The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, yet it is no wonder at all that industrial age titans piped it and wired it and blasted some of it away to automate it’s use for fun and for profit. Clearly the South Rim’s many attractions celebrate the notion that “man dominates wild”, but in the inner gorge, beyond the reach of train tycoons, lie machine age artifacts that only add to the intense, rugged, steampunk attitude of the canyon. The Grand Canyon is so badass, it just laughs at gears and suspension bridges and wields them like a set of brass knuckles.
This video documents my dayhike of the Grand Canyon from Rim To Rim — Starting at the North Rim, down the North Kaibab Trail, through Phantom Ranch, across the Colorado River, and up Bright Angel Trail through Indian Garden to the South Rim. This route is an historic trail that traverses the Bright Angel Canyon created by the Bright Angel Fault. It has been a convenient highway linking the two rims of the canyon since man first migrated to the region. Many natural water sources supply the route and people have improved on that arrangement by adding piped potable water, bathrooms and campgrounds along the way.
Along the way is much evidence of man’s attempt to modernize the canyon. Power line poles topped with antique glass insulators, water pipe caps reading “C & B Water”, bridges, tunnels, blasted box corridors. Frankly I’m grateful for all of this. These conveniences make what must have been a grueling trek into a fairly brainless ultra dayhike.
For the curious, here’s a little report about the route and my impressions of the hike which was 23.4 miles. It took me 15 hours to hike. All I wanted at the end was a basket of jalapeño poppers and vodka with lemonade. (My menu choice was unfortunate, however, since the jalapeños and my stomach ended up fighting for space all night.) I started hiking at 4am to descend the 14 mile North Kaibab Trail. I reached Phantom Ranch at the base of the Grand Canyon around 10am. The path then continued for a flattish 3 miles along the base of the canyon and across the Colorado River. Then I climbed the hot 7-ish mile traverse up to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail. There is an option to take the shorter South Kaibab Trail, but I can only imagine it is even more steep and grueling and there are no water sources on that route, unlike the Bright Angel which continues to present streams and even rest areas every other mile as you get closer to the rim.
I survived the 110 degree inner gorge by hiking in a wet t-shirt and spending a lot of time eating Baby Ruth candy bars in a cave (mine prospect). Since there is so much piped water on the rim to rim route and I didn’t have to use my water filter at all. I never carried more than 2 liters of water at a time and always had plenty. I spiced up my water with Zym electrolyte tablets which seemed to keep me kicking pretty happily along. My hiking menu consisted primarily of: Backpackers Pantry Katmandu Curry, Trader Joe’s Asiago cheese rolls, cream cheese, cups of mandarin oranges, Baby Ruth candy bars, and Starbucks Double Shot. This was a happy eating day for the low carb watchdog I am in my everyday real life.
I’ve been nursing a toe injury since January that I baby using a lot of compression. I was pretty concerned about how my foot would fare on this long trek. Surprisingly about 3/4 of the way through my foot started to feel well. I thought, “I’ve been healed by the Grand Canyon!” A look at my swollen foot the next day made me reassess what was really going on. I think my foot got SO swollen inside my shoe that it created its own perfect compression and padding that protected my capsulitis under all that fluid. Thanks, swelling.
I ate dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge (walking distance from the trailhead) and slept at Yavapai Lodge, a short free-shuttle ride away. The next day I was exhausted and cranky so slowly toured the South Rim sneering at the gall of the nineteenth century developers who built things like Hopi House — a pueblo style structure used to showcase Indian culture — without sparing a thought about the hypocrisy of ousting natives from their lands then “honoring” their culture by forcing them to perform native arts and rituals for tourists.
The Kolb Studio was my favorite. I believe I developed something of a crush on the Kolb brothers who were machine age photographers and adventurers. These were tough guys who were equal to any physical challenge the Grand Canyon could throw up, and they did it all carrying 1910’s era cameras. During the time their photography studio thrived on the South Rim there was no running water on the rim plateau so the Kolbs would photograph tourists who were on their way down the canyon trail, then run five miles down the trail themselves to the first stream, develop the photos, then run back up the canyon in time to sell the prints to returning tourists. That’s cardio fitness for you.
My sojourn into the canyon was something less glorious than the jaunts the Kolb brothers took, but it still made me feel cool. Backpacker Magazine lists the Grand Canyon Rim To Rim as one of the ten hardest day hikes in America, hence it is on the bucket list of many an endurance athlete. I like knowing that it is something I can do. I even bought the t-shirt to prove it.
As for the attempted “development” of the Grand Canyon and the men who have sought to tame it, they have made themselves ridiculous.
I understand for a moment the dread many feel in the presence of primeval desert. The unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand. To reduce the wild and prehuman to human dimensions, anything rather than confront directly the antihuman, that other world which frightens not through danger or hostility, but in something far worse, its implacable indifference. ~ Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
I don’t worry about the remnants of human industry in the Grand Canyon or anywhere on this earth. People like to panic about “man destroying the earth”. To that I say, “Stuff and nonsense!” Man is destroying man. Earth will carry on, perhaps in an altered form, but carry on it will, regardless. Humans are mosquitos passing through one season of the earth. In time all feats of human engineering will rust away into the red rocks and men will blow away with the thermal wind. The Grand Canyon’s steely shoulders will continue to face eternity.