16 – Danger in Grand Canyon

Slice-Your-Age-PodcastJanuary 16, 2014 – Episode 16 – On today’s show, Dave and his guest Larry talk about their extreme rim to rim to rim backpack trip in Grand Canyon and what went terribly wrong. Even if you have no desire to ever backpack Grand Canyon, this show is a must listen!

Take a listen to the show. Download it and throw it on your iphone or ipod and listen to on the go in your car or while you are going for a run or walk inside or outside. Live Stronger, Healthier, and Happier!

Dr. Dave goes hiking once or more a year in the Grand Canyon. There is no real easy backpacking in the Grand Canyon. Here is more info about the Grand Canyon and the National Parks Service’s Hike Smart Tips: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/hike-tips.htm

The edge of the rim is where you are standing looking at this big opening of the earth. You start at the south rim and hike down to the river 7-8 miles to get to the north rim to get to the top which is a couple thousand feet higher than the south rim. Learn more about the rim trails of the Grand Canyon: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/day-hiking.htm

Dr. Dave’s friend Larry trained and prepared for this hike by hiking heavy miles with a heavy 30-40 pound backpack. He took this very seriously and was well prepared for the big Grand Canyon hike. The Grand Canyon can kick your butt and you should be in great shape and prepare too! Here is some more information on preparing for a major hike: http://www.mensfitness.com/leisure/travel/fit-travel-hiking-the-grand-canyon-rim-to-rim

Larry and Dr. Dave and others hiked and camped for 7 days in the Grand Canyon. You really need to eat and drink and replace your electrolytes and keep fuelled. These are long hikes carrying backpacks up and down elevations in the heat. You need to not only be prepared physically, but keep your body fuelled with food and beverages.

Larry needed to lighten his load, so he dropped off part of his load at a ranger station because it was just too much. This isn’t something you normally cannot do, but the rangers made an exception. If you don’t come back and get it, the items will be donated.

After the first day Larry felt light headed and nauseous. He didn’t feel great after that point and kept trying to suck it up. After lightening his load on day 3, he felt and looked so horrible the team had him lay down on some rocks. Even some EMT trained people on the trail stopped and helped lighten Larry’s load even more and carry some of his items. Larry continued after a rest and then needed to lay down again. Dr. Dave and Larry separated groups and the next Dr. Dave saw Larry he was on a mule riding towards Dr. Dave! Listen to the show and hear how this harrowing saga continues. Definitely exciting times!

The other hikers on the trail were amazing. They helped carry items. Many stopped and checked on him and asked if they could help. Hikers are amazing and nice people! Their grace and kindness really blew our minds! All these great people came together to help Larry from encouraging words, to physical help carrying some of his items, to giving him a mule!

All the guests on Dr. Dave’s show are treated to his latest favorite tea. Today’s Show Tea was called Taste of Inspirations Tea. It is 100% Organic, Golden Chamomile, Smooth and Buttery Herbal Blend Tea. This is Dr. David’s newest most favourite chamomile tea!

Did you enjoy today’s show? Do you have any questions for me? Connect with me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/davidmadow. Do you have a friend that needs to hear this show and live a better life and slice their age in half? Share this show with them and send them to http://www.sliceyourage.com.

Backpacking in Grand Canyon – The Essential Items for Your Pack

Backpacking in Grand Canyon can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do in your life. Many of you have asked me over the years what you need to take with you on your trip. Of course it will depend on the season and on the actual hike you are doing. What I have attempted to do here is to outline the essential items you need to have with you, other than food, for a fairly basic trip.  Please use this as a guide only, as your requirements may be a little different.

By the way, your needs will change with the seasons. What you carry in the middle of the summer will be somewhat different than what you will need in the winter. My list assumes a typical spring or fall trip, which are the best seasons in my opinion.

  • A backpack which you have thoroughly tested. This means hiking for many miles with weight in it!
  • Backpacking tent.
  • A ground cover for your tent.
  • Sleeping bag – I prefer down filled.
  • Sleeping pad for underneath your sleeping bag. Do not cheap out on this!
  • Backpacking stove.
  • Fuel for the stove. Please remember that you cannot pack fuel on an airplane. Purchase at Grand Canyon.
  • Waterproof/windproof matches.
  • Duct tape.
  • Lightweight pot for heating water.
  • Water filter and/or iodine tablets.
  • Headlamp with batteries.
  • Extra batteries for headlamp.
  • Camelback hydration system or 4 one-liter Nalgene bottles. My rule of thumb is to have the capacity to carry at least 4 liters of water for a basic trip. This is the desert and don’t underestimate the dangers of dehydration.
  • Drinking cup.
  • 50 feet of nylon cord.
  • Map.
  • Quick drying hand towel.
  • Pencil/pad if you like to take notes or journal your trip.
  • Toiletries/first aid.
  • SportsSlick or some type of skin lubricant.
  • Sunblock.
  • Bug repellant – I have not had much trouble with bugs in Grand Canyon.
  • Knife, fork, spoon (all in one, found at camp stores).
  • Toilet paper.
  • Money, credit card, ID.
  • Swiss army knife.
  • Trekking poles – a MUST as far as I am concerned.
  • Digital camera, extra memory card and an extra battery.
  • Camp pillow – I love the inflatable one from REI.
  • Handy wipes.
  • Stuff sacks or large zip lock bags for clothing.
  • Backpack rain cover – you never know in Grand Canyon!
  • Zip lock bag to hold trash.
  • Large trash bag (to protect backpack at night from rain).
  • iPod and earbuds –I use these sometimes at night to help me fall asleep. Obviously they are optional.
  • Backcountry pass – MUST have this to backpack in Grand Canyon.

This is a very basic list and of course your needs will vary. Of course you will be carrying food and extra clothing, which I will touch on in another article. But for now, you should have enough info to get started on packing your bag!

The Grand Canyon – Layover Day at Phantom Ranch – Hike Up Utah Flats (Day 5)

There are a few things that I would like to update you on. Yesterday when we arrived at Phantom Ranch we found out that there was a cabin available. Let me tell you, this is very uncommon, as the cabins and bunkhouses at Phantom generally fill up two years ahead of time. So given the chance to actually sleep in a real bed for two nights… well, we took it.

Since we still had a permit for a campsite as well, the option was still open for any of us to sleep in a tent. It was not going to be me though. I have slept in a tent/sleeping bag so many times that it wasn’t the type of thing that I thought I needed more experience or that I wanted to “rough it.” And remember, my sleeping pad was leaking air so given the choice I took the top bunk of two bunk beds. Yoko took the bottom bunk under me and Lew took the bottom bunk next to us. Landi opted to sleep under the stars in her tent.

There is kind of a funny aside to this story though. When darkness set upon us, Landi took the pillow as well as the warm comforter from the bed, which would have been hers, and smuggled it out to her tent, which was a good ten minute walk from our cabin. OK, I admit, I helped her do it! Please don’t tell. I guarantee Landi had the most comfortable set up in the entire Bright Angel campground!

