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Old Bright Angel Trail
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mini location map2011-10-01
16 by photographer avatarHansenaz
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Old Bright Angel TrailNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Canyoneering avatar Oct 01 2011
Canyoneering5.25 Miles 3,957 AEG
Canyoneering5.25 Miles   8 Hrs   20 Mns   0.63 mph
3,957 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
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I really like to go to the Grand Canyon this time of year and I successfully played the "find a cancellation sweepstakes" by getting a Frontier Cabin on the N. Rim for Sept 30 and a Phantom Ranch dorm spot for Oct 1. With these in hand my plan was to make the 2 day rim-to-rim more interesting by trying out the Old Bright Angel Trail which was recently documented by Joe and AZdesertfather. I knew this might be a stretch for me but with the GPS track loaded, how could I go wrong?

I got a 5:20AM start from the N.Kaibab Trailhead and I was glad to leave the crowd already gathered there. The GPS track led me in the right direction and the trail through the forest was wide. I came to an unmarked fork (straight or right), checked the GPS and saw the "correct route" (i.e. the Ken Patrick Trail) was 0.2 miles to my left. I continued straight and eventually hit the rim as it was getting light...I had apparently stayed on the Uncle Jim Trail, missing a turnoff in the dark. No real problem I just angled through the fairly open forest until I crossed Ken Patrick which is fairly faint. I hit the OBA sign, signaling time to descend, in one hour 50min, 4.7 circuitous miles.

The upper part of the OBA was a lot of fun as I wended through the forest. Having the GPS track was very handy for deciding which of two equally compelling (or confusing) directions I should take. As reported there is quite a bit of deadfall to contend with and one notable difference vs. the corridor trails is that there is negligible terracing, so my feet pounded the rocks and gravel pretty hard. If you normally lose X toenails on a GC trip expect to lose 2X.

Eventually I crossed a (dry) stream with the first significant cairnage. Perhaps this is where the first waterfall is? If so I missed it or it was dry. Eventually I hit a nice running stream...I think the 2nd waterfall is just downstream but I didn't notice it at the time...only when I looked over from further down the trail. The tip from AZdesertfather's log is useful in finding the trail as it crosses the stream, climbs the hill and heads left.

Continuing along I descended the canyon sidewall and hit the crux of the whole trip: what to do at Bright Angel Creek? It's well documented by the others that this is a riddle but even with their various descriptions AND the GPS track I was soon in trouble. The creek is fast moving and not easy to cross (particularly without poles or water shoes), but looking around after a while I found a place to cross. About this time I noticed even the GPS info didn't make sense. Joe's track look like it stayed west of the creek but I could see it was pinched by a cliff. My GPS was losing signal and giving a larger error circle. After scrambing up and down the steep east side a couple times I realized I didn't even know which side of the creek I should find the "very faint trail". Finally I saw the trail on the other side (west!) and headed over. But even when I got to that area I was getting more GPS confusion: first reading said I was above the previous track, but after descending, the next reading said I had really been below. I'm thinking my venerable Garmin 60C wasn't up to the task in the deep canyon. My only advice for the next guy is that not too far downstream from where you first hit the creek the desired trail is on the west (right) side and maybe 100' above the creek. I don't know if you get there via 0, 2, or 2n crossings.

All of this took me at least 90min with much clawing through the manzanita and steep scree - and I ran out of water just as I finally found the trail. I hadn't had anything to eat and I hadn't done much hiking all summer....and I just sort of crashed...I became Molasses Man.

From this point the trail is tricky and narrow but I was glad to finally be on my way out. After a while it descends to a final crossing...this one is fairly obvious, even the plants are beaten down. Of course one of those pretty Grand Canyon Pink rattlesnakes was lounging directly on the path about 3' from the creek. He moved aside, I sat on a rock in the middle, treated some water, and had some lucozade. I soon perked up and improved into "Runny Maple Syrup Man". The trail continues fairly high on the east side and is narrow and loose. I eventually passed high above the confluence with Roaring Springs and the pump house and continued along to the trail's end in dry Manzanita Creek and its intersection with the N.Kaibab Trail.

It took me 8:20....about 3 hours longer than those uber-hikers...sheesh. I'm physically beat and only ~9 miles to go to PR. I arrive in time for the late dinner...exactly 12hours after I began. My explanation to the other diners was that I had been wrestling with a mountain lion. Between my sore feet and my physical exertion hangover my trip up the Bright Angel the next morning is best forgotten. And oh yeah, I had a non-fixable flat tire in GC Village and drove back to Phoenix on a donut. 60mph on cruise control is actually therapeutic - people go by very fast - but you get great gas mileage. Today I couldn't really walk. Heckuva trip.
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