I didn’t get much sleep last night thinking about this hike, I didn’t know what kind of mileage would be feasible and stayed up thinking through all the different scenarios. I woke up around 4AM and drove from the national forest into the park. Got the rest of my gear finalized and got on the shuttle bus to the trailhead.
It was still pretty dark when I got there, I was surprised at the amount of people starting out that early, there were about 10 at the trailhead. All with daypacks at the most, some with only a bottle of water. Just about everyone took off into the dark, I waited at the top until the sky was glowing and I could see the trail fine without my headlamp. By a mile into the hike I had passed everyone and had the Grand Canyon and the sunrise to myself.
The South Keibab trail is more open and more direct than the more popular Bright Angel trail, which also means its hotter and steeper with no water. But in return you get much broader views of the canyon and the river, rather than being isolated to a side canyon. I started passing people who had camped or stayed at Phantom Ranch about a mile from the river, most asking what time I had stated that morning.
I got to the river by about 7:45, roughly 2 hours after the start of the hike, I felt really good, but of course it was all downhill at this point. I made a pit stop at Phantom Ranch and filled up on water again. I passed by the canteen and debated getting some better food than what I had, but decided against it. The North Keibab trail is much longer, roughly 14 miles up to the north rim. The first 6.4 to Cottonwood camp are relatively easy with a gentle slope. It was still pretty early in the day by the time I hit cottonwood, and seeing the sign for another 7 miles to the top pushed me over the line to make the decision to go ahead and go for it. The climbing was fine until about 2 miles from the top, where I decidedly bonked. I took a short break, and then another probably a mile from the rim. At the top, the water was still shut off, just as all the other water sources on the trail had been thus far, other than Phantom Ranch. There was supposedly water at the backcountry ranger station about a mile from the trailhead. I really didn’t want to add additional 2 miles to my day, but I didn’t have a choice, I needed the water. Took a quick break at the top knowing I still had at least 21 miles to go and another climb to get out.
I kinda just plodded down the trail for the 14 miles back to Phantom, I was tired but grateful for the downhill. It was sunset at Phantom when I arrived. You could smell dinner wafting down the canyon, and the dinner bell rang just as I walked by, as a long line of very clean looking guests lined up to get food. Apparently during diner the canteen is closed as well, I had just missed it by 10 minutes. I filled up water and took another break, forcing down a few more granola bars that I was absolutely sick of by this time. And it was pretty well dark by the time I headed back out. Right before the suspension bridge over the river a back country ranger stopped me, and asked if I was hiking rim to rim to rim and if I needed anything. She gave me a caffeinated energy gel, and tried to call dispatch to see if the shuttle might be running by the time I got to the top. The gel helped tremendously, I should of brought better food with more sugar and caffeine, I needed it the entire way and never had it.
I dont like hiking at night and try to avoid it unless I have to, and in this case I had to. The moon was full and the openness of the trail allowed me to walk probably half of the way without the headlamp. It was more peaceful that I thought it would be, and the north rim loomed behind me illuminated by the moon. Halfway up the canyon the wind picked up tremendously, strong enough to blow me off balance on a regular basis and the temperature dropped significantly. Since it was all uphill I didnt put on layers, but I got cold fast when I stopped for breaks, the wind also whipped up a lot of dust most of which was laden with mule poop that covered the trail.
When I finally made it to the top I was cold and thirsty. I put on my layers and filled up water again. It was pretty obvious the buses were not running at this hour, it had just hit 10:30. So I started walking back to the visitors center. The bike path back follows the rim, and that strong wind blew right across it the entire way. The trail seemed to go on forever, I had thought it was about a mile to the visitor center, but I had been practically jogging for over 30 minutes and nothing was in site. I came up to a roadside overlook where there was a car parking in a “No parking, shuttle busses only” spot, and thought to myself, look at this idiot. Turns out it was a woman doing nighttime photography along the rim, and without me even asking, she offered me a ride. Totally made my night, and the pictures she had taken were really great. The moon was so bright it looked like daytime, but with stars. She dropped me off at the truck and I crawled inside and turned on the heater, quickly wiped down with some baby wipes and laid down in the back, there was no way I was driving into the forest tonight.
Pictures along the way in chronological order: