I am actually beginning to write this trip log BEFORE I take my hike. I have wanted to do a rim-to-rim hike for quite some time, but for various reasons, I have not. So, finally, I have a couple of days to be at the canyon and I want to test myself to see if I can really make it. I take reasonably strenuous hikes regularly in the valley, through all kinds of weather, even the hottest days. My hikes usually range in the 5-10 mile distance and the hill behind my house is about 800' elevation change in 2.5 miles. I've done other hikes like Flatiron and Carney Springs that are pretty good climbs. Not even close to the canyon of course. But I'm wondering how I will match up to a fairly good, long-distance day hike at the Grand Canyon at a steady, but not fast, pace. I'm also wondering how hiking at a higher elevation (after arriving from the Valley the day before) will affect my stamina.
Heeding the warnings of going to the river and back in one day in the month of May, I decided to decrease both the distance and the elevation changes by taking the South Kiabab/Tonto/Bright Angel Loop. I figure this will be a good test for a 56-year old hiker who considers himself to be in fairly good shape - and more importantly for me - tell me if I have what I need to do a true rim-to-rim hike.
Let's see how my "plan" compares to the actual, shall we? My plan is to take the shuttle to Yaki Point departing at 5:00am from the Village and hopefully get started down the trail no later than 6am. My knees are a little aged and can usually feel the affects of prolonged downhill plodding, so I expect this to be a pretty true test right out of the chute. Nonetheless, because of my quick descents that I make on my regular trail near Usery Park, I predict that I'll cover the 4.4 miles (and 3,190') descent down to the junction with the Tonto trail in 2 hours. Then, according to the trail guide, the Tonto is a 4.5 mile relatively flat walk over to the Bright Angel. I think I can also do this in 2 hours. So that would put me at Indian Gardens on the Bright Angel trail around 10am. I think I'm being pretty conservative to think that it will take me 3.5 hours climb the 4.6 miles out of the canyon from Indian Gardens putting me back at the lodge around 1:30pm. Thus, covering the 13.8+/- in 7.5 hours. I expect to top out saying to myself, "well, that was a good work-out and I am tired, but not so tired that I couldn't have finished a rim-to-rim by going another 6 miles and a couple thousand more feet up." This could be interesting. I'm pausing my writing now, and will resume when I have completed the loop.
I made the actual hike on the day planned - May 11, 2011. I awoke at 4:30am, dressed and went to catch the Hiker Express bus at the Bright Angel Lodge bus stop. I ate my muffin and downed half a Gatorade while waiting. The bus came just as scheduled at 5am, made a few stops and dropped us off at the South Kiabab Trailhead. It was COLD - had snowed (but not stuck) the night before. I wore plenty of layers. By the time got myself all situated, I was about the last one started on the trail and I took it plenty easy. I had purchased a set of trekking poles from REI and all I can say is that I was glad I had them. I found the trail to be steep, but not bad going down. I reached the West Tonto Trail sign in 1 hr 40 minutes. At that point I began peeling off layers. I headed west on the Tonto. Burro spring was dripping and Pipe Spring was running. It was a very nice comfortable and non-exertion hike. I arrived at Indian Gardens at 3 hours, 50 minutes (amazingly close to my plan!). I definitely did NOT hurry on the Tonto, making multiple stops for pictures and just gazing at the beauty of the inner canyon. I felt so good at Indian Gardens, that I didn't want to exit the canyon yet, so I walked out to Plateau Point which added another 3 miles to the trip. Got back to Indian Gardens, ate some lunch, mixed up some more electrolyte juice and started for the top. I made the ascent in 2 hours and 30 minutes, arriving at 1:30pm, right on schedule but having traversed 3 more miles than originally planned. I really enjoyed this loop and arrived at the top tired, but not exhausted. Total time start to finish including rests - 8 hours. I gained the confidence that I can certainly tackle the rim-to-rim which I hope to do perhaps this fall. The Grand Canyon is so beautiful! I loved it.
For further information, I took two bladders of water for my camelback - one too many. I had one Gatorade and one Gatorade bottle with just water - I used these to mix my electrolyte powder. I didn't suffer any cramping and had only trail mix and a snickers bar for food. But, as another hiker also reported on this loop, better to have too much than too little.