On a backpack earlier this week I was reminded why fall is my favorite time to backpack in the Grand Canyon. After weaving through frisky elk on the road to the trailhead (’tis the mating season), my companions and I descended the precipitous South Kaibab Trail. Our carefree descent with a mid-morning departure would have been torturously hot even a month earlier. Indeed I couldn’t help repeating my observation (ad nauseam my trailmates would argue) that this was the first time I wore my thermal long johns all the way to the bottom of the canyon. After a well-earned nap beside melodic Bright Angel Creek, we took in a marvelous ranger talk by Pam Cox. Her retelling of Major John Wesley Powell’s first trip through the canyon by boat in 1869, one that included a visit to this very spot, was simply riveting.
At night we enjoyed the Harvest Moon – so bright that one could read into the wee hours sans flashlight. On the hike out we passed towering cottonwood trees whose leaves were beginning to turn yellow. Flocking Pinon jays seemed to mock at our labored steps uphill. The seasonally light traffic on the trail was a welcome relief as the ritual of wishing all a good morning would have expended valuable energy for my not-quite-out-of-shape crew.
At the top of the Bright Angel Trail we met an equally frisky group of bighorn sheep. They lined both sides of the path as if to welcome us back to higher ground. As this was likely to be my last journey to the depths of the canyon until springtime, I lingered on the edge to let the experience sink deeper. It took the promise of a final backpacking ritual, a double scoop of Canyon Crunch ice cream at the Bright Angel Lodge, to peel me away.