The Grand Canyon

We did our best to do as much research as possible so that our hike would be both enjoyable and efficient. We trained with our rucks, and had them packed with exactly what we would be bringing with us so that there wouldn’t be any surprises. All said and done, each of our packs weighed about 70lbs. The smiles and cheeky comments when people saw the way we were dressed, as well as how big our packs were on the way up and down made something perfectly clear; we looked fucking spectacular. 



In all seriousness, everyone that we passed had about half the weight and seemed to fly up and down the canyon, while we trudged along at a pace that got us down to the Colorado River in about 9 hours, and 8.5 hours on the way up. There was a certain pride in completing the hike with such a weight, that obviously others viewed as bullheadedness or inexperience. I'll admit to being bullheaded, but doing an inventory of what I brought, I think the difference in weight came down to military gear vs ultralight gear. All that Cordura added up!

The thing is, we all enjoyed doing it with as much weight as we did. It was certainly difficult, but a secondary bonus is that our slower pace allowed us more time to enjoy the views rather than speeding down and then hanging out in the cantina. It’s also become somewhat of a benchmark for us that can be use to put things into perspective. When presented with a difficult tasking we now know what we’re capable of. I’ve caught myself thinking “Ya this is going to suck, but it’s not anywhere close to being as hard as the Grand Canyon with 70lbs. This should be a cakewalk.”


Switchbacks are put in place so you don't need to climb or descend at a steep angle.  
Footwear
I wore Salomon Comet 3D Gore-Tex boots for this adventure as they had served me well in the past. I’ve had them for over a year and have never even come close to developing a hot spot, never mind a blister. What I didn’t anticipate though was that after we were about half way into the canyon my feet started swelling ever so slightly. Couple that with walking downhill all day, my toes started to bang the toe box a bit. Unfortunately for me that meant that my big toes on both feet were pretty tender by the time I got to the bottom. I noticed descending stairs sideways to protect my toes from impact, as well I was using my trekking poles to lessen the impact helped, but by then it was too late. My nails turned black, and five months later, I’m just waiting for them to grow out. 

Solution: Make sure that your boots/shoes have enough room in the toe box, and anticipate your feet will get a little bigger. I know some people that hike with anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling in the hands and feet. If that’s something you’re into, definitely experiment during training before a big hike just to make sure it works for you. 
We were warned there might be ice and snow, but this was pretty much all of it. Definitely didn't need the crampons in the end. 
Pack Weight
When we contacted the park rangers before the trip, we were warned that temperatures could fall to -20°C and to bring crampons. We spent the night before camping at the rim and it certainly got chilly, but never below freezing. There was a bit of snow for a few steps, but beyond that it was dry and warm. It’s definitely worth showing up ready for anything because it’d be a shame to have to turn around because you weren’t prepared. Worse yet, it’d be a tragedy to get hurt down there because you didn’t have enough gear. 

There were three of us in total, in my opinion we all made one big mistake. And this is a hard one for geardos, but we had too much redundancy. We all had cool shelter systems, stoves, water filtratioin, and supplies that we wanted to bring and test out, but if we really wanted to cut down on weight, we should have consolidated our gear and split it up between all of our packs. It’s hard for me to only bring one of something because we all know the two is one, one is none mantra. I’ve certainly had stoves break during trips and relied on my buddy’s stuff. Realistically, there is a cantina at the bottom, so the capability of making hot food wasn’t even really a requisite. Trail mix, fruit and some energy bars would have been enough.

Solution: It only takes half a day to get down and half a day to get out, so you don’t really need to plan this like a camping trip if you don’t want to. We did though, but I think that’s because we’re masochists that always enjoy a good challenge. 

Two of us used the Mystery Ranch 6500. Certainly not the ultralight option, but tough as nails. 
Water
We took the South Kaibab Trail down and up which unfortunately has no provisions for water. There is water at the Bright Angel Campground, but the taste of the water is heavily chlorinated. Plus we were warned that sometimes the pipes freeze and there is no water at the bottom. I personally carried 11 litres of water (10 kg or 22.05 lbs.) 10 of it in my MSR Dromedary, and 1L in my canteen. Running out of water during such a long hike was not an option. I wanted to stay hydrated throughout the hike, and I needed water for my dehydrated meals. As well, I wanted to have water for my buddies should they run out, which happened on the way up! 

It wasn’t an easy decision knowing that almost 1/3 of your pack weight is water, but I’m a worrier. The temperature in January was very pleasant and didn’t end up sweating very much during the hike. On the way down, I drank only 1L of water, and on the way up I only drank 1.5L because it was a little warmer. Notice that I said warm and not hot though. If it had been summer time, I would have probably tripled my water consumption. 

Solution: Going with a food option that doesn’t require me to bring water would have been a better option and would have probably gotten away with bringing much less. 


