Hiking the Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail

Hiking the Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon Adventure

Last October my current full time job decided to fly us out to Phoenix for a meeting. One of my travel buddies Vanessa immediately jumped at the opportunity for us to hike the Grand Canyon. So we flew out a few days early (Never hurts to ask your company if it matters when you fly in or out) and headed out to the Grand Canyon to hike the Bright Angel Trail.

Tired but ready to hit the road

Tired but ready to hit the road

Tusayan, AZ is a small town directly outside of the Grand Canyon National Park. They have a few low end hotels and a couple places to fill up your starving stomachs after conquering the Canyon. To get to Tusayan from the Phoenix airport you will need to rent a car and drive about 3 hours. You can also fly into Flagstaff but normally Phoenix Sky Harbor is a bit cheaper. We ended staying at the Best Western which is about 200 a night which was pretty painful however it was the cheapest option only 1 mile away from the Grand Canyon.

We woke up early the next day (7am is early to us) and went to walk around the South Rim of the Canyon. It was beautiful but hot so make sure and come prepared with a hat and sunglasses!

This is a real pose right?

This is a real pose right?

 

Besties in the Canyon

Besties in the Canyon

Bright Angel Trail

Before we got to the Grand Canyon, Vanessa and I had decided that we wanted to do the 12 mile round trip trail despite knowing how much we both despised hot weather and how we wilt like flowers underneath the blistering sun. It was a challenge so naturally something neither of us could say no to.

Bright Angel Trail Head

Bright Angel Trail Head

 

So the second day we woke up early once more and got to the trail head by 7am as the sun was rising. The trail we took was at the South Rim- The Bright Angel Trail. Now the trail is broken up into 4 portions. Each stop has shade and water plus a bathroom. This allows you to take a break and decide if you want to continue on. The problem with hiking the Grand Canyon is that it is backwards as far as hikes go. Naturally you are used to going up on a hike and relaxing on the way back down. Unfortunately this is the downfall of the hike. As you go down you begin to realize just how hard it will be to get back up. (3800 ft in 4 miles to be exact).

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On the way down since it was early morning we saw several backpackers coming up from the canyon after spending the night under the stars. Seeing the varying age groups (some possibly around 60 years old and as young as 5 years old) made me confident that I too would make it out of the Canyon without being emergency carried by a camel.

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The last bathroom before heading out under the hot sun is in a desert garden with plenty of trees and shade. It is another 2 miles until you get to the Colorado River lookout. It is flat and unappealing for a girl with vampire white translucent skin such as mine which resulted in Vanessa and I almost turning around. We had never seen pictures and if you were to look out in front of you, all that can be seen is just desert upon more desert. Lucky for us backing down from a challenge stings worse than the burn from the hot sun, so on we continued.

 

Our last chance for water and a bathroom break at Indian Gardens

Our last chance for water and a bathroom break at Indian Gardens

Walking these last two miles was challenging to say the least. We began to run out of water and the mirages began. If you have never seen a mirage in the desert it is like seeing exactly what you want only a few 100 yards ahead to find more desert. I do believe for the last half mile Vanessa and I began to get delirious. I imagined this was what the Israelites felt like when wandering for 40 years in that Egyptian desert (Again I was beginning to lose it so you’ll have to forgive my sacrilegious thoughts). We walked and we walked some more. Once we thought about turning around and giving up we saw a well just a few feet ahead. We were able to grab water and drench our clothes.

We had no idea what awaited us on that ledge

We had no idea what awaited us on that ledge

To our surprise there was a fence just up ahead of us. We were almost angry realizing this was the end and it just a metal fence keeping us from some ledge. I was irate that anyone would tell us to venture out these last two miles for what? More Canyon? Before you get irate like my dehydrated mind had gotten, walk a little further. There you will find a breathtaking view of the Colorado River. It is thousands of feet below and a sight to behold.  To right of the outlook you can even see Havasu Falls, a famous waterfall many travel to and camp beside.

Down way below you will find the famous waterfall Havasu Falls

Down way below you will find the famous waterfall Havasu Falls

If you are able please trust me when I insist that you continue on to the full 6 miles of the Bright Angel Trail. The Grand Canyon is beautiful to look at when you are inside the bowl however nothing compares to staring thousands of feet above the roaring Colorado River surrounded by ragged rocks.

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After the high of feeling like you are on top of the world the realization that now the hard part of the hike actually begins. By this time it was around 10 o’clock  and we had 2 miles of flat ground to conquer and then that pesky 3800 feet to climb all within the heat of the day. This would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do.

Time to conquer the climb

Time to conquer the climb

If you haven’t known me long you will see I love to hike, I love being outdoors, and I love adventure. However if you know me even better, you know I am a little bit of a wuss. I have a pesky problem with hypoglycemia and sometimes I’m a little weak. Despite that nagging voice in my head I arose to the challenge with my friend Amanda’s ever constant positive chant claiming, “You can do anything Brie, just go slow and you will make it”. These words got me out that Canyon without giving in to my daydream of using that emergency phone at the bathroom asking for a Camel to be brought down for the little weak girl who couldn’t continue on. For that Amanda dear, I thank you.

Success at the bottom of the Canyon

Success at the bottom of the Canyon

Vanessa my fitness minded friend, stayed with me for about 3 miles. She found shade for us when the sun was relentlessly beating down and gave me encouragement when I thought of dying in the desert. Unfortunately about the time the Canyon walls began to provide us shade the closer to the sides we got was about the time she realized she had a time frame to beat. We had been told that the Bright Angel Trail takes about 10-12 hours to complete, and she was determined to kick that time frame’s booty. When presented with a challenge never doubt my friend Vanessa whether it has to do with money, fitness, or food I guarantee you she will come out on top.

