Disclaimer: my photography isn’t the best here because lets be real, I took these in 2010 and 14-year old me did not have any knowledge of what I was doing.
I celebrated my 15th birthday in the Grand Canyon. This trip taught me more than I could have imagined; about myself, about my limits and how to push and respect them, and about appreciating this earth we are able to enjoy. At the end of this painful and beautiful journey I was able to say that I had backpacked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Overall, this is a 24+ mile hike from the south to north rim, not an easy beginners trip.
Our trip began at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It was around 90 degrees, which is expected at the beginning of June.
“Hydrate or die” is a common saying that our backpacking group repeated to each other time and time again. The danger of heat exhaustion or stroke is high and not to be taken lightly; this includes staying loaded up with water and electrolytes.
The group consisted of my father and two of his friends and each adult brought one of their children. It ended up being me and five men on this backpacking trip, and this ratio is pretty normal for outdoor trips.
We began our trip by descending down the Bright Angel trail towards Indian Gardens Campground. This was ~4.8 miles and 3000 feet decrease in elevation. The first half of the trail has higher traffic, since it is more accessible from the South Rim.
The first campground, Indian Gardens, has water faucets, compost toilets, and a ranger station. Indian Gardens is one of the few campgrounds with a wooded environment, which is a gift after a long day in the sun.
Once we set up camp we made the short 1.5 mile hike to Plateau Point, which has a beautiful view of the canyon, the Colorado River, and creates unbelievable sunsets.
We continued on towards Bright Angel Campground for our next night of camp. This is a 4.7 mile stretch with around 1400 feet decrease in elevation. On this section of the hike we crossed over the Colorado River on a suspension bridge.
The Bright Angel Campground has a few wooded areas and potable water. We spent the evening cooling down in the water, attending a ranger talk on ghost stories, exploring Phantom Ranch, and playing cards to wind down. Phantom Ranch is only ~.3 miles farther down the trail, and here you can find a ranger station, cabins, bunkhouses, and food.
This stretch of the journey includes the hottest part of the trail and it is advised to spend the heat of the day off the trail. We hit the trail extra early before the sun and hiked towards our next campsite, Cottonwood Campground. Unfortunately, this campground does not have any coverage or shading.
This section is ~7.2 miles and includes hiking through “the box”. This is a nickname give to a portion of the trail that is boxed in with looming walls, which holds heat and here temperatures are known to be ~120 in this area during the summer. If “the box” is done at a cooler hour of the day, it is a truly beautiful section.
In addition to heading out early in the morning, we avoided the heat by enjoying a long break at Ribbon Falls. This waterfall is ~100 ft tall and cascades down the front of a luscious moss-covered rock. This spot is dreamlike during the excruciating summer heat.
There is also a giant travertine spiral beneath the falls. We took our time here and enjoyed the natural shower from the falls and allowed the icy spring water to lower our body temperatures.
After a few hours here, we headed to the Cottonwood Campground. It reached ~130 degrees at Cottonwood with no shade for relief. We headed to bed early to rest for our final day in the Canyon.
We hiked up and out of the north rim of the Grand Canyon and this is a 6.8 mile trek with a raise of over 4200 feet in elevation. The switchbacks seem never-ending on this steep uphill section.
One of my favorite memories from this trip was the distinct change in environment from Cottonwood to the north Rim. This day began at an elevation of ~4080 feet with a hot, dry temperature, and ended with us watching the sun set at the North Rim at ~8240 feet, with snow.
-Keep your food contained and your pack safe. The squirrels here have no fear when it comes to humans. It isn’t rare to find them trying to chew their way into your backpack.
-Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I don’t think I can stress the importance of this enough. I know hikers who have had personal experiences with bottoming out in electrolytes and having to be airlifted out of the canyon.
-Plan ahead of time. Some trips I enjoy leaving a lot of planning open-ended, but with this particular park and the growing attention, it would not work out. Apply for permits and check the national park website for more information.
-Be mentally prepared. I first began the trip feeling in control, after the second night of camping I began to notice anxiety and feeling claustrophobic. This was odd for me and I had never experienced before this moment. I was in a wide open space, but couldn’t see out of it and felt trapped.
-Break in your gear. This goes for most any trip and was something I was always told. My dad told me time and time again to wear my Keens, break in my shoes, try my pack out with weight etc. At the age of 14 I wasn’t the best listener and on the third day in the canyon I had around 15 blisters between both of my feet. I decided to wear my Smart Wool socks with my sandals and without them the pain would have been much worse.
-Bring a bandana or rag with you. I wore mine in my hair, which isn’t necessary, but after those hot days hiking in the sun it is extremely wonderful to soak the bandana in 55 degree spring water and wring it over your head.
-Bring playing cards! They serve as a good relaxing fun after a long day of hiking.