South Kaibab-Bright Angel Loop — Page 8

Grand Canyon - Inner Gorge

The Hot Zone

Black rock glitters in the sun like Devil's glass, radiating infernal, opressive heat in all directions. It's high noon at the bottom of Grand Canyon's Inner Gorge.

I feel the first assault of that heat as soon as I step out of the swamp-cooled air of the general store. Outside, I go right to the water faucet, where I soak my head, then my shirt, then my hat. Then I top off my water bottles, drink some water, top off again.

Silver Bridge The River Trail Slogging Through Sand Grand Canyon & Colorado River Mule Train Pipe Creek

In the mountains, the big hills tend to act as their own gatekeepers, shrugging off the unprepared long before they reach the most dangerous parts of the climb.

Not so Grand Canyon.

The canyon welcomes you down, down, down with open arms. And when you reach the very bottom at long last, the canyon wraps those same arms tight around you in a death embrace that won't easily let go.

Once I'm out of the shade of Phantom's cottonwoods and back in the sun crossing Silver Bridge, that embrace seems very real indeed. Across the Bridge, I'll follow the River Trail westward for about a mile before turning south to head up the Pipe Creek Drainage and Bright Angel Trail.

My singular concern now is maintaining a stable body core temperature.

Staying hydrated is important also, but if you're not careful, it's easy in the desert to sweat fluid faster than you can replace it, leading to a war of attrition which can't be won. Consider also that as you sweat, you lose vital electrolytes which water alone won't replace.

In the ideal scenario, you travel slowly, keep your clothes soaking wet to minimize sweating, nibble regularly on salty foods, and drink small amounts of water almost constantly.

In the real world, your clothes dry out in the sun with shocking speed, your eyes get choked with sweat, your water (if you haven't run out) gets too hot to touch, and your rising nausea makes the mere thought of food unbearable.

Really, the best strategy on days like these is to just stay home! Slogging across the sand, I start to worry maybe I've missed the turnoff to the Bright Angel. Am I heading off to oblivion in the western canyon?

No—a mule train passes me, confirming I'm in the right place, on the main corridor trail. But that's how easy it is to get in trouble down here. Miss a turnoff or even just start doubting yourself and backtracking pointlessly—you can't afford to make such mistakes. So it is with much relief that I round the next bend in the trail and find myself at the mouth of Pipe Creek, entrance to the Bright Angel Trail, my way back home.

I walk right over to the creek and you know the ritual by now: soak the head, the hat, the shirt. With all the mules passing by, Pipe Creek probably isn't a safe source to drink untreated, and today I am carrying a SteriPen so I can purify water for drinking. But let's say my bottles were empty and I didn't have a way to treat the water. What then?

Fill your water bottles anyway! You can always use the water to pour over your head to cool down—you don't need clean water for that. And if the situation becomes desperate enough, drinking untreated fresh water may well make the difference between being found alive or dead. Always give yourself options. While you still can: Think.

next: Bright Angel Trail

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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