Grand Canyon Hiking Newbie

Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 07:35 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 6
Grand Canyon Hiking Newbie

I wanted to get your opinions for those who have hiked the Canyon before. I have dreamed for over a year of being able to do a long hike of several days accross the canyon (rim to rim) or at least a day hike.

I have a full two weeks off between July 28 2007 and August 10th. I'd like to book the hike for the earlier part of that vacation, but I might be flexible.

I know there are several factors working against me being able to set up this hike including:

- As much as I want to do rim to rim, I haven't done any substantial hiking since I was a kid in Boy Scouts (I'm now 28 YO)
- The permits required for overnight camping are probably booked out for the end of this month already.
- I'm going to be going along solo, although I'd love to pal around with any group of people would take me in - I may visit some friends around the US for this trip, but I also want some time to meet new people and/or be alone
- I'm not in the best physical shape - I work out about once a week. I have a slightly bad knee that can be kept in check (when I do strenuous physical activity) with a knee brace.
- I am realizing I have no idea how to proceed even though I have tried to do some research. I really shouldn't attempt anything overnight solo. Ranger guided tours are find if I only want day trips, but it looks like overnight trips that are guided (by outside companies) can get really pricy.

If you're wondering why I'm so gung ho about hiking the canyon, here's my story:
I travel around the country installing software for city and county governments. After finishing up with the city of Flagstaff, they talked me into driving the 2 hours or so up to the south rim. By the time I got there it was almost dark but the sites were still beautiful. For a guy like me doing a lot of reflecting, I would even say it was somewhat spiritual. I don't know why but looking down and learning I could hike all the way down into that thing really made me feel like it was something I really wanted to do.

Sorry for the long story, but it's looking pretty likely at this point that I waited too long to plan this thing. I may visit my friend in Portland and spend some time white-water rafting around the mountains or something... that should tide me over for a year or so

Anyway, thanks for reading and your thoughts are greatly appreciated!!!

thomas_pokorny is offline  
Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 08:46 PM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 41

I am preparing for my first visit to the Grand Canyon and my Rim to Rim hike. I am going in Late September and am gearing up for just about anything as far as the weather goes. When I applied for my permit in May the park service sent me a DVD covering all the bases of a inner canyon hike.

It is about at its hotest during the dates that you are going. I am taking two days down from the North Rim and two days up to the South Rim. By the way- I have been a Scout since I was a Cub Scout and am now a Scoutmaster.

Back to the Canyon: Best you hike with at least one other person. I am hiking with three other hikers. I am 47yrs young and will be the oldest in the group. Just apply for the back country permit and campsites. You never know, you might get them.

My schedule is Day one: North Rim to Cottonwood Camp(7mi) Day two: CW to Bright Angel Camp (Phantom Ranch)(7mi) Day three: BAC to Indian Gardens(4.8mi) Day four: IG to South Rim(4.8mi).

I am out hiking as much as possible right now to get into canyon shape. On a Rim to Rim it's either all down or all up.

You will be hiking in the morning before 10:00 AM to avoid the barbeque heat of the rest of the day.

I am coming in by train to Flagstaff and taking a shuttle to the South Rim. Then I am taking a shuttle to the North Rim. After the hike I am taking the shuttle back to Flagstaff and train home.

I can't wait to stand on the South Rim let alone hike into the canyon. "Spiritual" is the word I will also probably choose or feel as I look into and hike the Grand Cayon. I hear the Canyon can be a life changing expierience once you have walked into and out of its embrace.

Good Luck

Lambert is offline  
Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 09:22 PM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 2,881
I've hiked roughly 1,200 miles in the canyon below the rim. Many times friends and I hiked from the south rim to the north rim in a day (20.6 miles, 4,800 ft down, 5,800 ft up), spent the night at the cabins and hiked back the second day. Most of us could do this in 8 hours each direction, the fast ones in 7 hours, the laggards in 9-10 hours.

You can theoretically do a multi-day rim-2-rim hike with backpack in early August but you'll almost surely not get the permits (they typically are snatched up as soon as available). Ideally you'd start at the north rim and hike to Cottonwood Camp (only a few sites there), then next day a level hike to Phantom Ranch campground, then day 3 about 5 miles of "up" to Indian Gardens, then day 4 hike the last 4.6 miles out, which is all "up". You would need to hike early each day and lay low after say 11 AM to avoid the killer heat.

