AZ Flashback II: Thanksgiving in the Grand Canyon

In the fall of 1984, not long after starting work at Hughes Aircraft in LA (my first job out of college), my good friend Mark called from Phoenix and asked if I would be up for hiking the Grand Canyon, and I immediately said, “Yes!”  We chose to make a two-day hike over Thanksgiving holiday weekend (some of us didn’t have vacation days built up yet).

Bright and early the day before Thanksgiving, five of us left Phoenix and reached the South Kaibab trailhead, where a light snowfall had fallen overnight.  Mark made sure we were well supplied, and we started off on the first day of our hike.

(from Google Earth: south is at the top)  the two day hike began at [S] South Kaibab trailhead to [C] Colorado River, then up to [I] Indian Garden campgrounds, and ended at [B] Bright Angel trailhead

The South Kaibab is steep compared to other Grand Canyon trails.  It’s interesting in that after negotiating a goodly drop, the trail levels off along O’Neill Butte for quite a while, and then you find yourself over another edge with another severe drop to contend with, only to be repeated again at “The Tipoff”.  All the while, the trail is tantalizingly visible as a narrow ribbon in places below.

This part of the adventure started with a combination of switchbacks where we learned to carefully share the trail with the mule-mounted “hikers”.  And what beautiful vistas!  The day was crisp and clear, and warmed up nicely the farther down we got.

looking down from a seat on the edge of the South Kaibab Trail

We were sure to take several rest stops as needed, shifted our packs, and stayed hydrated and checked for any developing blisters that needed preventative moleskin pads applied to them.

South Kaibab Trail vista, near Yaki Point

We began to eventually see the river below, and eventually we reached the bridge to Phantom Ranch.  From now on, we are fighting gravity and heading back upwards.

an early glimpse of the Colorado River from “The Tipoff”

As we climbed towards Indian Garden campgrounds, our overnight location, the day’s efforts were beginning to take a toll on Gail, and we had to rest more frequently.  As the afternoon wore on, we decided that Kendall and I would go on ahead and determine how much farther along we needed to go.  Darkness was falling, and our flashlight had a bad connection, so much of the trail for the two of us was following a gray ribbon in front and hoping that the occasional water we’d step in was a small puddle and not a little stream.

While our attention had been drawn to the lights at the top of South Rim, Indian Garden snuck up on us before we knew it.  Dark, and now with a light rain falling, we threw our tents up and fell asleep without even bothering with eating a supper.  We had covered around eleven miles this day.

starting back in the morning at Indian Garden campgrounds, our overnight location

Indian Garden is a relatively flat location on the trail where a copse of trees grow near a small stream.  As we ate a hearty breakfast and took inventory, we found we were stiff but none too worse for wear, so we packed up and began Day Two of the journey.

This day wasn’t the sunny hike we had the day before; low clouds and an intermittent drizzle was turning the trail into a orange clay muck.  No chance of overheating, at least.

the view behind us of the Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail differed from the South Kaibab in that it isn’t as steep, but it turns into an almost a constant series of switchbacks.  Compared to the previous day’s vista stretching down below, today’s climb was an unending death march to the rim above.  When we finally reached South Rim, we were more than ready to be done.  All told, we had put in about 17 miles in the two days.

We climbed back into the car and drove to Flagstaff, where we stopped at a Denny’s for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner.  We shuffled/lumbered into the place like we had all just given birth, and while we were pleased with our accomplishment, we were anxious to get home to a real bed again.  I really wish I had more than my trusty little 110mm pocket camera to record the trip, but you can find great photos throught the web if you want to see the Grand Canyon in better detail.

Addendum: Here’s one more photo of the view down from the South Kaibab trail:


2 responses to “AZ Flashback II: Thanksgiving in the Grand Canyon

  1. I enjoyed you recounting your trip from the South Kaibab. Man, it made me remember going up the South Kaibab.

    Plus seeing that picture from Indian Garden looking up…you definitely would not have to worry about heat exhaustion. I am amazed by those of you who hike in the colder months…

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. great post! the grand canyon is awesome

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