Video: 1.5B years in 7 miles, and the gear needed for crossing the Grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon National Park in November 2021. (At Home in Wild Spaces)

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This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Editor's note: This article is the third of three-part series breaking down the needs before trying endurance hiking and how to accomplish the toughest Grand Canyon hike safely and responsibly. Read the first part here; and the second part here.

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK — Time travel might seem like the stuff of Hollywood movies, but it's real and available to anyone with a taste for adventure. No flux capacitor or quantum tunnel necessary.

And in Grand Canyon National Park, you'll find a time-travel opportunity like nowhere else in the world. You can literally travel through 1.5 billion years of earth's history, and depending on your chosen path, you can accomplish this miracle by walking as little as 7 miles.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, as is usually the case, there's a catch. Successfully managing this feat requires hiking or running from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River at the canyon's floor, approximately 1 vertical mile below the rim. Along the way, you'll pass through a third of the Earth's estimated 4.5 billion-year geologic history. All while surrounded by some of the most awe-inspiring, acclaimed and revered natural scenery on the planet.

Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: At Home in Wild Spaces via YouTube)

But don't be fooled. These are not stand-alone miles, nor is the full journey suitable for inexperienced and ill-prepared adventurers. The shortest route from the rim to the river is the 7-mile stretch known as the South Kaibab trail; one of the three main trails utilized by rim-to-rim hikers, or those who cross the Grand Canyon on foot.

If you commit to this remarkable 7-mile plunge into the heart of the Grand Canyon, you are also committing to a strenuous, often arduous climb from the river, back to rim. It's a journey you'll never forget to be sure. And one that many over-enthusiastic and underprepared adventurers come to regret.

The terrain is rugged, there's no water, essentially no cover, only one or two pin pricks of cell service, broiling daytime temperatures and biting sub-freezing temperatures — often in the same day if tackling the journey in the spring or fall.

It's incredibly easy to get sucked in by the gorgeous landscape or "bucket list" culture and plunge deeper into the canyon than is wise or prudent.

Historically, so many hikers have overextended themselves along the South Kaibab Trail that rescue crews were forced into a dangerous and shiftless cycle of locating, aiding and often extracting injured or exhausted hikers who had vastly underestimated the canyon — or overestimated their abilities.

For the safety of rescue crews, burned out and utterly exhausted by the relentless need for intervention on behalf of incapacitated hikers, private vehicles have been banned from accessing the South Kaibab parking area since 1997, following a record-setting year of search and rescue incidents.

Today, the only way to access the trailhead is by park shuttle, or walking the extra 1.4 miles from the main road to the trailhead, a management decision deliberately intended to discourage the underprepared or foolhardy.

With all this cautionary talk, you might be asking, "Is the effort even worth it?" Answer: Absolutely. But only if you find and pay heed to the right resource. Something that, in the internet age, is becoming more and more difficult.

After closing the South Kaibab parking lot to private vehicles, search and rescue incidents within the park began to plummet well into the 2000s. But that trend has reversed in recent years. Search and rescue incidents are again skyrocketing, numbering almost 400 in 2021 — levels not seen since before the South Kaibab parking area was closed.

The exact cause is under investigation, but at this point, a lead suspect is a very misleading and misinformed internet culture.

In the world of travel and adventure, "must do" and "bucket list" suggestions have become the outdoor equivalent of the Tide pod challenge; ill-conceived, frequently damaging, often hazardous, and yet a remarkably popular social ritual.

It's hard to even have a travel discussion nowadays without the terms "must do" and "bucket list" repeatedly rearing their heads.

But, in truth, the only outdoor "must dos" are know your limits, be prepared and be courteous and respectful to both the land and your fellow travelers.

"Buckets lists," meanwhile, rather than expanding life's experiences, often result in debilitating tunnel vision, over-stressed natural resources, and a veritable ocean of unqualified and frequently hazardous online advice.

If you're up for the challenge, reaching the depths of the Grand Canyon is an incredible experience, absolutely within reach for most people, so long as they get reliable information and know how to intelligently prepare and explore wild spaces. The video highlighted above is the third in a one-of-a-kind series, that shares everything you need to know about hiking in or across the Grand Canyon and the information presented scales wonderfully for any hike you could ever want to undertake.

Part 1 goes over how to train intelligently. Part 2 covers how to fuel your body intelligently. And part 3, in addition to discussing each of the rim to rim routes and what gear you'll need to explore the canyon successfully, takes you on the dazzling virtual journey through 1.5 billion years of geologic time, beginning in the canyon's deepest depths near the Mighty Colorado River and winding all the way up the South Kaibab trail to the South Rim.

Whether you plan on tackling this journey yourself, or would like to enjoy the depths of the canyon from the comfort of your home, this HDR video series is without rival and reminds you that there is more to life, than bucket lists, bragging rights, or the internet's copy and past culture.

Be careful about what online advice you heed, and do your part to protect our priceless natural resources.

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Mike is a writer, filmmaker and public speaker, who, along with his wife Michelle, owns and manages At Home in Wild Spaces Films, a film studio that produces informational outdoor adventure media and resources. Mike graduated from BYU with a degree in film and animation, and occasionally writes about entertainment and current events.


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