But pictures are not worth a thousand words. In fact, they tell you almost nothing about the places you are about to experience especially when that place takes us out of our comfort zone and into the great outdoors. This article is geared mostly for those looking to hike Grand Canyon – but the overall message really is for everyone.
1. Grand Canyon Is Inherently Dangerous
Yes, you can get seriously injured or killed (or as a recent blogger for Field and Stream wrote – “injured or seriously killed”). Either one sounds pretty scary.
But everything in life is inherently dangerous if you forget your brain or never had one to forget in the first place. Playing in traffic, walking into flames, and juggling knives is also dangerous, and we all tend to avoid these dangers when common sense takes precedence. You’re even advised to consult your physician before starting a new exercise routine, because for some, exercise is dangerous – especially of we overdo it or do it incorrectly. But we limit our risks through knowledge and experience.
First, do your research by checking out information about the area on the National Park’s website. And when you think you have done enough, do more. Knowledge is power and that is the power that will decrease your chances of getting seriously killed – seriously.
And if you cannot gain the knowledge, consult or hire someone who has it (i.e., a guide service like Just Roughin’ It). But even then, consultants and guides do just that – consult and guide. They don’t control or alter events. Train for your hike and take the time to understand what you’re going into.
2. Grand Canyon Is a Giant, Wide, Long and Deep Hole in the Earth
This place is 1,902 square miles, bigger than Rhode Island. The canyon itself is a mile deep. That’s an easy hike, right? Wrong.
When was the last time you walked to the top of the Empire State Building and back down? Never, you say? Now do it 3 and a half times. If you cannot wrap your noggin around that concept, please at least walk up and down several flights of stairs and see how you feel. If you are the type who complains about a staying in an historic hotel that had no elevators – stay on the rim!
3. Grand Canyon Is Both Hot and Cold at the Same Time
The canyon is warmer at the bottom and cooler on top. It is all based on the fact that the top of the canyon (the rim) is higher in elevation than the bottom.
It is also very arid (dry) so temperatures not only vary greatly from the bottom to the rim (about 20 degrees F), they vary from highs to lows (about another 50 degrees F). For example, in June, the average high on the South Rim is 81 F and the low is 27 F. But the average high at the bottom of the canyon is 101 F and a low of 72 F.
But that is in the shade. Hike during the hottest time of the day in full sun, and you can add about 20 degrees F to those temps. This is a very important concept to comprehend, as it is these climate changes that make or break a hike. If you time your summer hike wrong, you will suffer serious heat illness. However, plan your hike only for the hot temperature and go unprepared for the colder temps on the rim, you will find yourself hypothermic pretty quickly as well.
Be prepared for anything! This means carry extra clothing, water, food, sun protection, etc. This will mean a heavier pack, which equals more of a challenge and thus more physical and mental preparedness.
4. Grand Canyon Is Off the Grid
When you get to Grand Canyon Village, you will see restaurants and lodges and stores and thousands of people all on their cell phones. But when you descend into the canyon, amenities and people on cell phones are less and less common.
The point – don’t expect your cell phone to work in Grand Canyon. And since you are hiking off the grid, don’t expect there is any immediate help in the case of an emergency of non-emergency. As adults, you are all expected to take accountability and understand your own physical abilities before hiking below the rim.
No one knows you better than yourself – not your guide, not your children, spouse, imaginary friend – NO ONE. This means you don’t get to hike into the canyon, find you cannot hike out and call for a helicopter to get you out. You are expected to suck it up and finish what you started or don’t start at all.
5. Hiking Grand Canyon Is DIFFICULT
For all the above reasons, a hike in Grand Canyon is no walk in the park. You have elevation, climate, trail conditions, weather, other hikers, your own abilities and so many other factors out of your control to contend with. Even a guide cannot control the events you may be faced with when hiking this massive hole.
Way too many people think that hiking 10 miles on a flat, level, paved or groomed trail is the same as hiking in the canyon. It is not! You are hiking downhill first, not easy. Then you have to hike uphill, also not easy. You have to train, train and train some more.
Training is not taking Fifi the poodle out for her 20-minute walk 3 days per week. Train like you would for a 1/2 marathon, triathlon, a soccer tournament or whatever else you might do that takes commitment, time, causes muscle soreness and might make you notice some inches falling off the waistline. If the mere thought of training for a 10K run gives you nightmares, you might want to reconsider hiking to the bottom of Grand Canyon.
If the thought of walking 2 flights of stairs gives you hives, please just take pictures from the rim and don’t even consider even a 100 foot descent below the rim. And of course, the more off the beaten path the trail, the more training you need to do.