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Barefoot on the Bright Angel Trail (topping off a shoeless week below the rim of Grand Canyon)

April 12, 2016

I think my smile says it all:


This is me on April 6, heading up the Bright Angel Trail after five nights at Phantom Ranch.

Since I was working as the WFR (Wilderness First Responder) for a six-day backpacking/natural history class offered by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute, I figured it might be good idea if I kept up with my fellow (booted) hikers . . .  so for the first couple of days I had to hike in my Merrell sandals (the “Pipidae Wrap” model; unfortunately, long discontinued).


Here I am on the first day, at the S. Kaibab trailhead: With 35 pounds on my back (including a emergency satellite phone and first aid kit for ten), it seemed prudent to don sandals and socks for the 7-mile descent of the South Kaibab Trail (which loses about 5,000 feet via . . . hundreds . . . of . . . step-step-steps . . .)

Then . . . stuff got real. On the second day, two of the members of our group began to show signs of heat stress while on a particularly challenging section of trail; I was able to use my WFR training to recognize what was going on, and to facilitate a change in plans for the safety of the group.

Long story short: the three of us hiked back to Phantom Ranch, where we spent the rest of the trip doing short day hikes and relaxing in camp along Bright Angel Creek as well as along “Boat Beach” — a historic place where Colorado River runners have stopped for decades to take a break at the  historical Phantom Ranch.


Old-school wooden dory and crew at Boat Beach.

Although we ended up hiking about 26 miles over six days (including seven miles in down the S. Kaibab Trail, and nine miles out the last day on the Bright Angel Trail), our group of three did not log the 20+ extra miles our compadres did as they completed the scheduled adventure to Clear Creek.

Was this a good or bad thing?

Maybe these photos will shed some (Canyon-colored!) light on this question:


Oh, to be “stuck” along Bright Angel Creek for five days again!


Although I am not a fan of alien tamarisk shrubs, which have invaded so much native plant habitat in the arid West, I did appreciate the lovely mottled shade-cave offered by this friendly specimen . . . where for a couple of days I got to follow Bob Dylan’s instructions and sit and watch the river flow . . .



Another view from my perch on Boat Beach: the endless drama of folks crossing the S. Kaibab Trail bridge . . . here are some mule riders at the end of what must have been a long hot dusty day of jouncy downhill mule stepping.


A like-minded edge-of-the-River connoisseur . . .


Another highlight of our changed plans was the opportunity to hike up the North Kaibab Trail a bit to explore Phantom Canyon (named by John Wesley Powell on a wispy-foggy day, the story goes).


Lovely Phantom Falls . . .


. . . and the dipper bird who makes its home in the turbulent water. We spent a fabulous hour watching the dipper scooping up stuff from under water and flying it back to its nest behind the second waterfall.


Fantastic flying critters of Grand Canyon: the endemic (appears only in this area) Kaibab blue swallowtail.


Springtime in Phantom Creek (which flows into Bright Angel Creek which flows into the Colorado River which flows into my kitchen faucet).


The view from the bridge over Bright Angel Creek . . .




My little home under the cottonwoods . . .






Not quite “Brighty of the Grand Canyon” (the subject of a book that was my first introduction to Grand Canyon), this beautiful mule carries on a long tradition of creatures helping people get in and out of this remote place (all food and goods are packed in by mule train every day; all trash is packed out the same way).


Although I did not make it all the way to Clear Creek, I did get to experience the first several miles of the meandering Clear Creek Trail along the Tonto Platform. We were just in time for the beavertail cactus bloom.


One of the challenging aspects of the Clear Creek Trail is that it climbs over a thousand feet in its first mile or so . . . a breath-taking experience leading to breath-taking views  (apologies for the punning) of both the S. Kaibab and Bright Angel Trail bridges as well as some Phantom Ranch outbuildings (red roof in upper middle of photo).




Pink cactus green river red rock blue sky oh my . . .



Our trip leader, Stewart Aitchison, did an excellent job of making Grand Canyon come alive with all sorts of natural history stories . . . the people, plants, critters, and rock that have made–and continue to make–this place so significant.



All good things must come to an end . . . this is the beginning of the end . . . the lower stretches of the nine-mile-five-thousand-foot-elevation-gain Bright Angel Trail.The last time I had hiked this trail was in October with an injured river runner who had dislocated his shoulder upstream at Hance Rapid . . . seems he had been ejected from his raft and tumbled around underwater for quite a ways. It’s a long story (that I’m still working on writing), but I happened to be available to help a friend in need hike out, and count him as a friend indeed now.


And the western redbud! What a display!

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Here’s a few of our group posing for the obligatory “we made it” photo at the Bright Angel trailhead. The gentleman next to me wore his Vibram Fivefingers for most of the way up due to issues from his hiking boots; then, when even the Vibrams began to chafe, he chucked them as well and experienced the glorious canyon rock foot-to-stone.  He’d actually done some barefoot running back home in New England; it was nice to chat with someone who didn’t think I was completely crazy for not wanting to cover my feet. With heavy boots. That chafe and constrict and cause blisters and black toenails. (Yikes . . . the painful-looking feet and raw ankles of some of the folks I saw cooling their toes along Boat Beach during my time there . . .) I did not even bother to take a picture of my feet after the hike ’cause there was nothing “newsworthy” to photograph . . . just happy feet that had (finally!) been freed to backpack the last five miles up the Bright Angel Trail without even the sandals . . . there are some water crossing just below Indian Garden that are just too nice to pass over with shoes on . . .


Final/favorite photo: from our first day hiking down the S. Kaibab trail . . . a mile or so into the canyon. (It was April Fool’s Day . . . )

Happy Trails! I’ll be back at Grand Canyon in June to lead my second Grand Canyon Association Field Institute “Writing on the Edge” workshop at the North Rim . . . all are welcome, no matter what kind of writing (or hiking) experience you’ve had. We’ll do easy day hikes through the forests . . . which will lead us to stunning views of the Canyon, and we’ll stop along the way to pay attention and jot down notes of what we’re observing . . . enjoying the connections as the writing makes them happen!






4 Comments leave one →
  1. Gina permalink
    April 13, 2016 3:59 pm

    Is it wrong to feel jealous? 🙂

  2. April 12, 2016 5:50 pm

    Stunning pictures and happy feet!


  1. Writing & art about walking wanted for new zine | Barefoot Wandering and Writing

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