There’s a reason that the Grand Canyon Parks Authority posts warnings showing photos of 28 year-old day hikers and not 50 year-olds: we know better.
All kidding aside, when we were visiting last year, it seemed at every trail head on the south rim, there were signs advising against trying to hike down into the Canyon and back in one day. Strongly advising against it. And the photos and stories they used to underline this point were about active, healthy 20-something adults and even marathon runners who had died – yes, died, trying.
Their point was simple: don’t overestimate your own abilities, or underestimate the Grand Canyon. (That, and bring lots of water.) Which seems like pretty reasonable advice, whether you are hiking the Grand Canyon, the Inca Trail, or Mt. Kilimanjaro, for that matter. Unfortunately, this is advice that a lot of younger people do not heed.
I like to think that as a grownup, I have a healthy awareness of my own mortality, or perhaps more accurately, a greater awareness of my own health, and an even healthier desire NOT to accelerate my demise. But that doesn’t mean I need to deny myself access to some of the spectacular vistas the Canyon has to offer, since there are all kinds of incredible hikes that are well within reach of my abilities without having to be a super athlete. You just need to follow the advice of the experts, and follow the trail that’s right for you. Here’s one we took:
South Kaibob Trail to Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon (3 miles/4.8 km round trip)
After speaking with one of the Rangers (highly recommended any time you are not familiar with the territory), we decided to take the South Kaibob trail, based on the description that it offered some pretty spectacular views in a relatively short hike, and with an overlook aptly named ‘Ooh ahh Point’, it certainly sounded promising. I’m all about packing as much open-mouthed, awe-inspiring scenery possible into every travel experience, and this trail seemed to meet all the criteria. Starting from the rim, we wound our way down a series of switchbacks, descending lower as we passed through the rock strata documenting the geological history of the Canyon’s 2 billion year-old past. It felt like we weren’t just climbing down a trail, there was evidence all around that we were climbing back in time.
At a particularly spectacular bend in the trail, we came upon our destination, the appropriately named Ooh Ahh Point, a tumble of giant rocks perched on the edge of the trail with a photo opp offering an impressive look down two directions of the canyon. Five hundred or so feet below us a red rock peninsula called Cedar Ridge jutted out even further into the canyon. The lure of the Ridge beckoned, and since we were feeling pretty good, Henk was keen to get down to the ridge, but I remembered the old saying that ‘what goes up must come down’ and in this case, the reverse. But after talking to a few hikers on the climb back up and assessing the effort required, we decided to continue down the extra chunk of trail that took us out to the Ridge. Although a little steeper climb, It was well worth adding on, because walking out on the flat rock point 1000 feet below the rim gave us an almost 180-degree view looking both up and down the Canyon. Definitely worth the incremental view, and the 500 or more incremental photos (Henk was taking about a photo a foot, I think – thank God we’re not processing film anymore!)
After spending a little time drinking it all in, and a little time drinking some water, we turned around and headed back up to the rim, enjoying the different perspective on the same trail, as the slowly diminishing canyon walls shrunk beside us.
Back on the rim enjoying a cold beer on the El Tovar Lodge’s verandah, we compared notes with other visitors who had hiked other trails, exchanging experiences and sharing our appreciation for the sheer size of this natural wonder stretched out in front of us. Even though we had only hiked a small sliver of the Grand Canyon, we had gained a perspective you just don’t get from the top.? After all, only a few places offer you the opportunity to ‘climb through time’ ? the trick is to take your time, and stop often to enjoy the view.
TIP: This hike is considered moderate by Grand Canyon standards, but if you are unsure about your level of hiking ability, talk to a Ranger. Henk and I are reasonably fit with no specific mobility issues, so it required some stops to catch our breath (or ‘photo opps, as Henk calls them), but the trail was completely manageable. Just remember that it usually takes twice as long to hike up a trail as it does to hike down it, so keep that in mind when you consider where you want your half way point to be!