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Backpacker Magazine – May 2009

Insider's Guide: The Grand Canyon

From dayhikes to weekends to weeklong hikes our Grand Canyon expert will have you ready to hit this natural wonder in no time. PLUS: Get dialed with essential skills.

by: Annette McGivney

PAGE 1 2
Widforss Trail (Elias Butler)
Widforss Trail (Elias Butler)
Grandview/Tonto Trail (Ed Callaert)
Grandview/Tonto Trail (Ed Callaert)
Hermit's Rest (Leon Werdinger)
Hermit's Rest (Leon Werdinger)


Negotiate any pour-off with these tips from Grand Canyon guide Sally Underwood.

1. Don't go down or up a pour-off that's five feet or higher while wearing a pack. Lower or raise yours using a 15-foot nylon handline.
2. Use your handline to help your partners up and down slick surfaces if they lack climbing/bouldering experience. Tie off around a boulder or tree, or brace against a stable rock.
3. Beware of black pools. "If you can't see the bottom, they could be a lot deeper and more slippery than you expect," says Underwood. "That's a good way to break an ankle."
4. Wear sturdy hiking boots. Water shoes and sandals don't cut it in places where you need to jam your toe in a crack to get up or down.

Avoid trouble–and have more fun– with these tips from ranger Bil Vandergraff.

  • Hide from the sun During warm months (spring through fall) head out in the early morning, late afternoon/evening, or when the path you're traveling is in shadow.
  • Stay positive but realistic "Inexperienced hikers get to the Colorado River, look up at the rim, and think they can't make it out," says Vandergraff. "If you need to, take an unscheduled rest day. We won't penalize you, and it's better than a rescue."
  • Back up your hydration system A rock-solid, leakproof, 3-liter hydration system, in addition to two 1-liter Lexan bottles and a 3- to 5-liter Dromedary for dry camping, are a must in this desert environment.

Flagstaff photographer Elias Butler has spent the last decade traversing perilous terrain to get the perfect Grand Canyon shot. Now you can shoot from his favorite spots.

Yuma Point
Reached from the South Rim via a five-mile hike on the Hermit and Boucher Trails, this sandstone lip above Hermit Creek offers one of the most spectacular panoramas of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. "Always stop down [your camera's aperture] to achieve the traditional landscape that captures everything near and far in sharp focus," says Butler. UTM: 12S 0389468E 3994056N

Kolb Arch
Getting to this remote spot requires an all-day, off-trail hike from the bottom of the Nankoweap Trail into an upper branch of Nankoweap Creek below Point Imperial on the North Rim. The reward for the arduous bushwhacking is a rarely seen look at the arch named for the Grand Canyon's first nationally-renowned photographers, the Kolb Brothers. "The best time to shoot this unique feature is before noon, when the sun is hitting the arch," says Butler. UTM: 12S 0413064E 4015932N

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Apr 05, 2013

Day-hiking into the Grand Canyon is on many people's bucket list but kicking the bucket while hiking there usually isn't! Many people die in the canyon each year for a variety of reasons; one of them being that some hikers are unprepared for the experiences they encounter there. Sure, a lot of people hike there almost every day of the year but there are still those hikers who get lost and either barely or don't make it out alive. Read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hit the trail for a day-hike. Felix! teaches the reader what to pack, what to do if you get lost or scared, how to get rescued, and survival packing just incase you end up unexpectedly spending the night in the canyon. Learn how to navigate your way by paying attention to your surroundings and knowing how to use a compass. A compass doesn't need batteries or satellites and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Your Grand Canyon adventure should be the thrill of a lifetime so make it more enjoyable by hiking smart and having the essentials with you!

Tom Kessler
Jul 02, 2009

It has been a few decades, but on my two visits to Wotan's Throne there was no rappel, or technical climbing. It was a challenging puzzle for route findings, and the first time I finally made the top I found many trees covered with TP! I came after an archeology group did a survey and used toilet paper to mark their progress. It was quite a let down. TK

Jul 02, 2009

I dont know how this didn't make the must-do list but... For a 4-day 25 mile loop trip you have to look at the Thunder River to Deer Creek loop off the Bill Hall Trail. This North Rim trial decends into the Big Ditch via Suprise Valley - both Thunder River and Deer Creek have must-see waterfalls (year round), shaded grottos and amazing slot canyons. Ample campsites and good water supply. As all trails in the Big Ditch you'll get you fill of switch backs mixed with timeless views. This is truely a must do for any Canyon adventurer. Happy Trails!!

Jul 02, 2009

I dont know how this didn't make the list but... For a 25 mile - 4 day loop off the north rim you have to look at the Thunder River to Deer Creek loop via the Bill Hall Trail. Both Thunder River and Deer Creek have must see waterfalls, grottos and slot canyons. Truely a Big Ditch hiking must!!

George Paul
Jul 02, 2009

I recommend the Horseshoe Mesa trip. It is wonderful. Hance Creek is a great campsite. The only problem is you can't get to the river on that route. Do the Hermit Creek trip for a good first trip as well.


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