Vacation 2009 - Part 4

April 30, 2009


This is part 4 of my 2009 vacation. Time for a hike in the Grand Canyon. This would be my first time hiking the Tonto trail. I took the South Kaibab trail down 5.5 miles to the Tonto trail, then the Tonto trail 3 miles to the Bright Angel trail, then the Bright Angel trail 4.5 miles to the South Rim. I will admit to some apprehension about this hike. Would I be able to do it?


Me on the hiker shuttle. The rim was quite cool early in the morning. Most of the people on the bus wore sweaters and/or coats, but I knew once I started hiking I'd be comfortable, and I wouldn't have to carry a sweater or a coat. [01]

View from the South Kaibab trailhead on the South Rim. [02]

You are immediately reminded how steep this is going to be.... [05]

Sunrise. [06]

The downhills are tough on older knees. [07]

Looking towards Cedar Ridge. [09]

Losing elevation quickly. [10]

Cedar Ridge. [12]

Cedar Ridge. [14]

Kaibab trail. [15]

Kaibab trail. [16]

Me on the Kaibab trail. Protection from the sun is vital. A brimmed hat with drape and an old dress shirt will suffice. [17]

Me on the Kaibab trail. [18]

The Tonto and Plateau Point trails meet at Indian Gardens. [20]

Kaibab trail. [21]

Kaibab trail. [22]

Colorado river and Tonto trail. [23]

Kaibab trail. [24]

Kaibab trail. Ever stop to think of the sacrifice and labor that went into carving out trails like this? And we feel puffed up because we walk them? [25]

Kaibab trail. [26]

Kaibab trail. [27]

Kaibab trail. [28]

I've only come 3.5 miles so far.... [29]

Looking back...and up! [30]

Kaibab trail. [31]

Kaibab trail. [32]

Restroom located at intersection of Kaibab and Tonto trails. [33]

Natural arch. [34]

Kaibab trail. [35]

Kaibab trail. [36]

Kaibab trail. [37]

Kaibab trail. Mule train. [38]

Tonto trail at Kaibab trail. [39]

Trail is in good shape the entire way. I doubt this trail sees many visitors. I didn't see anyone else on the Tonto trail. People are obsessed with getting all the way to the river (I understand, I've done it twice.) [40]

Tonto trail is on the Tonto Plateau. It is shadeless and hot Hot HOT! [41]

Tonto trail. [42]

View of Phantom Ranch from the Tonto trail. [43]

Tonto trail. [44]

Tonto trail. [45]

Cottonwoods up ahead...must be water. [46]

The distance from the Kaibab trail to the Bright Angel trail is actually quite short...as the bird flies. But I'm not a bird. The Tonto trail winds around each of these spur canyons. This one was huge; the camera does not capture its size. [47]

The first water. I might have found potable water if I looked around, but I didn't bother. The only immediately visible water was a small seepage within the thick foliage. [48]

This clump of trees is more promising. [49]

Again, navigating around the spur canyons. [50]

I can see water. A true oasis! [51]

This trailside overhang would provide great shelter in an emergency. [52]

A welcome sight. I filled my empty canteen and soaked my shirt. [53]

This would be a wonderful place to camp, but I don't think that's allowed. Surely, if camping was allowed here, it probably wouldn't be this nice! [54]

The temperature is significantly lower under these trees. [55]

It is warm, and I don't want to go back out into the sun, but that's what I must do. [56]

Tonto trail. [57]

Canyon walls above the Tonto trail. [58]

Another spur canyon that must be circumnavigated. [59]

Tonto trail. [60]

A spectacular drop off. [61]

Huge canyons which would likely be state parks elsewhere seem to go unnoticed here. [62]

Almost to the Plateau Point trail. [63]

Indian Gardens is a welcome sight. [64]

I was greeted by this lizard. [65]

I am pleased I made it this far, but I need water and to rest before I attempt the climb to the South rim. [66]

Sign without me. [68]

For the sake of completeness.... [67]

At Indian Gardens, I met Cal from Ohio. He has a prosthetic foot. Quite a guy. Triathlete. I like the knife strapped to his leg! [69]

I drank three liters of water at Indian Gardens. It feels terrible to step out of the shade and back into the sun. And you can see that there is so much climbing to do. But guess what? It's even worse than it looks! [70]

Cal and his (son? son in law?) Mike. Mike carries a spare foot for Cal in the backpack. Cal says, "I've broken one before." Be prepared! [71]

The first part of the climb only seems steep. It gets worse! [72]

One of many obstacles that need to be passed. There are a number of switchbacks to the left. [73]

Looks like we've come quite a distance, but we haven't. Our first goal is 3 mile resthouse, which is 3 miles from the top, or 1.5 miles from Indian Gardens. [74]

3 mile rest house. A welcome sight. Water is available here. [75]

One foot in front of the other.... [76]

That part of the trail wouldn't be so bad if it was all you hiked, but by this point I think most canyon hikers are feeling some pain. [77]

It is sooo much harder than it looks! [78]

I made it! At the top of the Bright Angel trail. [79]

After my hike I made the following post on the Hoodlums forum: "I am out of the Grand Canyon. 12 hours to go 13 miles. Yeech. For those who know the Grand Canyon (ML?), I went down the South Kaibab to the Tonto trail, took the Tonto trail to the Bright Angel trail (first time hiking the Tonto trail), then back up to the South Rim. Tonto trail is fully exposed. Incredible scenery, but nothing has ever kicked my butt so hard. At no time did I think I would die, but for first time I could see how someone could. My emotional well being is closely tied to my physical well being. God fixed my heart but not my fat. It's gonna take awhile for me to process what I went through today."

One of the forum members responded: "Always pushing the envelope Bill, I admire that." Thanks, Brother Dan. But this time it was me that was folded, spindled and mutilated. Last time I hiked the Grand Canyon I was pretty cocky about my performance. This time I was really humbled. Later I will be adding some comments about what I did right and what I did wrong.

Copyright © 2009 by Bill Qualls. Last updated May 1, 2009.
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