Forum Index » General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion » Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid


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Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/16/2013 10:03:59 MDT Print View

So I will be going to the Grand Canyon South Rim in August of this year and I am thinking about hiking to the river and back in one day. And my question is IS THIS STUPID.

My plan is to be on the trail at about 4 am, hit Phantom ranch by 6:00am and start hiking up with a goal of finishing before 10am. I haven't decided which trails to do yet. I will be at Mather campground so will have to run to the nearest trail head in the morning. I am thinking South Kaibab down. Not sure which trail up, I am still debating between South Kaibab because it is shorter (even though that means steaper) will allow me to get out of the canyon about 1/2 hr earlier vs Bright Angel because it has water stops along the way.

I am in pretty good shape right now and will be going on training hikes that will consist of hikes with similar sustained uphills and downhills. Before I attempt the hike I would have completed a similar distance up and down within the six hour time frame.

My fear is that I don't have experience hiking in desert heat and will be going solo. So is the above a dangerous idea or by starting early, having a turn around time of 6am, and being well trained can a rim to river to rim hike be done safely in August?

M W
(rcmike) - MLife

Locale: California
Planning on 04/16/2013 10:23:01 MDT Print View

It would be stupid if you weren't prepared. What do you plan on carrying with you? What is your alternate plan if your primary plan does not work out? What is your emergency plan?

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/16/2013 10:25:41 MDT Print View

in my opinion, yes its sort of stupid, especially if you have no heat training.
but if you're in great shape, are smart and conservative, it can be done.

Do not under estimate the difficulty of hiking back up to the South Rim.
it is challenging even when not hot.

are you hiking or running ?

Bright Angel Trail from South Rim to Phantom takes about 2hrs 20min to 2hrs 40min running.

Bright Angel back up from Phantom to the South Rim will take 4.5- 5 hrs for someone in really good shape and not dieing of heat exhaustion.

if you start at 3 am you "may" pull it off.

while Bright Angel is longer, the half way spot has water and shade trees.

if you plan to hike (rather than run) think 8-9 hr round trip, not 6 hrs. if you do it faster great, but at least your plan will be based on a conservative estimate and you will be less likely to get into trouble.

also - altitude
South Rim is roughly 7,000ft. that's not real high unless you live much lower.
if you live low, this will be a major factor when hiking back up.

Edited by asandh on 04/16/2013 11:31:40 MDT.

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Re: Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/16/2013 11:35:16 MDT Print View

My current idea is to Run down, on the way back up is to hike the steep sections at about a 2 mile per hour pace. Over this grade and duration I should be able to maintain that pace barring temperature effects.

Altitude is not a factor as I live at 3600 or so and my training hike / runs will peak at 7500ft to 10,000ft mountains. Before I decide to do the hike I will need to have successfully completed 3 laps of my 5 mile (round trip) 2100 feet elevation gain hike in the 6 hour window. If I am not in good enough shape to do that then I will reasses by goals and pick an earlier turn around point. Perhaps Indian Gardens or Tip Off point depending on which trail I take.

As for an emergency plan my wife will be with me camping but not on the hiking so having a 12 noon call the ranger time if havent returned to the rim. She will have my route which I won't deviate from. Gear will be thin white cotton shirt, large brimmed sun hat, long white convertable pants (that are surprisingly comfortable to run in). For fluids, I am planning on 6 liters of water capacity, plus gatorade powder, plus gels. I am also debating on a chrome golite umbrella for the trip back up to provide shade. I am not sure if it is worth the weight.

From the comments so far it seems like turning around earlier would be a good idea.

Charles G.
(Rincon) - M

Locale: Desert Southwest
Return via the Bright Angel trail on 04/16/2013 12:34:03 MDT Print View

If you decide to do this then I strongly recommend that you return on the Bright Angel trail. There is water at Indian Gardens, and at two other locations about half way and 3/4 of the way up from IG. Also the BA trail is much shadier than is the S. Kaibab trail. You could cut back on the water you need to carry and would be out of the sun much more on this route. I'm going to be going up the BA in about two weeks and could give you a better water report when I get back. PM me if interested.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
My two cents on 04/16/2013 13:33:37 MDT Print View

I joined Art last April for the R2R2R run. I also did the rim to river back to south rim back when I was younger (and dumber) in September.
1) I would start earlier. I started at 10am on the rim to river to rim trip, way too late, but I was young and didn't know any better.
2) if you haven't run significant downhills then I would not run down. I ran down on the R2R2R and it trashed my quads. And I had done the distance and elevation gain/loss in previous training runs. The problem is that the all the loss is in one shot.
3) if you are in reasonable shape this is not an overly tough or stupid trip. Have fun,

Edited by gg-man on 04/16/2013 13:34:19 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/16/2013 13:48:07 MDT Print View

Have you looked at the average temperatures? Highs on the rims around 80F. And in the canyon 110F average; lows 74F.

