Hiking down the Bright Angel


So, we began our hike down to the river this morning at 4:38. We were all supposed to meet at 4:30 at the top of the Bright Angel Trail. Unfortunately, the buses don't run before 5:00 in some of the hotels up here at the South Rim, so a couple people weren't at the top. I think they had made arrangements, so we left without them.

Brian, the guide who is heading down the train with us until he meets up with the last hiker from the group heading up, told us yesterday not to dress for the current cold. He let us know that our walking would keep us sufficiently warm that the extra layers would be unnecessary and eventually burdensome in the expected heat.

That Brian is walking down with us is new to me. Apparently, there's a new rule that requires commercial groups to have a guide hike with the group. Not only hike with them, but also account for all of the hikers in the group. I guess I could understand the need, but geez, I would really have preferred to start walking at 6:00 am and arrive by 11:00 am.

I chose to walk without a light, which meant I needed to keep up with Kris and Andy, who both had lights. Unfortunately, I made it about 500 yards, yes, all of 500 yards, before my knees started hurting. As I walked, I realized that, sure I had walked 500 yards, but, I had 7.2 miles left to hike that morning to start the water journey. Thinking about it wouldn't help, so I tried my best to ignore the pain. Andy (rightly) asked if I had preempted the pain by taking ibuprofen before starting. Alas, I hadn't.

We noticed breaking dawn around 5:30 in the morning, though "dawn" was a little unclear as soon as we dropped below the rim. We sorta relied more on the canyon reflections to determine when dawn was.

So, starting at 4:38, we hit the first water stop at mile 1.5 around 5:15, followed by the second water stop at mile 3 around 6:10. We waited only a little bit at each place before continuing. We figured we could stop for real at Indian Garden, which was at 4.5 miles in. After then, there would be no water sources until the river, so we'd need to fill up there for the final 3 mile push to the end.

We arrived at Indian Gardens at 7:09, and waited about 45 minutes for the rest of the group to both show up, and for all of us to rest up before continuing.

The hike down the mountain was pretty much all rock. Once we passed Indian Gardens, though, we were walking along lower ridges that were very different. I wish I knew the rock layers around here, as they are pretty amazingly fascinating.

Kris and Andy spent most of the hike about 20 yards in front of me, the three of us ahead of the rest of the group until Indian Gardens. When we did meet up and had conversations, they were often sufficiently frustrating that I preferred to hike back away from the two of them. One conversation about which body was found recently on Everest, was it Mallory, and what was on his camera, led to a discussion about what "summitting a mountain" really meant, with Kris insisting that one can "summit" only if one returns from the summit.

Later update: I hadn't realized the camera wasn't found with the body.

We arrived at the Pipe's Creek camp around 9:21 am. I had fallen twice on the hike down, rolling my left ankle both times. Kris said I hadn't fallen, I had stumbled both times, but that feels like semantics to me. I was caught myself both times, but was quite frustrated about falling .

My knees were amazingly relieved to be done with that hike. I wonder how long they'll ache after this one.