Mindset
On the way down tried our best to get to the Colorado River before it got dark. When we realized that wasn’t going to happen, we pulled our headlamps out and carried on as the sun started to disappear. By the time we got to the bridge, my toes were bothering me and I was admittedly in a pretty grumpy mood. It felt like the bridge was a mile wide, and I cursed every step. When we got to our site, I watched my buddy setting his tarp up with one corner over a cactus. He tried in vain to make adjustments so that it’d work, and I saw his will to "get it over with" was stronger than wanting to start from scratch. I stepped in and together we set it up right. What went wrong? Endurance wise, we could have gone further, but I think the mistake we made is that we didn’t stop to eat. 

Solution: Make sure you get an honest amount of kilometres with weight under your belt before you step into the canyon. Also, if you haven’t done anything like this before, go with a buddy or two. That way you can keep an eye on each other, and through training you’ll recognize what your friends look like when they're tired. I’ve been told I’m getting stumbly and low on sugar a number of times before I noticed it myself. We saw a number of people literally tripping up the trail completely smoked. If you trip and fall, you’re dead. There aren’t any ropes or fences to keep you from tumbling into the canyon. Learning from our experience the night before, we made a plan to stop for lunch so we could refuel. We found a nice plateau and had one of the best views in the canyon. The decision to take it easy on the way up made for an noticeable improvement in morale as well as energy levels. So don’t rush it! You might only get the opportunity to do this once, so you might as well enjoy the sights and sounds!

The first time you see the river, is when you realize you're only half way down.
Conclusion
There were certainly some things I could have done differently, but looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Any negative events are now learning experiences that won’t be repeated. With every trip we go on, we become more efficient. The positives of this trip MASSIVELY outweigh the negatives. I’m glad we chose to go in January as the temperature was perfect. I’ve heard hiking the canyon in the summer referred to as a death march because of the heat.

The wildlife was spectacular too! At one point we saw a heard of Big Horn Sheep running around just south of Skeleton Point. And at the bottom, were the most tame deer I’ve ever seen in my life. They are so used to humans, you could literally walk up to them and touch them if you wanted. 

One of my favourite memories happened before we had even stepped off. We were on the shuttle heading towards the trail, and I saw a glimpse of the canyon through the trees. It blew me away. There aren’t any photos or videos that can do it justice. And that was just my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. There were multiple times on the way down and up that we just stopped to enjoy how magnificent the views were. I’m not sure how to convey how happy we were without sounding cheesy, so I suggest that you just go and see it yourself. If you follow this blog, I just don’t see how you could not be amazed by this place.



7/23/15 - Because a few people have asked, this is the list of things I brought with me into the canyon
Packing List
Mystery Ranch 6500 Pack
MSR Mutha Hubba Tent
Pegs
Tarp
Down Sleeping Bag
Goretex Bivy Bag
Thermarest Sleeping Pad
PCU level 6 Hardshell top and bottom
First Aid Kit
Headlamp
Hand warmers
Mechanix Gloves
Gaiters
8 dehydrated meals
Gloves
Hat
Spork
Batteries
10L dromedary
Solar flashlight
Crampons
Trekking Poles

Probably one of the most unique views my tent has ever seen. 
This is probably the closest I've ever been able to walk up to a deer. We saw dozens of them just as tame as these near our campsite. 

About 3/4 of the way down we were treated to a number of Big Horn Sheep going for a walk. 

It's hard to capture how massive and impressive this place is with a camera. 





5 comments:

  1. 70 lbs of gear is definitely a lot! Even that much water is a lot too. But as you say, it's all a learning experience. Glad you picked up a few things from the trip, but most of all that you had fun and enjoyed it.

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    Replies
    1. We definitely enjoyed ourselves. What an experience it was! Could have gotten away with less gear for sure, but water was the one thing that really scared the crap out of me. The fact that there was no running water except for the top and the bottom was something I'm not used to. Usually when I'm out hiking there are lakes or snow that are usually pretty close. I suppose we could have taken half the amount, but if the taps had been frozen, we would have been in trouble.

      What would you recommend for going lighter?

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  2. Well, you mentioned a few already: Not needing to take a stove / hot food, as the cold food would have sufficed. Another food aspect you hit on, which is to eat food that doesn't require water for preparation. And then there's the splitting up of gear so there's not so much redundancy. I understand the water issue - if there's no water along the way, and the pipes could be frozen at the only resupply point - yeah, that makes sense to have it.

    I don't know what your gear list was, so I can't point to specific things. I'm also no expert by any means - I'm pretty new to backpacking myself. I'm just trying to find / acquire lighter things so I can more easily backpack longer distances myself. My knee tends to bother me (taking Aleve before hiking helps), so if I can reduce weight on it, that helps. I'm no "gram-counter" at this point, but I do look at the ounces at least. I've shaved a few pounds off my "base gear" pack weight so far by going with a lighter tent and down sleeping bag (I know, pricey! I saved for them).

    I just know there's no way I'd could realistically carry that much for that kind of distance. 70 lbs would be over 40% of my body weight! (I'm a slender dude.)

    In any case, you had fun, and it was a great experience. At the end of it all, that's what matters.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your response! I've updated my post with my packing list. There were a few things that I could have done without, but overall, I don't think it was an outrageous list. Perhaps it's just that the things I own aren't necessarily the lightest things.

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