Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > United States
Reload this Page >

How can I tell if I'm good enough shape to hike down to Phantom Ranch?

How can I tell if I'm good enough shape to hike down to Phantom Ranch?

Old Dec 6th, 2008, 10:11 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 242
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
How can I tell if I'm good enough shape to hike down to Phantom Ranch?

What would be a good barometer in judging if someone is in good enough physical condition to hike to the Phantom Ranch? Would you consider pretty much all teenagers able to handle this hike? My son wants to bring a friend that is not very physically active; not overweight at all, just not athletic.

Mostly I am concerned about myself & my husband-mid 40's; we live at a very low altitude & last time we were at the GC noticed chest discomfort which we attributed to the altitude adjustment...it went away after a couple days. Since then, we are now a few years older, but also lost quite a few pounds each...would plan to work out to prepare, but still, it would be horrible to get down there & not be able to hike back up!
rattravlers is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 10:33 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 2,091
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Getting down is not the problem, getting back up is! However, I wouldn't worry about it.

A ranger told us the story of an overweight family that had made it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and they were quite exhausted. They didn't think they could make it back out, but she encouraged them that they had to, because helicopter rescues were very expensive. She gave them pointers on hydrating, snacking (for electrolytes), and resting, and they made it to the top okay.

I think you shouldn't be concerned with the hike, as long as you hike at your own pace, take breaks when tired, hydrate often, eat some energy snacks, etc... That's why hiking is great for everyone. Everyone can hike at his/her own pace...

Since you get altitude sickness, plan a couple of days "rest" before starting the hike.

By the way, when are you going? If you are going in the winter and you are not an experienced hiker, then I suggest you wait until another time. The top of the rim can get snow, and some of the trails can get icy. Unless you are experienced hiking in those conditions, it may not be advised.
bkluvsNola is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 10:43 AM
  #3  
J62
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 10,604
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
What time of year are you going? Have you considered taking a mule ride?

It is a long, strenuous climb. You are basically climbing up 5000' or so in elevation. That's the hard part - there is no level, take it easy stretch.

Sure, most anybody can do if they go slow and steady, taking frequent stops, staying well hydrated and nourished - but how long will it take them is another story.

As for prep, it's all about the legs. Long walks on around the HS track while good for you won't train your legs for the climbing. You don't need to be a marathoner or even a runner, but your muscles must be able to put out for 8-10-12 hrs straight - walking up hill.

Regular 2-3hr hilly training hikes starting a month ahead would be great. If you body (legs) are absolutely fatigued after a 1000' elevation gain 2-3hr hike you'll know where you stand.

I wouldn't in a million years consider bringing anothers' teenage kid who isn't active. You cannot be sure at all of his preparation, and you will be responsible for him. If he were active in a sport - any sport then I'd say no problem.
J62 is online now  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 11:33 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 5
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
how long does it take to go to the ranch and back?
rockerdan is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 11:56 AM
  #5  
J62
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 10,604
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Going down the South Kaibab trail it's 7 miles from the rim to Phantom Ranch. Hiking to the river and back in one day is highly, highly discouraged.

Coming back on the Bright Angel trail it's about 10mi.

How long it takes coming up depends on a lot of factors. Pack or not, temperature, & fitness.

Some people can ascend in 5-6hrs, while others may take 12. The NPS rangers will arrange for emergency airlift out if needed, but a) you pay for it and b) fatigue is not considered an emergency.

Last time I was there the rangers were joking that the cable car from the bottom back to the rim wasn't working that day, so everyone needed to hike out on their own.

J62 is online now  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 11:57 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 6,514
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
<<<<how long does it take to go to the ranch and back?>>>

That totally depends on your fitness level, and which route you take. We hike down the South Kaibab trail (4800 feet of elevation loss) in 4.5 hours, and up the longer Bright Angel trail (4400 feet of elevation gain) in 5 hours. Some people take twice that long.

rattravlers, the best way to prepare for the hike down and back up is by hiking, and you should start more than a month in advance. If there is no good hiking nearby, you can do the stairmaster at the gym. But you should do one or two hikes with at least 2500 feet of elevation gain to test yourself before you head down into the canyon.

As for teenagers, we took our daughter down to the bottom of the canyon when she was 14. But she is very athletic (tennis and cross-country) and hikes with us in Utah and Switzerland, so we knew she was fit enough to do it. I would not say that all teens are fit enough for this hike. Nor would I take on someone else's child, especially one who is not physically active. I've seen some kids really struggling on that trail (and adults as well).

Besides, getting reservations at Phantom Ranch is very tough, and you would need one more for the extra person.
enzian is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 12:58 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 22,534
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Find some good hills and take some long walks uphill - bringing the random teenager with you. Around me there is a hill topped by a man-made bigger hill leading up to a water tower. The HS cross-country team in that town uses it for training and it is also used as a brutal cross-country competition course.

I would see how you, son and extra teenager do a few times up and down something like that.
gail is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 04:57 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 6,514
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I'll add that it is well worth getting in shape for the hike so you enjoy every minute of it. It is a beautiful and unique place, but I've seen people on the trails who couldn't appreciate it because the hike turned into an ordeal for them.

We love that hike so much we've done it every year for the past three---we're hooked!

enzian is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 05:32 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 3,613
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
One of the questions I would ask myself- supposing you and your teenager were able to make it back, but his friend was unable to hike back out and had to be rescued by the NPS staff. How would you deal with the charges ( I'm gonna guess $15K)?
Marginal is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 07:38 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,032
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Please think about your shoes. Hours of unrelenting decent can wreck your toes and cause blisters on the rest of your foot.
You are going to have to climb out on these same feet a few days later.
I would advise buying and wearing your canyon footwear weeks in advance.
logandog is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 08:15 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 2,304
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
"Getting down is not the problem, getting back up is! However, I wouldn't worry about it."

