HIKE DATE: July 6th, 2012
STARTING ELEVATION: 6,860′
ENDING ELEVATION (Indian Garden): 3,800′
ROUND TRIP DISTANCE: 9 miles
It is widely known that Andre and I are the best road trip buddies ever. Our 2012 trip that included the Grand Canyon was the road trip to define all future road trips. We left LA, spent a night in Vegas threatening our parents that we’d get married, hit up the Grand Canyon and then spent the majority of our days in and around Telluride, Colorado, (where we learned to fly fish!!) But the hike down into the Grand Canyon was definitely one of the most memorable hikes I have ever been on, and not for all the obvious reasons you’re thinking of, like the views. Because duh, it was amazing. It’s the Grand Canyon. Of course it was breathtaking. But you know what else is breathtaking? Hiking 9 miles in 110 degree heat. But let’s back up a bit.
Andre and I woke up bright and early the morning of Hike Day ready to go. We got up before the sun, and we were stoked to start our hike. We’d read that temperatures were high and that it was advisable to start hiking well before sunrise in the hot summer weather, so as to reach your destination by 10am. In theory you would wait out the hottest portion of the day, from 10-3, and then begin your hike back in the afternoon once the sun had past it’s zenith. But Andre and I were young, athletic, impatient, and in our mid-20’s, so we threw caution to the wind and did what ever we wanted! We did wake up early, but probably not early enough.
We arrived at the rim and took the picture to the right around 7:00am. Still plenty of time to beat the heat! Look, we’re even in jackets! We had this.
One of the reasons we picked Bright Angel trail, despite it being the most heavily populated, was that it looked to be the safest Grand Canyon trail to do in the middle of summer heat. There is potable water at numerous spots along the trail, covered rest houses for shade, and Rangers regularly patrol the trail for ill-prepared tourists fainting along the trailside.
Now, just because we didn’t follow advised trail timing doesn’t mean Andre and I weren’t otherwise prepared. Even though we knew there were many places along the trail with potable water, we still brought plenty of our own as well as some Iodine tablets just in case the faucets were out of service. We also made sure to bring SALTY SNACKS, knowing that only drinking straight water on a hot day is just about as dangerous as drinking no water at all. We also bout fancy new hats and I even wore sun screen for the first time in years. So don’t be mistaken– we were prepared, we just weren’t timely about our departure.
The initial descent into the Canyon started out wide and easy. There is an even grade to accommodate livestock. That’s right– you can ride a burro down into the Canyon if you are feeling especially luxurious. I’m certain you can find someone who will continuously fan you with a palm frond while feeding you grapes for a small upgrade fee. But for us normal folks down here on earth, the path was easy enough to follow on our own two feet.
Not too far down the trail, it started to get hot. Quickly. 80 degrees. Jackets off. 90 degrees. 100. We were hiking down hill and we were out of breath. The air was being sucked– no, STOLEN from our lungs. We made a stop at the “Mile-and-a-Half Rest House” which, shockingly, is located about a mile and a half down the trail.
We met a really nice Ranger lady there, who told us some horror stories about rescuing several dozen people recently who had collapsed by the trailside. “This year?” “No, this week.” She reiterated what I mentioned earlier, about people thinking they only need to drink water, not knowing that replenishing salt/sodium/electrolytes are equally as important. Without them, down you go. It was at this point, after 3 or 4 incredibly detailed stories I was starting to see were clearly warnings, Nice Ranger Lady asked if we were trying to get all the way down to the river. We said we didn’t know yet, we were going to play it by ear, and she cut to the chase and straight up told us it was a terrible idea. “Don’t go any further than Indian Springs in this heat. You won’t make it back no matter how physically fit you think you are.” Well, I had just been thinking about how incredibly athletic we were and how I was young and could do anything, but after her warning we decided to listen to her and opt for not having to be rescued. Being carried out by stretcher is probably the only thing more embarrassing than ridding out on a burro you paid $100’s of dollars for.
It was 110 degrees by the time we reached Indian Springs. 110 is really hot when you’re just like walking from your car into the grocery store, but it’s REALLY hot when you are hiking through a desert. That’s when we decided to lay down on some benches in the shade and limit our exertions to taking pictures of lizards.
We started hiking back up around 2:00. Don’t be fooled, it was still just as hot, zenith be damned. By this point we were completely soaking our hats and shirts every time we came across a water source, only to have them dry on us within 5 minutes. We stopped frequently, without shame. Other hikers were crammed into narrow wedges of shade anywhere a rocky outcrop or wide twig happened to arch over the path, so Andre and I had to rely on our extreme athleticism to get us from rest house to rest house. By late afternoon we had made it back to the rim.
Bright Angel Trail was jaw-droppingly amazing, breath takingly gorgeous, and a good stretch of the legs physically. But juuuuuuust in case you haven’t been following my point here, I would definitely not recommend it during the summer months. The National Parks website advises the following:
“From May to September, it is critical that hikers have the discipline to begin hiking well before dawn. Hikers should plan on reaching either their destination or a place where they might take a shaded siesta before 10 in the morning (average descent time from rim to river is between 4 and 6 hours). Similarly, when ascending from Bright Angel Campground during hot weather it is important to reach Indian Garden before 8 in the morning. It is best to hike during the fall or spring hiking seasons.”
Don’t be dissuaded because Bright Angel is incredibly popular trail… most of the uber-tourists only make it to a point about 1/2 mile down, at which point they realize they’re going to have to hike back up the cliff ledge in their designer sandals and turn around. Once you pass the 1/2-1 mile point the crowds thin out and you are left with what I would call a normal amount of hikers. So check it out! Bring lots of water regardless of the time of year, because half of it will be used to soak yourself to keep cool!
Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What do you think is the best time of year to go?
– C. Egli