HOW TO NOT GO INSANE WHILE HIKING THE GRAND CANYON THIS SUMMER

On Sunday, Padre and I ran up for a quick day hike at the Grand Canyon. Yes, I know that is hypocritical since I told you not to go to a National Park this summer, but I promise there is a method to my madness that will become apparent over the next couple of weeks. You’ll just have to trust me.

The Grand Canyon is a strange place the in summer. For one, THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE. Like a lot, a lot. Of the 5 million people who visit the Canyon every year, the vast majority of them come in the summer. Second, its hot. While the top is pleasant, it can reach 120 degrees at the bottom, and since it gets warmer with as you descend in elevation, the temperature rises very very quickly and you descend and the sun ascends. Unequivocally, the summer is the worst time to go to the Grand Canyon.

But, you might want to go to the Grand Canyon in the summer anyways. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write one of our patented, super helpful guides: HOW TO NOT GO INSANE WHILE HIKING THE GRAND CANYON THIS SUMMER.  No promises on whether this will actually keep you from going insane.

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STEP 1: Be Weird

There are going to be a ton of people in any National Parks during the summer. This problem is even worse in the Grand Canyon, where the extreme temperatures keep the tourists concentrated within a couple of miles of the Rim. If you are like me and you basically hate people, you only have one option to cut the crowds: be weird. Be as weird as you can possibly be. If something seems comfortable and fun, don’t do it because comfortable, fun things are exactly what the 10 guzillion other people at the Grand Canyon are going to do that day. For example, don’t take the time to eat a good breakfast. Every human being in the world wants to eat a good breakfast before hiking, meaning that all  of them are going to wait until the restaurants at the rim open, take 30 min or so to eat, and then head for the trail at the same time like a bunch of cattle. You don’t want to be cattle.

There is literally nothing weirder than waking up early. Sure, some people claim they like waking up early, but they are liars. As far as I can tell there are only two universal human experiences: 1.) Being angry when waking up; and, 2.) Throwing up so hard that you poop a little bit. Neither of these are good things. So, if you want any privacy at all, be weird and leave Phoenix between 1 and 2AM, hit the trail by dawn, and keep moving. You won’t be alone, but I promise it will be better.

Dawn, the appropriate time to leave.
Dawn, the appropriate time to leave.

STEP 2: Bring Stuff

Yes, I know this sounds counter intuitive. Hypothetically more stuff should slow you down, and, since more people are going to be on the trail later in the day, going slower should mean more crowds. To a certain extent this is true. However, do you know what the only thing worse that seeing a bunch of people while you’re hiking is? Seeing a bunch of people while you are being rescued.

Yeah, yeah, I know you are super tough and a complete bad-ass who would NEVER need a rescue. I’m sure you could tell me a bunch of stories about the times you ultra-lighted and it worked out fine, to which I say COOL STORY, BRO. More than 2,600 people are rescued from the Grand Canyon every year, most of them because they don’t bring the right gear. If you aren’t a regular, the Canyon presents a challenge unlike anything you have ever experienced. Not only is the elevation gain/loss ridiculous, the the highest elevations and hardest parts of the trail are near the end. Suffice it to say that if you haven’t hiked the Canyon it will break you a little bit the first time you do it.

Being rescued in general sucks, but being rescued while on one of the busiest trails in the world must be a uniquely terrible experience. Luckily this is an avoidable problem, just bring enough stuff so that you don’t have to get rescued. That means LOT’S of water, a first aid kit, food, and probably rain gear. Wear shoes that actually support your feet. Basically don’t be dumb.

A pack with many things in it
A pack with many things in it

STEP 3: Make Friends

Even if you leave ridiculously early you will eventually meet someone on the trail who is moving at the same speed in the same direction you are. You can try to ignore this person, but you are going to see them A LOT over the next few hours, so you might as well be nice.

As you might imagine, this is problem for me.

Potential Friends
Potential Friends

STEP 4: Keep Walking

If you don’t want to listen to me, here is a direct quote from the NPS website: “WARNING: There are no easy trails into or out of the Grand Canyon.” They have a helpful set of signs to convince you of this point.

SONY DSC

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But since you are the kind of person who reads hiking blogs I already know that you don’t think signs apply to you. Because of this you will probably bite off more than you can chew, and as a result and some point you are going to hate yourself on the hike out.

You won’t have a ton of options at this point though. You could quit and get rescued, but as covered above, you REALLY don’t want to do that. Otherwise, all you can do is keep climbing. This is what I recommend.

Keep Climbing
Keep Climbing

STEP 5: STRAIGHT UP MURDER PEOPLE Be Patient

No matter how early you start, near the top there are going to be a lot of people. If you are on Bright Angel Trail, this means from about the 3 mile rest house on you are going to be in a constant stream of inexperienced hikers. Bless their little hearts, these people have no concept of trail courtesy. When you are hiking uphill, downhill hikers aren’t going to get out of your way. If there is enough space for two people, they will still walk in the middle of the trail. Some of them will be playing music on tiny little boom boxes. Basically, they are animals.

Right now, from the comfort of your home, this doesn’t seem like such a problem. However, when you are tired from hiking out of the Grand Canyon, such offenses will make you want to give every single offender a slight, murder-y shove off the edge. This urge will get stronger every single time another person makes you stop and lose your uphill hiking grove.

It is very important that you don’t do this. Not only would this ruin your long term hiking prospects, these super annoying people are actually incredibly important. That trail you are walking on is expensive to maintain and there aren’t enough real hikers to pay for it. Even worse, while there are a ton of people at the Grand Canyon right now, there aren’t a ton of people at other expensive parks. That money has to come from somewhere. And who knows, maybe some of these people discover how much they love hiking?

In summary, don’t murder people, be patient.

SO MANY PEOPLE
SO MANY PEOPLE

Keep an eye out for a trip report with many, many more pictures later this week.


Disclaimer: This post, and all posts on LesserPlaces, may contain affiliate links– links that allow me to receive a small kickback at no additional cost to you when you shop through them. This is how we keep the lights on. 



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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.

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