2005 Grand Canyon Adventure

May 24th, 2005: I hiked from the South Rim to the river and back, in one, very long day. The Kaibab trail descent is about 4800 feet and 6.5 miles, but the Bright Angel ascent is only 4400 feet and 7.8 miles.

The Park Service warns not to do this hike in one day.

Making this trip in one day is truly exhausting for most of us. Some people can not do it, and require rescue. I have heard that it is very expensive to be 'rescued'. I read an account of an 'extreme' hiker who hiked from the South Rim to the North Rim and back in one day, 42 miles RT.

I stayed at the Motel 6 in Flagstaff. After my 3am wake-up call from Tom Bodet, I depart for Grand Canyon National Park. Near the park, 2 large elk appear out of the dark in my lane. I move to the on-coming lane and tap my horn. The closest elk rears up toward me, just like Silver in the 'Lone Ranger', and wheels off to the right. I have the thought that if I'd hit one, the other would have eaten me. Good thing that elk are vegetarians.

At 5 am, I catch the free Hiker's Express bus at the Back Country Office, to the South Kaibab trail head. Start hiking down by 5:30 am. The first 2 hours are cool and pleasant. I meet several friendly people on this hike. Cross the east (blue) suspension bridge just before 9:30am. Meet a mule wrangler on the suspension bridge and have to backup. Mule wranglers don't deal with humans much and it is obvious that they are best suited for wrangling mules. I can name names. A consequence of the mules and horses is that the trails smell like the livestock barn at the state fair.

This week it is hotter than normal for spring time. A man at the Flagstaff visitor center had warned that the air temperature at the river would be 110 degrees. I was skeptical. Here at the bottom, I sit at a picnic table in the shade and rest for 5 minutes. I know it is warmer than my body temperature. A short walk west, there is a water faucet. I had looked forward to drenching my head, but the water is too hot. I still have enough water to reach Indian Gardens, so I do not replenish.

I cross the west suspension bridge and start my slow, 12 hour ascent of the Bright Angel Trail. The trail follows the river west for 0.8 mile. Most of the lower trail has almost no shade near mid-day. While I rest at one of these few shady spots, a man and his adult son come by, descending. We discuss my strategy. I tell him I hope to be at Indian Garden by mid-day and plan to nap for an hour or two. He agrees that is a good idea. He asks my age, and when I tell him, he shakes my hand. I am surprised that the rocks are even hotter than the air temperature. They are too hot to keep my hand on. When I get to the first shady spot near Garden Creek, I soak my feet. I have a baggie with some raw carrots in my black backpack. By now they are fully cooked and tender.

I do not arrive at Indian Garden until 3pm. Nap for part of an hour. Start up slowly after 4pm. Eventually arrive at 3 Mile Point, 1.5 Mile Point, and finally, at 9:30pm, at the Bright Angel Trailhead. Part of the last 3 miles, I help a young, newly-engaged couple, stay on the trail. They are ill-equipped and have not brought a flashlight. The final hour before we reached the rim, the stars are very visible.

Here is what enabled me to survive: I knew if I made no bad mistakes that I could do this. I started with 4 bottles of water, a bottle of Gatorade, and a bottle of Propel. There was no water available on the South Kaibab descent. I replenished water at Indian Garden, and at 3 Mile Point and 1.5 Mile Point. My total fluid consumption was about 9 bottles, the most ever for a hike. I sweated so much that my face and arms were like sandpaper from the salt. Whenever I started getting a headache, I knew my electrolytes were out of balance, so I would take a sip of Gatorade. There is virtually no shade on the South Kaibab Trail. There is almost no shade on the lower half of the Bright Angel Trail. At almost every shady spot on the lower half of the Bright Angel, I would rest and make sure that my body and brain weren't getting too hot. Fortunately, much of the trail above Indian Garden was in shadow or after dark, so the staggering heat was no longer a problem. By the time I reached the 3 Mile Point shelter, I was getting exhausted. I set as a goal to reach the 1.5 Mile Point shelter, and stay the night if necessary. After a short rest at the 1.5 Mile Point shelter, I knew I could make the rim.

I nap in my truck for an hour and then drive back to Flagstaff, to shower and sleep in a soft bed.

Other observations:

Gordy, you didn't tell me there could be rattle snakes on the trail.
The trail distances seemed longer than what is posted.
The tap water was cool at Indian Gardens and at 1.5 Mile Point, but hot at 3 Mile Point and at the river.

Read this book: Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. Find and read the 12 rules of survival.

Complete Road Trip Itinerary.

For a hike report from a more conservative hiker, who is a better writer, and who stayed at Phantom Ranch, read my friend Gordy's hike report.

South Kaibab Trail,
after about 1 hour, when the Sun struck the trail.
South Kaibab trail
Further down the South Kaibab. South Kaibab Trail
Colorado River. Colorado River
East (blue) suspension bridge and its shadow.
The trail on the north side to the west bridge is visible.
Several raft groups had beached for a while.
Blue suspension bridge
Two Mule trains returning empty from the Phantom Ranch.
I was told that mules' eyeballs are on the outside of their skull, and can always see all four feet. This is what makes them more sure-footed than horses.
Mule trains
West suspension bridge. West suspension bridge
Colorado River to the west. Colorado River to the west
Garden Creek, about 2 hours up the Bright Angel Trail.
The water was cool and felt wonderful on my feet.
Cool water on the Bright Angel Trail
The Grand Canyon geology is so interesting. Note the swan. Grand Canyon geology
The mile below Indian Garden has a little more green and shade. The heat was still staggering. Green and shade below Indian Garden
More green and shade. I was surprised to see this in the Grand Canyon. More green and shade on the Bright Angel Trail
View of Park Service Rescue helicopter from Indian Garden. Someone needed rescue from the lower, hotter part. We were warned that rescue is extremely expensive. Park service rescue helicopter
$29 all-time-best hiking boots, with the red dust of the Grand Canyon. Hiking boots
Grand Canyon flora:
Prickly pear yellow blossom.
Prickly pear red blossom
Prickly pear yellow blossomprickly pear
Prickly pear:
Hands or feet?
Prickly pear