Grand Canyon

“I’ll meet you ALL the way over there”

So now Vanessa was but a tiny figure in the distance slowly becoming a figment of my imagination. I took a few 100 steps and stopped if I needed and I made friends with others who found the ascent back to the top as great of a challenge. I left people behind and others floored passed me. I saw 70 year old hikers with their trekking poles blaze past me and put me to shame.

In the end I made it out of that Canyon hell. Step by baby step I managed not to die underneath that unforgiving sun. I made it out to see Vanessa’s triumphant face smiling down at me wondering what in the world could have taken me an hour and a half longer than her. Despite my late arrival I was undoubtedly so incredibly proud of myself for undertaking a challenge I was not sure I was capable of completing. Never doubt yourself as you are capable of so much more than you could imagine.

 

I got rewarded with some delicious Ice Cream at the top of the Trail

I got rewarded with some delicious Ice Cream at the top of the Trail

 

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Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon Adventure Last October my current full time job decided to fly us out to Phoenix for a meeting. One of my travel buddies Vanessa immediately jumped at the opportunity for us to hike the Grand Canyon. So we flew out a few days early (Never hurts to ask your company if it [...]

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Tips for Surviving the Grand Canyon

Tips for Surviving the Grand Canyon

So you want to hike the Grand Canyon? You think 12 miles in the desert heat sounds like a fun challenge? By all means hike your heart away but please listen to these tips I learned while hiking the Bright Angel Trail.

Water is your Best Friend

I mean it kids, make sure and stay hydrated while out in the Grand Canyon. Keeping hydrated should be your number one priority. When choosing a hike make sure and go to the Visitor Center first. Find out which water stations are turned on. If you are lucky they will all be functioning which on the Bright Angel Trail meant a water station every 1.5 miles. Personally I just brought a refillable Camelbak 160z bottle and it was perfect. A Camelbak bladder is also an option but personally I wouldn’t fill it all the way up as that just adds unnecessary weight in the desert heat. (This was meant ONLY if all stations are functioning, you should ask the ranger if they are all on to be sure. If you are worried then keep your Camelbak bladder completely full!)

The Desert heat is not forgiving if you are dehydrated

The Desert trail had no end

 

Dress Appropriately

I know that desert heat may be making you lean towards some skimpy shorts and a tank but don’t forget those heat rays will cause an epic burn if you don’t watch out. I personally wore yoga Capri’s with a light workout tank with a cotton jacket. It came in handy for that early morning hike when it was chilly and it felt great to soak it in water to cover up my burning shoulders.

Vanessa all bundled up in the early morning

Vanessa all bundled up in the early morning

 

Bring Snacks

If the world was in an apocalypse you would want to join my friend Vanessa and I as we are chronic snack over packers. Anytime we go on a hike you would think we were hiking Everest. However when hiking back up the Canyon in the heat of the day you will find yourself slowly dwindling and will be happy you packed some energy boosters. Suggestions for snacks are:

  • Peanut Butter Sandwich
  • Granola Bars
  • Almonds
  • Trail Mix

It’s great to have variety so you don’t get sick of eating the same thing when your body really needs the fuel.

Grand Canyon

Pack Sunscreen

Sunscreen and I are always at odds since I’m not convinced those nasty chemicals don’t always do harm while doing some good. However when it comes to the desert sun rays and my vampire translucent skin, I’ll take the chemicals until I can come up with a better solution. The last thing you want in the middle of your hike back to the top of that canyon is to start feeling an epic sunburn coming on. Not only do sunburns hurt but they can easily make you sun sick. So pack that SPF 100 and get to moving!

Grand Canyon Desert Sun

Bring a Hat

Sunglasses are great but I promise you nothing will save you from those rays beating down on you quite like a hat. Lucky for me my friend comes dually prepared and had an extra hat for me to wear. I have no idea how I would have survived if she wasn’t so generous! Also maybe don’t wear white in the Grand Canyon, the red dirt will NEVER come out. That goes for your clothes too! My shirt still has a tinge of red!

 

Start Early

The best thing you can do when going on a long hike in the Grand Canyon is to start as early as you can bear. We got to the Canyon around 7am and it made the hike down much more endurable. It also meant we were hiking up around noon so my suggestion is to start as early as 5am.

The Grand Canyon at Sunrise

The Grand Canyon at Sunrise

 

Go at your own pace

Hiking down is quite a breeze and once you get to the cliff you really feel accomplished and on top of the world. However that hike back up can really take a toll on you. It’s about 4000 ft back up and you definitely can feel it. If you are going with a partner my best advice is to go at your own pace. Vanessa is a fitness freak and was able to go much faster than I was so she sped to the top. Instead of trying to keep up with her I went at my own speed taking breaks when needed (which was every 100 feet or so at some points).

It’s ok to go slow, it’s better than getting sick!

 

Vanessa ahead of the curve on the downhill and uphill battle

Vanessa ahead of the curve on the downhill and uphill battle

Take tons of pictures

Trust me when I say “You’ll want your camera for this one”. The Canyon was so breathtaking at the bottom of the trail above the red river. We could have stayed there for hours taking pictures. Take your time and take pictures, you earned it!

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For more information on the Bright Angel Trail check out the link below

http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/Bright_Angel_Trail.pdf

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