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Rim to Rim via Old Bright Angel, AZ
mini location map2019-09-28
18 by photographer avatarddgrunning
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Rim to Rim via Old Bright Angel, AZ 
Rim to Rim via Old Bright Angel, AZ
Hiking avatar Sep 28 2019
Hiking29.59 Miles 6,560 AEG
Hiking29.59 Miles   11 Hrs   16 Mns   2.75 mph
6,560 ft AEG      30 Mns Break
1st trip
5:45 a.m.--North Kaibab Trailhead parking area was as full as I've ever seen it. No parking spots and several cars parked along the side of the road. Luckily, we were just getting dropped off. Several groups starting in at the same time re-confirmed my decision to take an alternate route down the canyon, via the Old Bright Angel Trail. I tried to convince a few others in my group to join me, but either: (a) they didn't feel they were physically up to adding an additional 4-5 miles, plus dealing with the bushwhacking and route-finding on a primitive trail, or (b) those who were fit enough to add the additional mileage were a little obsessed with improving their R2R times. So, as the masses flooded down NK, I hung a left onto the Ken Patrick trail and locked into nearly 5 hours of complete solitude in the Canyon ....

It was still dark, and less than a half mile into my jaunt along the rim, I was greeted with some large animal crunching branches 30-40 yards in the distance. My headlamp illuminated a pair of eyes and my adrenaline began to kick in. I immediately began clapping my hands and whistling, after which the animal bolted off. I'm guessing it was an elk, but who knows .... For the next half mile or so, I took up whistling and clapping as a side hobby. :lol:

As the light of dawn arrived, the forested rim was covered in a cloudy fog. I scared off a couple of deer, but otherwise saw no other animals on the 4-mile traverse to the Old BA trailhead. The cloudy fog added a little spice to the otherwise somewhat blase rim hike through forest and recovering burn areas. Just before reaching OBA, it actually sprinkled a bit and I wondered whether the canyon was going to be socked in with clouds, obscuring any expansive views.

I arrived at the well-marked OBA traihead in good time, as I was hoping--despite my extra miles and primitive trail--to catch up to some in my group before they all reached the south rim. I had read all of the OBA triplogs and some other "beta" on the route, and had a gps route loaded in RS with various notes on what seemed to be the tricky spots.

My homework served me well in the top portion of the trail, and I managed to stay relatively well on track down to the crossing of the tributary creek that drains into Bright Angel Creek. The only real casualty up to that point were my legs, which took a "scrubbing" from all of the scrub oak that has overgrown the trail, as well as whatever that plant is that has leaves that look like holly but with sharp, poky, points! I knew I should have worn long pants, but ignored my own advice b/c I didn't want to have long pants for the other 20 miles when I wouldn't need them. Next time: zip-offs :D

Anyway, when I hit the tributary creek, I went in search of the waterfall mentioned in various triplogs. However, I somehow got the idea that the waterfall was UPstream from the crossing, so I immediately headed in that direction. After 15 minutes of hard bushwhacking and managing to get both my feet wet, and no waterfall to show for it, I threw in the towel headed back to the crossing point. It's not clear where to go from that point, but I climbed pretty straight up the other side of the ravine and eventually located what passed as the trail. Shortly thereafter, I looked back to see the referenced waterfall, which is actually DOWNstream from the crossing. Oh well ...

After rounding the next outcropping, I was very conscious of the warnings not to descend to Bright Angel Creek too early. That said, going down towards the creek seemed like the only viable option, as the side of the canyon was otherwise choked with manzanita and other, somewhat impassable barriers. That said, I dutifully resisted, going up, over, and sometimes through bushes, in search of anything remotely resembling a trail that stayed above the creek.

Eventually, I worked my way over to the crossover of a small, side drainage (for reference, on my gps track, this spot is right on top of the "e" in "Bright Angel Canyon" on the CalTopo layer). There was actually a cairn in the middle of the crossover, but no indication of where to go from there, and the opposite side of the drainage was pretty sheer, with no sign of any trail. Nevertheless, in the absence of any apparently better options, I climbed up. The next 0.3 mile was a total crapshoot of scrambling up and down, hand over fist, sliding down sketchy chutes, and doing everything possible in search of a route, while still trying to make forward progress. : rambo : It was a time-consuming workout, and I still don't have much better intel to pass on, as to where the trail is/was. I can say that I did't descend to the creek too early, but perhaps erred on the side of trying to stay too high. My general advice for this section is just to pack some extra time, and a lot of patience.

Eventually, I located some snippets of a trail that seemed to descend in relative proximity to where I had the correct creek crossing marked on my gps track. Approaching the creek, there was a fairly well worn, narrow path through the reeds that led to a crossing point. I could see where at least a few others had scrambled up the opposite side, but the crossing would be a wet one, and my marked crossing point was still slightly farther downstream. So, I backtracked a bit and then bushwhacked downstream to the crossing point on my track. I was able to make a leap across at this point without getting wet, but there was no sign of the trail on the opposite side. One of my beta sources referred to a steep climb, so I just climbed up the steep slope, and within about 20 yards up located the faint remains of the trail (which I now believe came up from the point where "reed" crossing was). In any event, I had no navigational issues on OBA from this point forward.

In a short while, I approached the junction with Roaring Spring Canyon, and enjoyed the fresh viewpoint of RS, the NK trail, and the Pumphouse/Manzanita rest area from the opposing side of the canyon. But the real gem was the views of Bright Angel Creek, including some very cool cascades draining into a "toilet bowl" swimming hole just past the junction of the two side canyons.

It wasn't long until I popped out onto the NK trail at the bridge just below the Pumphouse. By that point, I was a little shy of 5 hours into the hike. While I was glad to have battled the OBA, it was refreshing to finally be back on the smooth, maintained NK corridor trail. By that time, the crowds of hikers had passed through and/or broken up.

Anxious to make up time, I hot-footed it down to Phantom Ranch. Along the way, I passed by the Ribbon Falls bridge, which has been "closed" for a couple of years, but is now a twisted mess and completely unuseable. Only access to Ribbon Falls is through the creek from the south side of the "hill."

Unfortunately, my tromping in the side creek on OBA and resulting wet feet turned into a real problem. Along with my shoe choice, which was mostly leather and didn't breathe well, my feet could stay neither dry nor cool. And despite changing socks, and making a couple of attempts to duct tape/moleskin/bandage things up, I ultimately just accepted that it was going to be a bit of a blister-fest and just determined to plow forward.

From the River to the top on Bright Angel Trail, my time was just over 3 hours, averaging around 20 min/mile. I felt pretty good from a cardio/muscle/energy standpoint--just tried to ignore my feet. Worked pretty well, as I passed everyone I saw coming up, and caught up with several in my group just before or at Indian Gardens.

After a refreshing shower at Mather Campground (PSA: they increased the price from $2 to $2.50), I assessed the damage--a couple of prize-winning blisters, but actually not as bad as it could have been. I was grateful to slip on a pair of soft clean socks, along with my highly-prized Ofoos sliders ("victory shoes"), and enjoyed sharing tales of the Canyon with my friends as we made our late night trip back to the Valley.

Another memorable R2R in the books. :y:
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