Just read an interesting article that reported more people were rescued at Grand Canyon National Park in 2014 than in any year since 2001. The Associated Press story reported that a half million dollars was spent on 324 search and rescue operations at Grand Canyon National Park in 2014. According to park officials the huge increase in rescues was due primarily to inexperienced and unprepared hikers attempting hikes that were beyond their physical capabilities.
Backcountry hiking is one of my passions. Technically speaking I’m more of a backpacking enthusiast than a day hiker. The Grand Canyon story interested me for that reason but also because it is one of my most favorite places to hike.
A couple of years ago I spent an entire summer hiking the Grand Canyon and the Kaibab National Forest that surrounds the park. There is so much to love about the Grand Canyon ― the scenery is amazing, the ruggedness and vastness of the canyons just defies human understanding. It’s almost impossible to get your mind around it. The canyons are really to be experienced not simply viewed and hiking is one of the best ways to do that.
It’s easy for me to understand why people get into trouble hiking the Grand Canyon. When you stand on the South Rim near the Bright Angel Trailhead you feel almost irresistibly drawn to start down Bright Angel to the Colorado River a mile below. For some people the allure of the descent simply overcomes common sense and some are prone to overestimate their abilities. Getting down is quite easy. Getting back up, not so much.
The first time I descended Bright Angel Trail and then started hiking back up to the South Rim I quickly realized that hiking the Grand Canyon is very different from most other hiking experiences. Returning to the rim from the bottom tests your physical and mental endurance to the maximum. It is so demanding in fact that even the most experienced and physically fit hikers emerge sore and fatigued. I think backcountry hiking at Grand Canyon is a great way to test your mettle and learn heaps about yourself and what you are capable of achieving.
Another thing that gets people new to the Grand Canyon into trouble is not understanding there are two distinct environments at Grand Canyon. There is the rim environment and the environment at the bottom of the canyon which are radically different. Due to the elevation summers on the rim are typically quite pleasant and mild. Once you descend to the bottom of the canyon however, the environment is more akin to what you would find in Phoenix than say in Flagstaff with regard to temperatures. The heat can be brutal with temperatures that can range from 106-112 F (41-45 C) during the day with overnight lows only falling to around 80 F (27 C).
Here are a few tips I’d offer to anyone planning a Grand Canyon hike:
- Realistically access your physical and mental abilities. Confidence is great, over-confidence can be deadly.
- Take the right equipment and wear the right clothing.
- Know and respect the terrain.
- Adequate water and food consumption are absolutely vital to safety during any Grand Canyon hike, particularly in summer.
- Tell people when and where you’re going and when you expect to return.
- Be safe but above all enjoy yourself.
Have you visited the Grand Canyon? Ever made the trek down Bright Angel, the South Kaibab, Hermit, or the Grandview Trail? If so, I’d love it if you would share your experiences at the Grand Canyon in a comment.