I have to disagree with this. Getting down is part of the problem - your legs (especially your calves) will be sore and stiff afterwards. You have to be in good condition to deal with this if you're hiking back out the next day. If you can stay 2 nights it would help your legs recuperate.

The only real way to tell if you're in good enough shape is to just do it. I would not say all teenagers can handle it. You really should discuss this with the parents and go over the conditioning needed for your son's friend, as well as the ground rules for what to do if he can't handle it once you're down there. You may want to have your son do some regular training with him as well as take him along on some weekend hikes so you can better gauge his fitness. That would also ensure he's doing something to get ready rather than just sitting around.

The altitude should not be a major concern if you've lost quite a bit of weight and train for the hike.

WhereAreWe is offline  
Old Dec 6th, 2008, 10:54 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 22,534
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Altitude is a weird thing. I have felt fine at Grand Canyon (not hiking) and DH, who is in much better shape than I, felt some mild altitude problems.
gail is offline  
Old Dec 7th, 2008, 04:14 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 3,977
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
My advice: don't do it. I did. I am from Arizona. It was pure torture. I am an experienced hiker and river runner enthusiast. I spent a lot of my time, especially on the way up, helping others who simply could not and should not make the trip.
USNR is offline  
Old Dec 7th, 2008, 04:19 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 22,534
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
While I know I will never hike to Phantom Ranch, I do dream of it. It is possible to get some of the experience of below-the-rim by hiking part way down and then back up - there is a trail on South Rim near Bright Angel cabins.

I am assuming you are aware that reservations at Phantom Ranch are booked far in advance - they may even be gone for this coming season. And I am assuming you are not even considering trying to do this in one day.
gail is offline  
Old Dec 7th, 2008, 06:19 AM
  #15  
Jed
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,546
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
My wife and I took the mules down many years ago. We were exhausted just sitting on the mules for 4-5 hours.

Also consider that this is not a 'hike' along some pastoral nature path. The views are stunning, but the narrow paths can be intimidating or even frightening, especially when the mule train passes.

Is your aim to go to the ranch, or experience the hike? If the latter, consider hiking partway down, until you feel that is enough. Look at the day hikes:
http://www.grandcanyontreks.org/trails.htm

The first day we got there, we walked about a mile down the Kaibab trail, and then pulled ourselves back up.
Jed is offline  
Old Dec 7th, 2008, 12:42 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 19,424
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Do you think you could sustain 10 hours of strenuous activity on the way back up?

Do you think you would enjoy it with blisters on your feet and legs that are killing you?

mlgb is offline  
Old Dec 7th, 2008, 12:43 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 3,313
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We also did the mules down, stayed at Phantom Ranch and rode up the next day. It was awesome! I can't wait until my kids are old enough to do it. Having said that, it is tiring and I wish we had booked an extra day at Phantom Ranch to stay there and explore. Apparently, there is a nice hike to a lake area ? (I don't remember the details).

How well do you know this kid ? Is he mentally tough ? Sometimes that may have a difference, too...
surfmom is offline  
Old Dec 7th, 2008, 01:30 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,315
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I used to be one of the hysterical people warning everyone, "Don't even think of this hike! It's too dangerous!!" I have now concluded that almost anyone in reasonably good shape can hike down, spend a night at Phantom Ranch, and hike out -- *IF* they are willing to do the preparation and planning ahead of time. If my wife and I can do it, anyone can do it.

The main part of preparation is walking up and down stairs -- LOTS of them. Find a building where you can walk up and down several flights (the fire exit is fine), and then do so -- several times a week. Keep extending the time (NOT the speed) that you can do so continuously, without pain, until you reach over an hour. Best to start this at least a couple months in advance.

When you hike, learn to pace yourself, carry (and DRINK) lots of water, wear a long-sleeved shirt and a hat, and slather on the sun screen. Your feet will need an inner pair of socks AND an absorbent, outer pair, nestled tightly in shoes (need not be hiking boots) that are designed for hiking and already worked in.

Take the Bright Angel Trail up, and stop at every rest stop. If necessary, spend a couple hours at Indian Gardens, waiting for the shadows to reach the trail.

It took us over twelve hours to get back to the top, and I'm sure we were the last ones off the trail. We were exhausted, sore, and sick. But we consider this adventure one of the highlights of our 25 year marriage.

It CAN be done by average people, but EVERYONE must be willing to plan and prepare.
PaulRabe is offline  
Old Dec 7th, 2008, 03:16 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 273
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I have done this hike last year at May. Down on South Kaibab beautifull views,spend night at Phantom ranch and went back up on Bright Angels trail.Left Phantom Ranch around 5 AM and were on the top by 11:30 AM,still time for shower at Yavapai lodge where my Mom and my 7 year old son spend the night.Even if we hiked at end of the May,the hike was not that bad how I expected.But the truth was that we had relatively cold day.It was our best hike .I would do it again.Even my 62y.old dad made it with no problems.with no problems.Highly recommended.
jilkovina is offline  
Old Dec 7th, 2008, 04:19 PM
  #20  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 242
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for all the input. I am still torn and concerned about the altitude and actually being able to enjoy myself given the factors.

Last time we were there, we really did not hike much at all...it was July & very HOT. This trip would be in mid-June.

As far as the mules go, I really think I would be scared to death to ride one down....when I saw them going down the trails, I was so thankful I had not reserved one because I knew I never would have had the courage to do it!

I guess I'm just not adventurous enough for this stuff; I just LOVED the beauty of the GC so much that I have had in the back of my mind that if we were to return, I would try to do more hiking. Maybe I need to do a couple short hikes instead...
rattravlers is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information