The Grand Canyon is almost hypnotizing in its beauty, and most dangerously, it looks inviting. After all, most trails begin downhill, so getting farther away from the rim is an effortless task. The truth is, this gorgeous natural phenomenon has a habit of killing the unsuspecting and unprepared.
If it’s the only advice you heed, please read through the following list and make sure you keep it close to your heart during your Grand Canyon adventure- this is your key to survival.
1. Fuel Your Body
It’s astounding what heat alone can do to your body. Couple this with the effort of climbing, scrambling, and hiking over the span of hours and you’ve got the perfect conditions to cause a quick, drained death.
Those granola bars you ate while hiking that hill around your house are cute, but hiking the Grand Canyon, especially if you plan to climb out of the gorge, requires a serious amount of energy.
Some hikers get into trouble real quick when they take this very simple tip lightly: eat more food. In order to feel energized and replace what you’re losing along the way, you need to eat small quantities of complex carbohydrates at least every half hour throughout the day.
This is the one chance you get to feel good about eating mostly carbs as anything with protein or high amounts of fat will take too long to digest and cause stomach irritability- the last thing you want is to lose the fuel you just put into your body.
Breads, fruits, salty crackers (pretzels are amazing), grains, and granola bars are great snacks to pack. Eating these foods frequently throughout the day will also ensure that you are effortlessly replacing electrolytes (the salts you’re sweating out). If you’re guzzling water, but forgetting to eat, your electrolyte stores will disappear making the water entering your system toxic. This condition is known as hyponatremia and has cost many hikers their lives.
2. Hydrate Your Body
Hikers can lose up to a quart of water (and electrolytes) for every hour they spend hiking a trail in the heat. What you need to know is that your body happens to absorb water at about the same rate it loses it- so about a quart per hour. This means that for every hour that you’re walking, you should be drinking about half a quart to a quart of water.
This cannot be said enough: don’t wait until you’re thirsty to start drinking! Regardless of whether you are thirsty or not, keep to the rule described above. Keep your water bottle in your hand and sip from it frequently, drinking small amounts of water overtime and making sure that you’ve consumed at least half a quart for every passing hour.
Consult your urine for your body’s hydration status. An individual who is normally hydrated can produce about two ounces of urine every two hours. The color of your urine is also very important- the color should be light yellow. If it is too clear, it means you are over-hydrating and at risk for hyponatremia (make sure you are replacing electrolytes). If it is too dark (and smells), you are dehydrated.
3. Time Your Ascent
While it is recommended that you walk in the shade as much as possible, it is most important that you do so when walking uphill. Most people making a climb out of the gorge start their ascent at dawn, which is a very smart thing to do. Hiking uphill in direct sunlight guarantees that your body will overheat and surviving the climb becomes that much more difficult.
Hiking in the heat means that your body will use a lot of energy simply trying to stay cool. What this means for you is less energy to exert the physical strength needed to climb and a lot of effort on your part.
4. Help Your Cooling System
You already know that your body expends a lot of energy simply trying to keep you cool and even if you start your climb early, the heat is bound to find you at some point during your climb. Don’t panic, there are ways that you can help your body help you.
In addition to drinking plenty of wanter to keep hydrated, soak yourself in water every chance you get. Hikers carry handkerchiefs for a reason and it’s not to rock the arab-chic look. As soon as you find a nice creek, soak your handkerchief, your hat, and your shirt to become a more efficient machine.
When you start to dry off, don’t be afraid to pour some more water on yourself, provided you’re carrying extra. This simple hack will make the world of difference in how you feel and save your body a ton of energy. Plus it’s nice to play in the puddles.
5. Elevate Your Feet
This one is a multi-purpose tip. Take a break every hour or so and prop your legs up against a ledge above the level of your heart. Lay there and relax while your body drains the metabolic waste from your legs.
Taking these elevation breaks seriously can ensure that you flush out up to 30% of waste from your legs. It also ensures that you’re replacing your electrolytes and preventing blisters as you can take this time to snack and switch out your socks.
Don’t worry about “keeping to a schedule”, this attitude can be fatal, especially if a break was all you needed to ensure your safety. These breaks will guarantee a quality hike, and recharge you for more efficiency.
6. Hike at Your Own Pace
Gasping for breath is not hiking at your own pace. Even if you’re talking to yourself because you’ve stopped trying to keep up with someone else*, this is the indication that you’re walking at the correct speed.
Huffing and puffing is not the way to hike, the canyon terrain and heat will literally take your breath away and that lack of oxygen will stress your body out.
Breathing properly means that your body will accumulate less metabolic waste and that essentially, you will enjoy the hike better and without so much effort.
Note* It’s better to ask your partner to slow down to your pace than to allow him/her to walk ahead. If you have a hiking buddy and are in a shaky state, stay by their side. Also, if you are the hiking buddy and see your parter struggling, the worst thing you can do is leave them behind. Be patient, follow this advice and you’ll survive the Grand Canyon.
7. Be Realistic
Athletes have died attempting Grand Canyon hiking trails. Do not take on a Grand Canyon hike as some sort of glorifying challenge and view its completion as a physical feat. This makes people reckless and despite their intentions, stupid.
Requiring fuel and hydration, stopping for a rest now and then, and breathing easily are all normal human needs, especially taking into account the hike you’re undertaking.
Not breaking any records doesn’t mean you’ve failed to “conquer” the Grand Canyon, finishing the trail alive with a positive experience however is more than most people can boast.