Since arriving back in Colorado a couple months ago from my month long stay in Arizona, it feels like life has been busy! Luke has been doing his summer farmers markets which go from Friday to Sunday each weekend and the hustle of those definitely squeeze our time to hike. I’ve still been able to get out and explore some trails while he hangs out at the booth in the mountain towns we go to. We also recently moved so we were unpacking and resettling. All in all, we have had a lot going on. But who doesn’t?
Summer has somehow gone by in a blink but not without a lot of adventures and hikes. I have a lot if catching up to do on this blog and I want to start with an amazing hike Luke and I did back in May when we stopped by the Grand Canyon as we were driving home from Arizona. We camped for two nights in Grand Canyon National Park where we tackled a bucket list hike that I want to write about here!
At the end of May, Luke flew to Phoenix, Arizona to take the longer drive back to Denver with me. We extended the drive by stopping at some awesome spots along the way, including Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Moab, Utah. While we were in Sedona we hiked quite a few trails and in doing so, made some friends with hikers that were also heading to the Grand Canyon the next day. They told us about the rim to rim hike they were doing in 2 days time that they had been training for since October. The hike is about 27 miles, 6000 ft. elevation decline and then gain and goes from the South Rim, down to the Colorado River and ends at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (this can also be hiked from North Rim to South Rim). The hike is a beast and is made even harder due to the added element of heat. The bottom of the Grand Canyon is about 20 to 25 degrees warmer than the top and when you start hiking out of the Grand Canyon, you typically are hiking the intense incline in the heat of the day with very little to no shade.
We had never heard of this hike but were very impressed they were doing it. They also told us about a shorter rim to rim hike that clocked in at 18 miles, 5000 ft. elevation decline and then gain starting at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, down to the Colorado River and then back up to the South Rim on a different trail. To hike this you have to park your car at the finishing trailhead (Bright Angel trail) and take a shuttle to start at the South Kaibab trailhead. We didn’t realize it was possible to hike down to the Colorado river and back up in a day so this hike immediately went on our bucket list. We decided we’d do some research to see if we were prepared for a hike like this.
When we got to the Grand Canyon we went to the backcountry office to ask questions and get recommendations for tackling the hike. The rangers do not recommend hiking to the Colorado river and back out in a day as they’re on the receiving end of many calls each year from people suffering from heat stroke, dehydration and some people ultimately not surviving the crawl out. After we discussed the dangers of the hike, they gave us great tips on how to be safe doing this hike.
- Talk to a ranger in the backcountry office! They were our first stop and I think everyone should speak with them to get prepared before attempting a hike like this.
- Assess your physical fitness level. This hike is very strenuous especially when done in a day. We strength train regularly, cycle, run and hike often. We did not have much experience exercising in heat though which is why a cooler day was needed for us to safely complete this.
- Check the weather. The rangers have the temperatures listed for the top and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Remember, the bottom of the Grand Canyon is 20-25 degrees F warmer than the top and you will be hiking out at the hottest part of the day. This is a hike to do from October to May, in my opinion. Avoid the hottest summer months. Also avoid in heavy rains!
- Check the status of the inner canyon water stations. They are not always on (especially in the winter) and in the summer they can have issues that result in them being turned off.
- Start early! The earliest shuttle in May left at 5:30am to take us to the South Kaibab trailhead so we got on that. If it was up to me and not the shuttle schedule I would have started even earlier 🙂
- Bring tons of salty snacks and food (beef jerky, chips, cheetos, popcorn, crackers, sandwiches, etc). Eat every 1-2 hours whether you’re hungry or not. You’ll need lots of fuel throughout this!
- Bring a lot of water and electrolytes. We each brought 3 liters of water, a gatorade, and nuun tablets. All water stations were on and operational during our hike.
- Drench your whole body in water every chance you get. We soaked our shirts, hats and pants in water at every creek crossing and every water spigot. This was a life saver for keeping us cool in the heat!
- Wear sunscreen and/or a sun shirt. Not only is a sunburn painful but it is very dehydrating.
- Have a bail out plan. We had 3 bail out/turnaround plans on our hike down if we decided we weren’t feeling our best for some reason. If the climb out was too hard during the hottest part of the day, the ranger told us that by 3:30pm in May the Bright Angel trail was covered in shade and we could find shade to wait out the sun to safely hike out.
- Mentally prepare for the climb out. It’s taxing but our mantra was to keep putting one foot in front of the other and we’d eventually make it to the top!
- Wear comfortable hiking boots. The trail is rocky in areas and sandy in others. There are water crossings so good, comfortable hiking boots are the best option for this hike.
- Hike smart, listen to your body and have fun! This is one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done. You really get to grasp the depth of the Grand Canyon and we were in awe the entire time.
After speaking with the rangers we prepped our hiking packs for the next morning. I didn’t sleep well at all in anticipation for this beast! When we started down the South Kaibab trail a little before 6am, the views of the canyon were so beautiful we were giddy smiling ear to ear. It was truly some of the most beautiful views we’ve ever seen. I think my favorite views of the whole hike were during the hike down South Kaibab trail. We knew the hike down in the cool temperatures was going to be the easy part and we quickly passed all of our bail out options and committed to the whole trail. We were religious about our food and water intake and made it down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon a little before 9am which was our timing goal. We took a 20 minute break to refill our waters, hit the bathroom and eat more snacks. I really enjoyed crossing the bridges over the Colorado river and when we got to the bottom Luke jumped in.
You walk for about a mile and a half at the bottom of the canyon before you start heading back up. We kept a steady pace and were very lucky to have cloud coverage so the heat wasn’t getting to us yet. The Colorado river at the bottom was beautiful to walk along and we were still feeling good by the time we started our ascent. Going up Bright Angel trail, there was more water and it was lush for a while with trees and plants. We took a longer break for lunch at Indian Garden and sat in the shade. In my opinion, that was where the real work for me started. We had about 4.5 miles and a little over 3000ft elevation gain left. There is also very little shade after Indian Garden and the sun came out from behind the clouds so we were officially hiking in the heat. We made little checkpoints along the way, the first one being to make it to the 3 mile water station for a break, then the 1.5 mile water station and finally back up to the top. It helped us mentally when we broke the hike up into these segments and just focused on the next water station and 1.5 mile increments. After Indian Garden we noticed a lot more people who were doing shorter hikes down Bright Angel. We also noticed people hiking who were very unprepared without water, snacks or proper footwear. I can see the reason for the many calls the rangers get!
All in all the hike took us 8 hours and 38 minutes. We clocked 18.9 miles, with 4,734 ft. elevation gain. We kept a quicker but steady pace. This is one of our favorite hikes we’ve ever done and one of our favorite days. Prepare, listen to your body, and have fun if you do this one!
Until the next tale… Happy trails.