We entered Grand Canyon National Park on Sunday, April 17 and after a few quick stops to take in some dramatic views we headed to the backcountry office in the hope of finding a place to camp below the rim that night. We were stoked to find out there was one backcountry permit available and packed our camping gear as quickly as possible. By the time we started the arduous 1,487 m ( 4,900 feet) decent / 17 km (10.5 miles) hike into the canyon via the Grandview and Tonto Trails it was already 3:00 pm but our late start didn’t damper our spirits.
Before we go on, here are some interesting facts: Did you know that since the first exploration of the Grand Canyon in 1869 over 700 people have died there? That each year around 300 people are rescued by helicopter from the Grand Canyon? That the majority of people being rescued are fit young men who underestimate the difficulty of hiking down and back up? It’s true that hiking 17 km (9.9 miles) down and up may not seem like much on paper but add things like elevation gain and loss, blistering sun, scarce water, the fact that it is 10°C (18°F) warmer at the bottom of the canyon, flash floods, and other random dangers such as venomous reptiles and the hike begins to sound a lot more challenging, even dangerous if you are not prepared. Well, everything turned out well for us but we have to admit that we may have been a little too optimistic at the start of the hike.
Even though we moved as quickly (and safely) as possible, the steep trail was slow going and we had to make camp as dusk fell on a knoll about 4 km (2.5 miles) and a couple hundred vertical meters from the bottom of the canyon and the Colorado River which also happened to be the nearest source of water in that part of the canyon. On morning number two, we set out very early to travel in the cool morning hours and made it to the New Hance Trail junction at the Colorado River in good time. We filled our water bottles in the river, each chugged a liter of water, refilled the bottles and began the 12 km (7.5 miles) hike out of the canyon along the beautiful and challenging New Hance Trail including 1,342 m (4,400 feet) of elevation gain. The last 500 vertical meters were the steepest and by the end we were thoroughly exhausted from six hours of steady climbing in the beating sun. We were exhilarated to finally crest the rim and couldn’t fathom doing the same hike in the heat of summer.
The next day we headed south to Flagstaff where we recovered from our hike with some great coffee, beers, and dinner on a nice patio with the company of Dr. and Mrs. De Bakker, the parents of one of Chris’ good childhood friend whom we had unexpectedly run into. We restocked on fuel and food, picked up a few good books, and hiked up to the saddle of nearby Mount Humphery before continuing with our road trip. Flagstaff proved to be a little oasis of urban comforts, cool pine forests, and snow-capped peaks. It seems strange that snowy mountains and blisteringly hot desert landscapes can co-exist in such proximity but the desert appears filled with contradictions of abundance and scarcity, development and wilderness, beauty and box stores.