It’s no exaggeration to say that hiking out of the Grand Canyon was one of the most challenging and strenuous things I’ve ever done. We took three days to hike to the bottom. And we took one day to hike out, climbing 4,422’ vertical feet in 7.5 miles in an all-day scramble fest. By the end of the day, I looked and felt like my ass had been kicked.
And I loved it. I had a blast. I’d do it all again tomorrow.
About New Hance Trail
John Hance built New Hance Trail to replace Old Hance Trail in 1894. The trail is not maintained and scarcely qualifies as a “trail” as it’s rocky, steep, at times unstable, and difficult to find. Travel writer Burton Homes had this to say about New Hance Trail in 1904. His description is still dead-on accurate.
There may be men who can ride unconcernedly down Hance’s Trail, but I confess I am not one of them. My object in descending made it essential that I should live to tell the tale, and therefore, I mustered up sufficient moral courage to dismount and scramble down the steepest and most awful sections of the path on foot …. ‘On foot,’ however, does not express it, but on heels and toes, on hands and knees, and sometimes in the posture assumed by children when they come bumping down the stairs …. The path down which we have turned appears impossible …. The pitch for the first mile is frightful … and to our dismayed, unaccustomed minds the inclination apparently increases, as if the canyon walls were slowly toppling inwards….Burton Homes, National Park Service brochure
An Early Start
The group rose with the sun around 6 a.m. We needed to get an early start to tackle the long hike out. It was a working breakfast–granola and coffee while breaking camp and packing up. Soon we hit New Hance Trail, leaving the Colorado River behind.
For the first hour or so after leaving camp, we hiked on a dry, rocky creekbed. The morning sun was spectacular on the canyon walls with the bright, blue sky.
It was the lull before the real scrambling began. Even in the first hour, our guides had us stop to take breaks. They were easing us into the epic, long day ahead.
Top of Red Canyon
From the creekbed, we started our first big climb of the day, a long traverse of the hillside. We skirted cacti and bushes and admired the red limestone of the inner canyon walls. There were very few trees and even with the mild temperatures and early morning, we got hot. We stopped for a break at the first small tree we saw, sitting in its shade. Our REI guides shared candy and snacks. I was glad for the extra fuel–I tend to not snack enough when I hike, plus I could have packed more snacks for the last day.
Let the Scrambling Begin
After the initial climb and break, the true nature of New Hance Trail revealed itself. For the rest of the hike, we climbed up and over rugged terrain through narrow passageways that seemed too precarious for humans. Sometimes, we needed both poles to help get up and over an obstacle. Other times, poles just got in the way because you needed both hands to pull yourself up.
Even as difficult as it was, we still remembered to lift our eyes up to look at the scenery (when it was safe to and we weren’t at risk of toppling off the side). And the scrambling was actually a lot of fun. We even remembered to laugh, particularly when one of the group said after navigating a particularly rough section, “That John Hance was an asshole.” It felt good to laugh and know I wasn’t the only one struggling!
Final Push To the Top
Even as beat as I was, I tried to remember to be in the moment. Still, the last few miles, I kept thinking, “Are we there yet?” Several times, I found myself losing balance, losing steam. But Phil, one of the REI guides, was there to set me straight again. He kept telling me, “Slow and steady steps.” It worked.
I was so glad when we made it to the New Hance Trail sign and so proud of the group for making it out.
After a short walk through the forest, we staggered into the parking lot at New Hance trailhead. The REI guides treated us with cold drinks from ice chests they’d kept in the back of their trucks.
And then just like that, it was over. Hiking boots off, flip flops on, and back on the road again.
Day 4 miles – 7.5
Total miles over 4 days – 32.5
Elevation gain – 4,422′