As a professional life and leadership coach and wilderness guide who has built her business around guiding clients up tall peaks and into the deepest of canyons, I was recently asked:
“Where is your sweet spot? Where do you feel most at peace and one with yourself?”
I quickly answered, “Anywhere in the outdoors, but the Grand Canyon is my sweet spot. For. Sure.”
So vast. So intense. So beautiful and raw. The Canyon has granted me space to find clarity, peace, forgiveness, and to heal from life’s wounds. That is why I chose, as a 40-year-old single mom of three sons, to become a Grand Canyon guide. As a life and leadership coach, I wanted to provide the same opportunity for my clients.
I was recently guiding a group of women on a coaching and hiking retreat down the South Kaibab trail – destination Phantom Ranch – for a two-night cabin stay at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I began this trek knowing few had been on a hike full of this much awe and wonder. One woman was battling her fear of heights. Others were simply looking to shift up their lives while unplugged from all electronic devices. I knew what they were in for, as I had watched so many others transform within the depths of this massive space.
Standing at the trailhead located off the Yaki Point Road, the excitement began to stir within each of my clients as they looked into the vastness of “The Big Ditch”. Though I am technically the leader, I challenged one of my Warrior Women to guide us on our way.
“Real Growth Happens Outside of Your Comfort Zone”.
This was pushing my client outside of her comfort zone. As we slowly and carefully began our hike, I sensed my Warrior Women having realisations of their surroundings. Quickly they noticed the sharp drop offs and cavernous walls surrounding them. We were walking through a space and time created between 6 and 70 million years ago (though there is much argument regarding this fact). A mixture of silence, anxiety and peace began to take over.
The trail itself is a steep descent for the first three-quarter mile (1.2 km) as you hike through layered Paleozoic Rock, formed between 270 and 525 million years ago. Purple in colour, the various hues and vibrancy are remarkable to the eye.
Finally, we came upon Ooh-ahh Point. The name speaks for itself as the canyon walls open up and the eastern canyon comes into view. My group gasps in amazement.
We stop for some pictures. I pull out a pair of red heels to wear for a shot, “just because”. I began taking pictures of myself in red heels while on mountain summits and crazy trails after I was “questioned” about being a mom, woman, and adventure seeker.
“How can you be all three?” I found this question to be ridiculous.
Thus, to show that every person has various sides to themselves, the red heels became my own “powerful and sassy symbol of pure womanhood in nature”.
As we settled into our space and comically laughed at me in red heels, I could feel the anxiety within the group lessen. A feeling of contentment and safety began to take over as we held the support of one another. We are now becoming one as a group of women.
From Ooh-ahh Point, the trail continues around switchbacks until it begins to level off slightly. In view, you see Cedar Ridge, where most hikers and mule riders stop to rest. There are toilets available (although no water) and there’s a nice shady tree to sit under on a scorching day.
Heading north, we pass a group of mule riders, all extending a casual “hello”. We laugh as we think about how awful that must feel on the butt, though our legs are beginning to feel the burn of hiking down the steep areas on the trail.
Another 1.5 miles (2.4 km) down and we stop at Skeleton Point for a quick snack and 360-degree view of the canyon. Post Skeleton Point, the trail makes another descent as the dirt begins to turn grey and red in colour. We are now hiking through Limestone, or the “Supergroup Rocks”, with a layered age of 1,200-740 million years. As the trail continues, Phantom Ranch suddenly comes into view. The excitement began to grow in my group as the realization hit that “we are getting closer” and there is beer waiting in the Cantina below.
Another 1.4 miles (2.25 km) of steep decline and numerous switchbacks later, we come upon the Tonto Trail junction. Toilet facilities are available (still no water) The area is vast and open. Looking North, we could see the plateaus above us. We discussed how “small we felt at this moment.”
Continuing our descent, we came upon a large rock that is flat on top and looks as though it is balancing perfectly on the one underneath. This is called “Tipoff Rock”. Here we stop for more pictures and laughter, and rest and to eat lunch. There are no cell phones. There are no worries. There is only us being present with ourselves, each other, and the Grand Canyon.
I slip on my red shoes for another shot. We are “Women Who Hike”, after all. We are now truly embracing our badass selves and experiencing full unity together. Laughter erupts and echoes throughout the canyon walls as my Warrior Women continue to lean into the uncomfortable.
We begin to make our final descent into the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The trail becomes much steeper, is full of switchbacks, and begins to pass through the layer of green Vishnu Basement Rocks, formed between 1,680 and 1,840 million years ago. This is where the real test of the mind and body sets in. It is usually around here that knees begin to feel pain, our minds begin to wander, and all that we can think about is the cold beer and lemonade awaiting us in the Cantina at Phantom Ranch.
Six miles (9.6 km) from the trailhead, there is a junction with the River Trail; continue to your right and you cross the Black Suspension Bridge over the Colorado River. Approximately 3/4 mile (1.2 km) downstream on the River Trail, there is a crossing of the Colorado River via the Silver Suspension Bridge. We take a right, continuing on our way to a tunnel which leads to the Black Suspension Bridge. Relief sets in amongst my group of fearless Warrior Women – we are almost at our destination.
Once on the north side of the Colorado River, the trail turns westward as we pass Boat Beach. Here people choose to relax, dip their toes in the cold rushing water, and begin to feel the benefit of their accomplishments. We chose to keep on trekking towards the cabin, knowing that if we stopped, it would be extremely difficult to start back up again. Passing by trees with leaves turning vibrant colours, spotting deer along the trail, and hearing the trickling of Bright Angel Creek, exhaustion has set in – yet so has utter peace. We feel so content and one with our surroundings. Noticing the fierce red walls of the canyon climbing steeply on either side of us, pride sets in.
We did it. We are at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, 4,800 feet (1,463 metres) below the South Rim.
Phantom Ranch is a special and unique place, filled with cabins, dorms, tent spaces and a Cantina where you can eat meals, relax, drink beers, and get to know other hikers. Stories and experiences are shared. Advice and knowledge are offered up. Friendships are made (some for life).
My group? We are just a Fierce Group of Warrior Women opting to get out there, enjoy life and find out what we are truly made of. I am beyond proud of anyone who takes on goals such as the Grand Canyon.
As one of my clients put it best, “While I felt strong going into this trip – I left feeling truly KICK ASS!”
The Grand Canyon, or any natural environment, works wonders on those that truly become one with its surroundings. Find a trail. Take a hike. Enjoy life’s scenery.
Cheers to boldly living and loving your life.
Need to Know
Length: 14.6 miles / 23.4 km (7.3 / 11.7 km each way)
Time: 2 days (allow 4 – 5 hours on day one and 8 – 10 on day two)
Elevation change: 4,780 ft. (1,460 m)
Park: Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona, USA)
Path Taken: South Kaibab Trailhead – South Kaibab Trail – Phantom Ranch – South Kaibab Trail – South Kaibab Trailhead.
Car Access: The South Kaibab Trailhead is off Yaki Point Road. From Grand Canyon Village, follow AZ-64 east for 2.4 miles / 3.9 km and turn left into Yaki Point Road. Grand Canyon Village can be accessed by various forms of transport. There’s a good run down on the My Grand Canyon website.
Map: The National Park Service offers a map which is the best you’ll find.
Further info: Camping and Cabin reservations are required through the National Park Service. There is NO WATER provided nor sourced on this trail. Check out the National Park Service map for lots of other valuable information.
Have you visited the Grand Canyon? Got it on your bucket list? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.