Monday, January 14, 2013

Hiking the Grand Canyon....The Kaibab Trail

    This blog page is typically reserved for all of my running jaunts....whether it be marathon training, half marathon reviews, mud runs, or 5K's.  I like to keep a blog as sort of a journal of my effort to stay healthy.  Today, as I was looking at reviews for some hikes that I would like to take this summer, I realized that others might like to hear about some of the hiking we have done as well.  I would also like to have a better record of some of my favorite hikes for myself.  So, as a Mommy who clocks some serious miles as a hiker....the following is our experience on the....

 Kaibab Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

We visited the Grand Canyon as part of a long visit to 9 National Parks out West this past summer.  We spent our first day at the Grand Canyon above the rim taking pictures and hiking the short Bright Angel Trail.  We also took some other short hikes along the rim and watched the sunset at Bright Angel Point on our first day.

The second day was to be set aside for some serious hiking.

We awoke early from our campground near Jacob Lake, Arizona and made the long drive back to the North Rim.  We had read the posted warnings about taking plenty of hydration and snacks for hiking below the rim because the hiking can be very strenuous.  One information poster hanging at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center even told the story of a very fit, Boston Marathoner who had actually died hiking below the rim of the Grand Canyon because she didn't realize the hiking was so strenuous and thought she could hike from rim to rim in a few hours.  She had packed in only one bottle of water and an apple and didn't make it out alive.  Yikes!  Talk about motivation to pack plenty!

Our family is pretty well accustomed to hiking.  This wasn't our first experience by any means, but we still knew that it would be a challenging hike for us.  I had researched the hike in advance and knew that hiking DOWN into the canyon was a breeze, but hiking back UP was treacherous.  This proved to be 100% accurate.

We set out on the wide and smooth trail that meandered through the trees.  Each of us, including the kids, carried our own backpacks with several Gatorades, snacks, and lunch inside.  We also hiked with hiking sticks, because we knew that the sticks would help on the way out.

The first portion of the trail hugged the edge of the canyon and the hike was not much more than a typical hike through the woods.  The difference was that the hike was a constant downhill hike.  The old rule "What goes up, must come down."  has to be kept in mind when hiking....except in reverse. You must keep in mind....."A hiker that goes down, must also hike back up." It is so easy to pick up speed and really enjoy a downhill hike, only to realize how far down you have hiked and now you have to get back up.  For this particular hike on the Kaibab Trail, a good rule of thumb is....
*However long it takes you to hike down into the canyon on the trail....
allow double that amount of time for hiking back up.*
The Kaibab Trail is also used for the mules to get down into the canyon.  While we were on our hike, we needed to step aside for more than one group of mules.  This particluar group of mules was being used to "pack in" a group of campers into the campground down in the Canyon.  The mules are used to deliver needed supplies to anyone staying overnight in the canyon.
The stroll through the woods on a wide path, eventually turned into more narrow switchbacks that hugged the canyon walls.  The trail became much more uneven, rocky and narrow as we progressed.
The protection of the trees also vanished and we became much more aware of the scorching, July temperatures.  Hiking in temperatures that were over 100 degrees definitely increased the difficulty of the hike.
We hiked around 2 miles down into the canyon before we decided that we probably needed to stop for a lunch break.  We could've hiked much farther down into the canyon, but worried that it might prove to be too difficult to hike back up
There were obviously no comfortable picnic tables or little restaurants or grassy lawns with blankets to picnic on on the trail, so we improvised.  We stopped to eat under an overhanging rock that provided a small amount of shade.  We took our time eating our picnic lunch of sandwiches, chips, string cheese, and gatorade and enjoyed the view of the canyon from our picnic spot.
While we were stopped to rest and eat, we only saw one other hiker who had made it that far into the canyon.  A man, who had a gigantic overnight pack was walking slowly back up and out of the canyon.  He had been walking since early morning after spending the night on the floor of the canyon.  After we finished eating, we took time to snap a few photos together with the tripod before we started hiking back up.
The hike back up was truly strenuous.  The high temperatures combined with the sharp incline of the trail made for a very difficult hike.  We were forced to stop often for our group to catch our breaths.  Being a runner with lungs that are conditioned to cardio workouts certainly helped me deal with the hike, but the rest of my family really struggled.  This hike is certainly not one that you need to try to do quickly and it isn't a good one for someone with health conditions. 
We paused our hiking after every couple of switchbacks and took a breather or stopped to get a drink.  We were really sweating a great deal and we didn't want anyone in our group to dehydrate.
Although my kids have been hiking all their lives, this one pushed them almost to their limit.  While we were hiking back out of the canyon on the Kaibab Trail, Carter (who was 7 at the time), complained about hiking for the first time.  He exclaimed, "This hike is too hard for me!"
Although the hike was at the top our list for difficulty, we were all so thrilled to have done it.  It was quite a fantastic that we aren't likely to ever forget.
I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is physically capable of doing it.  Watching my little boys conquer a portion of the Kaibab Trail was a moment of pure pride for me.