What every hiker should know (by now)

In the Grand Canyon, pack in some common sense.

 

It is meet and proper that human beings should hike in the Grand Canyon. This would be even truer if they would pack in a few of the essentials, such as food, water or common sense. 

People seem to believe that Nothing Will Go Wrong. I’m just going to dash in and out for just a few miles. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. Ah, but what if it does? What if someone sprains an ankle? Trips over a waterbar on the trail? 

In 2015, Grand Canyon answered 318 calls for assistance, involving 271 injured or ill persons. The park boasts the most search-and-rescue incidents of any national park. Cost: over $875,000, for just that year.

Grand Canyon sees from 12 to 20 deaths a year. Contrary to popular belief, most are not from falls but from heat and heart attacks.

It is expected that, in a national park, someone will rush to our rescue if we get in over our heads. During the height of the season, park rangers may get 30 calls a day for assistance. Most of these involve a sympathetic talking-to and a bottle of water. Two to three times a day, for a true medical emergency, the helicopter may be summoned, at great personal risk to all involved.

Rescue by mule? Forget it. If you are fit enough to ride a mule, you are fit enough to walk. 

Should venturing into the backcountry be completely safe? Not at all.  Part of the wilderness experience should be getting cold, or hot, or tired, or thirsty, or hungry, or scared, or worried.  There should always be that tiny frisson of potential peril. 

However, there is no need to actually invite trouble. Risks can be mitigated by taking simple precautions and bringing extra clothes, food and water, not to mention some food, water and clothes.

A hiker on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.
NPS

Take shoes. All boots are not created equal. Riding boots, cowboy boots, snow boots and Uggs are not hiking boots. Flip-flops belong at the beach. High heels — don’t even. Blisters are the least of the problems.  On occasion, someone slides off the trail and is injured or killed. 

Take food and water. Hiking burns calories, and that energy must be replaced. One can of an energy drink will hardly hydrate you for 14 miles. It can get so hot in summer that it is physically impossible to carry the amount of water required to keep you alive. Dehydration and heat stroke claim many victims, often young, strong males. Our first aid classes told us that as long as a person is sweating, he/she is not at risk for heat stroke. But at the Grand Canyon, it is entirely possible to be sweating right up to the time the body temperature spikes and the victim face-plants from heat stroke.

Remember common sense.  Not so common. It is easy to hike down. Back up, not so much. Park rangers call the Grand Canyon the largest Venus flytrap in the world. Most people manage to complete their hike, underprepared as they are. But often they do so after dark, without a light. Sometimes they simply don’t. 

Visitors should hike here; that is one of the reasons people visit. However, they should be cognizant of all the ways that the canyon can mess people up. Grand Canyon is a desert. It is arid, there is limited water, and the tough uphill part comes last. 

There are people whose job it is to walk the trails advising day-trippers as to the wisdom of their plans. This is called Preventative Search and Rescue. This is not my job. However, I must exude an aura of competence, because I am often asked for advice anyway.

When not in uniform, I am not paid to be diplomatic. “Is it really harder to hike up than down?” (I wonder: Is this a trick question?)

Five hundred feet below the rim: “Where is the bus stop?” (Not here.)

One thousand feet below the rim: “Where is the snack bar?” (Also not here.)  

It must be cooler in the bottom, because heat rises, right? (That’s why it is tropical at the summit of Everest.) 

I brought organic, holistic, low-sodium snacks, and I feel horrible. (Dude, Cheetos!)

Is there water available in the outhouse? (Don’t even go there.)

I was coming out of the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail at 2 p.m., when a woman hiking down — but wearing espadrilles and carrying a half-pint of bottled water — asked me, “How far to the river?”

“Fourteen miles round trip,” I said, “9,600 feet elevation change.”

“How long will it take me to get there? 

I fixed her with a gimlet eye. “The rest of your life.” 

Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She works at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • ASSISTANT TOWN ATTORNEY
    Town of Jackson, Wyoming, $66,700 - $88,000 DOQ, full benefits. Law Degree Required. Rental housing options available. For a complete job description and to apply,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...