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How to Hike the Grand Canyon

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By Brian J. Lane

TRIP PLANNING

Choose the Right Hiking Partner: You should not hike alone, so choose early and find a comparable hiking partner or group. Ask about their other backpack trips, take a practice hike together and have everyone review possible itineraries and trail information.

Choose the Right Itinerary & Apply for Permits: One-third of backcountry rescues are because of errors in judgment due to a lack of experience, so plan your itinerary within your fitness and experience level. Apply for permits early, (available four months prior to your start date), have alternative itineraries and start dates. Visit the Grand Canyon National Park website for permit details, and call the Backcountry Information Center (928.638.7875 between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays) for trail closures and other relevant trail information prior to your hike.

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Have an Effective Training Regimen: One-quarter of rescues are due to poor physical conditioning. Start training several months in advance. Begin slowly and build strength and endurance, including use of a weighted pack. Remember, the Grand Canyon is an inverted mountain comparable to climbing Mount Whitney – the highest point in the lower 48 United States.

Take the Right Gear: Go light and take only what you will need. Check the weather and gear up accordingly, (i.e., don’t’ take a 10 degree sleeping bag when nights will be 60 degrees). Dress correctly – wear cotton in summer (keeps you cooler), and synthetics in cool season (keeps you warmer). Always make sure you have proper sun protection including sunglasses, sun screen, and a wide-brimmed hat.

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ON THE TRAIL

Take Your Time: If you’re unable to carry on a conversation and find yourself out of breath, slow down or you could suffer exhaustion and leg fatigue from the resulting lack of oxygen. Take a break every hour for about ten minutes. Take a drink and nibble on some snacks. Make sure to check that you have all your gear and trash before heading on.

Drink Plenty of Fluids: Drink at least one quart/liter of water and/or sport drink for every hour of hiking, more going uphill, and even more in warm weather. Treat any water obtained from backcountry sources unless it comes from a tap or spigot.

Respect the Heat: An average of five to ten people die annually in the Canyon from heat related problems. During the warm season hike only in early morning or late afternoon, consider hiking at night during extreme heat. Soak your clothes, if possible, to keep cool, especially your hat, bandana, and hair too.

Eat Plenty of Food: You should carry and consume about two pounds of food per person each day. Salty snacks and electrolyte containing drinks are a must. Drinking water only without eating can cause hyponatremia, with symptoms similar to dehydration it can lead to possible death.

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Treat Blisters Right Away: Blisters are the most common problem for canyon hikers, and can be debilitating. Make sure you have blister blocking type band-aids. If you feel a hotspot coming on, stop and treat it immediately.

Practice Proper Hygiene: Don’t eat food hand-to-mouth. Use hand sanitizer and travel wipes, especially after using the toilet facilities to help keep illnesses from spreading.

Hike Smart and Have Fun! – Don’t climb the canyon walls without proper training, (unroped falls are the #1 outdoor killer). Do not attempt to swim the Colorado River, (it is a cold and swift moving river that kills nearly all who try). Don’t play with the snakes, (60% of bites are people handling venomous snakes). Don’t rely on technology to save you, (cell phones rarely work inside the canyon). For an enjoyable canyon experience pay attention and use common sense!

All photos courtesy of the National Park Service.

Award-winning author Brian Lane published Hikernut’s Grand Canyon Companion, A Guide to Hiking and Backpacking the Most Popular Trails Into the Canyon in 2007. Chosen by USA Book News as a 2007 Best Book Award Finalist, a 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist, 2008 Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist, 2008 Arizona Book Publishers Association Award Finalist, and an Arizona Authors Association 2008 Prize Winner, the book offers practical advice honed from over fifteen years of experience hiking in and around the Grand Canyon and throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.asenseofnature.com

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