Down is optional, up is mandatory

… that’s what all the signs said at least. And with no more nights left on our permit, it was pretty true for us. It was time to start making our way back to the South Rim on our last day in the Canyon.

Trail maps


With just 4.9 miles left to the top, we had a delicious Easter camp-side breakfast and then set out from Indian Garden in the mid-morning. Even though the hike was about the same distance as the previous day, our elevation change was about 2.5 times more, so the hike was more strenuous. The nice thing about Bright Angel trail is that it’s got nice vistas like South Kaibab with a lot more shade. The downside is that it’s a bit crowded as the most popular trail in the Canyon; it was very surreal to climb out and encounter more and more people as we went… a bit of a jolt back into humanity.

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Indian Garden

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Staying warm on a chilly morning

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“The Battleship”


Throughout the day I had fun thinking back to the previous times I’d visited the Canyon. The first time in early 2002, when there was snow on the trails, and the other two times in the summer of that year while I was studying at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, once with Chris and once with Sarah. I think I must have decided I wanted to hike to the river sometime back then.

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My first trip to the Grand Canyon in January 2002

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Trip with Sarah back then

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Trip with Sarah now

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Trip with Chris back then

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Trip with Chris now

It took us about 4 hours to make it to the top. “Peaking out,” as I learned reaching the top is called, was thrilling. I was giddy with excitement. On the shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center, Aaron asked everyone, “when was the last time you went four days without seeing a car?” The answer for most of us… never. That’s pretty cool.

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 Almost to the top

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 “Peaking out!”

Once we reached our cars we spent some time putting on clean comfy clothes, grabbing some food that wasn’t trail mix or beef jerky, and buying a few souvenirs.

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I wasn’t the only one with foot problems… James had a little trouble as well.

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Epic post-backpacking meal

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Fun facts: The Canyon measures almost a vertical mile deep – that’s more than three Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.  The River in the Canyon is about the length of a football field across on average. The Canyon is slightly larger in area than Delaware.

To get out of the park we drove along Desert View Drive, which follows the Canyon rim for about 25 miles. We stopped at several overlooks and then at Desert View for one final look at this natural wonder of the world.

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We tracked our hike with our GPS watches. I pulled the data into Google Earth and created this video. This is the route we took over the four days (if the video doesn’t appear, click here):

And in case you missed any posts, here are all the links:

Mark one off the ol’ bucket list

Relaxing in the Inner Gorge

The Canyon after dark

Not a lot of people get to see this

I’m so happy that we took this trip, and I have to say thanks to everyone who came – Chris – who took the time to go in the midst of finishing up his doctorate, Lynn – who planned it all and helped us with our endless questions, James – who’d never even been to the Grand Canyon but still gladly signed on, Sarah and Aaron – who didn’t know they’d be needing a tent until about 2 weeks before the trip but came anyway, and Clayton and Tonya – who I’m so glad I met and I hope will go backpacking with us again. Trips like this one tend to spark lots of ideas for more trips. There was a group consensus that backpacking in Yellowstone and Yosemite are must-dos, and hiking the Inca Trail is also up there. The bucket list just keeps getting longer…

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Here’s to you, Grand Canyon.

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One thought on “Down is optional, up is mandatory

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your incredible journey with me! The stories were wonderful and the photography is amazing! What beautiful vistas–I can only imagine how incredible it is to see in person. So happy you had a wonderful time! Love you!

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