You say "I'm not in the best physical shape - I work out about once a week. I have a slightly bad knee" ... quite frankly you are simply not in good enough shape to safely do a Grand Canyon hike, even with more pleasant weather in the fall or spring (it was 116 F at Phantom Ranch last week in the shade ... there is no shade for much of the rim-to-rim hike).

In June 1990 a friend and I did a 38 mile hike off the main trails in record heat (122 F at Phoenix, I think 118 F at Phantom) ... 18 people were rescued by helicopters those 2 days and one young man died from heat stroke. I carried 3 gallons of water (which I drank the first day), weighed 187 lbs when I started and 173 lbs when I staggered out 26 hours later after drinking another 3 gallons of liquid on the hike up and at the rim. We were OK (my friend is an ex-Marine who has won tri-atholons) but we both knew this was a bit too extreme. After that I wised up a bit and didn't do lengthy hikes when it was over 105 F

Best case is you'll be extremely miserable, more likely you'll be unable to complete the hike after reaching the river and have to be ferried out via mule or chopper (very expensive). Potentially you could die from heat stroke ... in really bad years they have as many as seven hiker deaths (though most years it's only one or two).

Try to do a simpler day hike, say to Indian Gardens (9.2 miles roundtrip). Or if you're really feeling your oats and it's unseasonably cool for August (say Phantom Ranch predicted highs are 105 F or less) do the 16 mile Kaibab-river-Bright Angel loop (start at sunrise), which is actually more than the Rangers recommend. I wouldn't advise doing longer hikes with a pack until you are certain you can do the shorter ones, which are still dangerous if the temperatures are high enough.

Bill_H is offline  
Old Jul 4th, 2007, 05:02 AM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 16,753
I would have said "do it" except for the knee. Hiking down is very hard on the knees, perhaps worse than the hike out; if only you could get down (or out) another way (mule?), the trial at the bottom would not be an issue.
sylvia3 is online now  
Old Jul 4th, 2007, 06:10 AM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 541
Here's another alternative - start with day hikes in Zion National Park in Utah instead of the Grand Canyon. You could try, for example, the Angel's Landing and Narrows hikes in Zion to get a feel for your ability to do the more strenuous hiking that would be required in the Grand Canyon. Zion is of course smaller than the Grand Canyon, but very impressive in its own right. I recommended Zion as a "starter" for a non-hiking business colleague about five years ago, and he's become completely hooked and completed a one-day rim to rim Grand Canyon hike in October a couple of years later, among many others.
MRand is offline  
Old Jul 4th, 2007, 07:01 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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Pokorny: Think again. You won't make it. Heed Bill H. He is right.
USNR is offline  
Old Jul 4th, 2007, 07:30 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
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The condors need something to eat but it would better for all if it weren't your carcass they feed on. I don't think you are in condition to make a hike to the bottom, less in condition to hike back out.

Do go to the Grand Canyon and do hike below the rim, but make the hikes short ones until you know if you can make longer ones. By hiking below the rim you will leave much of the crowd behind and see some great scenery, plus you can test your ability without endangering yourself.
rm_mn is offline  
Old Jul 4th, 2007, 12:49 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Before giving any thought to major below-Rim hiking in the Canyon, you must start a simple, daily regimen about six months before the hike: walking up and down stairs. Find the longest stairway on which you can walk up and down, and then do so, working your way up to no less than an hour (preferably two) non-stop. If you can't do this without pain, you're not ready for your hike.

Unfortunately, it's only a month to go and (I presume) you haven't started this regimen. Thus, I have to join the chorus and urge you NOT to try a major Canyon hike in summer with a questionable knee. At best you will be in agony at the end, and even death is possible. Instead, I recommend just hiking down the Bright Angel as early in the morning as you can, and then turning around as soon as you START to feel tired or sore. If you only hike fifteen minutes down, you'll experience the Canyon in a way most visitors don't.

BTW, hikers that made bad decisions will NOT be taken out by mule. You either agree to a helicopter medical evacuation (at YOUR expense) or you walk out. There are NO alternatives. Do NOT plan a hike with the thought of riding out if you plan badly.
PaulRabe is offline  
Old Jul 4th, 2007, 01:37 PM
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Posts: 6
Thanks everyone for the replies. Harsh as they may be I completely respect that you are looking out for my best interests, and also trying to avoid a bad situation.

