10,000 FEET AND 17 MILES: HIKING THE GRAND CANYON

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It was Christmas Eve. We made it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in an impressive time. It was just after 9:00 a.m., but we had already conquered the South Kaibab trail to the floor of the most famous canyon in the world. Too bad we weren't even close to finishing our challenge.

This challenge was to complete a round-trip hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in one day. Our decent would take place on the South Kaibab trail and the accent back up the Bright Angel route--one of the most dangerous hikes in America. Roughly 17 miles round trip, 10,000ft in elevation changes and trails on the edge of cliffs make this hike not your average walk in the woods.

And instead of getting a good nights rest the night before the hike, we decided to sleep in our car in the middle of the Arizona desert, with no cell service, one blanket, and temperatures around 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Solid foundation.

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6:10 am and on the trail, we began the decent in complete darkness. Our headlamps were our only light source for following the trail and seeing the ice that blanketed the path along the route. Neither of us had ever been to the Grand Canyon before, and here we were hiking into it with our first views being darkness.

The sunrise over the canyon walls was magical. But it was only then we realized how little we had gone and how far we had yet to go. But we made it well before lunch to Phantom Ranch at the base. Only a short 40 minutes or so were spent at the bottom. Where all the trees held their colored leaves so it looks like October instead of on December. Deer grazed feet away, the river roared in the distance and the two cable bridges made for an incredible sight looking into the canyon.

 

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Before 11:00 a.m. we were back on a mission, this time on the Bright Angel trail. We had successfully covered eight miles, but ahead were still nine more of inclines. Going down was the fun part, going up was the death of me.

About two miles into this trail the subject of dinner was brought up. FOOD. Now I had a new motivation. After finishing we could find a town and eat all the delicious food we wanted. Cue drooling.

Don't get me wrong, I love hiking and love doing anything outdoors and adventurous. But that's a lot of calories and energy to burn in a short amount of time. I'm a 500-pound women trapped in a small girls body. Bananas and pretzels can only hold me for so long and it's only a matter of time before I start getting hangry and attempt to eat a cactus while crouching on all fours.

Other than the worry of failure and not completing the route, there was no other way I would want to spend my Christmas Eve. Watching the sunrise over one of the most beautiful scenes in the world is an experience no money can buy.

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Both routes consist of many switchbacks and South Kaibab is shorter, which means a lot of hikers assume that is the best route to go up on. Wrong. It is much shorter, but much steeper and will take just as long if not longer then Bright Angel. Along both trails are signs warning hikers not to attempt a round-trip hike in one day, which I would agree with during the summer. It was December and not 110 degrees, so one is less likely to run out of water or suffer from heat exhaustion.

That also being said, the hike is no joke either. If you plan on attempting this hike bring LOTS of water and food with high amounts of protein and calories. Fill your water up at every chance, even if it is not completely empty. South Kaibab trail has no water along the route and Bright Angel has a couple. Hikers are able to fill up at the top of each trail and at the bottom of the canyon. Be smart and don't overestimate your abilities.

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The Bright Angel trail has less stunning views of the entire canyon, but has a gorgeous valley garden, waterfalls and lookout points. The way up was surprisingly not as killer as I imagined and we were making awesome time until mile 15. Then the wall hit.

Only two more miles. Only two more miles.

Not only were we physically and mentally exhausted, but we were close enough to the rim that tourists could take a small hike down and it made the trail much more crowded. Throughout the journey, we were alone on the trail almost the entire time...until the end. When you're dirty, exhausted and past the point of caring the last thing you want to deal with is people peppy, fancy and Snapchat obsessive. All I want is a bed and a plate of spaghetti. I want to eat spaghetti while laying in bed. Yes, that sounds heavenly.

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So we finished the hike at 3:10 pm. Exactly 9 hours, 17 miles and 10,000ft later.

Then we zoomed out of the canyon at record speed because the crowds were more than we could handle. When you're alone with nature all day and return to thousands of vacationers fighting over parking spots and waiting in line for a picture opportunity you kind of want to escape as fast as possible.

I'm really glad I completed it. Leading up to the hike I was afraid I would become a big baby and end up laying face down on the trail to drown in my failure. But extreme hikes are the best hikes, because what fun is walking on flat land? 😉

P.S. I totally devoured a plate of spaghetti that night.

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10 Comments

  1. Robert VanEvery on January 27, 2015 at 8:02 PM

    Wow! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on something I hope to do in the near future! Pictures were great!

    • ShaleeWanders on January 28, 2015 at 8:14 AM

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  2. dee on January 27, 2015 at 10:05 PM

    Wow. I hiked to phantom ranch when I turned 40 and took a class on the geology and history beforehand .As students we had to name the layers as we decended….there are 12 of them , we learned a sentence that began with …know (Kaibab)the (Toroweap) canyons (Coconino) layers (Limestone)…forgot the rest of the memonic….except very bottom layer is Vishnu.
    Loved your blog..what a beautiful and exciting Christmas you had….

    • ShaleeWanders on January 28, 2015 at 8:15 AM

      Very cool! I would love to take a class like that. Thank you for the compliment :).

  3. Marie H on January 28, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    So want to do this some day. I don’t know if I could talk hubby into it though.

    • ShaleeWanders on January 28, 2015 at 8:16 AM

      So worth it, tell him I said it’s not as bad as it sounds 😉

  4. UnrestingSea on January 28, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    Woo, Shalee! You go girl! Seriously, you are the energizer bunny! Your photos are brilliant and your Grand Canyon hike sounds both exhausting and exhilarating. I went to Grand Canyon/Page/Sedona wayyy back in high school with my parents but unfortunately we didn’t do any hikes while there. So I guess I’ll have to go back. 🙂 Thanks for being such an inspiring and spirited lady 🙂

    • ShaleeWanders on January 29, 2015 at 1:01 PM

      Awe, thank you Amanda! Your comments always make my day :). Yes, you must go back and when you do let me know 😉

  5. brucegezon on January 28, 2015 at 4:53 PM

    Wow, Shalee! What a great blog about an awesome day trip. I’m impressed with what you can do in only 9 hours. I put together a 6 day white water rafting trip thru the Grand Canyon years ago with my friends that included some fun short hikes to waterfalls and pools. However, I have never been to the canyon rim to see these magnificent views. Just added this hike to my bucket list. Thank you so much for the details that you include in your blogs to make planning these trips easier.

    • ShaleeWanders on January 29, 2015 at 1:03 PM

      Thank you, Bruce! I’m glad you enjoyed the detail and have added the hike to your list. It’s definitely worth the exhaustion :). I would LOVE to do a rafting trip through the canyon. Sounds like my kind of adventure!

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