Monday, May 28, 2012

Grand Canyon - nuts and bolts

If you are contemplating doing this rim to rim walk in the future, here are some of my thoughts about what went well and what could be improved.

Just Roughin It.

Without this company, I doubt I ever would have been able to go on the trip. There are other outfits but I was told they are the only outfit that will pick you up in Phoenix. They appear to be well organized and scheduling is a large part of their operation. SUV's have to appear at the right time. You need to pass through certain parts of the canyon at certain times of day to avoid the heat of the afternoon. Backpacks have to be packed with tents, sleeping bags, snack bags, water and so on. Permits have to be filled in so that they can be checked by the Park Rangers.

They are not perfect. Their web site is one of those that has grown over time and is now a bit of a jumble. For example, try to find the hotels they will pick up from in Phoenix and the weather forecast in the Grand Canyon. It's all there, but you have to poke around to find it.

If JRI reads this, try organizing your website by your three levels of audience:
- those thinking about doing a walk (trips offered, costs, etc)
- those who have booked and are getting ready (hotels, training tips, clothing etc)
- the final week before you go (drinking water, check lists, weather )

They pride themselves on their small groups ( max of 5 plus guide ). It's mentioned in one of my blogs that the park tables only seat 6. Still, a small group is wonderful.

Please number the Gatorade bottles so that we don't get them mixed up when one of us takes a bunch of them to the nearest faucet at a campground to fill them up. It would be preferable to have two bottles per person since there is a pocket on each side of the backpack. Since my body is not too flexible anymore, I could never reach the bottles when they were loaded into the backpack pockets. I had to get somebody to get my bottle out for me and put it back. Eventually I just stuck the bottle in one of my pockets. I could have used a belt with my Gatorade bottles in front of me.

Some of us, including myself, had problems sucking water through the blue hose thing. Once there was a kink in the backpack, but other times I had no clue what was wrong and it just wouldn't work, By the way, the water tastes awful through the hose.

I loved being in my own single tent. None of us ever used the fly thing so we never took them out of their bags and just used them as pillows. I would seriously consider bringing a more comfortable blow up pillow.

I was very pleased with the food. There was more than we all could eat and it was tasty. The coffee was excellent and very welcome in the morning.

Since I will be going on to Medicare later this year, I was naturally concerned about whether I was too old to attempt this walk. When I applied, I included link to my blog of climbing Mount Warning in Australia so that the owners of the company could get a better feel for my ability to complete the trip. They both talked to me and I appreciate that they took the trouble to 'check me out'.

Finally, there are always cancellations. I applied four months before and thinking that I was probably to late, I was amazed to get on a trip. I suspect singles might be useful for filling up groups of five.

And of course, Kelli the guide was wonderful.


For me, the main benefit of training was not that I could walk faster or longer, but that when we stopped for a rest, I could recover faster. I could feel quite tired, but after a minute stop in the shade and a drink of water, I was ready to go again.

JRI recommended upper body exercise and I wondered why. After all, the main exercise is the walking which requires leg muscles. I found out that using the poles going down hill and through the tricky rocky bits is quite hard on your arm and shoulder muscles. I almost got a blister on one hand. That's what the upper body training is for.

There were times when the going got tough. That is when I thought back to walking up the steep hills on my training circuit. You really have to get out there and put in the miles, week after week. You just have to pick a time of day that works for you and do your hour or so of walking.

If you need to stop on the walk, stop. Somebody else will be very glad to take a rest as well. It's possible that at least one of your party will be affected by the altitude when you are getting close to the rim.


We all just stayed in the same set of clothes for the entire walk. I just had one change of clothes in case of emergencies. I also had a fresh pair of socks each day.

I wore cargo shorts which were fine. The cargo pockets held my snacks and a bag with a couple of extra batteries and spare SD card for the camera. My regular pockets held a couple of handkerchiefs, my camera, a small plastic bag with my drivers licence, medical card, credit card and money. And of course, a bottle of Gatorade or water.

Some wore long pants with cargo pockets. Before the trip, I wondered if I should include a pair but when I looked at the mid 60's temperatures predicted for the North Rim, I realized that I wouldn't need them. I took a jacket for the van ride but didn't use it and left it in my duffel bag.

My seersucker shirt worked fine. It had a breast pocket which was useful for carrying my sunglasses when I didn't have to wear them. It's good to take off your sunglasses for a while when you get particularly hot and sweaty. My sunglasses were the wrap around kind and fortunately were quite secure on my head. They cost me $1 at the local Dollar Tree.

