This location was photographed on October, 1, 2006 and again on February 12, 2010. The February 2012 panorama is what you see; the October, 2006 scene may be added at a later date. The following is a transcript of the narration for this panorama location. To watch and listen to the narrated panorama, enter the project here at this location and then press the play button.
The winter of 2009 – 2010 dumped a record amount of snow on the South Rim, and you can see just how high it was piled up by February, when this panorama was taken. The top of the South Kaibab Trail is in a shaded, north-facing bay, so any snow that falls here does not melt quickly. Look at the deep furrow the trail is burrowing through and you’d think that someone had run a plow down the trail, but you are simply looking at the result of the steady traffic of hikers on the South Kaibab Trail, even in winter, marching up and down through the deep snow.
I love the afternoon light in this scene, falling on the Kaibab Limestone cliffs, as they trail away off to the north towards Yaqui Point. Below the cliffs is the Toroweap Formation with its gentler slopes, which the trail traverses for some distance before dropping into the Coconino Sandstone just out of sight around the corner.
I suspect that blasting through the Kaibab Limestone was one of the biggest obstacles to be overcome when the trail was constructed. Unlike most trails in the Grand Canyon, the South Kaibab Trail does not follow a natural route. It is here only because the park service was determined to have a new trail, which it controlled, to run from the rim down to Phantom Ranch down by the river. The original trail to the bottom, the Bright Angel Trail, was privately held and charged tolls, and had been the center of a decades-long power struggle between the park service and Ralph Cameron, the builder of the trail, and United States Senator from Arizona, and bitter opponent of the park. By 1925 the park service had had enough, built the South Kaibab Trail, and had its own route into the inner canyon. Within a few yours local authorities capitulated and ceded control of the Bright Angel Trail to the park as well.
You see even less of the canyon here than you do from the trailhead, just getting glimpses of a couple of temples, Osiris and Buddha, still well off in the distance on the far side of the Colorado River, so we’ll just stay close to this spot. The view here looking down the switchbacks makes them look forbidding, but they aren’t. The 1925 trail builders did their job well – the number of switchbacks ensures that the grade is not too steep , but you will be happier if you wear ice cleats when the trail is snow covered like it was on this day. I remember that on that day I chose to save weight and wasn’t wearing cleats. The going was pretty easy up here in the loosely packed snow near the top of the switchbacks, but down near the bottom of the switchbacks, where the grade gets just a bit steeper and it was becoming icy, I regretted my decision.
We are already near the top of the trail here, but proceed on up the trail and we’ll visit one last panorama spot just a few yards from the trailhead. Head down the trail and we’ll stop at a spot just after the trail levels out in the Toroweap, with a nice view back here to switchbacks.