Thursday, June 8, 2023

Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to River to Rim for the Second Time

WARNING #1:  I did NOT do this in June, as may be assumed from the date of this blog post.  I just never got around to posting at the time.  I hiked it on May 8, and many years it would be too hot then.  June would most certainly be too hot for me.  


Unless you're super prepared, have trained extensively, start at dawn, carry plenty of food and water, and do not try it when it's hot in the bottom (remembering that it's often 20 degrees hotter at the river than at Grand Canyon Village/South Rim).  See my more specific advice below.

Starting around dawn at the South Kaibab trailhead, May 8, 2023:

The ominous "Don't hike to the river and back in one day" sign:

My very favorite part of the entire trail, below Ooh Ahh Point.  Dad dropped me off near the trailhead (you can't drive right to it), because I wanted to time sunrise right (plan to be at Ooh Aah Point at sunrise, if you can).  Getting dropped off by Dad put me between shuttle bus drop-off times, so I had this beautiful spot all to myself for a few serene minutes.  Heaven.  

More beautiful sunrise effects, after Cedar Ridge:

It's greener than you expect on this trail:

And there were more flowers this year than last year.  Many varieties.  Many colors.  Some tough and deserty.  Some light and delicate.  I went about 10 days later this year, and we'd had record rain all winter and spring.  Flowers at the Tip-Off:

First good views of the river.  I could really hear it...or so I thought.  Later I realized it was probably Bright Angel Creek I could hear, absolutely gushing out into the river, whereas last year it was just a little babbling brook.  

And now at the fork, where you choose to take the River trail on the south side, above the river, or go down across the bridge to Phantom Ranch.  I went to Phantom Ranch. You can see how brown the river was (bottom left corner).  I think it was because we'd had so much snow and such a mild spring that it was still melting. They'd also recently released a bunch of water from Glen Canyon Dam.  

At the same sign, last year.  Look how much more blue-green the river was:

Friendly deer at Bright Angel Campground/Phantom Ranch.  And you can see how violent the creek is in the background.  I'll do some creek comparison/river comparison shots in the next post.

Headed across the silver bridge and back up (9:50 AM):

Pipe Creek Beach:

One of the creek crossings on the Bright Angel trail.  I wet down my clothes several times to keep cool.

So much water.

And so much green:

This time, I decided to hang around at Havasupai Garden until the the cliffs shaded the switchbacks up to the rim, because that sunny section was the hardest for me last time.  I had a nice long break and chatted with a very cool retired couple who use the Grand Canyon as their playground and who were camping at the campground there.  When I finally left, this is what it looked like:

I left Havasupai Garden around 4:00, expecting some of the trail back the Rim to be shaded.  It was ALL shaded.  Very nice.  

But...because it was easier in the shade, I don't think I drank or ate enough on the last leg.  Around 3-Mile Rest House, I started feeling slightly nauseated off and on.  Last time I started feeling nauseated and oddly winded  at about 1.5-Mile Rest House.  I felt like I couldn't get quite deep enough breaths, partly because deep breaths hurt.  So I slowed down, rested frequently, and sipped electrolytes and ate Fritos.  The feeling went away after about 30-40 minutes and I was fine for the last bit of the climb.  

This year, it started with much more mild symptoms so I didn't take them as seriously or treat them as well, probably partly because I was thinking, "Hey, I've don't this before.  No problem."  Well, around 1.5-Mile Rest House, they started getting worse.  I tried to stop and snack like last year, but nothing tasted good.  Everything just made me more nauseated.  I couldn't make myself drink much of my electrolytes.  Even water was a chore.  It didn't get better.  The last mile and a half were not too fun.  It never got terrible or incapacitating, but it was unpleasant.  Luckily, the sun was setting and the Canyon was on fire and the scenery was beautiful, which distracted me a bit.

I didn't get many pictures of that beauty, unfortunately, because...I was concentrating on walking and not getting sicker.  But here's a hint:  

There was hardly anyone on the trail, unlike last year, where the last mile and a half was a Disneyland-style mass of people (about three hours earlier in the day).  So that was nice, too...and it wasn't so empty that I was afraid that no one would be there to help if I really needed it.  I chatted with the few people I met, but they were mostly faster than me at this point.      

I finally got to the top.  Success!  But I did not feel good.  I'd wet my clothes off at Havasupai Garden in anticipation of some sun on the trail, but since there wasn't, I was still damp in places, and as the wind came up and the sun went down and I stopped moving, I suddenly got chilled. Happily, my wonderful dad was there to meet me.  He took me back to camp.  I forced myself to eat one saltine and sip some water, and I went straight to bed.   About an hour later, when I had to get up to use the bathroom, I felt 90% better.  By morning I was fine, but I made sure to drink more electrolytes on my recovery day.

