Observations on a 13 Mile Grand Canyon Hike
This past week, my favorite travel buddy and myself took a fantastic road trip through Arizona. We flew into Phoenix, drove through Sedona on one of the most scenic roads I’ve ever seen, explored the Antelope Canyons in Page, chilled out in Flagstaff, and hiked one of the 7 wonders of the world… the Grand Canyon (or as we liked to joke, the Magnificent Chasm).
I’ll be honest with all of you… we didn’t do much preparation/research for the Grand Canyon. The main reason for that is it was MY job, and I… uhhh… didn’t do it. A quick google search and few texts to some more experienced outdoorsmen later and we knew what we were going to do! We were going to hike DOWN the South Kaibab trail, and hike UP the Bright Angel trail.
However, we quickly noticed that everywhere online and even in the park had very clear and bold warnings: “WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HIKE DOWN TO THE BOTTOM AND UP IN ONE DAY. RESCUE IS NOT GUARANTEED.”
Slightly worried, I circled back with my friend Tico, a professional mountain guide. “Oh, you’ll be fine. Go for it.” Well ok then! Here we go!
We got to the park around 8AM. We knew the hike would take awhile, so we wanted to start off pretty early (but not too early… c’mon, it’s vacation). While waiting for the shuttle busses to take us to the trail head, we were talking with a few families and other hikers around us. The same question always came up: “Which trail are y’all going to do? How far are you two going to go?”
And we gave the same answer every time.
“We’re going down Kaibab and back up Bright Angel.”
And EVERY time we were treated to this response – “Oh wow. That’s hardcore. Not for us!”
I couldn’t help but think WHY isn’t that for you… WHY are there all these signs everywhere discouraging people from a hike… discouraging people from exploring so many fantastic parts of this world wonder. I had to take a step back. “Oh that’s right… the world isn’t very fit, unfortunately.”
Like all the park guides and information pamphlets say… you can’t REALLY appreciate the beauty of the Grand Canyon from the top. The true magnitude lies at the bottom of the beast. The sights we saw on this hike were worth every squat, burpee, pull up, step up, metcon, and run I’ve ever done. Let’s dive into the adventure.
We began at 8:30AM down the South Kaibab trail. This trail would take us a total of 4.5 miles, and down 4,780 feet in elevation. It was STEEP, it had some sketchy footing, but for the most part, pretty manageable. I will say that I did NOT expect the downhill to be so tough on the knees/quads. Started to think for a minute that down and back up in a day wasn’t a good idea… nah. We would be fine! The views were incredible and made it all worth it, especially the one’s from “Ooh Aah Point” (what an original name…).
*Pictured – Before the hike selfie!
Starting down South Kaibab in the cold shade!
*Insert heart eyed emoji face*
I mean… there were lots of ooh’s and aah’s…
One thing that WAS a slight concern for Rachel and I was running out of daylight. We didn’t want to get stuck climbing up a trail in the dark. So we were BOOKING it. And by booking it, I mean we made it down the South Kaibab trail in 2 hours. The only rest we took going down the trail was to let a bunch of mules go by on their way back up. It’s always been in our nature to try and get things done super fast though. Rachel and I are some pretty competitive people and really enjoy the task of pushing to get something done faster (you know, kind of like CrossFit).
When we reached the bottom of the Kaibab (at the “Tip Off” check point), we were tired, but not exhausted. The hike down had been pretty tough on the knees and ankles due to all of the uneven footing and step downs, but we were still feeling pretty good. We ate a couple of sandwiches, drank a bunch of water, and then headed out on the next part of the adventure: a 4 mile hike across the plateau of the Grand Canyon on the Tonto Trail. The Tonto trail was mostly flat, making it a much more manageable hike on the legs after that 4,800 foot drop we went down. The heat was a different story. It got TOASTY down there… and with it being early spring, we got to see some critters out and about on the trail as well.