The six hour time frame is not difficult going up or down. If you are in good shape it is probably not that difficult -- assuming the temperatures don't wipe you out. You should be able to easily do it in 4 hours if in good shape and the downhill didn't beat you up. So leave the bottom at 6am and hit the rim around 10am would not be hard.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Maybe not "stupid" but... on 04/16/2013 15:30:25 MDT Print View

Not sure it would be fun... but it's your hike.

It takes me about 3 hours to hike down SK with a 20+lb pack. I think 2 hours at a good clip would be a reasonable goal. Unless you're used to trail-running in the dark, I would think twice about running down before sunrise. (I just broke my ankle going down Tanner 2 weeks ago... trust me, it doesn't take much.)

It takes me 5-1/2 hours to hike out Bright Angel with a pack. My teenage son can do it in 5 easily. I think rangers regularly do it in 3... in sandals. In good shape, with a mission, 4 hours seems reasonable. I think the shade and water on BA makes it a much better choice than SK.

>> As for an emergency plan my wife will be with me camping but not on the hiking so having a 12 noon call the ranger time if havent returned to the rim. <<

FWIW, I think this is a borderline irresponsible emergency plan. If it's an unusually hot day, you should cancel your plans before you start. If you're not feeling great at the bottom, take a break and soak in BA creek. At Phantom Ranch, the Canteen has A/C. At Indian Garden, there are rangers and a full infirmary if you're not doing well. (They can even run an IV there.) Along with potable water, there are emergency phones at 1-1/2 and 3 mile resthouses.

You won't be alone on the corridor trails, even in August.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/16/2013 17:37:46 MDT Print View

Get some good life and medical insurance.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/16/2013 18:28:49 MDT Print View

Interesting responses in this thread. As usual, you're going to receive feedback spanning the gamut of opinions. None of us know what you're capable of- it sounds like you're not even sure what you're capable of. That's the beauty of self supported experiences outdoors right? To find out?

To your question specifically:

"Can a rim to river hike be done safely in August?" "Is the above a dangerous idea?"

Is there ever really a "safe" time to do a rim to river hike? The National Park Service sure doesn't believe there is. Hell, some folks run Rim to Rim to Rim solo in a single evening during the middle of summer by headlamp! Does that sound STUPID? Some would say it's suicidal. It's all relative, really.

I say go for it.


Yes there is a certain, immeasurable amount of "danger". August heat and your body's ability to cope with it is really the major variable in your situation, everything else is a constant (distance, elevation, season) . There's nothing you can do about the abrupt elevation profile of the trail, but condition yourself physically to do the hike in the time frame you've allowed yourself and hope for the best, that all things within your influence, go according to plan. You might suffer debilitating cramps and be reduced to a 6 hr crawl on the ascent back to the S. Rim. Who knows? Be open to digging deeper inside yourself than you may have ever had to go in the past.

Edited by Eugeneius on 04/16/2013 18:29:41 MDT.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/16/2013 18:58:58 MDT Print View

another thing to consider is the endless number of large wooden "mule" steps.
I am very experienced at downhill running, but those steps were harder on the body than simple downhill running on a trail.
and
when you come back up they are a bit of a pain also (especially after a wet snowstorm when a giant puddle waits at the top of each one, but you won't have that problem).

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/16/2013 19:08:30 MDT Print View

Having walked rim-to-rim in one day in August I can tell you it's not easy. I can't tell you if you can do it safely, since I don't know you. But here's my advice:
Definitely go up the Bright Angel. More water, more shade.
Do not run down. Take your time. My only problem walking across was blisters that I got by walking too fast on the downhill in shoes that had up until then been fine for lots of hiking.
Drink lots and eat salty stuff. Worked for me.
If you have the time,consider a lazy day at the bottom and a late afternoon start back up,finishing by headlamp in the cool of the evening. I finished mid-afternoon and it was eff'in hot.
Take your time on the way up.
Drink lots. Before, during and after. Before is maybe the most important. If you start out thoroughly hydrated you'll be ahead of the game.

Do some seriously hot weather hiking before you try this.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
The official word! on 04/16/2013 20:08:15 MDT Print View

Warning
Signs, signs, everywhere are signs.........

One final thought....... You have several months, train for it and you will do fine.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign on 04/16/2013 21:15:44 MDT Print View

Here is a sign on a trail I hike a lot, even in summer.

But since someone stole the sign, I no longer have to worry about the danger. Yo-yoing this trail is much more difficult than doing a Grand Canyon hike. Both are not difficult for the prepared. Prepare, and go forth!!


You will die sign

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Thanks for the advice on 04/16/2013 22:17:47 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the tips. I will definately take the bright angel trail back up.

Fitness wise I am not worried. By the end of the last few summers I have been in good enough shape to do this so it is just a matter of putting in the hours to get out of my winter hibernation.

My main concerns are the comitting nature of the hike. Where going down is easy but you have to escape. My mountain hikes are just the oppisite. And the second concern is how my body will react to the heat. It is rare that at elevation we get hikes at over 90C.

I like the idea of making sure I leave myself the option of resting and waiting out the heat at Indian Gardens if I am behind time wise or fatigued and then finishing the hike from 5pm onward. And I will definately consider if the weather is hotter than the average highs and scrub or scale down the trip as neccessary.

