Visiting the Grand Canyon is likely on most Americans’ bucket lists, as well it should be. Though it is far from the longest or deepest canyon in the world, its vast breadth is simply breath-taking. With our hopes of securing a permit to hike The Wave temporarily dashed our first morning in Kanab, we headed to the Grand Canyon to pick up our spirits.
Whereas the South Rim is open year-round, the facilities at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon close at the end of October. We visited the North Rim during the shoulder season — the handful of weeks after the park’s official closure before the road to the North Rim becomes closed by snowfall. From the lookout at Bright Angel Point, it was possible to see across the canyon. Yet, getting to the South Rim entrance would have entailed several hours of driving.
Reaching a width of 18 miles across, the Grand Canyon is visually overwhelming in a way that some significantly deeper canyons are not. For example, the Cotahuasi and Colca canyons we visited in Peru are both more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Both were impressive and incredibly beautiful, but did not overwhelm the senses with their magnitude in the same that the Grand Canyon awes most visitors. This is because the Peruvian canyons are narrower and descend gradually, making it all but impossible to observe the full extent of their depth. The immense width of the Grand Canyon, on the other hand, is its most notable feature.
Rafting the Colorado River inside the Grand Canyon will have to remain on our bucket list for the time being — that can only be done from the South Rim. However, we can now strike hiking inside the Grand Canyon off the list. First, we walked out to Bright Angel Point — the endpoint of a thin ridge that protrudes from the North Rim, offering stunning panorama views of the canyon. Then we climbed back into our car and drove to the North Kaibab trailhead. There are various trails at the North Rim, but the Kaibab is the only one that descends into the canyon itself. In fact, it is possible to walk from rim to rim by following the Kaibab trail for several days and crossing over the Colorado River. That is an adventure for another day however.
We contented ourselves with descending a little over 2,000 feet into the canyon — slightly more than a third of the Grand Canyon’s depth. As with our descent off the Island in the Sky, the greatest challenge of hiking into the Grand Canyon is the knowledge that each step down will require double the energy to retrace. Just shy of a mile into our hike we passed the Coconino lookout. By the time we reached the Supai Tunnel a mile later, we had passed by about 40 million years of ancient history, the sheer limestone cliffs of the Kaibab formation giving way to the layered fossil rocks of the Supai Group below.
Multiple signs at the trailhead warned day hikers like us not to descend past the bridge that lies 2.6 miles down the North Kaibab trail. This seemed like prudent advice, especially as we had gotten off to a late start. The bridge is 2,150 feet below the canyon rim — 2,150 feet that we would have to climb. On the way down, we had walked at a leisurely pace, taking plenty of photos and stopping to chat along the way. On the way back up, we put away the camera and got down to business, stopping only to catch our breath and drink the occasional sip of water. A freak hailstorm caught us midway through our ascent, forcing us to redouble our efforts. We were pleased, and a little surprised, to make it back in just over an hour and a half, with plenty of daylight left to spare.