The Grand Canyon One-Percenter’s Club: Exploring Below the Rim
Is 2017 the year you join the ranks of the one-percenters – the one percent of the annual five million visitors to the Grand Canyon that explore below the rim? The first thing newcomers to the canyon (the adventurous ones anyway) think after they recover from their awe and amazement is, “Wouldn’t it be cool to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim?” Yes it would!
The cold hard numbers
It is 24 trail miles from one side to the other, descending 6000 feet and ascending nearly 5000 feet when you tackle it from North to South. That is the equivalent of some of the toughest mountain climbs in the United States. Many hikers fear the uphill climb out of the canyon but for most backpackers, it is the downhill trek that presents the more physically challenging part of the journey.
If that all sounds intimidating, it certainly can be. However, the National Park Service has done its best to make this once-in-a-lifetime experience accessible to hikers of all levels. The canyon interior is carved with many zig-zagging switchbacks that tame the knee-jarring descents and spirit-sapping ascents. Many Grand Canyon guided tours will rate this hike only as “Intermediate.” That is largely due to the well-maintained condition of the trails and regular access to water.
This doesn’t mean you can simply jump out of the car and onto the trail. Even good hiking shape is not the equal of Grand Canyon hiking shape. Common sense workouts for your knees, quads, calves and cardio are the requisite prep for the Grand Canyon and will get you ready for this challenge.
Below the Grand Canyon rim is a world unseen from above: mystical waterfalls spewing from the canyon wall, billowy cottonwoods, sandy beaches, rock formations that will humble you and historical suspension bridges across the Colorado River. The earth’s story of two billion years is written in the rocks all around you. Hiking inside the canyon, you come to realize that millions of people journey to the Grand Canyon and never really experience the canyon.
A Grand Canyon Rim to Rim adventure is not a single day affair. The park service operates the Phantom Ranch stop-over and Bright Angel Campground by the Colorado River. What’s it like to “live” at the bottom of the world’s most famous canyon? Not the lap of luxury but not really that primitive either. Think hot showers and cold adult beverages. The steak and eggs are delivered daily to Phantom Ranch on the backs of mules.
These oases require permits and reservations, which is a critical part of planning to cross the Grand Canyon on foot. Requests need to be made months in advance. And, of course, some provision to get back to your starting point must be made. With all the logistical considerations involved, it’s no wonder many visitors book their Rim to Rim trips through companies that organize Grand Canyon guided tours. It’s well worth doing your research early, months in advance if possible. Are you ready to join the one percent?