Hiking to Skeleton Point in the Grand Canyon is, without a doubt, the toughest hike I’ve completed to date. If you’ve read my guide to hiking the Grand Canyon for beginners, you’ll know I’m not the most accomplished at scaling great heights on foot. In fact, until last year, I pretty much avoided hiking completely.
The first time I saw the Grand Canyon, I barely set foot below the rim, terrified that I’d go too far and have to be carted out on a mule to the sounds of riotous ridicule (with a big ol’ bill to add to the trauma). Last October, with a vague fitness routine behind me, I made it down to the first stop on the South Kaibab Trail, Ooh Ahh Point. I made it out without too much stress – so on trip number three, I was ready to push myself.
And the hike to Skeleton Point was one hell of a push.
We set out as soon as the sun poked its head over the rocky rim, turning the rock walls pinkish-orange, with a chill still in the air. Dodging the mule droppings, it was an easy descent for the first switchbacks, getting slightly trickier as the ground became less even. I’m not the most stable on my feet at the best of times, but with my face steeled with concentration, I pressed on.
Retracing my previous steps to Ooh Ahh Point, I took in the familiar views, before taking a turn to the left to carry on. Down, down, down, until we reached Cedar Ridge – which is also a great stopping point if you don’t fancy hiking the extra 1.5 miles down to Skeleton Point.
After Cedar Ridge, the trail took us down almost another 1000m, with few other people in sight at this time of the morning. Getting closer to the point, the ground flattened out, until we reached the edge, and a welcoming sign proclaiming we’d made it to our destination.
Reaching Skeleton Point at around 8am, we sat down to soak in the views of the Colorado River and eat the lunches we’d packed the night before. Because breakfast is the new lunch, don’tcha know? Honestly, slightly soggy cheese sandwiches and Cheetos never tasted so good.
Now for the hard part. Climbing all the way back up again.
It was pretty tough going, I won’t lie. The sun was really doing its thing at this point, and the steps seemed to never end. With barely any shade, this is one where you really need suncream and hydration, folks.
By the time we’d made it back up to Cedar Ridge, I was pretty much crawling. My legs felt like they couldn’t take a step, heart beating faster than ever, and there were moments I was pretty sure I was about to faint. Water was guzzled quickly at plenty of rest stops along the way, and at the ridge, we took a long sit down in the shade to catch our breath.
My spirits were lifted when I realised the distance between Skeleton Point and Cedar Ridge was actually about the same as the distance up to the trailhead – if not a little less. I was halfway there!
Pressing on, the going was still tough, but the fact an ice cold can of coke would be found at the top is probably the thing that kept me going. That, and singing Fall Out Boy’s Champion over and over in my head, for some reason.
Making it to those final switchbacks where it all began, a burst of energy hit me – and I even broke into a (very) short-lived run. The second I reached the top, I barrelled STRAIGHT to the water point, and threw fresh, cold water into my mouth (and all over my top). The adrenaline kicked in, and I’d realised we’d made it. I say we – I honestly couldn’t (and probably wouldn’t) have done this hike without the help of my group. Proud of ourselves, we jumped on a bus back to camp, where I took a long, hot shower and enjoyed that can of coke like I’ve never enjoyed one before.
Hiking to Skeleton Point taught me some things about myself, and the things I’m able to do when I really push outside my comfort zone. There have been days that it’s taken all of my energy to crawl from bed to the shower. Self-doubt sticks a cattle prod into my brain, telling me that I’m not good enough or strong enough.
That day taught me that I’m not helpless, or hopeless. But maybe, just a little bit more fearless now.
About the hike to Skeleton Point
Distance (round trip):
Elevation gain: 2060m
Average time taken: 3-5 hours
Water points: None – it’s recommended you take at least 3 litres on your hike
Toilets: At Cedar Ridge – very basic drop toilets
How to get to the South Kaibab Trail
The South Kaibab trailhead can only be accessed by shuttle bus – take the orange route from the visitor centre and get off at the South Kaibab stop. The trailhead is just along a path from the bus stop. There are water points and toilets at the trailhead.
Tips for hiking to Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail
- Head out as early as possible – not only will the trail be much quieter, but the sun won’t be at it’s highest so it’ll be a *bit* easier than hiking in the early afternoon.
- I said it before, and I’ll say it again. Take LOTS of water, taking sips regularly.
- Take your time, as some of the trail can be quite slippy.
- Wear sturdy footwear, ideally hiking boots. The trail gets uneven in places.
- Bring suncream, and reapply it lots, as much of the trail is out of the shade.
- Take energy-boosting snacks to eat along the way.
- Remember, however long it takes you to get down to Skeleton Point, allow twice as long to get back up.
- Always hike with another person or in a group – mostly for safety, but also for moral support!