Grand Canyon: Hike to Skeleton Point

Last weekend I went to the Grand Canyon for the first time.  You can read about the beginning of my adventure in this post.  After finishing the Grand Canyon Half Marathon Saturday morning, C and I decided to hike below the canyon rim.  After exploring our options on Bright Angel versus South Kaibab, C and I opted to hike to Skeleton Point.  Not only was this a prime destination, it also would allow us to join Adventure Race’s Skeleton Club.  Our destination was set.

I was feeling a little apprehension since I am deathly afraid of heights.  Or more appropriately, I am deathly afraid of the long agonizing fall and subsequent splat that results from an untimely departure from a high place.  Since this was my first trip to the Grand Canyon, I was uncertain how I would handle the trails.  Nevertheless, I refused to let my fear hold me back though.

Shortly after finishing the half marathon, we rallied back at the campsite and cleaned off the dirt of the morning run so we could accumulate fresh dirt on our hike.   After packing up some snacks and grabbing  a quick lunch, we headed off to the trailhead.

The easiest way to get to the South Kaibab trailhead is to park at the Visitor’s Center and take the Orange Shuttle Bus.  There is no parking for private vehicles at the trailhead so unless someone is dropping you off, the shuttle is the best approach.  It was simple and free and didn’t take much time at all.

Water is critical to take on the trail since water below the rim on the South Kaibab trail is limited.  We knew that  even with the cooler temps reaching only the high 70s, we did not want to be unprepared.  We both carried 70ml of water and C had an extra 70ml pack for emergency.  At the end we didn’t need the emergency pack, but both finished off the 70ml we each carried.

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Getting ready to take that first step on the trail

My first steps were worrisome and I believe poor C was scared right up until the last minute that I would bail.  But I managed and once I stepped foot on the trail, my whole body relaxed and I felt 100% at peace.  I love being on the trails and any apprehension melts away with those first steps.   If you are scared of heights and if that is a concern in your travel plans to go to the Grand Canyon, rest assured that the trails are not scary.  There are ways to walk off a cliff, but unless you are being an idiot, it would take a concerted effort to fall.

We trekked off down the trail, a little surprised it wasn’t steeper.  Especially at the beginning, there are a lot of switchbacks so the trail is at a pretty low grade.  We were going to be descending 3 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation down to Skeleton Point.

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Both of us were in silent wonder.  In the vastness of the surrounding landscape, I felt small and insignificant.  Yet somehow in that insignificance, the sense of great belonging, the sense of my place in the world, the sense of connection was stronger.

Our first viewpoint was “O0h-Aah Point”.  Aptly named, it is the first spot where you could look up and down the expanse of the canyon.  It was also about 3/4 of a mile from the trail head making it a relatively easy hike for those less ambitious or those with kids.  As such, it was the most popular location along the route.  Wanting to leave “Ooh-Aah Point” to everyone else, we paused briefly, snapped a few photos and continued along our way.

The next stretch was a little steeper, but still a relatively easy hike.  It was about another 3/4 of a mile to “Cedar Ridge”.  Less populated than “O0h-Aah Point” “Cedar Ridge” is a good resting place.  Whereas “Oh-Ah” Point is a stopping point on the trail itself, “Cedar Ridge” is a broad open expanse that people can find a peaceful place to sit away from others and ponder their existence.  Or if something less existential appeals to you, it is also a great place to rest and have a snack!

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A forlorn tree offering inspiration to thousands who take the time to pause and listen to it’s wisdom

We stopped again to enjoy the views but only for a moment since we were both feeling great and eager to see what lay ahead.  “Skeleton Point” was the next stop on the trail and our final destination – 1.5 miles away.  While not a far hike, it dropped another 1,000 feet in elevation.  This decline was deceptive but was incredibly evident when we turned to look behind us and saw the canyon rim towering overhead.  Hikers need to stay aware of how easy hiking down is and remember that what goes down must go up at the Grand Canyon.

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It did not seem that we had descended this far, but the canyon rim soared overhead when we paused to look back.

The amount of hikers really thinned out after Cedar Ridge, but we did get to see a mule train hauling supplies out of the canyon.  Presumably these were supplies for those who stayed overnight at the bottom of the canyon.  That got us daydreaming that our next trip needed to be all the way to the river and back or even better Rim to Rim or best yet Rim to Rim to Rim.  We were both feeling the majesty and powerful energy of this place.

When we arrived at “Skeleton Point”, we question why it was named such, but there were no indications.  We later learned that it was named after the skeletons of donkey and pack mules that had fallen off of the surrounding cliffs.  Rather morbid for a such a spectacular place.

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Medal and bib on display, I am now a member of the Skeleton Club.

We snapped our Skeleton Club photo, took a few funny “I am falling off a cliff that isn’t really a cliff photos”, settled down to rest, eat some snacks and enjoy the peace.  There were only two other people in the area and compared to the madness at the visitor’s center the night before, I felt like I was in my own glorious kingdom.  I wanted to stay in that place, in that moment, forever.

Alas, all good things must come to an end and we eventually packed up our gear and turn about face to head back up out of the canyon.

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The hike out wasn’t too difficult as we are both in great shape from lots of trail running.  It was a climb however and I can understand why the NPS posts signs warning people that “Going Down is Optional, Going Up is Mandatory”.    It took us about 1.25 hours to get to “Skeleton Point” and 1.75 hours back out.  Typically however the advice is to expect twice as much time to climb back up as to go down.   While the whole trip took us 3.5 hours with our lounging around at “Skeleton Point”, the average person can expect to take closer to 4-6 hours depending on their fitness, the temperature, and so on.

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As we crested the rim we were grateful.  I felt proud, awestruck, tired, excited, and so many more feelings.  It was more amazing than we could have ever predicted.  Whether it was the fatigue of a day well spent or the whirlwind of thoughts in our heads as we reflected on the day and the adventures ahead, we were both pretty quiet as we settled down in our sleeping bags that evening.

The next adventure will be on the horizon before I know it and I am eagerly awaiting that day.

The journey continues…..

 

 

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