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That Giant Hole In The Ground

Grand Canyon

As an Arizona native, I consider the Grand Canyon my Canyon. I just happen to share it with 5.5 Million people every year.

It didn’t start that way, though. My first visit was on a family trip in elementary school when we rolled down the car window, took a picture (on film!), and drove on to our next destination. It was merely a giant hole in the ground, and I was more interested in the squirrels.

Not until years later after hiking all the way down to the river did I truly appreciate the Grand Canyon’s size and beauty. But boy, oh boy did I ‘get it’ then. It’s the Grand. Freakin. Canyon.

There’s nothing like it–a mile deep and averaging 10 miles wide, it’s impossible to capture its truth in a photo.

The Goal

Since then, I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon several times on multi-day trips, so this year we wanted to up the ante and hike 24 miles Rim-to-Rim in a single day. Gulp.

Grand Canyon

This feat had until now resided only in the world of fantasy, just like me being able to reach the top shelf of my kitchen cupboards without standing on a stool climbing on the counter.

But we’re closer to 40 than to 30. We’re old. We’re weekend warriors, not athletes. And I didn’t want to die.

But… we’ve backpacked almost 400 miles this summer, so we’re in the best hiking shape of our lives. It was now or never. 

The Help

Did I mention that I couldn’t navigate stairs for almost a week after my first Canyon hike? And that was with a decade less under my belt and with a night of rest camping at the bottom. How were we going to survive a Rim-to-Rim trek?

Grand Canyon

We discussed our options, and chose to say yes to any help that was available. An enthusiastic Yes!

  • Hiking poles? Our new best friends.
  • A hotel at the North Rim so we didn’t have to carry a tent and sleeping bags? Why, that would be lovely, thank you.
  • A shuttle from said hotel to the trailhead in the morning? Don’t mind if we do.
  • Free potable water along the trail so we don’t have to carry gallons? National Park Service, you’re the best!

This trip was definitely not the epitome of self-sufficiency we tried to maintain on previous hikes, and it made me second guess our purpose. In fact, our packs contained only the following:

The Goal, Part II

With light packs and strong legs, I even asked myself, “Why not go Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in a day?” That’s only the equivalent of two marathons plus the elevation change. How hard could it be? We could probably make pretty good time, and I could probably get my husband on board…

What the what? Who is this person? Clearly, I’ve gone off the deep end.

We’re nature-lovers, not ultramarathoners.

We took a step back to ask ourselves what we really wanted: were we out to enjoy nature, or were we racing the clock and the record books? It took a while to realize that the goal didn’t have to be the journey or the destination.

We could choose both. So we did.

Our new goals included:

Survival

Our dear friend works at Grand Canyon National Park and graciously hosted us before and after our hike. However, she emphatically informed us that if we did something stupid and had to be rescued she would deny ever having seen us before.

Well, we not only made it out alive, but still ambulatory. We could even walk without (too much) limping the next day.

Enjoyment of Nature

We had hiked the Grand Canyon before and marveled at its beauty, so we didn’t  take a thousand pictures this time. They never reflect what you really see anyway, so we mostly used them as a stalling tactic when we needed breaks.

We enjoyed our hike immensely and actually noticed more details of the Canyon without our noses stuck in a viewfinder. For example, our previous hikes were early in the summer, and this was our first visit after the monsoons that make the river look like chocolate milk.

Colorado River September 2016

Colorado River September 2016

Colorado River June 2013

Colorado River June 2013

Exercise and Bragging Rights

We couldn’t control getting stuck behind other hikers or being passed by mules, so we didn’t set a goal time other than to finish before dark. We got to the South Rim in just over 9.5 hours and were thrilled. Could we have gone faster? Probably. Could we have matched the world record of 2 hours and 51 minutes? Not a chance.

Enjoyment of Life

This hike was more than just a small blip on our summer radar–it was the fulfillment of a dream I didn’t think I was capable of achieving. It was amazing, yes, and it makes the Canyon seem just a tiny bit more ours.

