Solo hike at the Grand Canyon - crazy?

1:48 p.m. on March 26, 2010 (EDT)
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I have a planned solo trip to the Grand Canyon in late April. Assuming I can get a last minute spot at Phantom Ranch, I would like to hike down South Kaibab, stay overnight, then hike up Bright Angel. I'm a fit 30 year old female, but I've only done some camping and a few easy dayhikes. Is attempting a rim to river hike alone suicidal?

I feel like I'm preparing myself well for the trip - getting in shape, getting proper gear, reading up on what to expect, etc. And I'm encouraged by stories of people who have made this trip. But I've also read about those who weren't as lucky...

I considered joining a guided tour but found it too expensive. Also, I would rather stay at Phantom Ranch than at a campground, mostly because I don't want to carry the gear and duffel service costs more than accommodations at the Ranch.

I would appreciate any advice, especially those who have Grand Canyon experience. Thanks!

6:25 p.m. on March 26, 2010 (EDT)
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Welcome to trail space.

I have never been to the GCNP but research and planning go a long way in any trip. It sounds like you are on the right track the there. I know there are quite a few on here that have been there and done hikes there. I'm sure they will chime in with a lot of answers for you. For now keep up the research and planning!

6:28 p.m. on March 26, 2010 (EDT)
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I spent twenty years hiking the Grand Canyon in the Fall, Winter and Springs from 1983 to 2003. I have never stayed at Phantom Ranch but have been in all other campgrounds and all over the backcountry. Solo hiking is the way I went 99% of the time. The backcountry of the GC is very nice. But if you have never hiked the canyon before doing what you are planning is best. The hardest part of hiking the canyon is hiking out, especially from the bottom to the rim. Try to do it over two days, hiking out the Bright Angel Trail and staying at Indian Gardens halfway out and making the rim the second day.

Hiking it alone isnt bad because if you are on the major trails like the South Kaibab and the Bright Angel, you may be hiking alone but you won't be alone cause those two trails are the most heavily hiked trails in the park. So if you get into trouble with heat exhaustion, leg cramps or water shortage there will be plenty others to help you. Plus there are 3 places between the river and the rim to rest.

I have to go right now but will be happy to answer and questions you want to ask later if you have them. I will look back here later and see.


11:55 a.m. on March 27, 2010 (EDT)
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Thank you both! My main worry was that if something unexpected happens, there would be no one to assist me. But I suppose Gary is correct - hiking alone on either trail isn't really alone because of all the foot traffic.

I am considering renting a SPOT tracker - would you recommend it? I am assuming my cellphone is useless even on the rim (AT&T) so I'd like some way to let friends and family know that I'm ok.

12:46 p.m. on March 27, 2010 (EDT)
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As Gary says, hiking into the Canyon is easy enough. Your main problem will be dodging all the foot and mule traffic. Hiking out is another story. The distance is not too bad (abt 10 miles each way by Bright Angel Trail), but the climb is, especially if you do it in summer. People do dayhikes Rim to River to Rim all the time, usually starting at midnight so they can at least start the hike out while it is still a bit cool. However, way too many people are not in as good shape or experienced enough at long dayhikes with lots of climb (abt 2500 ft at the River to just under 7000 at the South Rim) as they think and have to get hauled out by mule (at a horrendous cost).

Considering the amount of foot and mule traffic and assuming you stay on trail, I do not think you need a SPOT or any PLB.

What are you doing for training? I would hope that your training includes a lot of hill hiking. If you were in the SFBay Area or the LA area, you could do a lot of hikes up the hills, getting in 2000-3000 ft of gain and 5-10 miles round trip on a 3-4 day a week basis. Same thing in Colorado along the Front Range, but with the advantage of starting at 5-6000 ft and going up to 7-8000. Practice with a light pack first, then work up to a full load.

As Gary says, you should probably plan on doing a 3-day total - South Rim to Phantom Ranch on Day 1, Phantom Ranch to Indian Garden Day 2, and out on Day 3, unless you are in very good shape and can do 10 miles and 5000 feet in a day (remembering that the last few miles will be above 5000 ft).

