I’ve always wanted to hike the Grand Canyon, and a couple of weeks ago I was able to check that goal off my bucket list. It was an amazing experience but equally daunting, and I’m glad I had two great friends to share it with (and to help me get through it).
I’m a pretty experienced hiker, and a lot of people warned me about the dangerous heat, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for an 18-mile hike in 100-degree weather with a backpack. Talk about being humbled.
It’s the reverse of mountain climbing, so the goal was to start at the rim on South Kaibab Trail, make the descent to the Colorado River and then hike up the Bright Angel trail. We started early morning, and it was only 35 degrees. By the time we reached the bottom 3 ½ hours later it was 100. We rested for about 10 minutes and refilled our water, and I was feeling pretty good. I was reminded not to get too confident – that was the easy part.
We started the ascent on the Bright Angel Trail, which is 10 miles. The first 2 miles was no big deal. That’s when it started getting really hard. We hiked the next 3-4 miles and there was no water along the trail to refill our bottles. They call this the Devil’s Corkscrew. By that point, I’m getting overheated and my hat is making me feel even hotter. I started to slow down. My friend Jeff asked if I was taking my electrolytes. Yes, I told him, I’ve had 1 ½ tablets total. Big mistake – he’d been taking them every 30 minutes.
I kept pounding water and took some electrolytes, but it didn’t help. I started getting nervous. We had a lot of miles left and I’m not hungry, I’m sweating profusely and I’m starting to lose it. I could hear the rest of our small group whispering about me and clearly they were nervous too. Great. I’m that guy. What are they going to do if I collapse?
Over the next 2 miles, I became delirious and managed to dump my water into my backpack, fry my phone and slow down even more. Greg gave me some of his water, and I would stick my head into every tributary we passed. The goal was to make it to Indian Garden for a break and refill, which I renamed Indian Burial Ground because I was sure that’s where I would die.
We made it to Indian Garden. I drank 80 oz. of water and was able to rest, and somehow I recuperated. They were still nervous about me, so we decided to take the next 4 miles slow. I pulled it together. It was a harder hike, but thankfully the sun went behind the canyon so it was a little cooler.
We finally reached our destination at the rim only a half hour later than we planned. I literally had nothing left. The view was stunning, and I don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t stop crying (BTW, I wasn’t the only one who cried). I guess part of it was physical exhaustion and part of it was a sense of accomplishment.
Would I do it all again? Without a doubt, yes – but in different weather and with more electrolytes and water. There’s nothing like a harrowing experience to make you better prepared for the next time!