Also amazing were the ice cream when we finished, the lovely evening spent with our friend, and the relief at not having to exit in a helicopter rescue!

While we savor our memories of the entire experience, we’re also looking for suggestions for our next adventure. Have you ever felt Nature give you balance when you least expected it? Do you have a story about the Grand Canyon? Please share in the comments below. 

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Comments 12

  1. Thanks for sharing your journey, Julie! And congrats on doing it unscathed. 🙂 We’ve visited the Grand Canyon a few times and love it. Sunset is the best. My husband and I are eager to hike the Bright Angel Trail one day. We wanted to do it with the kids when we were there a couple years ago but, alas, the kids were not keen on the idea. In fact, they outright refused (they are teenagers – I’ll give them that, but I hope they one day change their minds). It’s on my someday list!

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  2. There’s definitely something to be said for not having to exit via a helicopter! Congratulations on achieving your dream. I like the hiking poles. I always wondered if they’d make a difference.

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      I was a super-skeptic, but now I’m a total convert. Even in my early 20s my knees and hips would hurt after a downhill hike like this, and now they’re pain-free after a full, long day. Break yourself in slowly, though, or you might get tendinitis in your shoulder… I was told that “aches and pains are youth leaving your body.”

  3. That’s an awesome story and makes us envious! The Grand Canyon is on our list of “to-do’s” over the next few years. I haven’t even looked into hiking and where you can go though. We’ve run marathons but the years have taken a bit of a toll on knees and hips. Our goal is walking/hiking now – so we may have to consider this! Thanks for sharing and for the idea that we don’t have to document every minute of what we do with pictures we’ll look at once (or never again).

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      Vicki, photos of the GC never turn out the same as what you see in person (unless, of course, you’re Peter Lik). Part of it is because of the light, and part is because you can only capture one direction at a time and it’s such a big place that half of the magic is feeling so small and insignificant.
      For easy-on-the-knees hiking, it’s just a matter of carrying less weight. The trails are lovely and have switchbacks so each stretch isn’t that steep. It takes some planning, but you can hike down, stay at Phantom Ranch so you don’t need a tent, sleeping bag, or much food, then hike back up with just a daypack. Or you can have your stuff carried in and out by mules. Phantom opens reservations a year in advance and they fill fast, so it’s a good thing you’re retired and can plan far ahead!

  4. I always wonder what home folks make of the tourist invasion into their state national parks. But in the words of Woody Guthrie, “This land is your land”.

    Very very impressed by the rim to rim in one day achievement and your discipline to not take a thousand photos. And a big shout out to National Park service for the many great things they do to protect the land and make it hospitable for many at the same time.

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      Many locals never explore their own state’s national parks because there’s no urgency. If it were up to Arizona to give the Canyon its current average annual traffic, every single resident would have to visit every other year. My friend who works for the NPS says that there are way more international tourists than American visitors to most national parks, not just the Grand Canyon.
      We’re actually very grateful for the tourists who help provide the traffic to keep our national parks up and running, we just try to avoid the crowds whenever possible 🙂
      Those old songs are wonderful, aren’t they? Sharing our resources, and “amber waves of grain,” not massive freeways with stop-and-go traffic. Three cheers for NPS for preserving that beauty for all of us.

  5. These photos are amazing! I believe I’ve shared with you before that we honeymooned in Arizona for two weeks. I had been many times but never to the Grand Canyon. My husband had never been. If I had to pick another state to live in, it would be yours! We didn’t make it to the bottom, but we did hike a fair amount of the rim. We hiked down for about two hours, too. I would LOVE to go back one day!

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  6. My wife and I want to go to the Grand Canyon so bad we can taste it. Unfortunately we have a one year old son who is a busy boy. So we’ll have to wait a couple of years before we can make it out that way. But it is definitely something that we want to do in the next five to ten years. Thanks for sharing such incredible pictures and being our virtual guide 🙂

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