Everyone was right. While the Grand Canyon is absolutely breath taking from above, you get to experience the true magnitude of this place from below. The plateau hike was a humbling time to take in the sheer size of the cliff faces and rock formations. The pictures simply don’t do it justice.
I mean come on…
The Tonto trail was a great break for the legs, but then it was time to start the massive uphill 4,800 foot climb up the Bright Angel Trail. We were about 4 hours into our hike by this point, and had covered 8.5 miles. We were feeling pretty tired, but we were massively determined to get up that damn trail. We ate a few more snacks, filled up our waters, and were ONWARD!
We QUICKLY discovered how tired our legs actually were. The uphill climb was no joke! And it wasn’t a joke to any other hiker out there either. Even though we were definitely tired, we were passing people left and right. Again, massively thankful for all the constantly varied functional movements that we’ve performed at high intensity over the years. We were taking far more breaks than before (and by “we” I mean “I” was asking for more breaks…) and the trail was making us move at a slower pace. I had checked in with my watch right after we started up Bright Angel. We had been moving for an hour, and it seemed like there was no end in sight. Time to attempt to kick it up a notch.
As we got closer to the top, we saw more and more people sitting at the various checkpoints. They had hiked down to these look out points, snapped a few selfies, and were on their way back up, not daring to go any lower or any further. It made me quite sad. There was a whole layer of beauty down below to experience, but a lack of fitness seemed to be the determining factor on the level of descent or not. Now, I know that isn’t it for everyone. Some had kids, some were on a time crunch, and some didn’t have the right gear. But I couldn’t help but think that maybe some of these people just couldn’t hike it, and that made me sad. This fitness thing we do isn’t just to look good, but it’s to experience the greater things in life that we other wise wouldn’t be able to.
That’s not to say we weren’t huffing and puffing either. We were heading up elevation at a pretty steep angle, and having to negotiate plenty of step ups in the trail. We didn’t need to do 17.4 to get a good burn in our backside that day!
The trail seemed to never end, but eventually, it subsided. We looked at each other, gave the Yellow Rose catch phrase a go (You can do this), and made one final push to the top. We crossed the top, and immediately found somewhere to sit down. Holy moly, we were hurting, but we weren’t defeated. All the general physical preparedness we’ve been doing at Yellow Rose had really paid off. We got to enjoy more of the Grand Canyon than the majority of park visitors. We got to see the greatest sights, experience new venues, and push ourselves mentally and physically. We hiked 13 miles total, went down 4,800 feet of elevation and back up… over 9,000 feet in a day! If we would have had FitBits on, they would have said, “Yo dude, chill out. You got it.” It was an incredible day!
It’s days and experiences like that day that make me think a few things. One thing: I’m super grateful that I have the inherent drive to be a fit person. This drive doesn’t put me in ridiculous shape like a CrossFit Games athlete or an Iron Man, but it does keep me in shape to live my life and not let any physical task get in the way. It’s something that not every person has, and I know I can’t take that for granted. Another thing: Experiences like this hype me up to continue our goal with Yellow Rose: help as many people as possible get to a level of fitness that will allow them to live their lives. We talk a lot about “your why” or “your moment” when you realize you truly need to get fit. Maybe it’s a visit to the doctor. Maybe it’s seeing a number on the scale that shocks you. Maybe it’s not being able to live the life you want by being limited by physical activities.
We’re hoping in the future that we can help more and more and more and more and more and more (and so on) people crush their why so they can live their life. So THEY can have an awesome experience of hiking 13 miles in a day through a wonder of the world, so they can keep up with their kids, so they can live a long and happy life.
This hike was equal parts draining and re-energizing. I can’t wait to continue to grow Yellow Rose so we can impact more and more people. I want everyone I meet to be able to go on this same hike like we did, and not be worried about making it.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Means the world to me that you’ve taken your time to read this blog! Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you in your fitness journey. I mean it.
18 down, 13 to go.