Hiking Survival Guide – My Grand Canyon Hiking Experience

Hiking Survival Guide – My Grand Canyon Hiking Experience

So you want to hike 18 miles in one day?

Grand Canyon Beginning

I have ALWAYS loved to hike. 

It is one of my favorite outdoor activities. Hiking to me is a way to clear my mind, get some activity in, view new areas, explore, and enjoy my workout. Most of the hikes I have been on have ranged from the short one hour up and down hikes to the 3-5 hour hikes that require a bit more time.

My Bucket List – Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon had always been on my bucket list, so when a good friend of mine asked if I would be up for a Grand Canyon hiking trip, I was IN!

My plan was to take my time hiking down, camp at the bottom and hike back up the next day.  Enjoying the scenery, taking pictures, and just doing my thing. Sounds legit right?

Well, things changed a bit when we learned that you need a permit about a year in advanced to camp at the bottom.  The lack of a permit meant we needed to make a slight change of plans.  We would hike DOWN, explore the river and hike back up the same day… just over 18 miles round trip from South Rim to river, back to the South Rim.

Oh yeah, this kind of needs to be done in a somewhat ‘quick’ pace because you need to do this during day light.

Hmmmm…not what I had in mind, but this was a challenge!  I am TOUGH! I am Natalie Jill and I can do this…so I said “I’m in!  BOO-YAH!”

The day started out fine. I had my gear, I was dressed in layers, I felt SMART and PREPARED.  I had my special forces trained boyfriend with me who had head lamps, extra batteries, and other “planning for the worst” equipment.  I had great company, yummy high calorie snacks (hey I was gonna be moving ALL DAY), and my new trail running shoes. I was moving and grooving, jamming down the “hill” admiring all of the beauty nature had to offer.  I even stopped along the way for some Instagram photo ops.

Holy cow my QUADS hurt!

OK, I didn’t quite realize that DOWN HILL for the first 6+ miles at the BEGINNING of the hike would be as challenging as it was.  My quads were screaming as they were taking the brunt of the force on every downhill step.  Even with keeping my core tight and my quads on fire, my Grand Canyon Bridgeknees were still feeling it by the time I got about half way to the bottom.  Believe it or not, I was ready to reach the bottom and start walking up hill just to take the strain off of my burning quads.

We made it! We are at the bottom – It was SO BEAUTIFUL down there. It was warmer, it was gorgeous, I was proud of my accomplishments. I am going to sit and eat my lunch (trail mix, a meal replacement shake and lot’s of tangerines) and relax and enjoy for a bit.

Wait…WHAT!? I can’t relax for a bit?

I learn that if I want a CHANCE to make it back up to the top before dark we need to eat quick, and get back on the move. I stand up, and WOW my legs are jello. I guess that 6+ miles downhill was tougher than I thought. Here we go…

Over the bridge and thru the woods to grandmothers house we go!

Whoops!  That is a nursery rhyme and not what was happening, but hey, those chants and catchy lyrics were working for me at that point.

It was so DRY and although I had my 100oz Camelback and PLENTY of water, the dry air and the lack of salt (I know I know, how could I have forgotten my salt!) started getting to me.

Starting to feel slightly dehydrated, it dawns on me that we are only about 1/3 of the way there.  We have about 4 miles to walk along the river through some DEEP SAND to get to the base of the other trail to begin the 7+ mile uphill trek.

The deep sand is no problem for my boyfriend who spent many many hours running in the deep sand of Coronado for military training or from my 6’6″ friend who is a Pro Beach Volleyball Player!  Yes, a I said Pro Beach Volleyball player.

Hello! My 5″2″ 112 lb unsalted, feeling dehydrated, wobbling leg self is having a tough time.  Yes, I am fit but this would be hard for anyone.

The only thing that kept going through my head was “Focus on the road, there is nothing but the road.”  That was courtesy of my 6 year old daughters favorite show.  Gotta love Sponge Bob…especially when it keeps repeating in your head during a tough 18 mile hike.

It is OK…I’ve got this!

Are we there yet?

Grand Canyon BottomI thought I loved to hike.  I do, but as I’m staring almost straight up to where I have to get to, at this point I am re-thinking this hobby.

We’ve made it to the bottom, and up the river 4 miles to where we need to start the journey up and out of the canyon.

It is safe to say that at this point, my trail running shoes do NOT compare to my Lowa hiking boots that I wish I still had.

I can ALSO confirm that Band-Aid Blister Bandaids DON’T STICK very well to sweaty feet, especially when hiking.  I have also confirmed that no matter HOW MUCH water I guzzle at this point, the lack of salt means the water is running right through me and is NOT being absorbed by my body.

Since my body is not absorbing any of the water I am drinking, I am wondering what will happen if I die about now.

My legs are tired and that means I’m not picking my feet up as high, so I keep kicking rocks with my toes and kicking sand into my own shoes.  My shoes are filled with sand, my toes have had better days, I have blisters, my quads are on fire, my hips are sore, I’m tired, and just barely over half way there!

WOA!  Am I a COMPLAINER or what??

My poor boyfriend had to listen to all of this… poor guy 🙂 AND I still have 7+ miles UP HILL to go!

I kept telling myself “Excuses or Solutions…YOU decide!” and “your body can do almost anything it is your MIND you have to convince!”

Ok I am on it!

