Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: A Backpacking Adventure

We hiked for miles and miles, watching the sun’s shadows creep across the mile-high geological formations and layered rock
The Grand Canyon
Wendy Altschuler

The Grand Canyon

Everyone knows that if you’re on a turbulent flight, the first thing you should do is glance at the flight attendant to see whether they look concerned or calm. If they’re fine, you’re fine. It’s the same story with hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim—you need to have a proficient guide who has the ability to not only take care of all of the logistics, but also to be the smiling face that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, safe and secure, just like that aircraft steward has been on countless old-hat bumpy journeys.  

“If you see a scorpion, don’t kill it, you’ll get stung,” says Dave Logan, owner and former long-time guide at Four Season Guides in Flagstaff, Arizona. “And, not by that one, but by its friend—it’s bad karma.”

While I didn’t spot any scorpions, despite keeping my eyes peeled, I did see a long list of awe-inspiring canyon critters: beetles, fire ants, tarantula hawks, mule deer and fawns, ring-tail cats (they made a chattering or snickering sound at night by our tents as they scavenged for mice), oodles of collared lizards, bantam-sized freshwater frogs, canyon bats, turkey vultures, ravens and kingsnakes, among other species. One of my trip mates saw a furry tarantula after dark as she was coming out of the bathroom.

On my second night, I set up my tent at the base of a beautiful rock wall, full of dark brown and black Vishnu schist, at Bright Angel Campground. I had my headlight on, was brushing my teeth, and while leaning on the rock face, I noticed I wasn’t alone. Holy schist, there was a female black widow spider, poisonous and identifiable by the bright red hourglass on her jet black abdomen!

Big horn sheep

Wendy Altschuler

Big horn sheep

The most stunning coulee creature I saw though was as we neared the summit of the South Rim on the last day. A bighorn sheep stoically made his way up the narrow trail, forcing us to retreat as far as we could. He skipped across the rocks past us, with the most agility and grace I’ve ever seen in an animal so large. We were only a couple feet away and could have reached our hands out and touched his coat—magic.

It was extraordinary to see so much life at the bottom of the canyon—insects, animals, waterfalls and springs (Roaring Springs, Ribbon Falls), creeks and rivers (Bright Angel Creek, Colorado River, Pipe Creek)—and I truly enjoyed being exposed to the elements. We hiked for miles and miles, watching the sun’s shadows creep across the mile-high geological formations and layered rock, flaunting a cross section of our planet’s beautiful crust, dating back two billion years. Every now and then, a gust of wind would blow through or the sun would peek out from behind a cloud, creating a transcendent atmosphere and making us mere humans feel like a very small part of a much larger picture—it was like beholding history that we were able to directly be a part of for a very small blip of time. Life would go on with or without us.

At nightfall, with my tent flap open, I gazed at stars so dense that it was difficult to make out constellations; I felt a delight and childlike peace that can only be brought out by being in complete darkness, with only the noises that nature can create. There was no sound or light pollution, no hums of cars driving by or bright street lamps bleeding in through windows. I watched the stars that night until my eyelids shut and I fell asleep.

Dinner with a view

Wendy Altschuler

Dinner with a view

 

Our incredible guides, Bob Cheesman (with more than 16 years of guiding experience) and Karne Snickers (with more than nine), provided all of the meals and snacks —sandwiches, stir-fry, pasta, eggs, oatmeal, bean dishes, and more. We were well fed and hydrated throughout the trip (hello, understatement!). We took frequent breaks throughout to refuel and hydrate and soak in those you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it views.

“It’s almost like an eating trip rather than a hiking trip,” said Logan.

When all was said and done, my group of nine women adventurers and two stellar guides hiked 30 miles, with 35-plus pounds of pack weight, from the North Rim to the South Rim, on an ambitious four-day, blister-inducing backpacking trek. We made it—without any whining, I might add—through 30-degree weather variance and thrilling and punishing elevation loses and gains (4,160-foot decent on day one; 1,600-foot descent on day two; 1,500-foot ascent on day three; and 3,000-foot ascent on day four).

I learned that a positive mindset with healthy self-talk can really propel you through tough challenges (and in life). Everyone on this trip was a happy-go-lucky, glass half-full explorer who wanted to suck out all the marrow of life, which is the secret sauce to feats of strength and happiness. I savored every minute of this rim-to-rim undertaking—even the uphill climb—and I know it’s because of the brilliant full-of-heart folks I met along the way. We had amazing guides at the helm, leading us with such light and kindness and a sense of adventure.

Down is supposedly easier

Wendy Altschuler

Down is supposedly easier

This is an expedition I’ll tell my grandkids about when I’ve reached my rocking chair days. It was a quest that I’ll always be proud I took because I trained and pushed my body and mind, soaked in stunning nature, and released my feral self—my better self—alongside a group of badass travelers.

“That was a life-changing experience,” said Linda Henthorn, hiker extraordinaire. “It has left me with a higher level of self-esteem and personal strength. I am so grateful and humbled by our guides, Bob and Karne, and the amazing group of women we were fortunate enough to share the adventure. My only question is, where are we going next?!” Hiking not your thing? We’ve got 14 other ideas for a fit vacay.

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