Sunday, September 30, 2007
* Watch your timing. We hiked rim to rim in late August when it's brutally hot -- but only because our preferred dates in September were sold out and that's what our schedules dictated. Winter can be cold and snowy. The best times are generally late spring and early to mid-autumn, though the North Rim facilities are closed from mid-October to mid-May.
* Get the right gear. Your hiking shoes or boots, of course, are of utmost importance and should be well worn in (and should allow some space for your feet to swell). Test your backpack to make sure it's comfortable. Get a walking pole or, even better, poles. Dress in layers (there can be as much as a 20- to 30-degree difference in temperature from the rims down to the Colorado River) and recycled clothing -- no one is going to care how you look at Phantom Ranch.
For a guide to gear and tons of other info, check out Hitthetrail.com (http://www.hitthetrail.com), a superb Web site maintained by Denise Traver, a former park ranger and backpacking field guide.
* Get in shape. Hundreds of hikers are rescued each year from the Grand Canyon, many because they underestimated its rigors and overestimated their own ability. Hitthetrail.com suggests, among other things, to run "up and down bleachers, subways, or stairways. It's even better if you wear a backpack carrying some substantial weight inside -- perhaps a bag of dog food or kitty litter."
John Annerino's exhaustive "Hiking the Grand Canyon" (Sierra Club Books) also has good info on how to prepare physically -- and mentally -- for the trek, as well as extensive details on the trails and a guide on prepping for such dangers as flash floods.
* Know who's boss. When it's hot, take extra precautions (take frequent breaks, carry and drink plenty of water, wet down your shirt and hat, etc.), and if you can, hike in the early morning and late afternoon, when it's cooler. Eat plenty of salty food to compensate for heavy sweating. Go to the backcountry primer on the Grand Canyon National Park's Web site (http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm) for more details, and pick up the guides available at park entrances for trail info.
Remember that the mules have priority on the trails (for info on booking a mule trip from either rim, go tohttp://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/mule_trips.htm). If you see them coming, step off the trail on the uphill side away from the edge, stay quiet and wait until the last mule is 50 feet away to resume hiking. Then hold your nose.
* Reserve in advance. Phantom Ranch fills fast, and choice lodging on the rims can book months ahead of time. Don't show up without reservations during peak travel times. (See Details on how to book.)
* Don't forget your rental car. You could, as Grandcanyonhiker.com (http://www.grandcanyonhiker.com) suggests, hike rim to rim to rim to get back to your car. We took the Trans-Canyon Shuttle (928-638- 2820), which runs between the rims May 15-Oct. 15; fare is $70 per person one way.
* Enjoy! As the hiking gets more difficult, it's natural to just want it to end. But take frequent breaks, revel in your surroundings and take lots of pictures. You'll regret it if you don't.