Roger Dodger
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: Wess Siide
Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/18/2013 11:43:25 MDT Print View

My suggestion: wake up at 3am, start descent into the canyon around 4am.

but 8am you will be in a clay oven with no quick escape.

the heat radiates and the breeze is blocked, in some spots it is 130F because of the compounding heat effect.

I did that trip in August years ago due to a friend's school schedule restriction. I DID NOT ENJOY IT. bright angel trail. almost 10 yrs ago, the organized mule rides were heavily using the trails. Mules pee and poo. A LOT. the extreme heat makes the excessive pee puddles and mule poo droppings extra unpleasant.

I am told that the mule rides have been reduced... somewhat.

it's not stupid. you will not die if you have done your research. but it was disgusting.

My motivation was to get the f* outta there, rather than enjoy the moment.

suggestion: bring a wide brim hat and small towel, wet both of them and wet your shirt at every opportunity, to keep your body temp from overheating.

yea dont worry about the water weight on your shirt. it will evaporate. fast.

Edited by RogerDodger on 04/18/2013 11:45:19 MDT.

Nathan Watts
(7sport) - MLife
Re: Grand Canyon -- Rim to River to Rim in August Is this Stupid on 04/21/2013 08:47:16 MDT Print View

I think it's a fine plan. I did a rim to river and back from the North Rim with some side trail exploration to waterfalls last summer. Left in the cold dark morning hours and made great time on the way down. Was over 100 degrees before 10am at the river when turning around. Just took my time heading back up with plenty of recreational water stops. North rim is quite a bit longer but offers more natural water access from the trail.

HElinTexas C
(Helintexas) - MLife
Grand Canyon on 04/21/2013 19:29:38 MDT Print View

Most information you will need is already been mentioned. Just wanted to add a bit of caution. Be very careful in the heat. I day hike in Florida all the time. Last year, I knew I was going to the Grand Canyon in early October. So I did hiking to prepare. I hiked during the hottest part of the day in Florida in August and September every chance I got, so I would be prepared.

I did a 4 day hike down To the Colorado river ...did 2 days of hiking in the canyon and then back up. I didn't have any problems. However, I came across a few people who did.

The first person was someone who was extremely fit and was used to doing a lot of hiking in mountainous regions. Her and her partner and guide were moving at a very good clip downward. They passed me. I caught up with them while they were doing lunch. I passed after a brief chat. Soon they passed me again. About an hour later, I caught up with them again, the female hiker had nearly passed out and was seated while the others were assisting her. They assured me all was okay. They were about 1 mile from the river. Despite the fact that they were in incredible shape and were very accustomed to hiking steep trails they had issues because of the heat.

2 days later I was going back past the intersection of Tonto and Hermits trail. I came across a group of guys who had just descended from the top. They were struggling hard. Again, very good shape and used to hiking in the mountains.....but the heat had did a number on them. (Plus they were carrying big packs and had hiked thru the hottest part of the day.) Luckily, they were 30 minutes from a oasis where they could cool down and get water.

So, please keep in mind that dealing with the heat is a much bigger factor than many realize in the canyon. August is one of the hottest months. ( temps in The canyon can get over 110 degrees) I was there in October...it was much cooler and I still saw people having problems with the heat. I didn't, but only because I am used to hiking in 95 + degree weather and I am a big believer that when it starts to get really hot...one needs to be like the animals and slow the pace down.

When you get to lower parts of the canyon between 11 -4 pm.....it not only is just hot air and the sun you are dealing with....the ground and the rock walls have been baking in the heat all day....and they start releasing that heat. You can be in the shade and still feel the heat coming off those rocks. It is like an oven.

So...please be careful in the heat. Stay hydrated. Do more hiking in the early morning or evening. Be conscious of the effect of moving too fast when the tempature starts hitting those high numbers.

It was sobering to see those other hikers was having issues with the heat while I was in the canyon. It really hit me hard when I read the headlines of the paper 1 hour after exiting the canyon....a day hiker had collapsed and died while I was in the canyon. Granted, he was older. But still....one should not underestimate the power of extremely high tempatures.

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Grand Canyon on 04/23/2013 20:30:57 MDT Print View

I would prefer a 2 AM start. The trails are extremely easy to follow. Check the moon phase for your date. You can't start too soon.

If you luck out and get a cloudy, relatively cool day, the kaibab might be an option - it can be done in under two hours. But I would agree with others, the BA is a much safer alternative.

Final thought - You can do it if you are in shape and take care of yourself. But why? There is a lot to see and experience in the canyon that you will miss by treating as a raceway.

I have run rim to rim in well under a day and I have done many slower trips. The more leisurely trips were better.

Edited by hikermor on 04/23/2013 20:39:38 MDT.

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Why? on 04/23/2013 22:55:55 MDT Print View

Thanks again for all the advice. As to the why do it in a day the main reason is timing. I am doing this hike on a car camping family vacation with my wife and kids so I dont really think it is fair to them to go for multiple days and the second reason is that I enjoy the suffering of pushing yourself.