I left Sedona at around 9am to head north towards the Grand Canyon. I’d done a little homework on this as the Grand Canyon is a huge place and you really need to plan something according to the amount of time you have here. I have a day and a half, so wanted to make the most of it.
I’d spoken to a few people here in the US and also looked up a few things. The first thing was to avoid the obvious route (I-180) directly north into the Canyon. It’s the busiest and less scenic. I opted for the longer, but prettier Highway 89 from the east. This ultimately fetched me up against the ‘Watchtower’, from where I got my first view of the Canyon.
I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s what I saw. 🙂
I’d been warned that the place would be busy and it was – seemingly full of French tourists for some reason – and also that to get away from the crowds the best way is to take a hike down into the Canyon itself as most people don’t do this, but either stand around the viewpoints or hang out in the visitor centre. Certainly the later was packed with people. It wasn’t my sort of thing at all, I’d come to see the real Canyon. I’d been recommended a hike that took me to a place called ‘Skeletons Point’. First I had to find the start.
I eventually figured out that you have start at the ‘South Kaibab’ trail head. This requires you to take a bus to the start point from the visitor centre. The hikes come with plenty of health warnings. You are advised to carry lots of water, high calorie snacks both sweet and salty and to ‘know your limits’. The hike to Skeleton point was a 6 mile round trip and was forecast to take between 4-6 hours. You have to be careful of sunset as there are no lights, so a torch is also handy. There are stark warnings about going to far for your abilities. The Canyon is a “harsh environment” and “going down is optional, coming up is mandatory!”
I set off at around 2:15. I figured my fitness level would allow me to do the trip in the 4 hour area. The slope down was a constant 1 in 5 or so. Not difficult to walk, but jarring on the knees after a time – and you’re very conscious of the walk up that is growing behind you with every step!
The first waymarker was reached after 0.9 of a mile. This is where most people turn back. The aptly named “Ooh Ah Point”.
The trail was pretty narrow. You had to step aside to allow people coming up to pass. Apparently there are mules around every so often too, but I didn’t see any. At some points there is a steep vertical drop off one side or another. I had some of the theme tunes to Lord of the Rings buzzing in my head at stages!
Hiking to the bottom and back in a day is absolutely not recommended, even for serious hikers. It’s simply too exhausting. People die doing this and, as I was on my own at this point, I was now conscious of the risk. Whilst there were a few other people around there was no additional water or facilities of any kind down here. I was prepared with the right footware and belongings, but there was definitely a sense of being out in the wilderness.
I was aiming for a corner just beyond Skeleton point from which I could spy the Colorado River.
I reached the halfway point at ‘Cedar Ridge’ and stopped for a rest. This was actually the 1/4 way point, as I had to come back up too. According to the trail map this was only 1.5 miles so far. It felt like about 4 in terms of the effort I’d put into get there – and this was going down, not up. I was beginning to consider how much I could do. However, after a rest I decided to go on, slowing my pace a little to conserve energy.
About 2 miles down I caught up with an American couple who had stopped for a snack. They were turning around at that point and heading back up. We had a great chat and they took a photo of me. I have to say, down at this point there was a real sense of camaraderie and ‘looking out for each other’. They also tried to persuade me to take Donald Trump back with me – not sure I could help with that!
I said goodbye and continued on, knowing that Skeleton point was still a mile further down. It was gone 3.30 by this point. I was now getting concerned that I wouldn’t make it in time and mentally set 4pm as a point at which I would turn around regardless and start heading back up. I’d passed a few people coming back up at this point and they looked shattered, so I wanted to leave myself plenty of time to make the ascent.
Halfway down this last leg of the hike I met a young woman coming back up. She waved and started up a conversation. She’d apparently asked the tour guides at the top which was the most difficult trail and had been told it was this one. It seemed she was after more of a challenge. Oh to be young again. I put a brave face on it and tried not to look too tired out. 🙂
But not too much further one I got to the last waypoint. I’m not sure I want to ask why it’s called Skeleton Point, but it was a relief to reach it.
As per the advice I’d received, I ventured a little further down – three or four more switchbacks – and was rewarded with a sight of the Colorado river itself. That was my payoff for the trip!
There I took a rest. Eating some peanuts, drinking some water. Then it was time to head back up. It was exactly 4pm.
And this was a challenge. Going back up is at least twice as hard as coming down. The only upside is not having the jarring impact on your knees. Quickly though I was short of breath and noticing the heat from the sun. There was little shade on the trail at all. I was glad of my trusty hat.
I took frequent rests, but noticed I quickly overtook a number of folks that had been on their way up when I was on my way down. Some were really struggling with it. Fortunately they were all in groups and sticking together. The hike was not for the unfit or faint hearted!
I reached the halfway point on the way back up at 5pm, pretty pleased with myself for keeping a reasonable pace. Another drink and a snack was consumed. You really begin to appreciate the taste of water when you are very thirsty and are measuring it out to make sure it lasts!
As I reached the upper stages of the trail once more I was definitely beginning to slow down. The 6 miles was at the limit of what I was comfortable doing – but not to shabby for my age I don’t think – but I was taking frequent rests in the small amounts of shade available. I was really noticing it now and having to push myself on.
However, about 3/4 mile short of the top, who should I encounter but the American couple and the young woman I’d met on the way down. They’d teamed up at some point to share their water and it was good to have some company on the last leg.
Together we made it back to the top of the trail, getting there at 6:08pm – only 8 minutes after the time I’d aimed for and under the 4 hour mark. Three of us were tired out. I suspect our young friend would have been able to go down and up again without a problem!
It was the most incredible trip, spectacular scenery and some good company at the end. I’d recommend it to anyone, but follow the advice and make sure you’re fit. There is real adventure here, but real danger too. The hiking trails at the Grand Canyon are no place for the unprepared!