The cabin was quite comfortable. It had air conditioning, a sink, and a toilet. Along with the cabin came a key to a bathhouse across the way that had real comfortable showers and toilets. We actually thought we were in heaven.

Our plan today was to start off by getting breakfast in the dining hall. They have two breakfast seatings every day – a 5AM and a 6:30AM. Today we had the 6:30AM, which was fine since we were staying in the area. The 5AM seating is a MUST if you are going to be hiking out to the south rim, as it is a long, difficult, and hot hike. An early start is crucial.

Breakfast at Phantom Ranch is delicious. It generally consists of eggs, bacon, pancakes, and cling peaches all served family style. Plus there is juice, coffee, and a nice assortment of hot teas. You sit at a table with other people. There are 4 or 5 long tables that seat about 12 people each. There is plenty of food on each table so that we can have pretty much all we want to eat. It’s always cool to hear other people’s hiking stories during the meals. Phantom is always one of my favorite parts of a backpacking trip. It’s a cool way to spend the last couple of days before taking that long hike out to the rim.

So our fun plan for today was to do a day hike up to a place called Utah Flats. Utah Flats is not supposed to be easy. It is a “route” as opposed to a trail. A trail is generally at least fairly well defined by either a worn path or cairns (a pile of rocks) marking the proper direction. A route is not defined – it takes some navigation skill and is oftentimes very difficult. No one that works at Phantom Ranch really talks about the hike to Utah Flats. Maybe because it is ill-defined, super steep, rocky, loose stone and oh yeah… a 2000 foot vertical elevation rise in about a mile and a half. Unless you really know where to start this hike, you’ll never find it. We knew that the beginning of the route is just above campsite number 1 at Bright Angel campground. Whenever we passed the area, I would always look up and try to figure out where the route took you. But it was impossible to visualize, at least for me.

We have known about the hike to Utah Flats for several years now. We’ve always talked about it. We frequently asked others about it, but very few people had any idea what it was all about. Supposedly when you get to the top, it is very beautiful and remote. Utah Flats has always intrigued us and we finally had a good layover day with time to attempt it.

So after breakfast, we each packed enough food and headed over to the area of campsite number 1. I looked up with a little bit of trepidation. Remember, there was no good way to tell where the actual route was. It just looked steep as hell. I knew I was with a good team, but I had no idea what we’d be in for.

Just before we started up, Lew conducted a really great morning affirmation and visualization. He reinforced how fortunate we are to be in such a beautiful place. And he reminded us that we are all very strong and experienced hikers.

We started walking. Lew took the lead, followed by Yoko, then Landi and me. Right away it was very steep and rocky. It’s not as though this route started off tame and then got worse. It was bad right away! I had to watch every single step to avoid a fall.

We gained elevation very quickly. I made the mistake of looking back and holy moly, we were already way above Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel campground. So I decided to simply keep looking in front of me and take one step at a time.  Much of the trail was very loose granular stone and I’m telling you, a slip would be very easy and dangerous.

We weren’t talking a lot during this hike. Concentration was the key. We stayed fairly close to each other. We were a team.  People on a team support each other.

After about 45 minutes of difficult hiking over steep uphill and rocks, I kind of had enough. There was a point where I simply felt the height was not agreeing with me. I told the group that I was stopping. The first words out of Lew’s mouth were ”Dave, I’ll go down with you.”

Now the last thing I wanted to do was no mess up everyone else’s hike. So I told Lew, Landi and Yoko that I would relax and wait right here while you all finished the hike. Then we could all hike down together at the end. And to be honest, I would definitely not have felt comfortable hiking down by myself!

Now let me explain… the place that I was going to wait was no plush oasis! It was a very small flat piece of rough land. Luckily there was a large rock that I could lean against for comfort and maybe it would even help shield me from the sun a bit.

So I said good-bye to everyone, wished them luck and then proceeded to put down my pack and tried to get a little comfortable for the hour or so they’d be gone.

For a while, I just sat there and tried to relax. But after forty minutes or so, I started getting restless, so I got up and walked around a bit.  Now just to let you know how much space I had to wander, let’s say it was about the size of a small bedroom. A pretty damn small bedroom.

There wasn’t a hell of a lot to do. But there were some amazing views in all directions, so I tried to admire everything. Let’s see now, off to the south I could see the South Kaibab Trail over on the south rim. I think I could even make out the toilet at the tip-off. Down below, Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel campground looked tiny. To the west I could see the Colorado River. To the north I could see where my group hiked to, but they disappeared a long time ago! A little more southeast I could make out the beginning of the trail leading to Clear Creek.  Beautiful photo-ops!

Yeah, I took a lot of pictures. But after a while I had run out of things to take pictures of. So I pointed the camera at myself and started shooting some self-portraits.

It was starting to get hot. Really hot. The sun was moving and my shade was no more. I pulled out some water and food and attempted to eat and drink the boredom and fright away. But it didn’t work. Time was ticking away and there was no sign of another human being anywhere.

Luck would have it that I brought my iPhone and a pair of earbuds. Of course there was no cell signal, but one thing I could definitely do was to listen to some music. I started iTunes, navigated to Thick as a Brick 2 by Ian Anderson and listened to the whole album. Still no sign of anyone.

At this point I was getting a little worried. What if one of them got hurt? How about if all of them fell over some cliff? If they got into any kind of trouble up there, there would be absolutely no way to communicate it back to me. I didn’t know what to do.

I started looking around for some possible routes down in case I had to do this on my own. It sounds crazy and I know this is hard to describe, but I could not see a good way down. I know what you are thinking… “Dave, just start walking in a downward direction and you will reach the bottom.”  Well yes and no. You see, there were a lot of routes that would potentially lead me to dead-end cliffs with no way to proceed with no way to get back out to where I was.

I started yelling up to towards the top, “HEY!”  “LEW.”  “YOKO.” “LANDI.”  “CAN YOU GUYS HEAR ME?”


I yelled a few more times. I had an emergency whistle, but I did not want to blow it as that would signal a true emergency. And I didn’t feel as though I was in that type of situation.

I made it a point to stay calm. I regrouped and tried to figure out what my best strategy would be. I basically had two choices. Keep waiting or attempt to go down. Quite honestly, I was getting tired of waiting. So I packed up my bag and decided to try to get down by myself.

One thing I did was to take the rope out of my pack and get it ready just in case I would need to lower my pack at some point. I started walking down a bit where I thought I could see the route. I came to a very steep but short bit of trail I needed to get down. I felt the risk of falling would be high and I didn’t want to chance an injury, so I got down on my butt and did what I called a “controlled slide” down the steep part. It worked ok except for the fact that I realized I had totally ripped my pants in the butt area.

But let me tell you, the ripped pants were now the least of my problem. I just slid myself down to a little platform that seemed to have no way out. That’s right, there was no where to go now unless I wanted to jump off of a cliff that appeared to be ten feet or so. I considered lowering my pack by rope and then jumping down, but I felt the risk of injury was just too great.

So here I was, stuck again. I contemplated using my whistle or as a last resort, deploying my PLB (personal locator beacon) but I did not feel as though my life was in imminent danger. There was still plenty of daylight left, so I did have some time.

