Each Year, 250 Hikers Have To Be Rescued From the Grand Canyon. Why?

Illustration for article titled Each Year, 250 Hikers Have To Be Rescued From the Grand Canyon. Why?

The hike down into the Grand Canyon is a rewarding one, full of gorgeous views. It's also, however, a treacherous hike with 250 of the people who attempt the route eventually needing rescue from the National Parks Service annually. Just what makes it so dangerous?


Commenter eregyrn summed up some of the treacherous conditions that hikers face while trying to make the famous trek into the canyon, which measures at up to 6,000 feet deep, and then back out again:

It's not just "a walk". Getting to the bottom of the canyon is a strenuous hike in often dangerous weather conditions (i.e. heat), and it takes hours. Get to the bottom, and there is only one hotel there with limited space. (Of course, you could camp.) Returning to the top on the same day is… possible, for conditioned athletes. (They don't even make the mules go down and back up in one day. So if you get a spot on one of the mule trips, you have to have plans to stay at the bottom overnight.)

There are signs all over the rim that say "Down is optional; Up is Mandatory", along with graphic depictions of what happens to hikers who suffer heat-stroke. "Don't be one of the over 250 people we have to rescue each year" is the basic message. And those are generally fit people who think they CAN do it, and overestimate their abilities. When I visited last year, there was a signboard on the North Rim with a picture of a woman on it. The sign said, "Could you run the Boston Marathon?" The basic message: the woman pictured had run the Boston Marathon. Then she came to hike in the Grand Canyon, misread her hiking route, underestimated the amount of water she would need, and died out there on the trail.

So part of me sympathizes with the idea of making it possible for more people to go down and up, in a shorter amount of time and with less danger of injury or death. That's not just catering to laziness. In theory, I guess, you might balance the drawbacks of a greater number of people visiting the bottom (and their environmental impact) with the fact that they wouldn't have to remain there. (But the point is, they aren't there NOW, having an impact, so the impact of human visitation would absolutely increase.)

Personally, I'd rather the option wasn't there. But that's just because I feel like, for myself, I would rather there be things out there that are difficult to do. I think it makes them more worthwhile. When I was there, I wasn't able to hike to the bottom; but I'd like to think that I could do that, someday. When I was at Yosemite, I couldn't hike to the top of Half Dome, either. But it's something to aspire to.


The National Park Service sums up the message to hikers in this pithy caution: "WARNING: There are no easy trails into or out of the Grand Canyon!"

Image via Grand Canyon National Park's Flickr

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As an avid hiker who is pushing back into adventures in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, I know how important it is to plan and over-prepare. Instead of shaking my head at the people who have died, or wondering why people need to be rescued, I'd rather share a list of things to remember if you wish to go into the wilderness.

Always tell several people where you are going. Whether alone or in a group there should be people who are not going with you who know where you are and how long you plan to be gone.

Bring double of your essentials. Think you only need a litre of water? Bring 2.5 or 3. (Imperial that's 32 oz meaning bring at least 64 or 80) Have food enough for several breaks, or have a full day of calories extra for each person if you plan to be out all day. Stop and eat often, and drink a lot. Hot day? Have extra water at your vehicle for when you get back. Oh and chocolate melts so be careful with what you choose for supplies. Mess is no fun when there's no sink for a proper wash-up.

Stay on the trail! When I go off of the trail I keep it in sight. I know where it is because I can see it, and there's no ego of "oh I know where it is" which is a lie. Even with a compass, stepping around obstacles will throw off your dirction and if you can't read your own foot steps, you can think you turn around and line up the opposite direction with your compass and walk right past that trail and end up lost. (I did that when I was 19 and instead of the empty field that was my target I ended up at the highway with a half hour extra walk)(that was lucky because it was only half an hour and I had friends along who only teased me a little bit)

Always have rain gear of some sort. Plus, bring a hat, extra socks, and a change of footwear for when you're done.

If you want to hike and have no friends who wish to go with you, stick to popular trails. Okay, I like to get away from everything, people included, but I just pick a trail that's popular and start earlier. I get my head start of solitude and then there are plenty of people around to chat with briefly and smile at on my way back, and if I do get hurt, they'll be around.please see stay on the trail above.

Never rely on your phone.

Have the right gear: buy a proper backpack that distributes weight across your torso and hips. Have proper footwear (hikers, please, invest in them, they are fabulous) and wear layers so you can control your body temperature. As Les Stroud says about survival situations: you sweat, you die. Being able to stop and remove your hoodie is a good thing.

Bring a first aid kit, multi tool, string and at least two mini flash lights. Walking stick strongly recommended.

Have a way to make fire, but do everything you can to avoid making a fire. What? Explanation: If you get lost and need fire overnight, then do it, but don't make fires you do not need to make. You could burn down everything around you, and of course, you'll be in the middle of that inferno. Fire is for survival, not for fun.

Don't eat or drink anything you didn't bring with you. Looks like edible berries? How do you know? Exactly. Have a snack bar you picked up at the store..

If there might be bears, bring what you need to protect yourself from bears! Bear warning in effect for the area? Do not go alone! The rule for areas where bears are highly active is minimum four people and make lots of noise. Also applies to wild cat sightings.

Do not push yourself. There's no prize for speed hikes. Go slow, rest when needed, and enjoy the scenery. That's the whole point of hiking!

Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

I am sure there are things I have missed but there's a lot to remember about heading out into wild places whether they be canyons or forests or mountains or wherever. Prepare and survive. And always, ALWAYS tell people where you are going. Seriously.