Luke and I were riding the park shuttle from the Grand Canyon Visitors Center to the South Kaibab Trail. It was a short ride, but long enough to give the group of 20-something dudes behind us the opportunity to say “Snapchat” 2,497 times. Anyone who’s ever spent time on a Zion shuttle en route to Angles Landing can relate.
The view from the South Kaibab Trailhead is breathtaking. There are neither railings nor crowds to contend with. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. Hikers young, old, fit and not need to be equally mindful of their surroundings and diligently manage their own wellbeing.
We, avid hikers, learned this lesson quickly. The initial section of the trail is a series of switchbacks that crisscross the canyon’s wall. We determined after turn number two that we could go no further. The sand was a solid sheet of ice and its pitch got steeper with each step. One slip could send us straight over the edge.
If you think I’m being dramatic, three people died in the park the week after our visit. National Parks are not a safe place for anyone. They just aren’t.
We were unwilling to hang it up so early in the day, so we took the shuttle back into the village and purchased traction aides. An hour later, we were making our way back down the South Kaibab trail with shiny new crampons underfoot. Even though the ice had softened to a slick slush, I was happy to have the added confidence on the steeps.
What goes down, must come up and park rangers recommend allowing twice as much time to hike out as it takes to hike in. We started in around 10:30 and designated 2:00 as our turnaround time. That gave us plenty of time to make it out before dark.
The first point of interest along the trail is called Ooh Aah Point. It’s an incredible lookout located about a mile in that’s especially popular with young families and Instagrammers who didn’t wear proper footwear. After jockeying for a glimpse of the canyon with all those doing it for the ‘grams, we hiked another half mile to Cedar Ridge.
This big peninsula of flat red rock juts out into the center of the canyon. It’s a popular rest stop for teams of mules and hikers. There’s even a couple of pit toilets built into a semi-permanent structure. We grabbed a section of boulder and ate the most scenic lunch of our lives.
Roughly three miles in, we still had plenty of legs and daylight left, so we hiked to Skeleton Point where we got our first glimpse of the Colorado River. It was a tiny, muddy ribbon far below, but I could see that it was roaring was spring melt. It would have taken us another two hours to reach it. We were passed a few times by trail runners going down and up in a single shot. How they manage to do so astounds me.
The morning cloud cover had broken up and streams of dappled light raked across the rocks in waves, creating a water-like ripple effect. A fresh layer of spring green blanketed the areas of rock exposed to bright sunlight. Green on top of red, orange and purple rock created the effect of a frosted layer cake.
The canyon looked completely different than it did that morning. Its dark crevices were now filled with light, shifting their tone from mysterious to an inviting place awaiting exploration. My impulsive side longed to scurry down there and have a look around. But my reasonable side was not in the mood to be airlifted back out.
I settled for staying put and enjoying one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. I didn’t have the Colorado to dip my tired feet into, but I did have a stiff breeze to cool the sweat from my face and a strong sun to warm up the back of my t-shirt. I’ll call that a draw.