So I just waited.  And I waited more.


No answer. Absolute silence.

I was getting a little worried. I again considered somehow jumping off the cliff to get to an area that I could possibly hike from, but I didn’t want to take the chance. So I just stayed still.

Every few minutes or so I would give my very best and loudest yell, just in case my group was anywhere within earshot.




I kept this up.

And ultimately my efforts paid off.

I heard a very faint voice that sounded like Yoko’s. Couldn’t hear what she said, but I knew it was her.

In a short time I could actually make out voices from the group as they came into view. I am sure they were quite surprised that I was not in the spot that I was in when they left me.

To make a long story short, as Yoko approached, she was able to see exactly what I did wrong in my attempt to get down on my own. From her vantage point, she was able to locate a route that I actually needed to ascend first in order to get back to an area where we could meet up and start on our way down again together.

I put my pack back on and made my way up to Yoko. By this time, the rest of the group had arrived. They were all fine. They started to tell me about their hike. I was just so happy that they were all OK.

The four of us then started to make our way back down. They said the reason they had taken so long was that it took them about another hour after they left me to reach Utah Flats. Not easy at all – they had to do quite a bit of scrambling in order to get there.  Yoko looked visibly tired. I could tell the heat was really getting to her.

We still had about a 45 minute descent ahead of us before we’d get to Phantom Ranch. The downhill was difficult. Lots of sliding down loose gravel. Very steep. I referred to it as “controlled sliding” – not very different from skiing down a steep mountain!

Yoko asked if she could go ahead of the group a bit because she needed to get out of the heat as soon as possible. I stuck with Landi and Lew and in a fairly short time I breathed a sigh of relief as we all made it down to the base without incident (except for my ripped pants!).

The rest of the afternoon was spent inside the Phantom Ranch canteen just drinking and kind of relaxing. I watched Landi sew up my pants with dental floss as I sipped my lemonade! Everything was going to be OK.  Tomorrow would be our last day on the trail. The hike out on the Bright Angel Trail will be long and hot, but I have done that stretch a million times and I know exactly what to expect. After all, I am a strong and experienced hiker.


(Enjoy the pictures below. There is no way to adequately show you by photography how steep this damn thing was!)

Day 6 – Hike out of Canyon – Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel Trailhead – coming soon!

The Grand Canyon – Lonetree Canyon to Phantom Ranch (Day 4)



By the time day four of a backpacking trip rolls around, your body starts to talk to you.

What are some of the things it says?

“I’m tired!”

“We have to do this again?”

“It’s so early… can’t you and I sleep a few more hours?”

“When is this going to stop?”

Actually, I was excited for day 4. For this entire trip so far, we have been in fairly remote areas and have not had a whole lot of contact with other hikers. But today, if everything goes according to plan, we will see other people when we get to the junction of the Tonto and South Kaibab trails. But we have a lot of hiking in front of us before we reach that point.

We successfully got started on the trail this morning at 5AM. Yes, it was still plenty dark, therefore we had to use our headlamps for twenty minutes or so. 5:20AM seemed to be the magical time that all headlamps came off. Even though it was still dark, we could see the trail fairly well once our eyes adjusted.

There was a decent amount of uphill getting out of Lonetree. Good thing we did a little recon last night, otherwise some of the navigation could have been a little tough. Once we goy up onto the Tonto platform, it was business as usual. My pack was pretty heavy again because there will be no water until Bright Angel Campground, which was about 8 or 9 miles away.

But this would not necessarily be an easy 8 or 9 miles. We will have to pass Cremation Canyon which is only a few miles ahead of us. They say Cremation is tough. Two major ups and downs over steep and loose terrain. And it is getting hotter and hotter with every step we take.

I now feel like an experienced Tonto hiker. A lot of confidence sets in after a few days. I feel as though I can tackle anything. I love making analogies to backpacking and life. I did so earlier and I’d like to give you another one. Backpacking really is similar to life in general. Those who have a plan seem to do better. Plans do not necessarily have to be complex. My plan to get through Cremation Canyon was simple. Just put one foot in front of the other. Going slow is ok. In a difficult situation, I look ahead just enough to plan my next few steps.

But we were not there yet. Hiking on this portion of the Tonto seemed to be a little bit different than previous days. The past few days, the trail would take us around contours, trying to avoid many of the ups and downs. Today it seemed as though the trail was more of a direct path, hence more elevation changes. But no problems at all. I try to enjoy every aspect of the hike.

We stuck to our overall backpacking plan of stopping every 45 minutes to an hour for a rest. This is probably one of the best backpacking strategies we have ever figured out. Resting, eating and drinking REALLY helps and it seems as though I could go all day long this way if I had to.

After a few miles I could see Cremation Canyon ahead of me. It was hard to assess it, but I was ready to take it on. I felt great and I didn’t think anything could stop me between here and Bright Angel Camp.

The first descent into the eastern part of Cremation was not bad at all. Shortly thereafter we came upon an ascent out of the canyon which again was not nearly as bad as I was expecting.

The second descent was definitely different than the first. Very rocky and steep. I had to watch every step very carefully or I could have gone down. Yoko was way out in front. As I saw her get to the bottom, I still had a bit to go. But a short time later we were all at the bottom of what appeared to be the main and largest portion of Cremation Canyon. It was actually very beautiful down there. Trees and shady areas made it a nice spot for possible camping, although it is a dry camp area (meaning no water). I do know that a lot of backpackers plan to spend a night here to break up the long hike on the Tonto. Kevin was going to camp here this evening but being that we left Lonetree way before he did, he was still likely miles behind us.

One more ascent and we’d be out of Cremation Canyon. This was also a tough one. Very rocky and steep but definitely doable. And we all made it out with absolutely no problem. Shortly after leaving Cremation, we happenstanced upon a very cool large camp area with an inviting rock overhang where we decided to take a nice deserved rest break. Landi set up her portable tripod and we were able to get some pretty good pics of the four of us.

After our rest, it was more hiking along the Tonto. This portion was very uphill. Nothing steep, just long with an uphill pitch to it. Something to do with a major fault zone called the Grandview Monocline. I think that means that the earth has tipped upwards and we were walking along this upward pitch that would take us all the way to the South Kaibab Trail. We knew we had arrived when we saw the infamous toilets at the Tipoff (and other people). Just a note… during the last four days along the Tonto we did not encounter a single eastbound hiker.

Now everything changes. We have arrived at one of the Grand Canyon “superhighways.” The South Kaibab trail. For all of you reading this that may be thinking we at at easy hiking… well, it’s not that simple. There is NO HIKING in the inner canyon that is “easy!” It is a hot, desert environment and there are many possibilities of danger. Falls, heat stroke, dehydration, exhaustion and hyponatremia are just a few. Again, I stress to all of you that are thinking about getting on a plane and coming to Grand Canyon to hike or backpack – PLEASE be prepared. It is difficult.

