Hiking Grand Canyon was one of the bucket list item which we always wanted to tick off.There are very few fortunate people every year who get to see the bottom of the canyon as hiking down the canyon and spending a night there is highly restricted and requires permit which needs to be reserved a year in advance.This monstrous canyon is beautiful and ugly at the same time.Beautiful because of its natural carvings,colors on the rocks,Colorado river at the bottom and absolutely serene rugged scenery.Ugly because of scorching heat from the sun and deserted land.We got the reservation for end of August which marks the end of summer(kind of) but the temperature was 105 F (41 C) on the day we hiked.We chose to climb down from South Kaibab trail and climb up from Bright Angel trail.Both the trails are must do for avid hikers to go inside the one of the natural wonder of the modern world.Before taking the trail you need to respect the canyon and be aware of the difficult environment it will throw on you.If you prepare,plan and train well it could be the memory to cherish for a lifetime but if you underestimate the environment and the hike, you can really get into serious trouble and your vacation can turn into a nightmare.
We did lot of training hikes before attempting the big one.We hiked almost every weekend for more than a month to train ourselves and build endurance.The training hikes ranged from long distance hikes to high altitude hikes which ultimately helped us a lot on the big day.
There are mixed reviews on internet whether you should do the entire loop in a day or not.Rangers in the park don’t recommend to complete the entire hike in 1 day.They say that most of the fatalities are because of heat and scarcity of the water on trails which makes it real difficult to complete the hike in 1 day.But it is doable if you have trained well,have high endurance and can avoid heat.
Me and my husband both decided in advance that we need to avoid heat as much as possible and the only way to do it was to hike early in the morning and late in the evening.
On the big day, we reached the Back Country Information Center at 5 am in the morning to take the hiker’s bus to South Kaibab trailhead. The ranger who was driving the bus literally scared the hell out of us by telling about a fatality that happened on the trail few weeks back.A woman hiker died on the trail because of heat exhaustion and lack of water.They were extremely careful after the incident and they checked how much water each hiker carried.I still remember his words “It is completely optional to go in the Canyon but it is mandatory to come out of it no matter what the situation is.It doesn’t matter if you have broken ankle or you are bit by an insect or attacked by an animal, you need to come out.Once you are inside the canyon you are on your own”.
We were on trail by 5:30 am and we wanted to reach at the bottom before 10 am to avoid scorching sun.The trail is 7.4 miles to Phantom Ranch with elevation drop of 4860 ft.There is no water and shade on the trail and its very steep because of which park rangers recommend to climb down but not climb up.As you go further inside the canyon, the temperature increases and at the bottom of the canyon, temperature is always 20 degrees higher than the temperature on the rim.By sunrise, we reached the first view-point called Ooh Aah point.The sunrise over the canyon was absolutely gorgeous.I could literally see the rocks changing colors as sunlight fell down.On the way, there were couple of other view points and as I climbed down in the canyon I could see the 360 degree view of canyon all around me.By 8:30 am, we had hiked more than half of the trail and reached Skeleton point.Phantom Ranch was another 3 miles from the point.At this point, we started feeling heat as sun slowly started to come up in the sky.The temperature went up in high 90’s and it got extremely difficult to hike every minute.I saw hikers having heat strokes at 9 am in the morning.The canyon started trapping heat and became extremely brutal.By 10 am, we reached Phantom Ranch,cooled ourselves by drinking lot of lemonade and water.We ate lunch and straight away went to our cabin to take some rest.We didn’t come out of the cabin until 4 pm.There is literally nothing to do at the bottom of the canyon except few creeks flowing around.There was a water pipeline breakdown in Phantom Ranch because of which they were very inflexible in accommodating guests.
Suddenly around 4:30 pm, it became cloudy and windy.The weather improved drastically and we decided to hike back up at 5 pm.Though it was still hot, we decided to soak our clothes in water, dipped the hat and bandana in water, took as much water and food we could and started hiking back up from Bright Angel trail.The trail is 9.9 miles from Phantom Ranch to Rim of the canyon with elevation gain of 4314 ft.Its a longer trail than South Kaibab but it has shaded rest stops and water available in few miles.
Initially, trail moved along Colorado river which was a nice breather.It passed through couple of bridges and mule stables.As we started climbing up to Indian Gardens which was a first major stop in the trail with water and rest stop, temperature started to cool down.By sunset, we reached Indian Gardens and had completed half of the hiking distance.But the hike between Phantom Ranch and Indian Gardens is an easy climb.There is an elevation gain of 1200 ft in 5 miles.The actual hike starts after Indian Garden when you need to climb about 3200 ft in 4.5 miles.When we reached Indian Garden, we took good 20 mins break, ate snacks and filled water.We started hiking up to the next rest stop which was 1.5 miles away.At this point, neither heat nor water was an issue for us.Temperature had cooled down and it was quite windy but now we had to deal with darkness and wild animals on the trail.As the sun went down, more animals woke up and began their activities.The moon light was quite dim due to which it was extremely difficult for us to identify deers, elks and mountain goats on the trail.Luckily, none of them was aggressive.We had head lamps which helped us a lot during the pitch dark night to see animals on the trail as their eyes glowed when light fell on them.We were scared and it was mere adrenaline rush which kept us going.We hiked for another 4.5 hours to reach at the top.We took good 20 min rest at 3 mile and 1.5 mile rest stop.It was a dark and clear night and we could literally see each star and constellation in the sky.It was beautiful.After reaching at the top, my body didn’t have any energy left for elation.I could only say “F***, finally it is over”.
It was another 15 min walk to our car from the trailhead. The moment I sat in the car, I saw the fastest body transition in my life.The adrenaline went away and each and every muscle in the body started to ache.I felt nauseated.
It took us 5 hours to climb down and 8.15 hours to climb up with good amount of break time included.Sometimes, the trail was so steep, I took break every 5 mins.We started at 5:30 am from South Kaibab trail and reached Phantom Ranch at 10 am.Slept for 4.5 hours in our cabin in Phantom Ranch and started hiking back up at 5 pm and reached the rim at 1 am.Reached hotel by 1:15 am and slept like a child.
When me and my husband woke up in the morning, we couldn’t believe what we did last night.We went out to have brunch at 9 am and felt the scorching heat and then we realized whatever risk we took in the night was much better than the scorching heat from sun.There was no way we could have completed the hike back up in 8 hours during the day due to heat.
It was heck of an experience and now I can proudly say that I survived the Canyon.