What do Batman and the Sponge Bob have in common?

“Focus on the road, there is nothing but the road”  Sponge Bob is running through my head. One step in front Batman at Grand Canyonof the other.

My eyes are capturing all the beauty and I am witnessing how SPECTACULAR nature can be, but I have eaten all my trail mix and I am done.

There were those signs I laughed at and took pictures of at the beginning of the hike warming people NOT to try and hike from rim to river back to the rim in the same day.

I can only imagine how hard this would be for somebody that isn’t in shape or hasn’t worked out in a long time.

Wait…am I hallucinating?

Holy Batman! No really, Batman has just passed me!

I am not kidding. There is a guy in a BATMAN costume that just flew by us on the mountain. Where did he come from?  How long has he been hiking?  Is he fresh, or has he been going all day as well?

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  I have to get to the top of this “grand” canyon.

There really is a problem. Am I dehydrated? 

There was a small water station/restroom about 4 miles from the top.  In those last 4 miles, there would be 3000 ft of elevation gain.  Only 1500 feet of gain in the past 3.5 miles or so, and now we are basically doubling that!

With 2 miles left to go, the altitude is increasing with every step, I can see the top but my feet just won’t move more than a snails pace.

It is still light out, but the sun is long gone and we have been in the shade for hours now.  If I turn around I can see the sunlight reflecting off the red walls on the other side of the canyon.  The colors come alive and it is breath taking.

But, where I am, It is getting dark, my boyfriend and everyone else we come across is SHIVERING and pulling out the jackets, gloves, and hoodies…BUT, I am SWEATING!?!?!?!

Ok, something is wrong. I KNOW how important fluids are, and I have been drinking ALL day.  I don’t know how I did it, I but I totally forgot my Himalayan pink rock salt.  Because I don’t eat processed food, I HAVE to add Himalayan pink rock salt, and there are many benefits to doing so.

Needless to say, I am probably in some state of dehydration due to my complete lack of sodium and that is not good.

We FINALLY get to the top before dark, but I’m done. I did it, all 18 miles in a total time of about 8 1/2 hours including all stops, etc.  I did it, but I may never hike again.

Natalie Jill’s hiking survival guide:

OK, it has been a while now and I clearly recovered. I am thrilled I did this (absolutely breathtaking views!) but WOW that was a challenge for me.

Here is what I learned from my adventure:

What I did wrong and lessons learned:

Grand Canyon Warning Sign

WARNING: Do NOT attempt to hike from the canyon rim to the river and back in one day.

Read the signs and pay attention to the warnings. Just because you are FIT doesn’t mean you can tackle an 18 mile hike at 6900 ft above sea level when you live at sea level.  The altitude combined with a climate that is VERY dry, will have an effect on a hike of that distance in such a short period of time.

My advice is to plan a year ahead and get a camping pass so that you CAN camp at the bottom.  If that isn’t an option, TRAIN for the hike, and it is OK to take a shorter trail if you want.  You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

I know that my boyfriend and my other friend were fine with their minimalist footwear, but I prefer GOOD HIKING BOOTS. I had an amazing pair of LOWAS for 15+ years that I finally had to get rid of because they were so old they dry rotted lol.

I should have bough a new pair instead of using minimalist trail running shoes. They were lightweight and comfortable, but as I got tired there was no protection for kicking rocks with your toes, and they didn’t do anything to stop the sand from filling up the shoes.  Plus I would have liked a more protection from sharp rocks, rebarb, and other sharp things you encounter on a hike of this distance.

Carry salty snacks. Without SALT you will NOT retain all of the water you are drinking. You WILL get dehydrated. You can survive for days with himalayan rock salt and water. I should have had mine with me.

What I did right

I had my camel back on my back with plenty of water.

I had nutrient dense snacks like my Trail Mix and Whey Thins snacks

Grand Canyon ViewI had BCAA’s in my Camelback water so I couldn’t taste the plastic bladder aftertaste that can be present with those things

I had band aids, alcohol swabs, wet wipes, cortisone creme, lotion, lip balm, sunblock, a hat, sunglasses a wind breaker…and I used ALL of those things

I dressed in layers. This is critical on long hikes. Temperatures ranged from the 30’s in the morning, to a high of 90 degrees during the hike, so having layers that are easy to add and remove was critical. I wore: Sports bra, tank top, thin long sleeve thermal, zip , wind breaker and had a ski cap, gloves and turtle neck. All on top of warm leggings, long high wool socks (yes I looked like a nerd but they worked!)

In the End…

I DID IT!  It wasn’t pretty at times, but I found a way!  I had a boyfriend that didn’t leave my side even though I had my moments.

I highly suggest YOU try it as well. Just plan and be smart about it. Take your time, prepare and don’t try to prove anything to anyone 🙂

Excuses or Solutions…  YOU Decide!

-Natalie Jill

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Natalie Jill

Natalie Jill is a Fat Loss Expert turned high performance coach who helps woman Age In Reverse and level up their lives! Natalie Jill is the author of two best selling books "7 Day Jump Start- Unprocess Your Diet" and "Aging in Reverse" and has been recognized from Forbes and Greatist several years running as one of the top health and wellness influencers in the world. She is also the creator and host of the top ranking podcast Leveling Up Creating Everything from Nothing. . To know more about Natalie Jill, you can visit her Facebook Profile.

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