But having said that, the rest of today’s hike will be fairly easy for us considering what we’ve been through the past four days. First thing I did was to calculate that I am carrying too much water and I got rid of two liters! That’s right, close to 5 pounds of water gone! My pack all of a sudden seemed to good to be true. Maybe I am at 40 pounds right about now. That is light compared to the 60 plus pounds I was carrying yesterday!

Heading down to Bright Angel Campground was uneventful. Lots of great views, good conversation, and er.. uh.. yes… people watching! It was very hot so we had to make sure we were still preventing any type of sunburn. That’s why you can see from our photos that we wear long sleeves and long pants, even in the heat. They also help protect us from cactuses and other obstacles encountered on the Tonto.

Arriving at Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch is always good. It’s kind of like an oasis in the desert. There is an actual canteen and dining hall at Phantom and it’s great for relaxation during the day and some of the best meals I have EVER experienced as a backpacker. Tonight we have steak dinners reserved at 5:00PM and we will savor every single bite. Then it’s off to sleep because we have big plans for our layover day here tomorrow! And remind me to tell you where we are sleeping this evening!



The Grand Canyon – Grapevine Canyon to Lonetree Canyon (Day 3)




With the exception of my sleeping pad leaking air, I slept pretty well last night again! We went to bed by 7:30PM and my alarm went off at 3AM to signal the beginning of the new day. You may want to know why so early. When we are in Grand Canyon, we have to maximize our travel in the daylight. So we planned to be on the trail this morning by 5AM due to the fact that we had a pretty long day ahead of us (approximately nine hiking miles).

I am not the quickest person in the morning and I prefer to have more than enough time to do everything I need to do. It takes time to make breakfast, filter water, go to the bathroom, break down the tent, pack up the sleeping bag and sleeping pad, organize everything and re-pack my bag. Organizing a backpack is extremely important for several reasons. First of all, the weight needs to be properly distributed so everything is balanced when hiking. But just as important is knowing where everything is in the pack and being able to access it when needed, Backpacking is kind of a miniature version of life. The more organized you are, the better result you will generally derive from it.

We were on the trail at 5:20AM.  Twenty minutes later than we had planned. I will take the blame. I was the one that held us back. It was just getting light enough that we didn’t really need headlamps even though we started out with them on. It was a beautiful morning.

The hike out of Grapevine was fine. Definitely some uphill to get out of the canyon but nothing too difficult at all. Hiking along the western edge of Grapevine was not nearly as bad as the previous day. I never felt as though I was close enough to the edge to fall into the canyon. Maybe it was just that I was used to it by this time.

By the way, we were carrying quite a bit of water today due to the fact that there would be no water between Grapevine and Lonetree. I carried eight liters, which certainly made for a heavy pack. I am guessing today’s weight could have easily been 60 lbs. plus. I had trained with heavy weight so I felt OK!

We found a cool little place to stop and do our morning affirmation. The affirmation is a great way to start off the day. As I said before, Lew leads it and it consists of us holding hands, breathing and listening to Lew’s encouraging words. Sometimes at the end we choose to add a few of our own words. I recorded some of the affirmations and on a future day I hope to be able to share one with you.

After a few miles we were totally out of Grapevine and back on “classic” Tonto, paralleling the inner gorge.  Around this point we saw Kevin. After exchanging some niceties, he passed us – not to be seen until Lonetree! A short time later Augustine breezed by us. I can’t remember if I told you about him earlier. Augustine, his wife Jackie, and her sister Jill were doing the same route that we were. Seems as though Aug went ahead of Jackie and Jill.

We circumvented a small, unnamed drainage, and then after some ups and downs and a few miles, we passed Boulder Canyon. Not much going on there. I don’t remember seeing any water at Boulder. It was getting pretty hot and we were all looking forward to getting to Lonetree.

We were still sticking to our strategy of taking frequent breaks every 45-60 minutes or so. Believe me, this really helps on a long backpack trip. Resting the muscles, eating and drinking is the best formula we have found to be able to keep it going the distance and avoiding illness or problems. Jackie and Jill passed us as we took our final rest before hitting Lonetree.

Descending into Lonetree felt great. What a beautiful canyon. Trees, rocks, water… what else did we need? We explored the area before settling on a place to pitch our tents. Yoko and I pitched ours on a soft shaded area, Landi was on some slick rock, and Lew found a pretty cool spot close to Kevin. We saw Aug, Jackie and Jill found a great spot fairly close up canyon.

We met one other guy at Lonetree who was a solo hiker from Sweden. Jens was his name. He had a long day today, traveling from Cottonwood to Lonetree. He carried a fishing rod with him and was planning to fish in Bright Angel Creek in a couple of days. Heck of a nice guy. He promised to share some fresh fish with us if we wanted!

Jens was not planning to camp at Lonetree this evening; instead he would wait out the heat for a few hours and then hike to Cremation Canyon, approximately 3 or 4 miles further west, and stop there for the night. We thought about doing the same but quickly came to our senses and settled in.

The water at Lonetree was nothing like the flowing water we experienced at Grapevine. Here there were many water pockets in the slickrock, which we could cool our feet in or filter for drinking. Interestingly enough, there were tons of tadpoles swimming in the water pockets. I guess that was a pretty good sign that the water was clean, right?

Even though it had been a hot day, we all felt pretty good from the day’s hike. Lew and Landi took a hike down canyon to explore a bit while Yoko and I rested. Upon their return, Landi said it was one of the most beautiful places she has seen in Grand Canyon. At this time we didn’t have much daylight left and besides, I was too tired to go down to check it out.

We made some dinner and did a little recon to see what we’d be in for the next morning hiking out of Lonetree. It seemed as though the hike out was not really well defined and since we decided we’d be leaving at 5 AM tomorrow with headlamps, we wanted to take a look to get an idea where the trail was going to take us!

During our recon mission, we did find a side trail that pretty much led to nowhere and Yoko appropriately named it the “poo-poo” trail. This trail turned out to be the one that we took when Mother Nature called. As a little aside, when backpacking, all human waste as well as toilet paper must be buried. So we each carry a trowel (a little plastic shovel) for that purpose. Sometimes the dry desert ground can be quite hard and it’s not necessarily an easy task doing the digging.

It was such a beautiful clear night that we were pretty certain there was no chance of rain. We decided not to use the fly on our tent and what a great decision that turned out to be! It’s tough to describe how magnificent it is laying down in a tent, staring up at the beautiful stars in the Grand Canyon sky.

Good night.

The Grand Canyon – Cottonwood Creek to Grapevine Canyon (Day 2)

Previous Day

Day 2

First of all, let me tell you that I normally don’t sleep very well on backpacking trips. But I must say, I think I slept pretty well last night! It was perfect temperature for slipping into my down sleeping bag and I guess the sound of the creek was very relaxing. One little problem was that my sleeping pad developed a little leak so it was not working at maximum effectiveness. That’s OK, REI will be happy to exchange it when I get back. I’ve had it with the inflatable sleeping pads. I may go back to the foam type.

