The thought of conquering the Grand Canyon was fairly intimidating and the use of the term “conquer” is fully intentional. And for someone like me being able to hike down and up the Canyon is quite a considerable accomplishment. Me and my mates never underestimated the Grand Canyon and based on the ratings, reviews, feedback, we wanted to ensure we prepared for the worst. And having heard horror stories of sizzling summer temperatures, we thought around fall was definitely ideal. So yes, November is actually a perfect time if you are well prepared to protect yourself against 36 deg F (5 deg C) temperatures at the bottom of the canyon.
And as D-day got closer the nervous excitement only enhanced and unabated. The weekends of carrying 20 pounds of stuff in my backpack and hiking up and down the Appalachians and work put in at the local gym is only part of the prep, as I found out.
Physical prep of course involved weekend hikes basically upto 5-7 miles on rough rocky terrains. In addition weekdays involved a few hours of spinning classes as well as other cardio workouts either on the treadmill or the elliptical machines.
I always thought mental prep was overrated; however as I realized to my own advantage mental prep is probably as essential or significantly more so than the physical prep. Visualizing the terrain, building up the mental strength to survive 36 hours of rough rocky terrain, ability to brave the colds and keeping up a positive disposition are some things I can affirm clearly helped.
Dress in layers, make sure you have a 60-65 liter hiking backpack, hiking poles, sturdy hiking boots, 1-2 liters of water (3 if you hike in the summer months), a light weight tent, self inflating sleeping mat and a mummy sleeping bag. You must definitely carry PB & J sandwiches, trail mix (salty foods are good) and dehydrated foods that you can feast on by adding a bit of hot water. A small gas heater was our life saver. A trip to one of the recreation stores (REI, Cabellas) is mandatory. A good night’s sleep prior to the day of the hike is strongly recommended. Do not get carried away by imbibing alcohol. You can always treat yourself once you are done with the “conquest”. Hand warming and toe warming pads help if you get too cold. If you cannot burden yourself with 20 lbs of stuff in your backpack, you can always book mules to carry the stuff and that’s always an option.
Make sure you have prior reservations to the Bright Angel Campground. Its a lottery and you must book it at least 4-5 months in advance. You do not have any option to camp overnight if you don’t. The NPS website has all the information. https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
Go for the South Rim, since its open all year round and remember the elevation at the top of the Canyon is close to 7,000 feet. You basically are hiking down to the Colorado river campground which sits at 2,400 feet. We took the South Kaibob trail to go down and it took us under 5 hours for a total distance of 7.5 miles. Not too easy to hike down but as long as you are able to sustain the balance and allow yourself to smell the roses.The sheer magnificence of the hike and the canyon layers of rock formations is awe inspiring. It can be very humbling. We started at 7.00 am and of course sunrise doesn’t occur until 7:15 so we were able to use the cooler temperatures to our advantage. And the first hour or two are when you are excited about taking pictures before monotony can set in. The last hour of the hike going down did take a mental toll not because it was full of additional switchbacks but we thought were getting closer to the base but we just weren’t there yet.
Getting to the campgrounds just around 1.00 PM gets you enough daylight to set up the tent, prep time for the food, eat and get it all sorted out prior to darkness setting in around 5.30 pm.
We took the Bright Angel trail going up. Its an extremely picturesque trail for the first half upto the Indian garden that sits at 3,800 feet. The hike gets steeper after that point but since the trail is not exposed directly to sunlight and goes past several cascades and varying vegetation and the occasion glimpses of deer and foxes, you are in a bettre place mentally. It took us under 7 hours to get to the top; 10.7 miles from the campground to the pinnacle.
If you are into it, you are going to love it truly; and you might even be tempted to go for it again and stretch yourself.
A few pictures just cannot do justice to the spectacle. You have to be there in person to truly appreciate the grandeur.
Fly into Vegas and rent a car and remember a AWD vehicle is recommend. Remember, adding a driver to the rental agreement costs extra in Nevada. And a charging bank for your devices is probably a no-brainer.
Like they say- Take a hike!