12:58 p.m. on March 27, 2010 (EDT)
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Not if you are going to be hiking on trail all the time will you need a SPOT tracker. There will be plenty of people hiking with you going both up and down the trails. Just be sure if you are not carrying a pack with your gear, to carry at least two litre/quarts of water with you. And plenty of snack foods to tide you over for the hikes down and up. You can buy supplies on the South Rim at the General Store in the GC Village and at Phantom Ranch's lil place where you will eat meals while there.

Going down the South Kaibab there will be no water sources untill you reach the opposite side of the Colorado at Bright Angel Camp and Phantom Ranch., about 9 miles oneway, all down hill. Going up the Bright Angel there will be the first place to get purfied water at Indian Gardens about 5 miles from PR and BA Camp. If you have a water purifier you can filter the Colorado River which you will come near after the first two miles from crossing the Silver Bridge and from Pipe Creek before the first main switchbacks going up thru the Tapeats Formation. After Indian Gardens there will be fresh water at 2 so called Rest houses every 1.5 miles to the rim. These are small stone and log building where everyone stops to take a breather and refill their water bottles.

Be sure to buy and mail postcards from Phantom Ranch. They will become postmarked saying "delivered my Mule from the bottom of the Grand Canyon". One of the last places in America that mail is taken by the closest thing to the Pony Express, tho the Mules dont go that fast.

The elevation change from the top to the bottom is over 5,000 feet. Going down is easy, too easy. many people every year go for a dayhike and find themselves at the bottom thinking it was so easy they wanted to see the Colorado upclose. But then without reservations for Phantom or permits to camp they have to hike back up which is not so easy. By the time you make the rim you will feel like you have walked much father than the actual distance.

Best way to get in shape for the canyons hike out is to find a tall building near home and walk up the stairs to the top a few times a day before you get to the canyon.

Also try to start hiking down as early as possible because even in April it could be quite hot by early morning once you get about halfway down into the canyon. The sun reflecting off the rock and stone feels warmer than the sun by itself. Also try to start early hiking out for the same reason if not more because walking out will be hard enough with out the sun beating down on you. When you leave the rim the sunrise temp may be about 40 degrees and for every 1000 feet dropped into the canyon the temp will rise 10 degree's. So at the river the temp in mid April could be about 90. Generally the way to guess the temp at the bottom is to look and see what the temp in Pheonix is on the same day, because both the city and the Colorado are about the same elevation and both are in a Desert climate. Drink before you are thirsty as you will loose 1 quart of water an hour hiking out in the sun.

In midwinter I have left the rim in full winter dress and stopped a few times to take off layers, getting to the bottom in light pants and a Tshirt. And then doing the opposite on the way out. Mid-summer temps at the bottom are about 120 degrees in the shade. while the rim will be around 60-70 degrees.

My average time to hike out, after hiking the canyon many many times was about 5 hours to walk from the Colorado to the South Rim, but you can probably expect to take nearly all morning to hike out. Hiking down not counting breaks and sightseeing is about 2-4 hours. Wear good hiking shoes that are in top shape. Your shoes will take a pounding as the layers of sandstone and rock wear into them. The trails are mostly beaten into fine powdery silt which will spurt out from your steps like puffs of smoke. And change the color of your shoes many times, thru many layers of sediment dust.

You will be walking down into about 250,000 to 2.2 Billion years of evolution. There are dinosaur tracks, ancient fossilised plant life and many live breathing animals you will encounter in the canyon. Watch for deer, squirrels,chipmonks,spotted skunks,turkeys,ringtailed cats,centipedes,rattlesnakes,ravens and other birds,big horn sheep, and hundreds of hot weary tourists hiking there way out. Dont worry about the poisonous varietys of things. Most you may never see, the snakes and things are rarely seen. But they are there. The GC rattler is pink.

The south rim is covered in Ponderosa Pines and other semi-desert plants. The canyon will only have big plant life around yearround water holes and the bottom is scattered with Cottonwoods and Sycamores along the creekbeds and campgrounds.

Man (and woman) has lived in the canyon about 4500 years. There is a small ruin down near the boatbeach on the north side of the river and at Tusayon on the south rim east of the GC village. And hundreds of other signs of humans in the canyon.