Another word about camping in Grand Canyon. In the popular areas, there are exact designated camping areas as well as sites where you need to pitch your tent. Where we were backpacking, it was much more remote and considered “at-large” camping. This means we could pitch our tents ANYWHERE we wanted as long as we were within the designated zone that we had a permit for. Yes, everyone camping in Grand Canyon below the rim MUST secure a permit from the backcountry office.

So we got up, made some breakfast, broke down our tents, cleaned up camp and we were back on the trail. After a fairly easy hike down Cottonwood Creek, we came across the junction of The Tonto Trail. This was marked with a new looking sign pointing to New Hance trailhead to the east, and S. Kaibab trailhead to the west. We took the west route!

Each morning starts off with a very inspirational morning affirmation or visualization led by Lew. We stand together in a circle holding hands with our eyes closed as Lew asks all of us to take some deep breaths and appreciate all of the vast beauty surrounding us. The affirmation lasts about five minutes and it has become a very important part of our day.

The hike out of Cottonwood Creek was fairly easy and straightforward. We rounded an unnamed drainage at first. As the trail turned more north, we were ultimately brought to our first views of the Inner Gorge and Colorado River. Absolutely gorgeous.

The hiking along the Tonto Trail is not easy and not for beginning hikers in Grand Canyon. The trail is not always apparent so we always must be looking ahead. The person hiking in front is responsible for watching the trail and looking out for cairns. Cairns are piles of rocks marking the trail where it is not obvious.

Along the way to Grapevine, paralleling the Colorado River, we encountered a little friend – a California Condor who was so nice to give us a little show by flying back and forth above us. Lots of photo and video ops there! He got so close to us that we could really appreciate his huge wingspan.

When you hike along the Tonto Trail, it is not a straight shot due to the numerous “side canyons” that must be traversed. In many cases you can very see the other side of where you want to get to, and it looks very close, but in order to actually get there, you need to traverse many miles around because there is no physical way to walk “through” it.

This was the case with the upcoming Grapevine Canyon! We had heard so much about it and how huge it was. Seems all of the expectations were correct. It was tremendous. There is no question that if someone could move Grapevine Canyon to any other part of the world, it would be an attraction of its own right. But being a side canyon within Grand Canyon, most visitors have no idea it exists.

Our plans were to continue hiking to the east arm of Grapevine where there will be water and good places to camp. Along the way, we had to hike along a downward sloping trail that if any of us lost our footing and took a little fall, it would not have been a “little fall.” There was actually a 1000 foot sheer drop that would have landed us on the bottom of Grapevine Canyon. No fun there!

We made sure to keep our distances between us and not to talk. All attention was on the trail at this point. It was not particularly difficult hiking here, we just had to be careful not to stumble. Had the trail been wet, I would have been much more anxious. Even though I am an experienced Grand Canyon hiker, I am still not very fond of heights, sheer cliffs and tremendous drop-offs! I avoid these when at all possible!

The temperature was getting hot (probably in the high 80’s or low 90’s). The hike leading to the east arm of Grapevine just seems to go on forever. But after a couple of little breaks and some lunch, we pulled into a beautiful oasis of cottonwood trees, slick rock and water.

By the way, as far as breaks go, one of our secrets to hiking long distances in Grand Canyon is to take a break about every 45-50 minutes. We try to stop in a shady area if at all possible, take our packs off, and sit down for a short break.

And you may notice I am not mentioning mileage here. The reason? Mileage really means nothing in Grand Canyon. It’s the hours that matter. Please understand that. Grand Canyon desert hiking is not an easy undertaking. Sometimes it actually takes over an hour to go a mile in Grand Canyon, depending on the heat, the trail, and the pack weight.  Sorry about the diversion, but sometimes I need to do a little explaining since most of you have never experienced any hiking like this!

So back to Grapevine Canyon. This place was really beautiful. It’s the kind of place one could hang out for more than a day! There were two other parties already set up as we arrived.  One was Kevin and the other was a Guy named Augustine (Aug), his wife Jackie, and his wife’s sister. Jill. Turned out we had met them a couple of days earlier at the backcountry office. They started a day before us, but had two nights planned at Grapevine.

There was another really nice guy named John that was there as well. We had actually met John on the trail a little earlier in the day. He had been camping at Cottonwood Creek the night before, although we didn’t get to talk to him there. John was in his mid 60’s or so and seemed to be in really great shape. He was hiking solo and planned to simply rest at Grapevine until late afternoon before he would continue on.

Yoko was wiped out and took an hour nap in the shade of the big Cottonwood tree where Kevin and John were hanging. Lew, Landi and I, although tired, explored around a little bit before sitting down on the other side of the wash about 50 yards away from Yoko.

We set our tents (and Lew’s bivvy) on some slick rock right by some flowing water. After making some dinner and doing the usual camp things we do (hanging food, filtering water, etc.), we all went in for an early sleep as we decided we wanted to be on the trail at 5AM the next morning for what would be a long hike to Lonetree Canyon, our next planned stop.


The Grand Canyon – Grandview Trailhead to Cottonwood Creek (Day 1)

Dave’s Previous Grand Canyon post

10:55 AM PDT, a Saturday in April

I am on a plane right now heading home to Baltimore from Las Vegas… it was a business trip. As we fly over the Grand Canyon, it brings back incredible memories from just last week when Lewis Klotzman, Landi Heller, Yoko Madow and I did a six day backpack trip deep into the canyon. It was a wonderful trip. So as I am on the plane, I figured I would pull out my computer and start typing some of the great memories from last week. I would like to share our really cool backpack trip with you.

Our plan was to backpack down the Grandview Trail and then head west across the Tonto to South Kaibab, go down to Phantom Ranch for a couple of days and then ultimately head out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. We allowed six days for this hike. The trip was planned well over a year in advance.

We started out on Saturday, April 14, 2012. Lew, Yoko and I flew to Phoenix from Baltimore, and Landi flew in from Detroit. After arriving we jumped in our rental Chevy Traverse and started on our four hour drive towards Grand Canyon. We did make a stop at Whole Foods in Phoenix to stock up on some food and eat some healthy lunch.

I could probably drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff along I-17 in my sleep these days as I have done it so much. But we did hit a little surprise in Flagstaff this time – an April snowstorm! The snow was actually coming down so hard that we didn’t know if we’d be able to make it through Flagstaff – we discussed the possibility of staying there overnight.

But after making a Target run and stocking up on more food and other assorted stuff, the snow had subsided a bit so we decided to continue to Grand Canyon and we ultimately made it there slowly but surely!

Sunday was an easy day. We used it to shop for final supplies, chat with the rangers at the backcountry office about our route, take a short recon hike down the Bright Angel, as well as ready our packs. We decided that we would pack ice crampons (cleats that clip onto shoes) for the trip tomorrow due to snow on the trail.

Hike Day 1 – Monday we were in the shuttle in time for a 10:30AM start of our journey from the Grandview Trailhead. At the trailhead we met an older couple that was hiking down to Horseshoe Mesa to spend two nights. Since there is no water on the mesa, they will need to descend about 1000 feet from there for their water. I sincerely hope they did OK.

