The bottom may be the grandest of all.
The Colorado River running along the bottom of the Grand Canyon marks a geological low point and an experiential high point. Hiking down to the bottom of the canyon and back up out of the canyon is truly a remarkable undertaking—a magical world that few get to experience in their lifetime.
The rim-to-rim hike from the South Kaibab Trailhead down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon up to the North Kaibab Trailhead is an activity in which words and photographs fall short. The hike through the Grand Canyon is epic, mystical, magical—something out of a fairytale. It’s hiker Disneyland. There are little cliffed footpaths, cable and truss-type bridges, raging waterfalls, and historic Forest Service buildings. Seeing the rims from above is magnificent enough but hiking from one end to the other is an experience of which there is no equal.
After walking from Tusayan to the South Rim, I went to the Backcountry Office and the rangers issued my permit for Cottonwood Camp. My plan was to hike down the South Rim via the South Kaibab trail about six miles to the Colorado River, cross the river, go up the other side seven miles and stay at Cottonwood Camp. Then, the following morning, I would leave at the crack of dawn and take on the rest of the North Rim up to the Kaibab Trailhead. This is precisely what I did.
My first glimpses of the South Rim and Brightangel Trail can only be described as stunning. My hiking partner and trail angel Shannon were amazed at the unfolding drama of the canyon. As a first-timer, I was in awe at the expansive beauty and vivid layers of this geological wonder. One is frozen in astonishment. How could the earth be carved in such a deep and colorful fashion? Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time is mind-bending—the senses are overwhelmed and the process of comprehension remains incomplete.
Mather Campground was an experience in itself. The ranger kiosk issues five walk-in “hiker/biker” sites. Fortunately, I was able to secure a spot and set my tent up near the shower-laundry structure at Mather. The next morning I woke up and hiked a few miles to the Kaibab Trailhead to commence my rim-to-rim walk across the canyon.
An obvious feature of the Grand Canyon is its steepness. In a mere 6.2 miles, I dropped 4,770 feet from the Kaibab Trailhead (7,191 feet) to the Colorado River (2,421 feet). The descent took me two hours—quicker than the average hiker probably due to my 700-mile “preconditioning” in the Arizona climate.
For the first time on trail, I was mistaken for a homeless person and offered a wad of cash by a tourist! I informed him that I was a swashbuckling thru-hiker that was backpacking through the canyon. For some odd reason, despite the iPhone and Garmin inReach—which I presumed were dead giveaways—the man kept insisting that I take the handout. In trail parlance, hikers call the tendency to look like a homeless person “hiker trash.” Inevitably, after days of not having a shower and doing laundry, the resemblance between a hiker and a hobo become closer. Unshaven and unkempt with disheveled hair, it is easy to think about the circumstances that the person may be up against. Anyhow, the mistake was not taken as an insult; indeed, I was proud like a pig rolling around in the mud because the signs of my 800-mile journey through Arizona were made evident. Arriving here involved getting dusty and dirty!
Just because one is not on top of the world does not mean he cannot experience the richness of life. For by going to the bottom of the world and then back up, a new perspective comes into view. The bottommost vantage point is perhaps the one by which one sees the grandest grandeur.
Passing 700 miles and then 750 miles, the end was soon in sight. Arriving at the end of a thru-hike is bittersweet. One misses home and family but he also is accustomed to the joys of trail life.
After 43 days on trail, I completed the 800-mile continuous footpath from the Mexican border to the Arizona-Utah border. What an extraordinary experience this has been! Words can hardly express all that a hiker absorbs on a trip of this magnitude. Staring in amazement inside the Grand Canyon, I could not help but think about the existence of God. Although words are insufficient, I am reminded of these powerful lyrics from a hymn relating to the vastness of creation and the love of God:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Until the next adventure,