I know you will enjoy yourself!

5:02 p.m. on March 27, 2010 (EDT)
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Hello, Bill! Thank you for the input. I live in NYC so most of my training takes place in the gym. I do have a few NY area day hikes planned in the next few weeks so hopefully that will help.

I grew up in Southeast Asia so I'm accustomed to 90++ degree weather, and unfortunately I know first hand what heat exhaustion feels like. But then again, the GC is desert climate so I know it'll be very different. I'm bringing a 3L Camelbak plus another liter of water, Gatorade and food.

My initial plan going down was to start before sunrise but because I have to wait for the Phantom Ranch wait list, I may not get to the trailhead until 7:30 or later. I hope this is early enough to make it to the river before the midday heat sets in.

Thanks for the suggestion re Indian Gardens. It does sound like it would make the hike up much easier.

11:44 p.m. on March 27, 2010 (EDT)
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I don't think a solo rim to river to rim trip is too ambitious if you are in good shape, and especially if you can get a bed at Phantom Ranch. (also try to get dinner and breakfast there too).

Training-wise, aside from good aerobic conditioning, add step downs as a strength training exercise. Work up to ~10" steps, and include your pack + weight you'll be carrying (or an equivalent weight barbell). The downhill can be brutal if you haven't trained for it, especially so the first time...7 miles and 5000ft of downhill will be a new experience.

But assuming you've trained well (most of my training is in the gym and I thoroughly enjoy my grand canyon hikes) one day down and the next day out will be challenging but nonetheless rewarding experience. There is nothing like Grand Canyon.

A nice option, if you have the time, is to hike to the Phantom Ranch and stay there 2 nights. On your layover day take the easy dayhike out and back to Ribbon Falls. The layover day with the easy dayhike ensures a better recovery from the downhill and makes the hike up the Bright Angel trail more enjoyable.

12:53 a.m. on March 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks for advice, Steve. I do hope I get to stay 2 nights. It would be a shame to make it all the way down there and not have time to enjoy the sights!

12:10 p.m. on March 29, 2010 (EDT)
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You know, a lot of times a newbie comes up with a plan and many of us here kind of mumble and shuffle around a little and more or less gently try to discourage them. That's not happening this time, and I have to agree -- it's a workable plan on a well-known and well-trod trail, by someone who is preparing for it. The kind of things that can and do go wrong, could happen to anyone, regardless of how well planned and prepared.

I just want to add -- or to emphasize, if someone else said it and I just missed it -- you are often not aware of how much water you are losing in arid air because you don't sweat the same as in humid air. Hydrate regularly whether you are aware of the need or not. If you start to feel thirsty, you have waited just a bit too long. Frequent sips from that Camelback are better than big slugs of water during a rest stop anyway. You use less water, or the same amount more efficiently.

Sounds like a great hike, islandgirl, and I hope you will share with us afterwards. Pix, too, please! Who ever saw too much of the Grand Canyon?

7:04 p.m. on March 29, 2010 (EDT)
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The biggest challenge you’ll have is getting a trail permit and Phantom Ranch slot at the last minute. Obtaining a permit the day of your hike requires standing in queue similar to tickets for a major concert. Plan on altering your objectives, possibly ending up on a much less frequently hiked trail. Some of the less popular trails are worlds apart, maintenance wise, compared to the main trails used by the mule concessions. It is not be a good idea to do one of these trails solo. Once we hiked Hermit’s Rest trail over the Memorial Day Holiday. Saw only two other groups in two days. We frequently encountered sections where rock slides completely took out portions of the trail. Other sections were so steep we were scree skiing down the trail. Even the OK portions of the trail were comparable to the most rugged of Sierra trails. One member of our group wasn’t adequately conditioned; on the way down he ended up turning and breaking his ankle between rocks on the trail, a mile from the Kaibab Plateau, necessitating a dry camp bivouac on extremely rugged terrain. The other members of the group hiked out the next day (full packs with nine days of food and no water!) to summon a heli extraction.

The canyon is tougher than the studs on this forum make it out to be. To get an idea of the exertion level, the canyon is about eighteen times the height of the stairs in the Empire State Building. Take a day off from your gym, and see how you fare trying that workout.

