Day 3 – Backpacking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Trail

The plan for this day was to get up early and hike up to the next campground at Indian Gardens before lunchtime, spend the mid afternoon resting, and then take an easy hike out to Plateau Point around sunset. However, we were pretty exhausted when the morning came and decided to take it easy for the first part of the day and take in the sights and sounds around Phantom Ranch. Now that we had settled upon the lazy way out, we didn’t actually wake up until just before 9 AM with the sun started hitting us pretty hard. By this time, many of the other campers had already left the campground. Since we had just thrown our tent into the first open spot the night before, we realized that we didn’t get a spot with any shade. So, without taking down the tent, we simply moved it to an adjacent spot right next to the Bright Angel Creek and rested some more.

For breakfast, I had a failed attempt at making buttermilk pancakes using another one of the backcountry meals. The reason for this, I believe, is because I didn’t have a skillet, and pancake is pretty hard to make in a pot. I guess that was the first meal failure of the trip. So, we reached back into our trusty bag of protein bars and electrolyte tablets to fill us up. Around this time, 10 AM or so, the same group from Texas we had met at Cottonwood Camp the day before strode in and asked if they could hang with us again. It was nice to see them again, so no worries. They set up shop and we shared some more stories of the past 18 hours since we had last seen them.

Bright Angel Creek and Campground

Canteen at Phantom Ranch

Following this, I decided to cool off my feet in the creek which would help with the half dozen blisters I had gotten the day before. So, I spent about 45 minutes sitting with my feet soaking in the cold current of the Bright Angel Trail. It actually made a really big difference and my feet felt so much better afterwards. Following that, I did some photography between the campground and Phantom Ranch and then spent about an hour in the canteen just hanging out and talking to a few other thru-hikers. I also spent this time writing a few postcards to friends that would be carried out of the canyon by mule to the National Park Post Office and then on to their destinations.

Mule Station at Phantom Ranch

Deer walking though Bright Angel Campground

With the early afternoon approaching, we packed up our tent and gear, tapped off on the water in our reservoirs and headed up to Indian Gardens at 3:07 PM. The distance we had to cover here was 4.7 miles and only 1320 feet above us. So, we said good-bye one last time to our friends from Texas and headed out.

The Colorado River was less than a half mile away from our campground. Once there, we crossed the Silver Bridge which would connect with the Bright Angel Trail and was a few hundred yards west of the Black Bridge that went onto the South Kaibab Trail. From here, the trail turned west and went along the Colorado River for just over a mile until it hit the River Resthouse. According to the trail guide, the rest-house is at the same elevation as Phantom Ranch (2480 feet), so the expectation was that this would be a pretty flat hike. Au contraire! The trail couldn’t have been more hilly. We got to a point where we must have been at least 350 feet above the river with a significant part of the trail covered with beach sand that we had to slog through. Then, there was the downward ramp that brought us all the way back down to 2480 feet again. Although it is not listed in the hiking guides, these hills do add a lot more overall climb to the trail. So, although it is only 1400 feet or so from Bright Angel Campground to Indian Gardens, we are actually climbing up and down over 200 vertical feet of elevation.

Silver Bridge across Colorado River

Signs for the Hiking Trails

This complete lack of displacement between Phantom Ranch and the River Resthouse reminded me about my college physics class where I learned that regardless of the force given, if there is no displacement between the two endpoints, then zero work is done. Meaning, since I ended up at the same elevation that I started with, I didn’t do a single bit of work over the past 1.5 miles! The simple equation that calculates this is W = Fd (work = force x displacement). Maybe, but my legs and the hunger in my stomach were sure feeling it.

After a few minutes resting here, we moved away from the river and into the canyon again. In fact, it was from this point that my party and I made the trip up to the rim back in 2005 following our white water rafting trip. So, I was now on the path that I had traveled before. Also, from this point, the trail does turn decidedly upwards and follows a little stream known as Pipe Creek.

There is a lot of vegetation in this part of the trail: cottonwood trees, desert gooseberry, rabbitbrush, banana yucca, and a plethora of others that I could never identify. We quickly hit the part of the trail referred to as the Devil’s Corkscrew. This is an ominous series of steep switchbacks that zig zags its way up for several hundred feet. It is also an exposed area and gets quite hot from the direct heat of the sun. We were in this section around 4:30 in the afternoon and so it was very warm and probably wasn’t the best time of day to hit it. Another hour or so would have been much better. It is tiring to climb up this section, but there are several areas that are good for a rest point to have some water and take in the sights.

Start of Devil's Corkscrew

View of Canyon Near Top of Devil's Corkscrew

By the time we approached to within a mile of the Indian Gardens, the trail leveled out a lot more and it was relatively easy going, with the only major issue being the heat. But by 6:15 PM, we had arrived at the campground. Many of the camping spots were filled, but since we did have our back country permit for this trek, we were guaranteed a spot. Sure enough, there was a pretty good spot right smack in the middle of the overnight camping area. Although the Indian Gardens campground is just as simple as the Bright Angel and Cottonwood campgrounds, I did think that it was the best of the three. There is a wooden shelter built over the picnic tables for shade and the ground to place our tent was also very level with very few rocks.

Sign for Indian Gardens Campground

Our Camp site at Indian Gardens

Because of our late arrival, we decided not to take the hike out to Plateau Point, which was another 1.5 miles out. Plus, by this time a large number of clouds had moved over us, blocking out the sun, and thereby eliminating the chances of seeing a nice sunset. So, we instead brought out our cooking gear and had our biggest meal yet of the trip with another bag of Pad Thai and Yakisoba Noodles. For dessert, we busted out with Raspberry Crumble from Mountain House. The Pad Thai and Raspberry Crumble were very good, but the noodles was a bust. It just didn’t taste very good, and so we each had a little bit of it, and packed up the rest to take up to the rim and dispose of up there.

It was close to 8:30 PM by the time we cleaned up and had everything ready. The wind had picked up significantly and we could tell it would be a cold night. It’s amazing how much of a difference 1400 feet in elevation could do since it was quite warm the whole night through at Bright Angel Campground the day before.

By 9 PM, we were in our tent and ready to sleep. Tomorrow we would be getting out of the canyon and heading home. Only another 4.6 miles of the most heavily trafficked trail in the Grand Canyon to go.

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