A Tale of Two Trails – Here’s What Happened Next

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

I open the confirmation email, forwarding it to Carver. We’re hiking Grand Canyon. It’s time to research those trails.

Much like googling symptoms when you’re not feeling well, it’s best to proceed with caution. I search “hiking Grand Canyon” and scroll through the results. The titles are disturbing.  Top Ten Toughest Hikes in the World, Most Dangerous Hikes on Earth, and Death in the Canyon to name a few.

I get confirmation on the zero chance possibility of going rim to rim in December as indicated during the reservation process. It might have been a good idea to get even the smallest amount of information before making that call. Instead I based our entire itinerary on a t-shirt I saw in the Grand Canyon gift shop with the words “I Hiked Rim-to-Rim” emblazoned across the front.

Rim to Rim is just that. Start at north rim and come down, then up the South rim, or vice versa. The North rim closes for anything but day use on October 15 and closes permanently for the winter on December 1, or when the road is impassable due to snow. I hadn’t considered the possibility of snow. It seems more of a probability than a possibility. I wonder if the woman taking the reservation put a note or asterisk in our file.

Clicking on one article after another I wonder what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. It won’t be the last time. One of the tamer warnings from Modern Hiker reads like this:

Grand Canyon National Park rangers conduct a large volume of rescues each year due to lack of preparation, and part of the permit process includes education on the factors in the environment that are most likely to ruin your trip. Safety considerations include appropriate conditioning for a hike of this difficulty, understanding the hazards inherent in desert hiking, which includes dehydration, heat stroke, exposure, encounters with dangerous plants and animals, and hypothermia. Furthermore, it is important not to underestimate the mental challenges of hiking the Grand Canyon. All hiking within the canyon follows the maxim of “what goes down must come up.”

Ummm…pretty serious stuff. Since a permit is included and automatically issued with a stay at Phantom Ranch, there won’t be any educational component of the process for us as mentioned above.  On the plus side we have a year to learn and to prepare. A year is a long time. We are smart, self reliant, strong women with a combined total hiking experience of zero. Zip. Nada. None.

I do what anybody would do and turn to Facebook, the modern day marvel of misinformation and memes. There’s bound to be a group of people who have done this. There is and I join.

The very first post is from a woman who just completed the exact route we’re contemplating, except in reverse. She went down Bright Angel and up South Kaibab. Her photos are amazing! Leaving a comment I explain my plan and ask for advice. Within an hour there are dozens of replies from hikers all over the country.

The first comment goes like this:

The tips are this. Do it the other way around. Go Down the South Kaibab Trail, and Up The Bright Angel. It is a very long strenuous, demanding TOUGH Hike. Start Training Now ! 5000 feet down, and 5000 feet back up. It will take you all day, one way down, And Another All Day to Go Back Up. Even if you are going to do this in Dec. bring at least One Gallon of Water, Per Person, Per Day. You Will Drink every drop, I promise you. Wear good fitting hiking boots that are well worn in, to avoid any blisters. Use Trekking Poles, they help a lot. Take a Good Camera, stop and take photos. Make your Backpack as LIGHT as Possible, you will thank yourself for that, on the way back up. Be Prepared for 2 EPIC Days. This will bring the ” Hero ” out of you. Have Fun.

This sparks debate on the route. Fairly heated debate. Most posters think that it’s better to go down the South Kaibab Trail due to steepness and lack of water, returning via Bright Angel Trail. There are lots of other warnings about equipment, weather, water, food, and more. No shortage of shit to fret about here, but lots of encouragement too. Again I wonder what the hell I’ve gotten us into. I also wonder what a crampon is?

Later that day I receive a private message. It’s from the woman who wrote the original post.

Hi Tami.  I can answer any questions you have.  The advice the other guy gave is good, but I wanted to put in my two cents.  He said to do it the other way around meaning down S. Kaibab trail and up Bright Angel.  It’s a matter of opinion and the kind of shape you are in.  I do it the way I do because bright Angel trail is a bit longer.  Longer but not quite as steep. It’s longer By 2-2.5 miles.  And when hiking back up, that is a lot of extra mileage in my opinion.  All I want is to get out of there and when you have an extra 2-2.5 miles it can seem like forever.  No matter what, this hike is grueling.  It will test your every emotion, your mentality, and your physical being. South Kaibab is a very steep hike if you choose it to go back up.  That’s why people generally go down this trail.  My friend and I agreed, it would tear up our knees to go down S. Kaibab. BUT to be fair, many people do it every day.

These people have completed Iron Mans, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, pretty major stuff. Even with these incredible feats of athleticism and achievement under their belts, many claim this hike is one of the toughest things they’ve ever done. My biggest athletic accomplishment to date is placing first in my age group at a 10K run. I was the only person in my age group. I walked most of the way.

Doubt starts to creep in; doubt with a healthy dose of fear. There’s a  little voice in my head telling me that I can’t do this. I assume this is the voice of reason, not the crazy coming-out-of-your-fillings voice some people hear. The very idea is pure foolishness. You’re not an athlete. Nor a hiker. This voice is loud and clear. I remember the couple on the bus. If they could do it, I can do it. The couple on the bus becomes my new mantra.

It’s time to think about training. This search finds tips about strengthening exercises and cardio endurance, but the general consensus is that the best way to train for a hike is by hiking. I change my search to North Alabama hikes and stumble upon an event called the First Day Hike. Clicking on the link I learn that First Day Hikes take place on New Year’s Day all over the country. Promoted by America’s State parks there are plenty offered. Serendipity.

I settle on DeSoto State Park. I’ve been there before and have met the naturalist who’ll be leading the hike. At 5ish miles the distance seems right. Long enough to make it seem like a real hike, a bit of a challenge, but absolutely doable. This is the one. Everyone starts somewhere and I’ll be starting on the first day of the year. I can’t think of a better way to begin this journey.


Missed the first installment of A Tale of Two Trails? No worries! Click here and read about how it all began. Ready for the next installment, Hike One at DeSoto State Park? Click here.