The Grand Canyon is widely considered one of the world’s natural wonders, and if you’ve ever visited, you know why. This incredible and iconic spot has inspired adventurers, artists, and visitors through the ages with its beautiful, colorful, and rugged landscape.
I recently had the chance to attempt the hike of a lifetime — a down and up 1-day trek of the canyon. It’s intense, with wild temperature swings, drastic changes in altitude, and rough, steep portions of trail. I knew it would be difficult, but would certainly be a brag-worthy check off the bucket list! There were challenges to overcome, and fears to face, but here’s what I learned during the experience.
Because Mom Said So
First off, I am not a huge fan of heights, nor am I nuts about roughing it on vacation. You’d be correct if you deduced that the Grand Canyon would not be a top travel choice for me.
However, my mother has always wanted to make this trip, and she wanted to do it with me and my four sisters. She’s talked about it for years and we knew how important it would be to her. So, I did this because … mom said so. It’s really that simple.
I know I’ll make it back to the beach, Paris, and other favorite places soon. But this time with my family needed to be a priority.
A couple of my sisters shared my looming sense of trepidation about the trip. We watched YouTube videos and read blog posts from others who had made the trek. While the vistas were stunning, the trails looked frighteningly narrow and steep. Some of the drop-offs from the top switch-backs looked downright intimidating. This was not going to be a simple walk in the park.
Instead of focusing on our fears, we tried to center on training. Our mother was taking endurance hikes every weekend, and hitting the gym for weight and resistance work. Several months before our hike, one of my sisters distributed a training schedule we could follow. Having my mother as inspiration allowed me to wrap my mind around the enormity of the trip and what we were attempting to accomplish.
Ultimately, we approached the trip with the spirit of wanting to honor our mother.
Failure was not an option.
We realized we needed to be flexible with our travel and accommodation plans. We tried unsuccessfully for several years to score reservations at the legendary Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor. When we couldn’t get booked, we realized a down and up 1-day hike was likely going to be the only way to make my mom’s bucket-list dream come true, and set about making the necessary arrangements.
We flew into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, rented cars, and drove 3.5 hours to Grand Canyon National Park. We booked two rooms at the park’s Maswik Lodge, located just off the Bright Angel trailhead, where we would be finishing up our hike.
If you plan a similar hike, consider staying at onsite accommodations. They were spacious, comfortable, and super convenient. The park also runs a shuttle to get you from your lodging to the trailheads and other areas of interest. We took the first one out (5:30 a.m.!) to reach the South Kaibab Trail, which we descended to the bottom of the canyon and the Colorado River.
On Packing And Preparing
Taking necessary preparations, which includes training but also a comprehensive packing list, is a “must” to have a successful 1-day down and up hike of the canyon. You need to take into account many factors, including the number of daylight hours, temperature, your personal fitness level, plus your hydration and nutritional needs for the entire day. You’ll want to make sure you have a complete first-aid kit, and that your family or friends know of your hiking plans in case something goes awry.
Although cell service was certainly spotty in areas, a phone battery and charging cord is also a must-carry, from a safety standpoint, and to get all those selfies. And headlamps, while they look a bit ridiculous, were life-savers. It was so, so dark at both the start and end of our hike that I can’t imagine not having them. Layers are your friend — we were in lined tights, tops, jackets, and beanies at the hike’s start, and peeled down to T-shirts and shorts on the canyon floor, where temperatures reached the high 80s. It should go without saying good boots — properly broken in — are also essential.
We planned our 20-mile route (down South Kaibab, back up Bright Angel) in large part because of water stops along the way. Packs with built-in water bladders were convenient, and we filled up at every opportunity. Pack more food than you think you’ll need and keep in mind that everyone is expected to carry out all of their rubbish — no exceptions.
Surprises Along On The Trails
There were so many moments that took my breath away — literally and figuratively — during our adventure. The darkness of the sky as we started our descent. The sun rising over Ooh Aah Point on the South Kaibab. How narrow the trails were, especially when the mules were making their way up and we had to give them the right of way. (Surprise!)
I was hungry most of the hike, and found myself constantly snacking to keep my energy up, which is far from my normal routine. While I’m an avid runner, the pain I felt in my core and glutes while hiking was a bit unexpected, but makes sense when you consider the balance and strength necessary for the descent and climb.
The trails were quite dusty. As someone who has had asthma attacks in the past, this made me a bit nervous, wishing I had packed a rescue inhaler. (I had not.)
Perhaps most of all, I was surprised by everyone’s attitude. Quitting was not an option. Not my mom, who slightly rolled her ankle on the way down, and not my sisters, who were also queasy of heights. While the hike took a bit longer than we expected, we were all equally determined to get back up the Bright Angel unassisted, and on our own power. And we did just that.
We were cold, exhausted, in a fair amount of pain, and more than a bit emotional. But after a VERY full 13+ hour day, we had successfully completed the hike.
If you’re planning a similar trip, you need to ensure you are mentally and physically prepared. This is an endurance event, and it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor before attempting it. Pack wisely. Focus on your breathing, putting one foot in front of the other, and enjoying the incredible views most folks never get to experience. Be methodical about your food and water intake, take plenty of rest breaks, and do your research on your route so you know exactly where water, services, and ranger assistance are located.
Bottom line: This is not an easy undertaking. Approach it with the respect it deserves, and know that there’s no better feeling once you finish.
More information about the Grand Canyon can be found in these articles: