No truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to canyon hiking. When you’re hiking up mountains, the harder part of the day is usually the climb, but at least that’s the first part of your day when your legs are fresher. Coming down can still be tough, but at least you’re working with gravity instead of against it.
Canyon hiking is the exact opposite. Your day starts with the “easy” downward trek, but then you have to climb up and out to finish the day when you’re at your most exhausted. The canyons I’ve hiked have been in hot desert climates, so that makes the exhaustion all the worse on the way back up if you’re not careful.
Whether it’s mountain or canyon hiking, it’s still worth it even though there’s different physical and mental challenges involved.
On our 2nd full day in Grand Canyon National Park, it was finally time to dive into the Canyon a little. Before we did, I had to get out to try for sunrise shots again though. I’m happy to say the weather cooperated a bit better than the day before!
Our plan was to head down the Bright Angel trail as far as we could reasonably go on a winter day hike. We fueled up with a good breakfast, grabbed our gear, and off we went.
Trail conditions weren’t too bad, though we found ourselves walking on snow and ice for the first 1.5 miles of the trail. Thankfully, we brought our traction devices to shore up our footing, though that didn’t mean we could blaze down the trail. It was slick and steep enough that one slip in the wrong place and – whoop! – you’d be off the trail and taking a really bad downward plunge.
A little ways down the trail, we came across what may be one of the most amusing – and useful – signs we’ve ever seen in our hiking travels. Aside from providing important safety info to novice hikers thinking they could slay the Canyon on an easy long walk, we enjoyed the artwork. My husband correctly pointed out that the National Park Service probably commissioned someone draw that puking hiker on the sign. That thought gave us a good laugh.
Our goal at the start of the day was modest – just make it down to the 1.5 Mile outpost that’s – you guessed it – about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. Not knowing what the trail conditions would be or how steep the decent would be, it seemed like a reasonable goal. I think we shocked ourselves when we made it that far in good time, even though I was snapping away during the hike as the lighting and shadows changed on our view of the Canyon.
Pleasantly surprised by how good we felt, the trail conditions, and the time we made, we decided to plunge onward and shoot for the 3 Mile outpost. (Yes, about 3 miles from the trailhead. Such creative naming conventions!)
We arrived just in time for a spot of lunch and for the lighting and shadows to go flat on the Canyon. That didn’t mean I didn’t take a picture though because we came across another new trail sign favorite that inspired this post… down is optional, up is mandatory. So succinct and so true! I couldn’t leave without snagging a shot of that sign.
We were still feeling good after lunch and the weather was still pretty stellar. As much as we were tempted to press on a little further down into the Canyon, we decided to be smart and head back up. It was a looonnnngggg, steep, slick, mushy climb, but we made it back out with relative ease. We even found a fossil in rock along the way!
We weren’t sure how far we descended into the Canyon in terms of altitude on the way down, but when we reached the top my watch estimated we had climbed up over 2200 feet in elevation over those 3 miles of trail! They say the Canyon is, on average, 1 mile deep, so we made it a little shy of halfway down to the Canyon floor.
Once we got back to the trailhead on the rim, we got some perspective on how far down we went because we could see the 3 Mile outpost. Yeah, it’s a ways down there! (The oval is an approximation of where the 3 Mile resthouse is along the trail.)
Maybe next trip we’ll get a little more ambitious and climb further down this trail or a different path. For my first journey into the Grand Canyon itself, it was a pretty awesome day!
PS – The Canyon treated us to a pretty spectacular sunset as the cherry on top of our day. We even came across a little snowman family someone had made, complete with bits of carrot for the noses!