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?
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