The hike down Grandview was beautiful but not simple. Steep and uneven tread. We did not use our crampons as there was little snow and ice on the trail which disappeared about a mile or so down. Oh well.

A short time later we arrived at Horseshoe Mesa. It was hard to imagine how large this mesa really is. We saw lots of artifacts from the old copper mining days. After a little rest and some snooping around, we started down the trail that would take us to Cottonwood Creek.

The trail to Cottonwood Creek was tough. Very steep with plenty of loose rocks that make it so you better be watching every step. I actually took a fall and scraped up my left leg. I was lucky not to have been injured any more than that because quite honestly, it could have been bad.

It was nice to arrive at Cottonwood Creek. Walking along the creek, we found a few nice camping sites. The first one that we came across was taken by a guy named Kevin that we would later become quite close with. He was hiking by himself.

I noticed that my left big toenail took quite a beating with the constant downhill it had to endure to get down to Cottonwood. With all of the hiking, skiing and running I do, I have never had a toenail go black on me and I was hoping this would not be the first time.

We set up for the evening, filtered water, talked a lot, made some dinner, hung up our food and ultimately went to sleep for the evening among the beautiful sound of the water from Cottonwood Creek.

Continued (see below)!

Day 1 – Grandview Trailhead to Cottonwood Creek
Day 2 – Cottonwood Creek to Grapevine Canyon along Tonto Trail
Day 3 – Grapevine Canyon to Lonetree Canyon along Tonto Trail
Day 4 – Lonetree Canyon to Phantom Ranch along Tonto and S. Kaibab (to be posted June 3)
Day 5 – Layover Day at Phantom Ranch – Hike up Utah Flats (to be posted June 17)
Day 6 – Hike out of Canyon – Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel Trailhead (to be posted July 1)



The Grand Canyon – Part 3

Tomorrow I am embarking on a six day backpacking trip deep into Grand Canyon. People ask me how many times I have hiked or backpacked into the canyon and my answer is I am not sure. It’s been many. Over thirty times I guess. I need to start keeping track.

As you may know by now, visiting The Grand Canyon is perhaps my favorite thing on earth to do. And I don’t mean just viewing its beauty from the top (the rim). I am talking about strapping a heavy on my back and hiking into the inner portions of the canyon, and discovering a place that only a tiny fraction of visitors will ever see.

Why am I so crazy about venturing down into this mile deep “hole” in the earth? Well, there are actually several reasons.

Beauty.  Words cannot express this. I have backpacked many places and all of them have their unique characteristics. But there is something about the Grand Canyon that one cannot explain. You have to be there, in the moment, experiencing it.

Solitude. If you go deep enough and remote enough, you don’t see other people. And I think that could be a good thing.

Silence. Other than natural sounds, you don’t hear anything. And that is pretty rare these days.

Disconnected. When I am backpacking in Grand Canyon, I have no idea if the stock market crashed, who won the election, if war broke out, or if a new iPhone model was released. No one from my office can reach me, no matter what they want!

Challenge. I would be remiss if I did not talk about the physical and mental challenge. You need to be prepared for anything. It’s not easy. Most people could not do this without a lot of training. So there is definitely some satisfaction in being able to say you did a multi-day backpack in Grand Canyon.

The hike I am doing in a couple of days is a difficult one. Much of it is along the eastern part of the Tonto Trail, from Grandview to South Kaibab. It will be the first time I have been on this part of the Tonto. The Tonto is lonely and remote. My group is four people total and it’s entirely possible we will not see another human being on this stretch.

We have to plan very carefully where we will be able to find water because most of the Tonto is dry. It’s on a plateau way above the Colorado River and there is generally no access to the river, at least on this stretch. So I have done a lot of research, planning where we will have water and where we will sleep. You can’t simply go down there on a whim. Everything, from exactly what you will carry in your backpack (including how many sections of toilet paper), to where you will sleep at night, must be totally planned. This is not something for the disorganized person!

On this trip I am carrying a personal locator beacon, which is a GPS signaling device to be deployed only in the event of a life-threatening situation. Not that I am expecting any problems, but I did realize in the past that if I or someone in my group had a life-threatening situation, there would basically be no chance of getting a message out to search and rescue. Now I feel we have that capability… it feels like a little bit of insurance.

Within the Grand Canyon, there are numerous “side canyons” that feed into the main inner gorge. These side canyons would be attractions by themselves if they were in any other part of the world.

Here’s our plan:

Day 1 – Hike from Grandview trailhead to Cottonwood Canyon.

Day 2 – Hike from Cottonwood Canyon to Grapevine Canyon.

Day 3 – Hike from Grapevine Canyon to Lonetree Canyon.

Day 4 – Hike from Lonetree Canyon to Bright Angel Campground.

Day 5 – Layover day at Bright Angel Campground at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon. We may attempt a day hike up to Utah Flats.

Day 6 – Hike from Bright Angel Campground out to the south rim on the Bright Angel Trail.  That evening we will have a celebratory dinner at El Tovar, a fancy-schmancy restaurant (with linen tablecloths and napkins) on the rim that will be chock full of tourists overeating, drinking and looking out the windows and imagining what it’s like “down there.”

Well, I must go prepare now. I have food shopping and organizing to do. I plan to take a lot of notes and pictures on this hike, so I will be back soon with a full report.

By the way… do you know the most common question we are asked when heading out of the canyon and finally encounter tourists and day hikers close to the rim? The question is…

“Did you go all the way down to the river?”

Yes, there is a fascination of going “all the way down” and I am so glad I can experience this. More coming after I return, so stand by!


Please check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/healthyat102

Thanks so much to Shawn Stanford in helping me prepare for this trip.

The Grand Canyon Can Be a Dangerous Place – Part 2

It’s been one year, but one of my most popular blog posts ever has been the original “The Grand Canyon Can Be a Dangerous Place.” How do I know this has been so popular? Well, bedsides the stats that I read, I actually continue to get questions emailed to me almost daily asking such things as…

“What happened?”   “What are those guys doing now?”

Now I will give you the answer that I give everyone who asks. The answer is…

“I am not sure but I wish them the best.”

It’s as simple as that, no more, no less! You see, I have learned to change my life’s attitude. Of course when you read my original blog entry you can see how upset I was and that I felt as though I had been lied to and deceived. But time has a way of changing everything. Right now, even in this crazy economy, I am busier than ever. I thank the powers above very often for this.

I do everything I can to live my healthiest life. Besides eating properly and exercising, I make sure I have a positive outlook with every single thing I do. Negativity is a very bad thing for your body. I have chosen to release all negativity.

One thing I did learn from this is that if you have any negative forces in your life, release them before they wreak havoc on your system. If you have an employee who you do not feel in your heart is a good fit, dismiss them now! If you are in a relationship that is not working, get out! If you do not do these things, you will pay later. I guarantee it!

So back to the original question… how are the two guys doing? I honestly don’t know. I am too busy to check up on them. I have bigger and better things in my life to tend to! One thing I do know (and I really believe) is that karma is a bitch. But I will end by saying I honestly hope they are doing fine. There is enough to go around for everyone.