If you plan on hiking in the day light hours during the “warm” season, dryness and heat will be major major factors. (Yea the redundant adjective was on purpose.) I wouldn’t attempt the down hill with less than ½ gallon water, taking at least 1 gallon for the uphill return. You should carry even more, since you can’t rely on others to provide “spare” water when yours runs dry. Overheating is a problem. I didn’t find the standard wide brim hat to be effective for keeping cool. The best thing for me was one of those lawn chair sun parasols. It allowed the limited breeze to evaporate scalp sweat, and kept the sun off a greater portion of my body. As others mentioned, starting out before sun rise is another way to avoid the heat; use a bright head lamp, to make sure you won’t step on the occasional snake on the trail.

2:30 a.m. on March 30, 2010 (EDT)
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I understand Phantom Ranch is always fully booked and that getting a last minute slot is not guaranteed. If it does not work out, plan B is to do a day hike to Indian Gardens. Not nearly as exciting but at least I can say I was IN the Grand Canyon. I have reservations for my entire trip at Mather Campground so I will have a place to stay if the rim to river hike is not possible.

I have no intention of trying any other trail. I am concerned enough about hiking alone on South Kaibab and Bright Angel (which is why I started this thread), I wouldn't dare go solo on an unmaintained and less traveled trail. I would love to explore more of the canyon, but those adventures will have to wait - when I have more experience or at least when I'm traveling with other veteran hikers.

Rest assured, I am not taking this trip lightly. I have no qualms about backing out on the hike if I feel for any reason that I'm not ready.

Again, I appreciate all your advice!

Out of curiosity, for all you experienced hikers here: What was your first time at the Grand Canyon like?

7:19 a.m. on March 30, 2010 (EDT)
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I still have very fond / hilarious memories of my 1973 trip. I was a senior in high school, a decent athlete, and in pretty good shape. The guy I went with was a smoker and coach potato. He should have stayed on the rim. :-) Ended up adding some of his load to mine for fear he would die on the trail and I would have to roll him off to the side so the mules could pass by without stepping on him.

I was amazed at how big it really was. At least for me you can read about it and look at photos all day long, but until your boots on the ground it's just another beautiful place.


10:43 a.m. on March 30, 2010 (EDT)
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I like the suggestion of doing the Empire State building stairs.Gym workouts are very good for a base conditioning but nothing works for gain then gain itself.Running also helps a bunch,if your knees are ok.Living in the NW at near sea level and climbing peaks over 10,000ft for the last 35 years only the gain hikes really prepare me at a gut level.We here are lucky to have the Columbia River Gorge at our back door with many steep long trails to both enjoy and get our butts in shape.But stair climbing,not the gym type,or running will help you be ready for your trip.ymmv

7:54 p.m. on March 30, 2010 (EDT)
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...The canyon is tougher than the studs on this forum make it out to be. To get an idea of the exertion level, the canyon is about eighteen times the height of the stairs in the Empire State Building. Take a day off from your gym, and see how you fare trying that workout. ...

ummm, you should realize that the Old GreyBearded One has been a card-carrying "elderly" for quite a few years (official US Government certifications include a Medicare card and a Golden Age card, as well as Senior Passes for several of the local county park and Open Space Reserve systems). Plus I am within months of being required to start withdrawing a regular annual amount from my IRA. My biggest chunk of income is from Social Security (a big THANK YOU to all the still-working folks out there who are supporting me!).

Besides, I don't think I have ever been considered "studly".

The main secret to doing the Grand Canyon is, as my Tanzanian guide said all the way up and down Kilimanjaro, "Polepole!", which means "slowly, slowly". The tortoise wins the day.

8:24 p.m. on March 30, 2010 (EDT)
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Phantom Ranch dorm bed can often be had due to last minute cancellations, or just a single bed being available. Call regularly ask about +/-1 day and don't get discouraged if day after day they are booked. I've had pretty good luck with last minute arrangements.

12:18 a.m. on March 31, 2010 (EDT)
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Unfortunately the stairs at the Empire State Building are for emergency use only. The only exception is their annual Run Up competition. To help prepare for the elevation gain, I am joining a couple of group day hikes in the NYC/NJ area. We just need a break from all this rain!

