Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Phantom Ranch Trip: The Trails

Posted By on Sat, Nov 12, 2016 at 8:42 AM

(This post has been updated.)

Last week I wrote about the people I hiked with and encountered on my trip to the Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon. This blog will be about the trails.
click to enlarge The S. Kaibab Trail on the right, the Bright Angel Trail on the left. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The S. Kaibab Trail on the right, the Bright Angel Trail on the left.

The North Kaibab Trail —from the north rim —  and South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails — from the south rim — lead to the Colorado River. All of those trails come together at the Phantom Ranch, which serves as not only the crossroads of the inner canyon, but also as the only place for rafters on the Colorado River through the canyon to exit before exiting the south end of the canyon.

The trails the group I was with to visit the Phantom Ranch, and the route recommended by the National Park Service, was the S. Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail to go back up.

Both trails have their pluses and minuses. Although shorter, the S. Kaibab Trail is the tougher of the two. It's much steeper, going downhill right from the start on the rim next to Yaki Point. The trail is also almost entirely steps, and it's the steps that make it difficult. While the steps are essential to prevent erosion and trail deterioration, the constant stepping down for 7.5 miles takes it toll on one's calves. All of us were complaining of our painful calves when we got to the ranch. Our group made it to the ranch in about 6 hours, including bathroom, picture, snack and lunch breaks. There are only two toilet facilities and no water on the S.Kaibab Trail. Pro tip from our guide: Wading into the 45 degree Colorado River does wonders for sore calves.

Looking into the canyon from the S. Kaibab Trail. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Looking into the canyon from the S. Kaibab Trail.

The Bright Angel Trail route, at about 10.6-miles is an easy to moderate trek. After crossing the "Silver Bridge," the trail follows the Colorado River for 2 miles or so, before turning south to follow the Bright Angel Creek and then the Pipe Creek. There's a bit of elevation gain at a section known as Jacobs Ladder, but long, gradual switchbacks make it a fairly moderate climb.

The trail meets the Bright Angel Creek again and follows it for a fairly easy gradual ascent to the Indian Garden. A popular stop for hikers going to or from the Colorado River and as a turn-around spot for day hikers from the south rim, it is an oasis. Heavily shaded, it has a NPS Ranger Station, bathrooms, campground and a large pumping station to get water from the Colorado River to the south rim. From here the trail becomes very steep, similar to the S. Kaibab Trail, for the next 4.5 miles until reaching the rim. There are bathrooms and potable water 1.5 and then 3.0 miles up the the trail from Indian Garden. The top of the Bright Angel Trail is near the El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel lodge, a few miles from the Yaki Point trailhead for the S. Kaibab Trail. Our group made it to the rim in between 6 and 7 hours, including breaks.
click to enlarge Looking down towards the canyon from the Bright Angel Trail. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Looking down towards the canyon from the Bright Angel Trail.


There are other trails and sights to see while at the Phantom Ranch. The River Trail, across from the Phantom Ranch on the south side of the Colorado River, connects the Silver and Black bridges and provides nice views down the canyon.
click to enlarge Mule team coming through the tunnel at the south end of the Black Bridge and starting up the S. Kaibab Trail. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Mule team coming through the tunnel at the south end of the Black Bridge and starting up the S. Kaibab Trail.
The Clear Creek Trail a short distance north of the the ranch rises rapidly to a couple of overlooks. The first looks down onto the ranch, the second looks out over the Colorado River.  Directly across the river you can see the S. Kaibab Trail, and from the overlook one gets a profound appreciation for the steepness of the last mile or so of the trail down to the river.
Looking across the Colorado River at part of the S. Kaibab Trail from an overlook on the Clear Creek Trail.  The Black Bridge is visible at the bottom. - .BOB FALCONE
  • .Bob Falcone
  • Looking across the Colorado River at part of the S. Kaibab Trail from an overlook on the Clear Creek Trail. The Black Bridge is visible at the bottom.
During an evening Ranger talk, we were told that only 1% of visitors to the Grand Canyon visit the Phantom Ranch. Obviously it's not a trek everyone can make, but if you're able to do it, and can plan far enough in advance, it's a rewarding trip.

Happy Trails!


Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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