I gave you so much detail because I was prepared.  I'd trained.  But you never know exactly how things are going to affect you.  So listen to your body and don't slack off on your hydration because you've done it successfully before.  :)   AND...I think next time I'll spend a full day acclimatizing to the altitude before doing the hike.  I also plan to do more training at higher elevations.  Last year I did a fairly rigorous training hike that peaked at 9000 feet.  This year my "high elevation" hike was only about 7000 feet and not terribly long or rigorous.     

I loved the day (except maybe the last 1.5 miles--but it was still absolutely worth it).  I would definitely do it again, though I won't slack off on my last-leg hydration next time.

I LOVE the Grand Canyon!  

PEDOMETER STATS:  17.3 miles.  5171 total feet of gain (and 5476 loss)

If you're thinking about doing this hike in one day, here's my advice.  

Go DOWN the South Kaibab and UP the Bright Angel.  

But DO NOT try it unless...

1) You're in good hiking shape.

2) You go when it's not too hot.  Spring (until about the end of April) and fall (starting about October) are great.  Some years parts of May and September would be good, but watch forecasts and remember that it's about 20 degrees hotter (Fahrenheit) at the bottom than it is at the top, and parts of the trail have no shade.  In winter you may need special equipment, like microspikes.  Again, watch forecasts and listen to the rangers at the back country office.   DO NOT ATTEMPT this entire hike in one day in full summer.  It's not tough.  It's stupid.  Rescue is not guaranteed, and is usually slow and laborious (someone walking you up while plying you with electrolytes) or very, very costly and potentially dangerous.  Deaths occur.  Don't try it.  Instead, make a better plan.  

3) You've trained over the previous few months for this specific hike by taking:

     -a few long hikes (12-16 miles) while wearing the fully loaded pack you plan to use

     -several hikes that exceed 3000 feet of elevation gain, preferably a couple that exceed 4000 feet

     -at least one high-elevation hike (at least 7000 feet)--especially for people who live at low elevation

     -one or two hot hikes ("feels like" temp of 90+) to see how your body reacts

     -at least one canyoning hike (where you go downhill first and uphill second)

4)  Wear well-broken-in hiking boots/shoes.

5)  Research the trail, how to keep your energy up, and what to pack.  Going light is good, but so is going prepared.  The balance is up to you.  Absolute musts for me:  emergency water purification tablets, tiny flashlight, paper map (I photocopied the pertinent part of a good-quality topo map), and sun protection (such as sunscreen/hat/sunglasses/SPF lip balm).  Also recommended:  Band-Aids and a bit of duct tape (for blisters and various other uses), a signaling device of some sort (my pack has a whistle, but mirrors and GPS emergency beacons are other options), weather-appropriate clothes and basic survival gear if you need to spend the night (I took a light-weight emergency blanket, which can also double as a signaling device or a sun shade), small pocket knife, basic emergency medicine (like ibuprofen and antihistamines), extra socks, hiking poles, and a bandana you can wet in the creek to help against the head (and which doubles as a scarf in the morning if it's cold).   

6)  Know where the water is and whether it's turned on at the moment (ask the day before at the backcountry office.)

7)  Carry plenty of food (twice what you'd eat in a normal 12-hour period, including lots of salty snacks and carbs)

8)  Carry plenty of water (I advise 3-4 liters, which you refill every chance you get.  If for some reason there's no water at Havasupai Garden or the River, or if temperatures are flirting with 100 in the Inner Canyon, you'll have to take more or not attempt the hike.  If there's water at 3-Mile Rest House and 1 1/2-Mile Rest House, you'll probably be fine with 2 liters, but that's not giving you a lot of leeway if anything goes wrong).  

9)  Take and use electrolyte drink mix (I like Pedialyte.  Other friends suggest Liquid IV or Vitalyte).  When it's hottest and hardest, alternate plain water and electrolytes in a 1:1 ratio.

10)  If you're from a low-altitude place (especially 1000 feet or below), try to plan your trip so you have a full day or two at high altitude to acclimatize a little before you attempt the hike.  You don't get real altitude sickness at the South Rim's elevation, but it's high enough to be a factor when you've already hiked 13 miles and you're tired and probably a little dehydrated and you may be hiking in the direct sun in temperatures higher than you're used to.    

11)  Start EARLY.  We're talking dawn...or earlier (though it will depend somewhat on the season)  

12)  Have someone up top or at home who knows your plan and will get help if you don't show up or make contact.  As always, it's safer to hike with a partner, but if you're prepared and want to solo it, there are enough other people on the trail that you won't really be alone.        

13)  Have fun!    

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