How to Survive a Hiking Trip in the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon averages more rescues than any other national park in the world, and were it not for the swift response of the rescuers the death toll in the Canyon would be exorbitantly high. As it is, the Canyon’s steep drops, soaring summer temperatures, plummeting winter temperatures, lack of water, and sudden weather shifts account for more than 500 deaths since it was first explored by European descendants in the 19th century. Today the threats are every bit as real, and in some ways are sneakier because people descend into the Canyon feeling like they’ll be taken care of. It’s a national park after all, isn’t it? The bottom line is that to survive in the Canyon you must first decide you’re taking your life into your own hands, and from there follow these simple rules and you should be ok.
Number one is know your route. Whether you’re hiking, rafting, or doing some combination of both you must know your route. Water is scarce as are feasible hiking routes in or out of the Colorado River. You don’t want to be “somewhere” in the Canyon without a route down to the river and without any idea where another water source is. This exact scenario has claimed more than 50 lives in the Grand Canyon, and in fact claimed yet another one on July 9, 2010.
Along with knowing your route is choosing the right one for you. There are few “moderate” routes in the Canyon, and it’s best to stick with them until you have some experience under your belt.
Number two, carry plenty of water. Two gallons per day per person is what’s needed to stay full hydrated in the heat of the summer. Also, having plenty of water will prepare you for the possibility of becoming temporarily disoriented, so you can stay hydrated and reorient yourself. Dehydration is a slippery slope, and once you’re down that path it’s difficult to reverse it because your thinking becomes clouded, your emotions go haywire, and your body begins to shut down. It’s a far better scenario to stay well hydrated at all times.
Number three, don’t hike alone. Of the hundreds of hikers who’ve died in the Canyon the majority of them have been alone. A friend of mine always says “the mind is a scary place to go into alone.” Our thoughts can get carried away (or more appropriately, we can get carried away by our thoughts) quickly even in normal circumstances. When we’re lost, alone, and scared our thoughts and emotions can become dangerous. Without someone to bounce ideas off of, to keep us in check, and to provide feedback we can get totally panicked and make deadly choices.
And number four, tell someone where you’re going, when you’re returning, and what to do if you aren’t back by that time.
Follow these rules, and your Grand Canyon hiking trip will be tens of times safer. Does it guarantee a safe return? No. But there are no guarantees in life, only odds, and it’s best to play the games with the highest odds, especially when your life is on the line.