The completion is emotional. Looking back, comprehending our starting point, faintly visible in the distance defies belief. As a reasonably fit hiker, I cannot identify with much stronger athletes that immediately begin their return hike as they push for Rim to Rim to Rim! For our group, rest and reward await us as we look forward to a shower, a delicious meal, and the welcoming stay at the beautiful North Rim Lodge.
This is never an easy hike, but this year it was harder for me than in prior years. Why? I conclude that despite having crossed the canyon several times, I am still learning how my body functions after many hours of exercise. I have learned that managing food and liquid intake is critical during extended periods of physical activity.
During the hike, I carefully added dry mix powders to my water so as to replace lost electrolytes. Too much, and the mixture begins to induce nausea, too little leads to hyponatremia, a condition of excessive water and sodium shortage in your blood that in severe cases can lead to cardiac arrest. Additionally, I take fruits such as Oranges, sandwiches, salty products such as trail mix, beef jerky, and chips. This year temperatures were well above average, and I found that soaking my shirt and hat in the cool river helped reduce my body temperature and thus conserve energy. Despite these techniques I continue to find myself humbled as the canyon can quickly become a brutal and unforgiving environment.
Compounding the unpredictability of such a long day is that hikers seem to experience severe fatigue in a non-linear fashion. That is, they appear relatively fine one moment then rapidly deteriorate as their body exhausts itself, becoming overheated, nauseous, and mentally stressed as self-confidence erodes.
It is no surprise, especially near the South Rim, to see many inexperienced hikers push downwards half way or more down to the Colorado River, only to experience severe difficulty in negotiating their hike back out. Indeed, our trip planner recently rescued a South Rim tourist that suffered severe heat exhaustion on the Bright Angel Trail even as our coordinator was completing his return hike from the North Rim.
But the Grand Canyon is beautiful beyond words, and my memories of standing above the powerful Colorado River will surely draw me back. As I contemplate returning for a future Rim
to Rim hike, I evaluate the lessons that I can draw from my most recent experience and how they will be applied prior to re-entering the Grand Canyon. I better learn fast, our return hike is in less than two days.
Note: While I enjoy sharing my experience, I cannot over-emphasize the danger associated with such a strenuous hike. Experienced athletes easily under-estimate the toll of hiking in The Grand Canyon with 90+ degree temperatures for extended periods across 6,000+ foot elevation changes. Please exercise caution and good judgment when planning hikes within the Grand Canyon National Park
(Above) Sunrise on the South Kaibab Trail.
(Above) The North Rim Lodge.
© 2011 John Miranda