Hiking Hazards, Grand Canyon National Park
“..at the top of every major trailhead leading into the Grand Canyon, you may encounter an ominous sign…
EXTREME HEAT CONDITIONS EXIST IN THE CANYON
HIKING MAY LEAD TO LIFE-THREATENING INJURY OR DEATH!
HIKE AT YOUR OWN RISK
Mocking that sign is a fool’s amusement. Park rangers find portraits of hikers grinning in front of it when they develop the roll of film recovered from the bodies of people who died on the trail.”
Former ranger Andrea Lankford, “Ranger Confidential; Living, Working and Dying in the National Parks”, 2010
This horse has been flogged to death but I’m going to flog it some more because of the hundreds of rescues the NPS have to perform every year due to disregard for their advice.
You’ll see the reminders everywhere:
• Never try to hike to the river and back in one day
• Do not attempt below-the-rim hikes if you have health problems
• Set a realistic goal
• Do not hike during the hottest part of the day
• Wear a hat
• Take food (some salty foods are recommended) and at least 4 liters water
• Allow twice as much time for the return journey
What is largely misunderstood about the canyon is that the farther down you go, the hotter it gets: 5.5 degrees warmer every 1000 feet of descent, and there’s little-to-no shade along the way. Temperatures on the canyon floor can reach 107 degrees in July, and exceed 100 degrees in June, August and September. It’s also very arid so you can become dehydrated in a fat hurry. Having been on the dizzy, headachy, nauseous edge of dehydration just once, I can promise you that it’s no fun at all,. And it can kill you.
Your bill for an emergency chopper lift out and ambulance ride to the hospital won’t be pretty - assuming you survive it.
Can you hike to the bottom and back or rim-to-rim in a day? Yes. Against all advice, people do it successfully but you need to be a conditioned hiker able to handle altitude, punishment to your knees and feet (break in those boots, and bring moleskin!) and to carry the recommended amount of water - which is a lot of weight.
Otherwise, with proper footwear, attire, adequate water and snacks, morning/early evening hikes of shorter lengths below the rim can be great fun, and provide a very nice gander at the inner walls without doing you in.
Reference the following pages for great “Hike Smart” tips from the NPS:
I noticed a number of people at Grand Canyon that literally could not walk 50 feet without making a stop to rest. This is a park for all, but it is beyond me how people cannot hardly function and then come to places that could be dangerous to their health because being out of shape, let alone the grief some people have to contend with to assist. Many do not even have proper attire to be ready for the short walks. These pictures are not to make fun of these people, but to show how "out of shape" really means
The hike on some trails are not too appealing if you have to maneuver around piles and fresh urine. This happened to me on two hikes, and in a confined trail area, if leave a smell not soon to forget. Not many trails have mules also use them , so you may want to check first which do. I guarantee on a hot summer day, you literally could pass out from the stench.
The guides recommend to stay off the trail for 50 feet before and after they get by you. Maybe it is to stay out of the way of a whiff.
Hiking protocol at the Grand Canyon is mules have the right of way. It's a good idea not only because the people riding the mules are paying a lot of money or because the poor mules are carrying a lot of weight. These big, strong beasts of burden are not something you want to get in the way of. Listen to what the mule driver tells you to do and just do it as quickly as possible.
If you do the hike later in the fall or early winter, you may need crampons for the descent. The ice does dissipate as you go down in elevation so if you don't need them early on, you probably won't need them at all. This shot is from my first visit in 1994 when I aborted the day hike to the canyon floor due to the icy trails. I returned a year later to tackle the rim to river to rim day hike a month earlier in the season.
Many people underestimate how difficult it is to hike back up, especially after hiking down. It takes the average person twice as long to hike up as it does to hike down. It is usually much hotter in the afternoon during the return trip than it was on the descent, which leads to fatigue and dehydration. Take heed of the warning signs posted by the rangers at the start of the trail and do not attempt this.
Flash floods are common in the Grand Canyon, especially during monsoon season which runs from about June through September. Storms can come from out of nowhere and create a powerful runoff which can easily carry away people, tents and in some instances even pick up trucks. Be very careful during this time of year and never go exploring in a slot canyon.
Moderation is the key to having an enjoyable hike. Hike within your ability, maintain proper body temperatture, balance yoyr food and water intake, and rest often. Emergency situations include:
HEAT STROKE, HYPONATREMIA,
Trouble on the trial:
Rangers are prepared to respond to problems of all kinds and will, if available, provide a necessary and appropriate level of assistance.
Helicopter evacuations are an ambulance service only. Evacuations are very expensive. Flying a helicopter in the canyon is risky given the uneven terrain for landings and the odd wind currents.
The Grand Canyon elevation 7000 feet above sea level. The temperature can soar .
Use caution near the edge.
Avoid shocking experince when there is a thunderstorm.
Hiking tips brochure available at the Visitor center.
Use common sense! and Enjoy!
Rockslides are another hiking hazard. Although rare, they can happen. Listen closely while hiking and if you hear the sound of falling rocks, be prepared to move very quickly