South Kaibab Trailhead to Cottonwood Campground
(14.2 miles, +1,600/-4,800 feet).
We should have known we were in trouble.
When we got our wilderness permit application back from the National Park Service, they said they would approve our dates, but only if we filled out a questionnaire about our hiking experience. As it turns out, any plan of more that 10 miles per day is labeled an “aggressive itinerary” and requires additional paperwork.
Our aggressive itinerary would actually have been pretty easy for us, but we intended to do it in half a day! We had to drive 8 hours from San Diego the same day we were starting, and the only place available to camp was 14 miles from the South Rim. So we packed our headlamps in accessible pockets, knowing that we might have to walk the last bit in twilight.
We got to the rim around noon and I pulled out my new favorite piece of backpacking gear: my go-lite umbrella! I love it for both sun and rain. But Half Cookie was skeptical.
And she wasn’t the only one. Within the first mile of our descent, we neared our first mule train, and the mule driver yelled out for me to put the umbrella away. Apparently umbrellas spook the mules.
I put the umbrella away, and left it packed for the rest of the afternoon since it was relatively cool and overcast.
The views on the descent were amazing, exceeding even my high expectations.
The only negative part of the experience was the state of the trail. The mules dig deep holes in the trail, and as a result it must be reinforced with logs that create steps. These holes tend to fill with mule poop, and worse, mule urine. And walking downhill for 4,500 feet one step at a time, lifting our feet over each log, took a lot more time than we thought it would.
We got down to the Colorado River around 5pm.
The bridge over the river is almost as amazing as the natural beauty, with a tunnel entry and a beautiful span across the water.
Just past the bridge we got water and found a nice picnic table to have dinner. We scanned the map and realized we would probably be finishing in the dark.
After dinner we found the North Kaibab Trail and started our 1,500 foot climb to Cottonwood Campground.
The trail hugged the canyon walls and crossed the creek a few times on well-built bridges.
It sprinkled a bit, but not enough to require rain gear.
Soon it started getting dark. Half Cookie was not pleased, but there was nothing we could do.
Just as we were reaching a point of frustration, something magical happened. The trail, which had been empty by day, started filling with frogs as night fell. They were everywhere. It was a lovely distraction to get us through the last couple of miles.
At 8:30pm we finally rolled into camp. It was a little tough to find an empty spot, but soon we did and we quickly raised the tent and collapsed into sleep.