While most visitors to the Grand Canyon experience its beauty in the spring, summer and fall, winter is still a great time to visit – mild temperatures in the inner canyon for the Grand Canyon hiker, fewer people, and the scenery is still amazing, especially when the rim is dusted with snow. It’s obvious that a winter hike in Grand Canyon is much different than a summer hike, and there are few things you need to know to help make your hike an enjoyable and safe one. Your clothing, food, and shelter are all critical elements that can make or break your hike.
To help you on your hike into the canyon, here are some tips for a safe and enjoyable Grand Canyon hiking trip, during the winter or whenever.
Clothing: Light but functional
Let’s start with clothing. Temperature and weather conditions can vary dramatically from the rim to the river. You are dropping nearly a mile in elevation as you trek down the trails. The difference between the temperature on the rim and at the Colorado River can range as much as thirty degrees. So on the rim, you may start with a thick fleece jacket, a parka, long underwear, a hat and gloves, but by the time you are halfway down the trail, you may be comfortable in just pants and a shirt. The lightweight and waterproof material is the key to ideal clothing. Although functional clothing has its price, the investment is well worth it.
The fiber content of your clothing is extremely important. You do not want to wear cotton. Once cotton gets wet, it takes a long time, which cools down the body temperature. Hypothermia is a very real threat during a Grand Canyon winter. Go with synthetic fabrics since they do not absorb water and dry quickly.
The right footwear is important
Before you start your hike, you need to purchase optimal footwear. Ill-fitting shoes can cause pain, blisters and a bad mood. Find a specialty store with a great selection and let the trained staff advise you. A hiking shoe for the winter should be waterproof with outer leather and breathable lining. The shoes should be as light as possible and not add unnecessary weight to your feet.
Another important item to have along are instep crampons, Kahtoola Microspikes or Yaktrax Traction devices. The trails at the Canyon can be covered with slick ice for the first mile or two or even more. It is treacherous and scary to be slipping and sliding while walking on the edges of cliffs!
However, the use of snow traction devices as those mentioned above, will allow you to actually enjoy hiking on the icy trail. No kidding! The Canyon Village Marketplace in the Village also sells instep crampons very at very reasonable prices. Check for availability to make sure they have them in stock. Their phone number is (928) 638-2262; ask for the camping department.
Hiking sticks are also very useful when hiking in mud and ice. In fact, hiking sticks can be some of the most useful items you can take with you on your hike! Read my Walking Sticks & Trekking Poles for all the benefits of their use.
Go on a guided hiking or backpacking tour
You don’t even have to read the rest of this article if you hire a guide – he or she knows the trails, knows how to stay safe, will be sure you are safe, is prepared before you even show up, and can even teach you a thing or two about the Canyon’s history, flora, fauna and geology. Most guide services will also supply the gear you need, so no worrying about being underprepared or forgetting the essentials.
Don’t underestimate the Grand Canyon or overestimate your abilities
Hiking the Grand Canyon is like nothing else in most of the rest of the world. There is a different dynamic in hiking down first, then up. If your knees and ankles don’t feel the strain of constant gravitational pull down the steep trails, you may unintentionally hike too far, forgetting that the hike out is strenuous. Give yourself twice as much time to hike out than it takes to hike in. If you hike out in is less time than expected – good job! – now take in the sites from the rim and enjoy the rest of your day worry and relatively pain-free. If you are a generally sedentary person, stick with hiking along the rim.
Eat and drink
Yes, it is cooler this time of year, but the desert is very arid and you will lose fluids quickly so be sure to drink water often. Also, eat! When hiking, you can and should take plenty of snack breaks. It is best to replace electrolytes with food rather than through electrolyte replacements such as Gatorade. Take these items as a quick fix, not as a replacement. The calories in food also warm you up as your body burns them, so even if you don’t feel hungry, the fuel will warm you up!
Follow trail etiquette for a safe and fun hike
Aside from many other hikers, especially on the main trails – South Kaibab and Bright Angel – there are also mules on the trails carrying gear and people. When you are approached by a mule going uphill or downhill, always move as far off the trail as possible to the inside of the canyon (by the wall of the canyon, not by the exposed area) to allow them to pass. Failure to move over can put you in a battle between mule and human – mule will win and human will likely be at the bottom of the canyon at record speeds. If you are unsure, listen to and follow the trail boss for instructions. When you approach other hikers, it is an unwritten rule to always yield to hikers going uphill. Uphill hikers are slower but are also moving steady and once you are hiking uphill, you will too find that stopping for the energetic downhill speedster makes it much more challenging to keep going (unless you need to take a breather anyway). You will find slow and steady is much better than fast with numerous stops. And for those of you going downhill, the hiker hiking uphill will be looking down most of the hike and likely wearing a brimmed hat. These two factors make it very likely that they will not see you barreling down the trail. In the case of ice and snow – slipping down the trail – so intentional, slower speed is better anyway.
So, what are you waiting for? Plan and Book Your Trip with Sweetours!
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sources: explorethecanyon.com, hitthetrail.com, justroughinit.com