Recently, my wife, Linda-Ann and I took a hike into the Grand Canyon. It was my first time, and my wife’s second time, going below the rim. Linda-Ann hiked 6 miles (9.7 km) down the Bright Angel Trail 30 years ago. Over the years, we have walked the entire thirteen miles (21 km) of the Rim Trail, and some sections we have covered several times.
But it was time for me to take the next step at the Grand Canyon, and do my best not to fall in. While “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon” by Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers is an excellent book, I strongly suggest not reading it before heading down a trail in the canyon.
The day was cool, with a slight breeze, and perfect for hiking. We started down the South Kaibab Trail with an ultimate goal of reaching Cedar Ridge, which is 1.5 miles (3.1 km) from the trailhead, and a 1,120 foot (341 m) drop in elevation.
On the way down to our first goal, Ook Aah Point, we made several stops to eat, drink and for me to take photographs. We also stopped on a wide section of the trail as a mule train of tourists passed us going up the trail.
On our stop for lunch, we had to hug the canyon wall as two mule trains headed up from Phantom Ranch, which is at the bottom of the canyon. One train had tourists who had ridden down earlier, and the other brought up trash, mail and other items.
While these mule trains are fun to watch, they can cause two problems. The first is that the mules like to take your lunch, so keep it close to you and away from them. The second problem will be discussed later.
From Ooh Aah Point, we headed down to Cedar Ridge. While there’s no water there, they do have toilets. A nice convenience after hiking for just over 2.5 hours.
After descending a short distance we came to a half mile (.8 km) of steps built into the trail. These are wooden frames filled with dirt, and hollowed out in the middle from countless mules going up and down the trail. Normally, the steps would make the hiking easier, but this is where the second problem with the mule trains rears its ugly head.
As the mules trod up the trail, they urinate. When one does, they all do. This results in pools of urine collecting in the dirt hollows of the steps. So now, instead of walking on the steps you have to balance on the wood and rocks on the side of the steps. It makes for some difficult hiking. What really saved us were the walking sticks Linda-Ann had purchased for us a few Christmas’ ago. Unfortunately, the walking sticks do nothing to block the wonderful perfume of mule urine.
Cedar Ridge is a nice, open area with expansive views. There are places to sit in the shade and relax so you can prepare to continue down the trail or return to the top. It’s very discouraging to look waaay back up to where you came from, and realize you have to climb back up.
Being in the canyon and looking up at the top is a completely different experience than being at the top and looking down. When you’re in the canyon, there are many places where you can see where you started your journey. Seeing how far down you’ve come in altitude, and how far you traveled on a trail, is pretty impressive. For me, looking up at the top of the canyon is much more awe inspiring than looking down into it. This was the first time in my life when I could see the entire trail I had covered, and it was an amazing experience.
After a rest, some food and water and lots of picture taking, we headed back up. One nice thing is that almost all of the urine had dried up, so we could actually walk on the steps. This made the return trip much easier.
On our trek, we encountered several people who didn’t have enough water, and were having problems with the altitude. Altitude sickness can affect you in various ways, including lightheadedness, headache, shortness of breath, fatigue and nausea.
When hiking the Grand Canyon, or anywhere, I suggest that you:
- Bring twice as much water as you think you will need.
- Have the proper boots.
- Bring food.
- Protect yourself from the sun with a hat and sun screen.
- Be sure you’re in good enough shape for the terrain, altitude and heat or cold.
The Grand Canyon is a great place to hike, and has trails for every skill level. But if you can, go down into the canyon, even a little ways. It’s an experience you will never forget.