Some wore long sleeves. If you suffer from sunburn easily, this is probably a good idea.

My hat was one of these that cost about $30. The mesh at the top worked well and the chin strap is essential. It can get very windy in some locations and you do not want to lose your hat since the sun is so strong. Whenever you pass a water source, douse the hat in the water and put it on your head. It feels wonderful.

Some of us suffered a little from allergies in the canyon. My handkerchiefs were pretty disgusting by the end of the trip.

I did not take flip flops but some old very comfortable deerskin mocassins that I love to wear at very casual locations. It was a mistake, I should have taken flip flops since you can walk in the water with flip flops.

I kept all of my toiletries, pills etc in a Ziploc bag that I could put in the white snack bag that went in the ammo can each night. I would not bother bringing soap or other cleaning things since the guide has a little bottle of sanitizer that you can clean your hands with before meals. I took an Ibuprofen pill immediately after we finished the main day's trek. It really helped. My comb was not used and the others did not shave.


You've seen the photos of the disintegration of my LL Bean trail shoes. They've served me well in the past and I was surprised that they did not hold up very well. I should have bought two pairs, trained in one pair and then broken in the other pair about two weeks before the trip.

However, I would not use them again for a trek like this. First, they are a bit too heavy. Second, they don't have enough cushion effect. Third, you don't want to get them wet.

I would consider sandals like what Kelli wore but I would be concerned about stubbing my toes on rocks. This did not seem to be a problem for Kelli. Presumably if the sandal sticks out far enough in front of your toes, your get sufficient protection. Certainly you would not have the problem of your toes hitting the front of your shoe when you go downhill. A couple of my toes have bruised toenails though they don't hurt. If I wore sandals, I would certainly be using Glide on the parts of my feet where the straps were. This Glide stuff works and I used it every day.

I would also investigate running shoes since there were so many runners going past us. They usually are very well cushioned. Again, I would consider buying two pairs. One to do the bulk of the training and the other to break in just before the trip.

Depending on your feet of course, you might need more ankle support so boots might be better. The trail can be rough in parts on the North Kaibab trail, but mostly it's not too bad.

I did get a blister in an area I have never had a blister before. I was glad Nirjal and Kelli had moleskin.

A week after the trip, some parts of my feet still hurt. You are carrying an extra 35 pounds on your back and the extra weight is tough on your feet.

If you are wearing two layers of socks, make sure they are not too tight in your shoes. With sandals, Kelli did not wear socks.


Photographers have a saying that 'the best camera is the one you have with you'. I would change that phrase in the Grand Canyon to say ' the best camera is the one you have in your hand'.

My camera is a Canon Powershot A1200 (the model before this A1300) which I mostly used on auto with a high resolution. In most of my blogs I do a lot of cropping but my canyon photos were uploaded untouched. Most of the photos were taken with one hand while we were walking along and I did not use the view finder much. I didn't use the zoom much either and relied on having a lot of pixels if I needed to crop.

The others had larger, heavier cameras which got in the way while they walked or were inaccessible while they walked. Their cameras will take better photos, but I took more photos (close to 1000) which was fine for blog purposes.

Allow a set of batteries for each day of walking. Also carry extra SD cards. I always had a pair of batteries and an SD card ready in a cargo pocket. You have to carry the used batteries out with you.

Cell Phones

Leave your cell phone in your duffel bag in the SUV. There is no reliable reception down in the canyon and the idea is that you leave the civilized world behind. Electricity is available at the Phantom Ranch cafeteria.

Your Bowels

It's not a great subject to talk about but be prepared for changes.

First, JRI tells you to drink at least three litres of water per day for the three days before your trip. You need to do this to get your body hydrated. It is incredibly dry out in Arizona and your body craves water. Drinking all this water acts as a mini enema. This is not a bad thing when you are going for a long hike.

When you are down in the canyon, not much comes out, even though you are drinking oodles of water and Gatorade and eating lots of food. I did not need my doggy poo bags and your guide carries a small shovel.

When you get out of the canyon, your bowels will return to their normal state.

Should you do this?

It's an absolutely amazing thing to do. The sense of wonder seeing all of this scenery close up is incredible. The sense of accomplishment you get from walking out at the end is something you will always remember. If you have the time, money and energy, do it.

Now I am wondering what walk I will do next. El Camino? The Wainwright walk across northern England? I've got to get something planned so that I keep walking. It's good for me.

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