Hiking The Grand Canyon For The First Time

By Sarah Ventre
Published: Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 5:43pm
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2019 - 12:57pm
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(Photo courtesy Stina Sieg via Flickr)
Hiking the Grand Canyon for the first time was equal parts magical and terrifying.
(Photo courtesy Sarah Ventre via Flickr)
View from the Bright Angel trailhead.
(Photo courtesy National Park Service)
Bright Angel Trail
(Photo courtesy Stina Sieg via Flickr)
Feeling strong with only a mile and a half left to go, before things got real.

Each year more than 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon, but only about 1 percent of them make it to the Colorado River at the bottom. An even smaller percentage of those visitors are Arizonans. I've lived in Arizona almost my whole life and never thought it was possible to hike it myself until recently.

I trained for a year and a half for this. I’ve never done something this physically demanding before. I’ve never been athletic, and as someone who’s fat, I feel a ton of self-consciousness. For me, this was as much about facing my fears as it was about hiking the canyon.

Standing at the rim, I found myself sighing, almost speechless.

"It’s really hard to think of things to say when you see it. I feel so small," I said.

As I stepped onto the Bright Angel Trail, I felt my shoes grip onto the icy ground and the hand-warming packets become fully activated in my gloves.

My friend and co-worker, KJZZ reporter Stina Sieg, asked me if I wanted to hike the Grand Canyon with her. I said yes, assuming she would never follow up on it. Then she did. This is how I found myself hiking a steep path down to the bottom.

"But you’re like, really close to the edge and I’m kind of impressed," Stina told me as we started on the trail.

"Thanks," I replied. "I’m kind of impressed too. I honestly expected to have like a partial nervous breakdown before we started."

I wasn’t just scared though. I was excited, also. I had never been below the rim of the canyon before. As the sun moved through the sky, the canyon walls changed colors and glowed in reds, oranges, and purples. It felt like I was walking through four or five different landscapes. Some parts felt like high country, while others felt like the desert I’m used to, or the woods or the beach. After six or seven hours of hiking, I was starting to feel sore and tired.

"We’re really close - hopefully half a mile to three quarters of a mile from Phantom Ranch," I said into my recorder. "I can hear the river, and I’m really excited to get there."

After two nights at Phantom Ranch, a lodge at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and a long but leisurely extra day of hiking, I could no longer avoid thinking about the inevitable.

"Right now my stomach is just a little unsettled because I’m really nervous about hiking out," I said into my recorder while standing outside of the canteen at Phantom Ranch. "Feeling my own limitations, but also feeling proud that I’m pushing myself. Hopefully I’ll do this again, but even if I never do, this was enough."

Those nine and a half miles up were no joke. I managed to stay focused though, and we even started making better time than I thought.

"It’s good," I said into my recorder. "I was feeling so intimidated, and I feel pretty proud of myself now and pretty excited and like maybe I’m capable of more things than I thought I was, which is kinda cool."

I even maintained a positive mindset till the mile and a half rest house, which is the last stopping point on the way up to the rim.

"I know I’m gonna have to dig really deep for this last mile and a half, but I feel ready to dig deep," I said as I finished a snack and got ready for the last part of the hike.

Shortly after that, things took a turn.

"I think realistically, we have less than half a mile to go," said Stina Sieg as I was out of breath and trudging up the steep incline. "Definitely. Probably less than that."

"And like every step feels agonizing," I panted.

"Where’s that optimism from the three-mile house?" Sieg asked.

"I think it’s still there," I mumbled, trying to steel myself for that last push.

It started to get dark. We were the last ones off the trail, and it felt like the end would never come.

"Is that sign the end of the trail?" I asked in between gasps for air.

"Yeah!" Sieg yelled, encouragingly.

I kept slogging through until, finally, we were there.

"We did it," I said as I started to cry. "I didn’t think I was strong enough to do that."

After three days of hiking and a total of 33 miles, I felt amazing. I realized that it didn’t matter that I finished last or that it was so hard. It mattered that I did it.

Thanks to Stina Sieg for her production assistance on this piece.

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