Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Grand Canyon: down and up the South Rim

In the last (entry), I posted some pictures of sunrise from the top of the South Rim.

This entry contains pictures from hiking the South Rim. Me layered appropriate near the top of South Kaibab. It's about -6C:

I hiked with my friend Sasha (who came all the way from VT) from the South Rim down the South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River and over to Phantom Ranch. Then one beer later, back up to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail.

(It was my 2nd time going down and up in one day, so despite it being 16 miles round-trip and about 10,000ft of up/down vertical, I knew it was a very doable day hike, so I took the liberty of stopping to take lots of pictures (about 150). For the record, it took Sasha and I 8:40 including all stops. I can highly recommend paying the extra to stay at a lodge on the South Rim itself. Because it was winter, it turned out it was possible to make reservations just a week or so in advance. Very convenient and better than staying in Tusayan (what I did first time). For the details of the trail and logistics, see my 2004 webpage here.)

While the view from the top of the South Rim is breathtaking enough to excite even the most jaded traveler, it's a completely different feeling to hike down into the Canyon itself. In my humble opinion, the sheer scope and scale of this natural wonder can only be truly appreciated when we insert ourselves into the scenery.

The sheer scale of the geological features can defeat accurate parsing by the eye/brain. Meaning, I sometimes have trouble grasping the scene I see. That is, sometimes my eye prefers to render a flat (2D) image rather than the overwhelming massive and infinitively detailed 3D scene that I'm immersed in.

To provide a idea of what I'm talking about, please bear in mind the following picture (taken from the Yaqui scenic spot on the South Rim). The South Kaibab begins on the other side of this ridge (called Cedar Ridge) and emerges into view at O'Neill's Butte (which you can see at the far end of the ridge). In a later picture I will refer back to this one.

(There is a scroll bar below this and most of the panoramas in this entry.)


On the South Kaibab at 8:30am.

It's still cold and there is snow/ice on the ground, though thankfully not on the trail itself. The sun is still too low to provide much warmth.

You can also see people and the trail itself snake precipitously down on the left. (Yes. I have that phobia. But I love high places.)


Still in deep shadow, but partly because it's a beautifully clear day and partly because we are at altitude here (nearly 7000 ft above sea level), we can look forward to a day of brilliantly strong sunshine ahead:

(Still, such scenes with wide dynamic range create big problems for digital cameras. The human eye with its iris is able to see both bright scenes and into shadows without washing out or dropping into barely discernable black. Not so with current cameras and LCD display technology, unless one is willing to compress all that dynamic range artificially. But I digress...)


Cedar Point. The trail opens out here. The first flat spot. (Also, the first available bathroom stop.)

(There is a considerable amount of inaccurate information in the official park documentation that I sorta hesitate to correct here. Probably, it's inaccurate for good reasons.

For example, the South Kaibab trail is listed as having only one restroom stop. This is not true. There is one here at Cedar Point. But there is also one near where the Tonto Trail crosses, which is pictured further down on this entry. And both restrooms were certainly around back at the time of my first hike in 2004.


I put the following picture in to serve two purposes:

  • First, you can see how I shoot the panoramas using an ordinary moderately wide-angle (28mm EFL) lens attached to my Olympus E-520 DSLR. Pictures are merged together automatically using Autopano Pro or Adobe Photoshop Elements.

    (Actually, I have an ultra-wide-angle 16mm EFL fisheye lens too for my spherical panorama photography (shown elsewhere on this blog. But shot merging gives zoomability and incredible detail at full resolution.)
  • Second, remember I said the eye/brain can have problems parsing the scale of the features correctly?

    Well, compare the butte in the foreground with the South Rim in the background. And look back at the picture taken from Yaqui Point earlier (2nd one down on this entry). You see what I mean?


Paradoxically, the North Rim seems further away down here than when I was up on the South Rim:


Okay, let me switch gears for a moment. From huge geological features billions of years old to human scale objects.

Two pictures of a mule train coming up the Kaibab:


Told you there was another toilet coming up:


Back to awesome scenery. Some great colors here. Scroll sideways for the full effect.

(You can see the Colorado River to the left. And the trail etched in the deep red on the right.)

(Those two law students just below my vantage point are from California on a fun weekend trip. Nice guys. They were well-equipped and properly provisioned but it's going to be a bit of a long day for them. Of course, variations in weather conditions at the Canyon can play a big role: it can be freezing at the top and 100F at the bottom. (Today it's about 70-75F at the bottom, very pleasant conditions.) However, their buddy had already turned back. And as we passed them later on Bright Angel on the way back up, one of them was looking very tired indeed. Another rather tired solo hiker we encountered on the way back up Bright Angel (wearing a big backpack) referred to herself humorously as "I'm one of those they warn about". See previous blog entry or my 2004 webpage for the warning sign reference.)


The Colorado River down below.

(It takes 3 hours to reach the Colorado. Took about the same time as when I first did it in 2004.)

You should be able to spot the three river rafts and of course the suspension bridge we're going across to get to Phantom Ranch, but you probably can't make out the people doing yoga poses on the river bank.

Well, ergo zoom (a detail from the picture above):

(Resolution is one area where digital cameras have exceeded the human eye even without the benefit of a telephoto lens. Pixel density is already amazing in today's DSLRs and the tradeoff in terms of noisy images (in low light) seems acceptable.)


Can you believe they were closed for a staff meeting during lunchtime at the only place you can get food down in the Canyon? I can't either.


I wanted to get back up to the South Rim in plenty of time for sunset.

But I insisted on hanging around, i.e. wasting time, until they re-opened, so I could have my cold beer.

Sasha was gracious enough to honor my request:


Ascending the Bright Angel trail. It's going to be quite a slog.

(That foreground feature looks huge, but again it's nothing compared to what's dwarfing it back there. Later on, this effect can become psychologically important. One might think the top of the rim is close but it's actually still hours away.)


Nearly to Indian Gardens (which is psychologically the halfway point on Bright Angel), the scenery narrows but remains interesting:


We finish as we began, in long shadows and cooler temperatures:

Excellent timing! We easily made the South Rim in plenty of time for the sunset (around 6:30pm).

Highly recommended and hugely enjoyable. It's a must-do (if you are in decent shape).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Grand Canyon: Sunrise on Bright Angel

Early morning pictures at the top of the Bright Angel Trail, South Rim, Grand Canyon Village AZ taken with my Olympus E-520 DLSR.

(I live within driving distance (Tucson) of the Canyon, but it's only my 2nd time doing a serious hike there. Previous day, I hiked South Rim to (Colorado) River and back with my friend Sasha in 8 hours 40 mins. Wasn't planning on being able to wake up in time for this.)

Let's take a brief look at the progress of the sun on Monday March 9 2009.


Just after first light. Direct sunlight has not yet reached the canyon.
Just a peek at the glow of the sun between clouds and the North Rim.

(Use the scoll bar at the bottom of the picture to see the panorama.)


4 minutes later, the red butte is beginning to glow.
(The warning sign to the left cautions against hiking Rim to River and back in one day.)


12 minutes later, the rocks above our heads at the top of the South Rim have become illuminated.


Seven minutes more, and we have what I think is a magical moment of dynamic range. Both full illumination and soft glow are present, before the full power of the sun makes itself felt for the rest of the day.

This part of the Bright Angel trail is still a little icy in March.

More on the previous day's hike to come...