured "You are crazy".

Couple of pics from Bright Angel:

Finally I emerged to South Rim and Bright Angel Trailhead around noon. Could not resist, lame I know, and asked group of tourists to take this photo:

(After I told them I just crossed entire Canyon, they also started taking pictures of me. Such is the tourist reality).

To finish up, here are some stats:

Length: 23.9 miles
Elevation: Start 2600, River 900, End 2200. Cumulative: Down 1800m, Up 1400m
Time: Start 6pm, finish noon next day, with 3 hrs (3am - 6am) spent on Pipe Beach

To put things into perspective though: Some people do Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim as trail run. Still, I'm proud of my accomplishment and hope this TR can serve as general guideline to average hiker that considers doing the same.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 06-10-2014, 03:19 PM
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sweet, Great adventure, looking forward to the rest...

"he just murmured "You are crazy"." someone else's craziness is sanity to others. Great accomplishment!
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 06-10-2014, 04:25 PM
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Awesome! Great report. I haven't hiked in the Grand Canyon, although I've visited twice. Both trips were very brief and I hope to return to spend some time hiking! Thanks for the inspiration!
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 06-10-2014, 04:26 PM
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Holy wow !! What a feat.... well done.
I remember doing the Devil's Corkscrew in 112 degrees in May. Good thing you had some shade there. Fighting the crowds, mules, and heat on your way up is fun !!
Awesome accomplishment.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 06-10-2014, 05:20 PM
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Very [8D], and congratulations. : )
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 06-11-2014, 07:57 AM
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Very nice trip, I am jealous. Unfortunately I have to wait a few years before I can go back.
I wish I had read more about the rim-to-rim + shuttle service last year before I took off to my 17 days road trip down to the states, as I could have done it.
Just before I meet the "black knight" around 3am, I saw 2 small scorpions.
Funny, after I got back to the top, a family from New Mexico asked me to take a picture of them, mentioned to them that I just got back from below and they took a picture of me as well
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 06-11-2014, 01:18 PM
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Congrats! When I read your brief account of this in your overview thread I was thinking "why at night?" but that certainly added to the experience. None of these ranger types you consulted with gave you grief about your bivy plans? The whole booking campsites thing is such a crap-shoot due to the high demand I'd be very surprised if they didn't jump all over that.

I recall being somewhat taxed by the final push to the south rim as the closer you get to the top the more people there are and they seem to be unaware of trail etiquette, like maybe not come down three & four-wide straight at the tired guy with the big backpack? Gotta love the culture shock of returning to 'civilization'.
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 06-11-2014, 03:06 PM
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Nearly 40km of travel - good stuff. I remember the heat but it was the stench of mule piss that got a little overwhelming at times when I hiked there.
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 06-12-2014, 04:14 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks guys

simon - didn't know you hiked Grand Canyon. But 40km down there is nowhere as tough as 40km on North Shore. I think someone fit like you could do Rim-to-Rim in 8hrs, without resorting to nightime tactics out of shape old timers like myself do

sodbuster: Good points. I will expand on this a bit. I actually spoke to Ranger on North Rim. I told him my plan and asked if I needed anything (i.e permit) from Park Service. "No, as long as you are hiking and not camping". So, I was hiking; then I got to planned spot at 3 am, and took a break. Break extended to 3 hours, so I called it 'bivi' but I did not pitch a tent or tarp; I did not cook any food - I just took my pack and boots off, then laid down on the rock.

I think you are right; line is quite blurred. North Kaibab/Bright Angel are ultra popular. But there are other 'backcountry' trails there, that only canyon veterans visit. Many of them real multi-day backpacks, with overnights in primitive non-regulated campgrounds. Would be interested to find out if they actually ask for park permits; I think in many cases not
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 08-27-2014, 01:05 PM
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Further to the above comments regarding permits:

Special Use Permits from the National Park Service at the Grand Canyon will now be required for all rim-to-rim, non-commercial groups. The NPS cites the increased useage of the trail systems, and hopes to reduce trail conflicts. An estimated 800 hikers per day are on the trails during peaks weekend days in spring and fall in the Park. Groups that will need permits include non-profits and clubs, and hikers and runners on extended day trips. Commercial rim-to-rim day trips will not be authorized.

“With rim-to-rim and extended day hiking and running increasing in popularity," says Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga, "we needed to find an interim solution that would give us the tool to educate hikers and runners on best practices until we have a longer-term solution in place.”

Currently an Environmental Impact Statement is being prepared, that will aid in the revision of the 1988 Backcountry Management Plan. A draft plan should be available this fall for comment and review.
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post #11 of (permalink) Old 08-28-2014, 12:16 PM
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I just got to read this report (thanks to it getting bumped). My first thought was, "yup, definitely crazy..." but I guess you had some logic with cooler temps at night. Enjoyed reading this.
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post #12 of (permalink) Old 08-29-2014, 12:37 AM Thread Starter
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quote:Originally posted by guntis

I just got to read this report (thanks to it getting bumped). My first thought was, "yup, definitely crazy..." but I guess you had some logic with cooler temps at night. Enjoyed reading this.
Thanks. "Crazy" is relative; some people think it is crazy to climb mountains - why bother when you must descend what you just climbed, right? (I've actually heard this argument more than once). 40km sounds like a lot, but comparing to your "Elsay-Rector-Curate-Vicar" loop it is actually easier trip. Hiking Seymour back-country and hiking wide well graded GC switchbacks can't even come close in terms of overall difficulty.

Bottom line: I pick objective, then figure optimal way according to my abilities and preferences. I prefer day-trips whenever possible for variety of reasons. Remember passing through Cottonwood CG at 11pm and stuffy Phantom ranch at 2 am and thinking "Am I ever glad I don't have to sleep here". Now that some time has passed I'm even more convinced I picked optimal way for this.

Only regret is that I didn't get to see some of North Kaibab scenery, in particular "The Box". But that can be remedied by taking raft trip down Colorado to Phantom then ascending North Kaibab starting very early in the morning. Tale for another day

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