We’d planned, prepped, trained, and looked forward to backpacking the Grand Canyon for months. Part of a REI Adventures 4-day guided trip, we were about to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon from the south rim. Would it be stunning? Hell yeah. Would it be strenuous, one of the hardest adventures I’d ever tried? Oh hell yeah.
About the Trip
Here’s a summary of the trip:
This trip is rated Strenuous . Participants will be carrying backpacks with weights of 30-45 lbs for up to 11 miles per day. Participants should be prepared to hike over steep, rocky and sometimes exposed terrain, with constant and dramatic elevation gains and/or losses of up to 5,000 feet per day on most days. We strongly recommend practicing with 30-45 lbs in the pack you intend to use for the trip and making sure your hiking boots are broken in before departure. This is not a beginning backpacking trip.REI Adventures Grand Canyon Backpacking – South Rim
The group, which included two REI guides and three other backpackers besides me and Bryan, met at the Grandview trailhead. Here’s the thing about the Grand Canyon–you don’t know it’s there until you’re at the rim. Approaching the Grand Canyon, you’re just driving through a forest with no clue that there’s a huge ditch just ahead.
I was nervous! Would my knees and various other body parts withstand the steep descent this first day? Hiking poles were mandatory for me.
Starting down from the Grandview trail, sometimes the trail got so narrow, I had to hug the wall. The view kept calling and when I wanted to look up and take everything in, I just stopped hiking so I wouldn’t fall off the trail. Grandview trail was originally built for access to the Last Chance copper mine. Sections of the trail still included the original cobblestone.
The weather was perfect the first day and stayed that way the entire 4 days. It was just warm enough to wear shorts if you wanted to. Most of us didn’t, though, because we were walking through prickly cacti and brush, and also wanted to avoid getting sunburned.
Getting To Know Each Other
After a couple of miles, we stopped and took a break. The guides handed out maps with the trails we’d be hiking during the trip and our campsites. The maps also showed the different geological layers of the Grand Canyon. The REI guides weren’t just there to make sure we didn’t get lost. Throughout the trip, they shared information about the formation of the Grand Canyon and its history. They also planned and prepared breakfast and dinner for the whole group each day. We all helped carry the shared food and gear.
Last Chance Mine
The first day, we hiked 4 miles to an old mining kitchen on Horseshoe Mesa. Then we left our packs and hiked another 4 miles, a side trip. We explored the remnants of the Last Chance mine from the 1900s, crossing a narrow saddle to get there.
The hardest part about the first day was the steep descent, combined with a sometimes very rocky trail. We all carefully picked our way through and over the rocks, sometimes using our hands instead of our poles, sometimes slipping on the loose rocks underfoot.
Train, Train, and Train Some More
I was surprised and happy at how comfortably I carried my 30-pound pack. Training in the months leading up to the trip really paid off. My training included 7-8 miles hikes with my full pack weight, 30 pounds. And yet, as one of our guides said, the only way to train for the Grand Canyon is to hike the Grand Canyon!
After our side trip, we put our packs back on and hiked down to the first night’s camp spot, Cottonwood Creek. One of my absolute favorite parts of this trip was, every night, we camped by water. Putting up your tent next to a murmuring creek and watching the sunset while the stars come out is one of life’s pure joys.
First Day’s Stats
Elevation loss 3,700 feet