2:15 a.m. on March 31, 2010 (EDT)
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High School stadium steps work well too.

12:32 a.m. on April 10, 2010 (EDT)
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April is still a fine time to play in the Canyon. River level will be warm but not at all bad if we have normal weather. South Kaibab is easy just steep and 6 miles of knee pounding. Wear knee sleeves and keep the boots adjusted. No water on this section so bring what you need plus a qt or 2 more. Eating a rabbit sucks when you are out of water. The 10 miles out is not that bad if you take a mountaineers pace. Just an easy cruise if you take it slow. Start early and enjoy a dinner on the rim. Just be very careful about the heat. Make sure that you check the weather and learn from it. I have come out at 103 degrees and it is not fun but it is completely survivable. Lots of water and electros. Kick your pace down to. There should be 3 water station on the Bright Angel. For sure at Indian Gardens and check with the rangers if the 1.5 and 3 miles systems are up and running. Take a filter as there may be a few seeps to use if you do run out. Make sure if the huts are not running to fillup enough for the 5 miles to the rim. Filter is purely emergency.

You will love this place. Just prepare but do not let it intimidate you. Enjoy.


5:31 p.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks Mingo!

All set for the trip, leaving in a few days. But already the Grand Canyon's thrown me a bit of a curve ball.. I've been prepping myself for hot weather, but the forecast is rain with a slight chance of snow! This'll be an interesting hike...

5:47 p.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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Rain could be in the canyon, snow might be just on the rim. Usually its about 20-40 degrees warmer and drier inside the canyon. Today its 76 in Sedona which is about the same elevation as the Tonto Platform about 2/3s the way down. The BA camp and Phantom Ranch could be about 50 degrees warmer than the rim on any given day.

12:43 a.m. on April 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Scheduled to leave for the Grand Canyon tomorrow morning. All my gear is packed. I played in a pickup game (basketball) this afternoon and blew out my left knee.

I can't even begin to tell you how devastated I am.

8:10 a.m. on April 19, 2010 (EDT)
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What a complete bummer, islandgirl.

Good luck with the knee.

11:25 a.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Well anyway, its a good thing to know that hiking the Grand Canyon is the opposite of hiking up in the mountains. You do the easy part first hiking down to the bottom. But being done first it is not always so much easier as your knees and hips have to take the steady pounding of going down sometimes steep trail plus they can be slippery with loose rocks and gravel. Then when you are down and have rested you have to hike back to the rim. Its almost 5000 feet from the Colorado River to the rim. If you can make the hike out split by stopping at Indian Gardens on the BA trail or in Cremation Canyon going up the South Kaibab trail. On either trail the first part is the steepest going up thru the Vishnu Shist and Tapeats Sandstone to the Tonto Platform. Then the routes level for about a mile then starts climbing again when it comes thru the Redwall.

The South Kaibab doesnt have any water stops along it, but the Bright Angel does. After leaving the campground or Phantom ranch on the opposite side of the river you can stop and filter water from the Colorado before heading up the trail. Then after 4 miles is Indian Gardens with water, then a mile and a half up the BA is the 3 mile rest house with water after April 15th, then another1.5 miles to the mile and a half resthouse and then out to the rim. After the 1.5 resthouse the trail is not as steep.

So many tourists every year start hiking down the BA or the SK just to get a feel for hiking the canyon, then because its so easy to hike down trail they go too far and often have lil or no water or snacks with them and end up way down the trail. I can't count how many times I have seen or met people who have done this and gotten heat exhaustion or sick while trying to hike back out.

I met a Japanese man once in the late afternoon who had hiked all the way to the river and had nothing but his camera, with no water or anything else. And he wanted to know how close he was was to Phantom Ranch? I asked him if he had a reservation for staying at PR and he said no, he was at the BA lodge on the rim. I told him he should turn around now because he had at least a 5 hour hike back to the rim and it was only 3 hours to sunset. But he went on towards PR. So many do this think the park service will put them up if they get there, or will send a helicopter in to take them out.

