Backpacking the Grand Canyon – Bright Angel + South Kaibab trails

In February 2014 Emily, Joey, and I did a short (3-day) backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, south rim.  We descended the South Kaibab trail on day 1, hiked around the bottom on day two, and ascended via the Bright Angel trail on day 3.  The weather was a bit un-cooperative but I still got some nice pictures and we had a great time.  For those of you familiar with the rugged trails of the Adirondacks or the White mountains in the northeast, the trails at the Grand Canyon were fairly easy walking with lots of soft-ish sand/dirt.

February is actually close to the prime season for backpacking in the canyon since the summer is WAY too hot to spend any time at the bottom.  It was chilly while we were there but nothing unbearable.  I brought my EMS Boreal 20F sleeping bag along with my Thermolite reactor+ liner (adds 20 degrees of warmth) and was toasty while sleeping.  I tend to sleep very cold, so if you don’t, you might not even need a liner.

The rest of my gear was:

  • short sleeve wool shirt
  • long sleeve wool shirt
  • mont bell thermawrap pro (for sitting around camp at night)
  • gortex rain jacket
  • light leggings
  • 1/3 of a 4-person tent
  • exped airmat basic
  • EMS Boreal 20F sleeping bag
  • therm-a-rest camping pillow
  • Sea to Summit thermolite reactor plus bag liner
  • mini camping stove
  • headlamp
  • FOOD!
  • toiletries
  • camera
  • ugly crocs for walking around camp
south kaibab trail on a stormy day

south kaibab trail on a stormy day

We stayed at the Bright Angel campground at the canyon bottom, next to Phantom Ranch.  I applied for the backcountry camping permit as soon as I could (I think the max is 4 months in advance) because I was worried about the campgrounds filling up.  When we got there, though, it seemed that a few tent sites may have remained empty.  See  for more information.

more south kaibab

more south kaibab

The campground itself was quite nice.  The tent sites were fairly close together but had some brush in between sites.  There is also a row of sites along the water and the noise from the stream cuts down on the noise of other people, too.

The signposts and rangers warn you to store ALL of your food in the bear boxes provided at every site.  After storing your food in the boxes, you hang your backpack up on metal poles.  After the first night, I awoke to find that my bag had some dirty little red prints on it, and unzipped my side pouch to see that a big hole had been chewed in my bag!  I hadn’t left any actual food in the bag, but had an empty luna wrapper I forgot about stuffed into that side pocket.  That was enough for some little critter with sharp teeth to tear through my poor backpack.

the suspected pack-eating culprit.  source: robert body via wikipedia

the suspected backpack-eating culprit: ring-tailed cat. source: robert body via wikipedia

bridge at the bottom of the canyon near phantom ranch

bridge at the bottom of the canyon near phantom ranch

At night it’s easy to walk around the trails near camp and the phantom ranch.  The ground is fairly flat, the paths are obvious, and there are other night wanderers walking around so you’ll always see a headlamp shining somewhere.  You can walk to a small “beach” along the Colorado river that’s about 5 minutes from the campsite.  You pass this beach in the daylight coming from south kaibab.  A few people were cooking some dinner in the dark when we wandered to the beach.  The canyon walls look very cool at night, and if you bring a mini tripod you can take some nice star pictures (I of course, forgot my gorillapod).

our campsite at bright angel

our campsite at bright angel

On the day we stayed at the bottom it rained on and off.  We did a short hike north of the campground to a viewpoint, then we continued north on the north kaibab trail that eventually takes you to the north rim (if you go another 14 miles!).  The overlook is conveniently called “phantom overlook” and is the first junction you hit after walking north of phantom ranch.  Just make a right at the junction and the trail starts to go up!  After checking out the view we returned to the junction and continued on the north kaibab trail.  It’s worth hiking up the trail for a mile or two, as it enters into a fairly narrow slot canyon, following a stream.

unpridictable?  you don't say...

unpridictable? you don’t say…

The next day on the Bright Angel trail… it was finally sunny!  The Bright Angel trail is A LOT of up, especially with a heavy pack.  I think there’s just over 4,000 feet of gain and the trail is about 9 miles.  I was certainly huffing and puffing but the views are well worth it.

emily, joey, and a lot more up to go!

emily, joey, and a lot more up to go!

maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the bright angel trail

maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the bright angel trail


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