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One Best Hike: Grand Canyon

Author : Elizabeth Wenk
Published : 2010-07-29

Although the book is titled One Best Hike Grand Canyon: Everything you need to know to successfully hike from the rim to the river -- and back, what Elizabeth Wenk really provides is a wonderful primer on the geology, wildlife, natural history, and dangers of hiking in Grand Canyon National Park.

And along the way she also leads us down from the South Rim to the Colorado River and back via the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails.

Released in July from Wilderness Press, this 166-page book is a rich resource, both for the main hiking content as well the supporting text that is scattered throughout. Along with taking us down from the rim and back up via the two trails Ms. Wenk provides safety information, details on wildlife you might see, some botany, geology, and gear lists. Tucked into the back pages are sections that recommend reading you might consider before you head to the park, helpful websites, and what to do after the hike.

Along with being one of the most spectacular national parks when it comes to geology and vistas, Grand Canyon also can be one of the most dangerous for hikers, many who unfortunately both overestimate their abilities and underestimate the dangers of hiking below the rims. Too many hikers don't truly appreciate the desiccating heat of the park's Inner Gorge, where in July and August temperatures routinely above 100 degrees can quickly debilitate you. Too, the relatively steep ascent needed to climb from the Colorado River back to the top of either South or North rims can sap your energy, especially after hiking down in the heat.

Ms. Wenk notes those dangers, but also points out that well-prepared hikers don't need to stress out about those dangers.

There have been approximately 100 recorded accidental deaths of people hiking below the rim on the Grand Canyon's trails -- and many more on the rim, on the river, on aerial tours, and while hiking off-trail. Of those, around 60 have occurred on the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails. This number is relatively low in comparison to the enormous number of visitors -- and that is thanks to the vigilance and heroic efforts of park rangers and fellow hikers. Consider that between 2000 and 2009 there were 3,284 rescues on the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails, suggesting that the number of deaths caused by environmental conditions could be much, much higher and that many hikers have put themselves in unacceptable positions because they did not understand weather conditions and their own capabilities.

Large numbers of people visit the South Rim during the heat of summer. Some of them ignore the warnings and assume that they are fitter and more heat tolerant than those who have been rescued. You can avoid becoming part of these statistics by considering the dangers you face and keeping your body cool, well-hydrated, and well-fed. And, take solace realizing that more people have died while on aerial sightseeing tours than through other hazards in the Grand Canyon, including rafting accidents and falls from the canyon rim.

With that said, the author explains the various heat-related ailments hikers might encounter -- hyponatremia, or water intoxication; dehydration; heat exhaustion; heat stroke; as well as hypothermia that winter hikers might encounter -- relates the symptoms of each, and how to avoid these ills as well as treat them if you or anyone in your party falls victim. She also addresses relatively minor medical needs -- how to treat blisters, and scorpion bites -- and the risks of falls, lightning, flash floods, along with the dangers of cooling off at the bottom of either trail with a dip in the Colorado.

With that helpful information out of the way, Ms. Wenk tackles the title: Getting down to the river and back. Though the book promotes "one hike," she offers details on both the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails. She breaks each trail down into sections, a helpful approach for day hikers who don't have the time, or stamina, to tackle the entire stretch but want to dip below the rim at least a bit.

Accompanying maps note both your mileage from the rim to a designated point -- for instance, head down the South Kaibab Trail and the author takes you first to Ooh Ahh Point, then to Cedar Ridge, Skeleton Point, The Tipoff, Panorama Point, the Kaibab Suspension Bridge, and the Bright Angel Campground -- and your remaining mileage to the river.

All-in-all, this is a handy and valuable resource for those heading to the park and planning to hike below the South Rim.


Sounds like a good and much needed book. Could use one for the North Kaibab trail as well. Now if more unprepared people would read it there might be less deaths and rescues which put our Park Rangers at risk.

I agree that this sounds like a good and much needed book. There does need to be a little clarification, however, about the deaths by air tour. Those are minimal as well until you include the major mid-air collision of two huge craft that were not actual tour aircraft. That skews the statistics very quickly.

It seems to me that if we provide too much info it takes the adventure out it. GPS waypoints for best rest spots ??? !!! Come on now. Let's stick to the things people really need to know -- like how much water is enough and how to know if you're getting dehydrated. Beyond safety and some good info (like geology) let's let people do their own discovering and get 'perfection' out of the plan.

It also occurs to me that we don't want EVERYONE to do these hikes. I did the North Rim trail down to the Colorado and back up in about 1977. It was too crowded for me then. I can't imagine it now. I'd vote for leaving it to those willing to do the research and put in the effort to make the trip without "expert coaching" and "installing" a can-do attitude.

Just my thoughts.

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