I hiked the Grand Canyon about 4-6 months of the fall/winter and springs from 1983 to 2003 and saw so many people get into trouble with hiking in too late or not being able to hike out and leave gear behind so they could try to hike out easier. Cottonwood campground on the North Kaibab Trail every winter would be piled in left behind gear after the ranger station there closed in October. And places like Hermit Camp,Boucher,Hance rapids,Tanner and even the Little Colorado camps.

I used to hike and camp in the winter because inner canyon temps would be very nice once down to the Tonto Platform when temps on the rim would be below freezing, the Tonto at Indian Gardens, Hermit and Tanner would be about 50 during the day. Down at the BA camp, Phantom and Cottonwood temps would be around 60 in the day time. Even Clear Creek would be very nice in December/January. While on the rim there would be snow drifts and around 0 temps.

12:52 p.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Sorry to hear about your knee.

A friend in Minnesota spent 8 months training for an event and came down with the flu the day before it started.

2:11 p.m. on May 8, 2010 (EDT)
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So did you get to do your GC hike, or was the knee too bad ?

1:13 a.m. on May 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Hi Gary,

Unfortunately I had to cancel the hike. Didn't even make it to Arizona; spent my entire trip parked on my friend's couch in LA. I tore my ACL, MCL and medial meniscus so suffice it to say, it'll be a while before I can attempt a hike. Thanks to rehab, I can walk now although still a little wobbly. I'll still need ACL reconstruction surgery to go back to sports.

Still very disappointed about how things turned out but I haven't given up on my Grand Canyon dream. I plan to go on that hike once my knee is better - It's what's keeping motivated during rehab.

Thanks for checking up!

9:12 a.m. on May 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Wow, thats too bad. I once fell while trail running in te Catalina mountains near Tucson in the later 80s. I tore open my knee and had to have a bunch of stitches. I was back up to walking within 6 months and back to backpacking the following year. I don't do any running anymore and sometimes my knee gets sore like arthritis when I hike too much with a backpack on. Once I slipped while hiking in te GC and thought I wasn't going to be able to walk again. Being a hiker and having the thought of not being able to walk is a horrible thought!

1:29 a.m. on May 22, 2010 (EDT)
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The possibility of not being able to walk (albeit temporary) is indeed a horrible thought for anyone's who's active. That week I spent on my friend's couch was the pits.

Your knees have taken a beating, but they've taken you to a lot of amazing places, Gary. (Was reading your story over in that other thread - Fascinating!)

10:07 p.m. on May 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Yes between cycling and hiking I have covered a lot of miles in the last 34 years.

9:27 a.m. on May 23, 2010 (EDT)
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No, I don't think you are crazy. I have backpacked down to Phantom Ranch and back up. I have been to the GC several times. I would go when it is busy though, like March or April, so you will not be alone. I did it with a boyfriend. We did not get a permit prior to arriving at the park. You car camp at the rim and line up at the permit office the next morning at 8am. More than likely you won't have to wait more than a day or two for a permit. If you wait till the last minute you will not get what you want at Phantom Ranch. Do not go down in without reserving your meal first. You will need it. Add-water food will not suffice after the trek down, but you can eat it to save money. Your choice of trail is correct. Kaibab down, bright angel up. The trails will be very busy so you will not be alone. If I could do it over again, I would do Kabab down, spend two nights at the bottom (instead of one)and Bright angel it up. I did not feel completely recovered after just one night. Bright Angel up the next day is VERY DIFFICULT. I would agree with the other poster in saying to spend the night at the Indian Garden (or whatever name it is) halfway camp on the way up. One last word of advice. Be very careful venturing off busy main trails in the Canyon. I lived in AZ and hiked the desert a lot. You can get disoriented and weirded out very easily. I can't even explain exactly why, but it has happened to me. Fortunately I wasn't alone. Red rock, cactus, etc. all begin to look alike. I would not take any untraveled side trails or do any exploring on my own. Remember that Brady Bunch episode where Cindy and Bobby venture off and get lost? Can happen easily. Oh yeah, keep boots inside the tent overnight! (Scorpions) My experience was awesome! Once you are in the Park you never need to leave for anything.

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