This was our first backpacking trip as a family and was the genesis of all the trips that followed. The idea of the trip came from the book “50 Places to Hike Before You Die,” a Christmas present I gave Laura in 2010. The book profiled a South Rim-to-North Rim hike through the Grand Canyon. We were not interested in that particular hike, but the idea of visiting and hiking in the Grand Canyon was intriguing.
We started our research, studying what it would take to hike and possibly camp in the canyon. While we were very green backpackers, we had done some hiking, and did our due diligence in preparing for the trip.
We read what we could find on the Internet. The National Parks Service has an extremely informative website and answered many of our immediate questions.
There is “Plan Your Visit” https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/index.htm
“Backcountry Hiking” https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm
How to get a “Backcountry Permit” https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm
I also purchased Falcon Guides “Hiking the Grand Canyon – A Falcon Guide.” There was a great deal of useful information in the preamble, before the hiking descriptions, well worth the time to read.
The Grand Canyon can be a wonderful experience, but you need to respect the vast distances, the lack of water availability and the potential remoteness. Reading as we did, being prepared and having some humility as we approached the canyon helped us to have a safe and enjoyable trip.
The following is from the National Parks Service website:
Every year, scores of unprepared hikers, lured by initially easy downhill hiking, experience severe illness, injury, or death from hiking in the canyon.
Be aware that efforts to assist you may be delayed during the summer months due to limited staff, the number of rescue calls, employee safety requirements, and limited helicopter flying capability during periods of extreme heat or inclement weather.
Do not rely on physical strength alone, hiking smart will take you much farther. Rangers respond to heat exhausted hikers every day during the summer — don’t let yourself become one of them! Use the information below to hike smart.
10 Summer Hiking Essentials
- Water – plain and some with electrolyte replacement.
- Food – especially salty foods. Eat twice as much as normal.
- First Aid Kit – bandaids, ace wrap, antiseptic, moleskin, etc.
- Map – while many trails are well-marked, maps are helpful tools.
- Pack – to carry the essentials.
- Flashlight/Spare Batteries – allows you to hike out during the cool of the evening.
- Spray Bottle – fill with water for your own personal air conditioning system.
- Hat/Sunscreen – to keep the sun off you and protect your skin.
- Whistle and/or Signal Mirror – for emergency use.
- Waterproof Clothing – poncho or jacket; especially useful during monsoon season (mid-July to early September).
Our trip was in early April, so we were not hiking in extreme temperatures. But the tips are well worth noting.
For fitness, Emily (age 15) and Siobhan (age 13) had just finished up their speed skating season, so were in good shape. Laura and I did hike and walk on the trails near our home, Laura had a workout routine she did and I ran regularly during the week.
We made a backpacking camping list, drawn from ideas from the Internet. We had some new items: Laura’s backpack and an MSR Pocket Rocket stove. We also had some old backpacks and a used tent, which was a gift from a friend, purchased in 1988, that weighed in at about 9.5lbs. Our sleeping bags were fairly new but on the bottom end of backpacking sleeping bags and weighed about 4lbs each.
We tested the tent’s size by setting it up in the basement and realized we could not fit four sleeping pads into the tent. Since Emily and Siobhan were still relatively small, we were able to use just three sleeping pads laid sideways. We borrowed one and purchased two more from REI after landing in Las Vegas. The arrangement worked great.
None of us had hiking boots/shoes. Emily, Siobhan and I had well-worn running shoes, while Laura had some very well-loved low-cut sturdy Nike walking shoes. Comfortable footwear, adequately broken in, is very important in the Grand Canyon. Descending 1400m on the first day in poorly fitting footwear can quickly lead to blisters, making for a slow and painful walk up out of the canyon. We all wore mini-gaiters to keep some of the dust and sand from getting into the shoes, I remember the gaiters doing their job well.
We purchased our packaged food before leaving. We had Mountain House dried food for dinner and breakfast, and carried two extras that ended up being a late hot snack on day 2. We also had one power bar/person/day. For lunch both days we made fresh sandwiches that we prepared the day before, plus apples for both days, and bananas for the first day (nothing like having to carry around the apple cores and banana peels for two days).
We each had a water bladder with at least 2.5L of water, then carried another litre of water mixed with electrolytes, for a total of 3.5L each.
We probably had too much clothing, as we had long pants and jackets, but at the Rim there was actually snow under the trees. When we started descending, though, it warmed up very quickly.
The most challenging part of the preparations was getting a permit. Since we did not even start planning the trip until late January, for an early April trip, we were not able to get a permit. But the National Parks
Service always keep a few permits in reserve to be handed out the morning of the day before departure. We got up very early and arrived at the Backcountry office shortly after 7am, about 3rd in line, and easily got a camping permit at Bright Angel Campground for the next evening.