Grand Canyon NP -- South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point (4-17-17)
"The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail."
-- John Wesley Powell
This was it. This was the big one. Our all too brief visit to Grand Canyon National Park culminated with this one, spectacular hike. In all my years hiking and all the places I've gone I still have tucked away in the back of my mind a handful of extra-special hikes I consider a 'life-list' of sorts. Most of these places are far from home, places of special significance not only because of their remoteness from home but also due to my own personal magnificence rating. One such 'life-list' hike I had long been dreaming of was a hike down into the majestic depths of the Grand Canyon itself. I have long been told there are few places on earth that compare to the Grand Canyon and I decided years ago that my life in hikes, as a lover of all places wild, would not be complete without a trek into this wonder of the natural world. On this day my dream would be realized.
The route for this hike would follow the famous South Kaibab Trail. Denoted by some as one of the Grand Canyon's two 'super-highways' (the other being the Bright Angel Trail), the South Kaibab leaves the South Rim of the canyon just to the south of Grand Canyon Village to make a winding plunge to the Colorado River. The South Kaibab is just under seven miles in length and, from top to bottom, boasts a leg punishing 5,000-feet of vertical elevation change. Needless to say, only hardcore hikers need apply for a day trip down to the river the river and back. Thankfully, the trail does offer a number convenient alternate 'goals' other than the river that can be reached on day hikes of varying lengths. So it was that, with reaching the river a bit beyond our abilities in a day, we decided to make our destination a spot known as Skeleton Point...a trek requiring roughly half the mileage and vertical of a complete descent of the canyon.
We would begin our hike from the trailhead on the South Rim near Yaki Point. Most of the year a free shuttle bus is required to reach the trailhead, which we did good and early in an attempt to beat the worst of the crowds (this trail is considered a 'super-highway' for a reason after all). The scenery on this hike is spectacular from the get-go. A few hundred yards walking gets one to the rim of the canyon where the trail makes a seemingly impossible plunge right of the sheer cliff via a series of tight switchbacks blasted right out of the cliff-face. After this initial dramatic beginning the trail begins a more consistently moderate descent along the rocky ridge which it follows all the way out to Skeleton Point. There's no shelter on this trail. We had a nice comfortable day so the sun wasn't a bother but, on a hot summer day, I'm sure this would be a punishingly exposed route to follow. The one thing the lack of cover does though is expose you to the spectacular scenery which surrounds you every step of the way. The views are mind-numbing, the scale of the surroundings overwhelming. The Grand Canyon simply consumes your senses on this hike. I can't describe it in words adequately...its unlike anything I've experienced. From the trailhead the first major point of interest reached is the aptly-named 'Ooh Aah Point', at 0.9 miles and 600-feet below the rim. The panorama of the inner canyon from here and the view of the ridge the trail continues to follow stretching out far below is a majestic sight. From Ooh Aah Point the trail continues its winding, sometimes steep descent until the 1.5-mile mark where it reaches the next major stopping point, Cedar Ridge. Cedar Ridge lies a tad over a thousand feet below the rim and is the most popular turn-around spot for those hiking into the canyon on a day hike. There's backcountry toilets here and a scattering of small trees (the only ones you'll see on the hike) providing precious patches of shade so this is a popular lunch spot. Cedar Ridge was only half as far down into the canyon as we wanted to go this day, however...Skeleton Point is still another 1.5 miles away. The trail from Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point maintains much of its familiar character from earlier as it continues descending the ridge. A major feature passed on this section is known as O'Neill Butte, which dominates the view north from Cedar Ridge and forces the trail on a wide arc to the east to reach its far side. The final half-mile or so is relatively flat compared to what comes earlier as the trail heads for the end of the wide ridge through an increasingly green landscape of low shrubs and small flowering desert plants. Skeleton Point is reached at the 3-mile mark from the rim and lies at an elevation 2,100-feet below the trailhead. It's another magnificent spot. The Colorado River can be seen for the first time on the hike, churning through the inner canyon another 3,000-feet below. The canyon dominates your view in every direction here...up, down, right, left. The landscape here is so massive...so inconceivably massive...it's a good thing there was a nice cliffside perch to have lunch on so we could have adequate time to take it all in.
At Skeleton Point all that was left to do was make the three-mile, 2,100-vertical foot climb back out. It was grinding to be sure, but I have to hand it to whoever built the trail, I never found it too overwhelming. Besides, there's so much eye-candy about that it's easy to keep your mind off the work at hand. If you think the scenery had gotten old by this point you're sorely mistaken. It was glorious, every second of it. So...I think I'll just let the pictures tell the tale at this point. Come on along with my boys and I as we experience one of the most thrilling and beautiful hikes I've ever had the chance to take. This is one that will always have a special place in my soul. As always...ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.052852, -112.083848
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: (very) HARD
Mileage Hiked: 6.2 miles Hike Duration: 4:30
Trailhead Temp: 55'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 5,200' Max. Elevation: 7,300'
Total Vertical Gain: 2,100' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 700' (all on return)
Trails Used (blaze color): South Kaibab Trail (unblazed)