Rock on!

Please keep in touch by “liking” my Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/HealthyAt102

David Madow Explains Why He Loves The Grand Canyon, part 2

This article is from the vaults of my previous Grand Canyon blog. Because of its popularity, I did not want to delete it. Please enjoy!

I saw some very sad news this morning. After a multi-day search, the body of a 69 year old man was recovered near the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park. The article did not state the reason for the man’s death, but my guess would be hyperthermia/heat stroke, trauma/fall, or some type of heart failure. As you may know, I am so closely connected to the Grand Canyon. And when I hear news like this I feel terrible.

I have hiked on the Hermit Trail and it is definitely a very difficult strenuous trail. Not only is it very steep; there are several areas of washouts and rockslides. What this means is that you could be joyfully hiking along this trail when all of a sudden you come to a wide-open part that is totally covered by rocks. So unless you have some route finding experience in the canyon, I could absolutely see how it would be easy to actually go off trail and get lost.  As an aside, a few years ago when I was on a backpacking expedition in the Grand Canyon, I remember one person in our group actually crying when we reached the bottom of the Hermit. She ended up doing totally fine, but I think it was a more difficult trail than she had anticipated!

Getting lost in the Grand Canyon is no joke. It could be deadly. Because once you are off trail, everything pretty much looks alike, and it’s very possible to keep wandering the wrong way and get yourself into serious trouble.

You may have read my previous blog entitled “David Madow Explains Why He Loves the Grand Canyon.” In that entry I talked about my bad experiences in the Grand Canyon. And all of those were on highly traveled, clearly marked trails. Once you take it to the next level on a trail such as the Hermit, it is a totally different ballgame. You really need to be totally prepared for anything.

So many people get into trouble while hiking into the backcountry of the Grand Canyon, and the crazy thing is that almost every bit of it is preventable. That’s the reason I go back to the Grand Canyon every summer to help as a PSAR (Preventive Search and Rescue) volunteer. Out of everything I have done in my life, helping people in the Canyon is one of the most fulfilling. Prevention, by simply asking hikers on the trail what their plans are, can go a long way!!

Generally the way it works when I am volunteering is I get assigned an area on a trail where I need to “hang out” for the day. It generally would be on either the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails. Sounds like fun but remember, I need to get to the assigned spot and there are no escalators or elevators, which means I need to hike down to wherever I need to be with a backpack. And although my backpack is not as heavy as if I were spending multiple days on the trail, I still need to carry plenty of food, water, electrolytes, safety equipment, etc. which does indeed weigh it down a bit! And I do this in the summer so it is very possible for the temperature to climb close to 100 degrees in the middle of the day.

Last summer I was on assignment at the Three Mile House, which is three miles down the Bright Angel Trail. The Three Mile House can get fairly crowded in the middle of the summer as hikers on their way down as well as on their way up like to stop there for a place to rest, eat and drink out of the direct sunlight. I remember it was a fairly hot day, probably around ninety degrees when an uphill hiker approached me and told me that there was a woman down the trail just a bit heading up this way that was in distress.

I immediately made my way down the trail about fifty yards or so and encountered a woman who appeared to be in her sixties who looked like she had had it. She just looked horrible. As it turned out, she was hiking out from a multi-day trip with her son and daughter-in-law. The son told me that his mom was exhausted and had been vomiting. By the way, vomiting happens to be one of the symptoms of hyperthermia.

I slowly hiked them up to the Three Mile House and found a little area where the woman, whose name was Carol, could lie down. But before she lay down I gave her some crackers (always think salty) and some Gatorade to help get some electrolytes back in her. While she was resting, I got on my radio and called up to the rim for help. Or at least some advice. What they told me was to let Carol rest for several hours, make sure she eats and drinks, and when the sun starts to set and the temperature begins to get cooler, she should try to hike out.

We waited and waited. I made sure Carol was getting fluids and food. Carol was showing some signs of improvement but I knew she was exhausted. And I also knew she still had three very difficult uphill miles on the Bright Angel Trail to go before she would be done.

At about 3PM we got lucky. A cloud cover started to appear. The sun was obscured, causing the temperature to go down by about ten degrees. I figured this was the time. We had about a four hour window before darkness. I asked Carol if she thought she could start walking and she said yes. I told her that I would hike up with her, her son and daughter-in-law. Since I carried a radio, plenty of water and food, I knew I could be a source of help and encouragement.

The going was very slow. Carol felt tired. She felt sick. And I knew she was dehydrated. Problem is, when one is in that situation, the last thing they really feel like doing is eating or drinking. The reason is that all of the blood leaves the stomach to go to the muscles and the brain, which makes you not feel like eating. So I had to insist that Carol eat and drink a little bit at a time along the way.

Carol was a good person. I could tell she felt terribly embarrassed about her situation. She kept apologizing for troubling me. I told her not to worry, that I would get her up safely. But in the back of my mind I was very worried that she would go into severe hyperthermia, which could be very serious. One of the things that ended up helping quite a bit was that I would continually spray water all over her face and head with a spray bottle that I carried.

The most worrisome time came when we were close to the top and she was throwing up and had a bout of diarrhea. That is never good. But we were so close. It was getting dark at this point, so I had an idea. First, Carol’s son and I put on our headlamps so we could see better. Then we had Carol get in between us and we literally carried her up the final quarter mile or so.

When we arrived at the top, I made sure Carol got medical attention immediately. She was taken to the hospital in Flagstaff, treated for dehydration and ultimately released. Carol and I have been in touch ever since. She tells me that she believes I saved her life. I am not sure. I was just someone who happened to be there at the right time to help a wonderful woman.

This is just one very small sample of incidents that happen basically every day in the Grand Canyon. It is very hot. It is steep. It is very difficult to calculate the difficulty of hiking there. Carol got off lucky. The 69 year old man on the Hermit Trail was not so lucky. Please be careful.

David Madow Explains Why He Loves the Grand Canyon

This article is from the vaults of my previous Grand Canyon blog. Because of its popularity, I did not want to delete it. Please enjoy!

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, one of my favorite places on the planet is the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. Whenever you see my postings, status updates, tweets, etc., they oftentimes revolve around that tremendous hole in the earth. I thought I would take a few minutes to let those that are interested know how I became so much in love with the Grand Canyon and why I travel there several times every year from my home back east.

I guess it all started many years ago when I was taking a cross-country trip by car and first saw the Grand Canyon. I was viewing it from the south rim as I thought all visitors did. But during that visit I happened to notice an occasional person wandering around with a backpack and dusty hiking boots, which led me to believe that there was another way to actually see this big crack in the earth – perhaps a better way!

As much as I wanted to venture down right then, I was by no means equipped to hike right there at that visit, but it was at that point that I said to myself “I will be back sometime in the future to actually hike down into the canyon!”

