Friday, August 28, 2009

Hike #47: Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

Length: 9.5 miles

By far the most popular trail along the South Rim, the Bright Angel Trail provides the most gradual slope of any of the trails in the Grand Canyon. For this reason, it makes for the perfect trail for ascending from the Canyon floor.

Beginning at the Bright Angel Campground, the trail immediately crosses the Colorado River over the Silver Bridge. Although similar to the older Black Bridge (which is just upstream), the Silver Bridge has a mesh wire bottom that allows for some rather scary views of the fast-moving water directly below. From the bridge, the trail turns west and continues running along the shoreline with little incline.

After approximately 2 miles, one encounters the River Resthouse (a set of restrooms and emergency phone), and the trail makes a sharp left turn and begins its incline. From here the climbs along a small creek, which actually passes over the trail in several spots. The trail and creek eventually lead to the first major rest-stop along the trail - Indian Gardens Campground. Located at the halfway point of the trail (about 4.5 miles each way), this is the first stop with potable water. The campgrounds also mark the end of the "easy" portion of the trail; from here, the trail becomes much, much more steep.

The upper four-miles of the Bright Angel Trail can be described as nothing more than an exhausting climb straight up! The trail continues in this manner with an endless series of switchbacks, which even the mule-trains seemed to have difficulties climbing! Fortunately, this top half of this trail is divided into 3 segments with well-established resthouses at both the 3-miles point and the 1.5 miles point. Both houses provided much need shade, potable water, and restrooms.

Upon reaching the upper region of the Canyon, one again encounters countless hordes of tourists enjoying a brief walk along the top. The final stretch of the trail has two short tunnels before the first welcome sight of the El Tovar Lodge. One can finally emerge into the crowded parking lot know that you were one of the small percentage of people who actually make it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

To view more photos of the Bright Angel Trail, click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hike #46: South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

Length: 7.5 miles

Although the South Kaibab Trail is accessible only by bus, the trail still receives a considerable amount of foot traffic; however, the vast majority of these people tend to make to no further than a mile or so down the trail.

The trail begins with an immediate descent through a series of sharp switchbacks. Although this first segment can be extremely busy, the magnificent panoramic views make one completely forget the crowds. After 1.5 miles of continuous descent, one reaches the Cedar Ridge Resthouse. Cedar Ridge is little more than a restroom and lone shade tree; however, it does serve as the turning point for most the casual visitors. (Note: There is no source of water at Cedar Ridge or anywhere along the South Kaibab Trail.)

From Cedar Ridge, the trail passes over O'Neill Butte, one of the only level areas of this trail. Unfortunately, the flatness is short-lived, and the trail soon passes through the most dramatic drop yet! With another set of dramatic switchbacks, the trail falls steadily with a series of rough stairs made from old railway ties. Look carefully to the left, and one can see the first glimpse of the Colorado River below.

After finally completely the steep limestone stairs, the trail pass the second set of restrooms and emergency phone. From here, the trail becomes gradually less steep as it passes through an intensely "red" portion of the Canyon. Eventually, views of the river become increasing common, and the historic Black Bridge becomes visible. Built in 1921, the Black Bridge serves as the main passage over the Colorado for both hikers of the South Kaibab Trail and the mule trains coming down the Bright Angel Trail (the mules are apparently afraid to pass over the bridge build along the Bright Angel Trail.)

After passing through a rather long tunnel and across the bridge, the South Kaibab Trail continues west, on the opposite site of the river, and enters the Bright Angel Campgrounds and Phantom Ranch after about a ¼-mile.

To view more photos of the South Kaibab Trail, click here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hike #45: Babe Haught Trail, Tonto National Forest

Length: 6 miles

Starting near the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery nent to the vastly popular Horton Creek Trail, the Babe Haught Trail provides a challenging hike, which is extremely exposed and can be quite warm in the August heat!

Beginning at the base of the Rim, the trail almost immediately begins a study climb upwards. The first ½-mile is a relatively easy walk through tall grass; however, be on the lookout for the numerous cattle that apparently graze along this path (and watch even more closely for the cow manure hidden among the grass!)

Eventually, the cool grass parts and the real climb begins. Switchbacking along the Rim, the trail makes a rather steep climb directly up the face of the Rim. Although the heat is quite intense along this segment, the beautiful panoramic views are almost enough to make one forget the discomfort. Fortunately, once reaching the top of the Rim, the temperature makes a sudden drop and the wind can be quite intense.

From the Rim top, the trail becomes much less developed; fortunately, numerous cairns and the occasional marked-tree make the path follow-able if watch carefully. For this final segment of the trail enters the forest, where due to the isolation of the path, there are great opportunities to view wildlife. Eventually, the trail exits onto FR300 and continues into the Coconino National Forest. Unfortunately, I did not continue on past the forest road; however, I have read that there is a nice lake at the trail's end.

To view more photos of the Babe Haught Trail, click here.