29 May 2015

Making a Dream Reality: Hiking the Grand Canyon - Day 1

Hiking through the Grand Canyon - this was one of those dreams or items of my bucket list since we first visited this breathtaking location in 2004. I wanted to walk all the way down to the Colorado River, "listen" to the silence of this remote place, absorb its magic atmosphere and hopefully experience a stunning starry sky at night.

The most popular trails that connect both rims are the 14 miles long North Kaibab Trail with its trailhead at the North Rim (8,241 feet elevation) and those two South Rim trails: the Bright Angel Trail (9.5 miles) and the South Kaibab Trail (7 miles). For a map and additional data click here.

Our preference was to hike from the North Rim to the Colorado River in two days and then back out again in two days via the Bright Angel Trail. However, making this reality was easier said than done. In 2012, we were very close, had everything scheduled for doing the hike in June and every little detail worked out, but ... had to cancel last minute due to a family emergency. In May 2014, we applied for the backcountry permits again which are required for any overnight stay in the canyon, but got denied. And again in October, but got denied again. Finally, we decided to sign up for a guided tour in May 2015 with the Wildland Trekking Company. And bingo! Got the permits for the Memorial Day weekend!

On Thursday, May 21st, we flew into Arizona to met with our guide Eddie (the guy with the yellow hat) and the three others of our group: Andrew from Sacramento and Elliott and Yuri from Chicago. Early Friday morning we then got shuttled to the North Kaibab Trailhead.

North Kaibab Trailhead: Final distribution and packing of gear

Unfortunately, the weather was not in our favor: rain and thunderstorms in the forecast. And indeed, we had light snow at the North Rim and got rain showers as soon as we hit the trail!

Ready to take off!

In nice weather, the Coconino Overlook at 0.75 miles from the rim gives a beautiful view into Roaring Springs Canyon. Well, not so this time.

Pouring rain and thunderstorm!

Heading towards "Hell's Kitchen' and the Redwall Bridge at 2.7 miles.

With the ongoing rain the trail became muddy, slippery and harder to walk. Gosh, what if this would go on like this?! For three more days hiking and camping in the rain?

Guido and Eddie, not too excited about the weather.

After 6.8 miles (10.9km) and 4,161 feet (1268m) drop in elevation we reached Cottonwood Campground for our first night in the canyon. While we quickly set up our tents in the rain, the ranger greeted us with "Oh, you guys are lucky. Usually, it's 100 F and people are vomiting!"

To close the day, Eddie prepared some hot tea/coffee and stir-fried veggies with rice for us. Even a simple meal can taste like heaven! 


  1. Finally!!! I remember you talking about it since...ever. Glad it worked out that way. I wonder if the permits are preferably given to tour organisation in order to keep out less experienced hikers.
    I have never seen rain in the three times that I visited the canyon, but I've heard that if it happens it can get quite dangerous. Looking forward to the next installation. I bet, weather will have improved the next day, right?

    1. Yes indeed: finally!

      We were told by our tour organization that they also have to go through that lottery system for the permits. But we had the same impression than you that they have a higher chance of getting those permits compared to individual hikers.

      This was our 4th time at the canyon and we had only seen it in sunshine so far. Ah well, never stop exploring, right?

  2. Looking forward to more pictures. I made the trip back in 1979 from the north rim.

    1. Also in four days? Or how long did you stay in the canyon?

    2. I remember that we had an extra day and that there was snow on the north rim.

    3. Yes, we had snow as well. They just had opened the North Rim one week earlier. Did you hike from rim to rim in five days then? I think it's a good idea to spend extra time in the canyon, if that's possible in terms of vacation time.

    4. Actually, rim to rim in three days (I was n much better shape back then). Something like 25 miles or so. I was part of a small group of 5. It seems like a lifetime ago (for some, it is a lifetime) and can't even remember the names of the others in the group.

  3. Just getting caught up on the posts. How awesome that you guys did this.

    Way to go for being persistent in acquiring the permits.

    1. At some point it felt almost ridiculous to keep faxing those requests, on the minute right at midnight of the first day four months in advance when you were allowed to submit them. And I was so surprised that we were successful - for the Memorial Day weekend! Did the other people know somehow that the weather would suck?! ;-)