At this point, I will likely do a day hike if anything. I think one important thing for me is to avoid the crowds and the tourist traps. For that reason I am NOT spending a dime on that tourist trap of a glass walkway and the whole circus surrounding it.

Here are some questions I have:
1. If I do a ranger-led day hike, any suggestions about the best one?
2. If I do a self-paced day hike, what recommendations do you have?
3. I don't need any permits if I do a self-paced day hike, right? If I do a ranger-led hike, do I need a permit or reservation?
4. Lastly I've been considering doing some rafting on the Colorado as another alternataive. If you can recommend any companies that provide rafting trips, let me know Still I don't think this is feasible for several reasons:
a: Although there are several companies that offer rafting trips, they are likely booked for the rest of this season.
b. The cost will be very high (upwards of $500.00 or more)
c. Most trips worth taking will be at a bare minimum 3 days. I really wanted to limit the grand canyon part of my trip to 4 days or less...

Sorry to have so many questions. I really want to get the most out of the Grand Canyon while avoiding having the "standard tourist experience".

I really appreciate your feedback!!!
thomas_pokorny is offline  
Old Jul 4th, 2007, 03:16 PM
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There is a hike along the rim, west to Hermit's rest. It has some shade, and the road is not too far away, so you could catch the shuttle bus. Start at dawn and you would have the place to yourself in the cool of the day.
Old Jul 4th, 2007, 05:34 PM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 2,881
Thomas, you are making the right decision! People die in there in the summer if a couple of things go wrong.

To your other Q's ...

2. If I do a self-paced day hike, what recommendations do you have?

I would do this rather than the Ranger led hikes ... there's an earlier Fodor's thread about day hikes from the south rim which you can look up, but basically the most scenic short, safe hike is typically down Kaibab trail to Cedar Ridge, which is about 1.5 miles one-way. There's no water on this trail so it's not recommended to go further in.

Other longer options are to descend Bright Angel trail instead, which is not as scenic as Kaibab because it follows a drainage while Kaibab follows a ridge and thus has more expansive views. On Bright Angel there is a simple rest house with water 1.5 miles below the rim, another rest house at 3 miles, and at roughly 4.5 miles (one way) lovely Indian Gardens, with a campground and Ranger station (and water). If it's going to be really warm (say over 105 F at Phantom Ranch - this temperature is usually posted at several places on the rim) then I wouldn't recommend going further than Indian Gardens but this is very nice day hike. There are a lot more people on this trail so it's safer, plus there's water in three places.

Maybe do the short Kaibab hike the first day and if you are feeling chipper after that then at a later day do one of the Bright Angel hikes.

From the north rim there's only one maintained trail into the Canyon, the north Kaibab, so you'd just hike down this a bit (maybe to the tunnel or at most to the picnic area below the springs) and then hike back up. The north rim has many fewer people than the south rim, in large part because there are few places to stay.

3. I don't need any permits if I do a self-paced day hike, right?

Right ... I recommend catching the first hiker's shuttle bus to Kaibab trailhead (south rim), which starts an hour before sunrise, or just starting down the BA trailhead, which is more accessible by car as it starts in front of one of the lodges.

If I do a ranger-led hike, do I need a permit or reservation?

These are first-come first-served and I get the impression you can sign up a day in advance without problems unless a large group happens to take most of the spots. I'm not even sure if they limit the number of participants on these.

4. Lastly I've been considering doing some rafting on the Colorado as another alternataive

There are flat water motorized day trips from out of Page that don't actually enter the GC NP (start below the dam and stop near Lee's Ferry) and short trips that start near the end of the GC on Hualapai Indian land, but the classic GC river trips that start at Lee's Ferry and hit the great whitewater are multi-day, I think even the motor rafts take 3 days to get to Phantom Ranch and then you can hike out instead of doing the next 100 miles (many of the motor trips won't let you break it up like this). Maybe leave a river trip to another day, or just do the Page day trip to get a feel for it?

If you do a river trip I'd recommend the 16-18 ft oar or paddle-powered rafts over the large motorized ones. The smaller rafts are more peaceful and make the whitewater much more exciting.

Bill_H is offline  
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