So often we hear how hiking Grand Canyon or Yosemite is part of their “Bucket List.” And yet, way too often hikers do not do anything to physically or mentally prepare themselves to accomplish said item on the bucket list.  This very lack of action is a good way to ensure that you will be thinking you will be kicking said bucket very soon. Every season, hikers on our own JRI trips or those just hiking in the canyon on their own and without a guide for fun are not having much fun. They are in just enough shape to get themselves stuck at the bottom of a hole that is a mile deep, with no energy or strength to get out. So instead of giving actual training tips, here are 6 ways to know you ARE NOT ready to hike Grand Canyon – or anywhere that has extreme changes in elevation for that matter.

1. You think your guide will carry your gear, the rangers will provide you with transportation or there is some other way out other than your own two feet – or whatever other crazy notion that there is some secret way out of Grand Canyon that “the Google” has failed to mention.  If this idea even glimmers in your noggin, get rid of it. If you are on a guided trip, it is your duty to be able to do your part and if your part is to carry a 35 lb backpack, then you need to be prepared to do so over the long haul. If not on a guided trip, there are no cars, no awaiting mules, helicopters or trams at the bottom of the canyon awaiting your arrival to give you a ride out.

2. You want to hike to the bottom of the canyon or the top of Pike’s Peak, but the thought of putting the time and effort to train for something equivalent to a 1/2 marathon or longer gives you hives. If you are not willing to train for something that requires 12-18 weeks of consistent exercise and rigorous training to complete, why would you be considering a hike in one of the most unforgiving places on Earth.  I am not saying it is not doable as thousands of people hike Grand Canyon and millions run 1/2 and full marathons, it just takes some blood, sweat and tears!

3. You researched and read all the tips about how to train for a backpacking trip and you chose to ignore them. I would never have thought this to be “a thing” but it is! I was told by a couple of our guides that on several different occasions our hikers asked if the training information on the JRI website was accurate. The response – “Yes!” It was put together by yours truly – an Adjunct Professor of Exercise Science with 17 years under her belt AND over 11 years of Grand Canyon and Yosemite guiding experience AND a lifetime of desert hiking experience.  Come to think of it, what do I know?  Actually, more than the novice hiker, so if you are not willing to follow some good and FREE advice, don’t hike Grand Canyon!

4. You have medical conditions that cause pain in knees, double vision with exertion, weakness, sensitivity to the sun, trouble breathing, immediate death when your heart rate goes above 70 bpm (beats per minute), vertigo, or whatever else would get you into serious trouble the moment you are too far from a front country rescue – meaning no one can just drive up in an ambulance and whisk you away to the nearest hospital. So if you have a known medical condition that you have not tested in the front country by training, why are you testing it out in the middle of no where?

5. You are training but you have not trained enough. To be fair, it is very difficult to assess if you have trained enough. Places with extreme elevation changes like Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Rocky Mountains are difficult to train for if you have never been. And having trained enough does not mean you will not be sore, sweaty and breathing heavy.  So try these simple exercises.  If you have put in 10-12 weeks of training already and have difficulty completing just these (or completed but you are wiped out when done) with less than a month away your hike, you are not ready.  You will need to step it up!

  • 3 sets of 50 squats with 50 lbs on your back.
  • 30 minutes of step ups onto a 3 ft high bench, step, up and down stadium steps, on a StairMill or something similar with 35-40 lbs on your back.
  • 30 Push Ups from your toes or 45 from your knees. You may be asking – “What do push ups have to do with hiking?” A lot! Upper body and core strength is important in overall strength. And people should do more push ups.
  • 3 mile run/jog at 11 minutes per mile on flat ground, adding hills however won’t hurt.

6. You have a bunch of excuses why you have not been preparing yourself for your “Bucket list” trip of a lifetime. Not much to say here. If you have excuses, getting in shape really is not that important to you.

I am not trying to be discouraging, but my job is not to candy coat this stuff. Directness is a necessity and there is no trophy just because you showed up. You do have to earn it!  I digress…The great outdoors is an amazing place and will allow you to experience life changing events. But you must be prepared so it is also an experience you will look back on and say “Wow! Let’s do that again!”

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