A few years later I was back at Grand Canyon with a friend and we decided that we would hike down the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and back up in one day. This would be about a fifteen mile round trip. Doing this hike in one day was supposedly very dangerous and not recommended by the officials in the park. There were signs all over the place warning against attempting to do this. Some of the signs said that “YOU CAN DIE” if you attempt this. But we were young and in good shape and we simply figured the literature and the signs were referring to the average out of shape older person and didn’t apply to us.

We disregarded the advice and went down. Totally unprepared I may add. I won’t go into all of the details but let’s just say I was very lucky to have made it out alive. I’m sure I was totally dehydrated, my legs were cramping up and most likely some degree of moderate heat exhaustion. Oh, by the way, did I tell you this was July and we hiked in the middle of the day where the temperature in the inner gorge goes well above 100 degrees? ALL steep uphill (7.5 miles) on the way up! This was stupidity to say the least.

I swore I would never return to the Grand Canyon.

Fast forward two years. Time has a way of erasing the bad memories. I came back. This time the plan made a little more sense. We would hike down to Phantom Ranch, stay overnight, and then return to the rim the next day.

Phantom Ranch is a little oasis at the very bottom of the canyon where you can actually sleep in a bed in a hostel like setting. And you can get a meal as well. Sounds great, right?

Well the first mistake was that we went back in the summer again. The second mistake was that we started our hike down at about 9:00 AM because we wanted to have a nice leisurely breakfast and screw around on the rim before we ventured down. This would put us hiking during the absolute hottest part of the day. The third mistake was that we took the wrong trail down. The Bright Angel Trail, which we took, is roughly two miles longer than the preferred trail for descending into the canyon, the South Kaibab trail. The fourth mistake was that we had absolutely no idea how to properly eat and hydrate on the trail in a hot dessert environment.

I’m sure you can guess what the outcome was.

Yes, before we reached the bottom, I felt as if I were going to die. I was sick to my stomach, cramping, fatigued and, well… I think you get the picture. I literally ended up crawling into Phantom Ranch wishing I were dead. What ended up happening was that the staff and ranger down there saw what kind of terrible shape I was in and allowed me to stay an extra night at Phantom to rest, eat, drink and hopefully ultimately be OK to hike back out of the canyon.

But even on that third morning when I was attempting to hike out, I felt absolutely awful and was afraid that I’d never make it up the 9.6 mile trail which would gain roughly a vertical mile. I did end up making it out. Barely. I can’t remember how long it took but it must have been at least 12 hours. It was horrible. I honestly thought I could have dropped dead from heat exhaustion. By the time I reached the top I was crying.

I vowed NEVER to return. And this time I MEANT IT!!!

But of course as you probably guessed, a few years later I was back! This time I tried again with a similar result that led to a “drag out.” A drag out means they took me out of the canyon on a mule. Let me tell you something… they do not normally like to evacuate hikers on mules. You have to be pretty darn sick for them to even consider a drag out. But they did. I guess I was sick (in more ways than one at this point). I ended up in the Grand Canyon Hospital (they call it a clinic but it sure looked like a hospital to me). I had doctors all around me and IVs stuck in my arms. They said I was terribly dehydrated. What a horrible experience. Just pure stupidity.

This time I was 100% positive I would not return. I realized that the Grand Canyon did not care one bit if David Madow died there. It tried three times to take David’s life without success. Let’s not give it another chance!

But come on, you may know that I am generally not a quitter. I realized if one keeps doing things the same way, one would generally get the same results. So after three failed attempts, I simply decided to study up on how I could successfully hike all the way into the canyon and then hike out with a smile on my face.

Without boring you with all of the details, I became familiar with electrolytes, and simply how much food and water it takes to hike. But not only how much food, but what type of food is best. I knew that my body does not do well in the heat, so I had to figure out what measures I could take to mitigate that problem.

After my research and a lot of thinking I came up with a goal. That goal would be to backpack down to the bottom and return to the rim safely. I would use the South Kaibab trail going down, which as I said earlier is the preferred route down to Bright Angel campground.

I decided to make the trip in April since it would be neither extremely hot nor extremely cold. I also planned to do the hike out of the canyon in two stages; stopping off at Indian Garden campground for the night, which is about the halfway point up the Bright Angel trail.

During this trip I was very cognizant about my eating and drinking. I would eat frequently and my hydration was water mixed with “Gookinade,” which is an electrolyte powder designed to replenish the salts lost through sweating. I walked slowly. And I took frequent breaks to rest my muscles.

The result was SUCCESS! I had absolutely no problem on this three-day backpack trip! I did it! I now felt that the canyon was my friend simply because I just took the time to figure it out!

Since that time, I have gone back every spring to backpack in the Grand Canyon. I challenge myself a little more each time. I have now gotten to the point where I have hiked some of the lesser traveled and more challenging trails such as the Tonto and Clear Creek trails.

Zoroaster Temple

Now I am able to actually look around, take pictures and enjoy the scenery when I hike. It is very hard to explain, but I feel so much at peace in this surrounding. I am hiking on rocks that are over a BILLION years old!

A couple of years ago I was traveling cross-country, helping my son Evan move to California. So of course we made the obligatory stop at Grand Canyon!  I wanted Evan to experience this unbelievable place. We were doing a day hike down to Plateau Point, and on the way out we came across a man at the mile and a half house who was wearing a shirt with a patch that said “Volunteer.”  We started chatting. His name was Ron Gould and he told me that he is a PSAR Volunteer. The PSAR stands for “Preventive Search and Rescue.”

Basically what Ron (and about thirty other PSAR volunteers do) is talk to hikers on the trail, find out what their plans are, and then assess as to whether or not they are equipped to do what they plan. The idea is to educate and help people so that they ultimately do not put themselves in a dangerous situation.

The Grand Canyon is a beautiful place but also can be a very dangerous place if you hike beyond your capability. Every year, many hikers become seriously ill or injured on the trail. Unfortunately some of these people die. With proper planning, many of these illnesses and deaths can be prevented.

I asked Ron how I could do what he is doing. After my near death experiences in the Grand Canyon, I felt as though I wanted to be able to give something back.  Ron gave me a number to call, which put me in touch with Bonnie Taylor, the head of the PSAR volunteer program.

When I got home, I immediately called Bonnie and explained my situation and my desire to volunteer. She was happy to have me and let me know that there is a mandatory training session the first Saturday in May for the next season.

That next May I was on the plane out to the Grand Canyon to participate. What a great group of dedicated people I found myself surrounded by. We spent the entire morning in a classroom learning all about hiking the backcountry in Grand Canyon. We learned about dehydration, heat exhaustion, hyponatremia (water toxicity), and a slew of other conditions and injuries. We also learned how to use a two-way radio to communicate with other rangers, search and rescue, and dispatch.

The afternoon was spent learning how to carry patients out of the canyon in a litter, and basic helicopter procedures should we ever be in a situation to assist with a helicopter evacuation. When the day was over I felt fairly confident that I would be able to help hikers on the trails both by preventing problems and assisting if they were to get into trouble. This was undoubtedly going to be one of the best experiences of my life!

Next: My work as a volunteer in PSAR (Preventive Search and Rescue) in Grand Canyon National Park.