Most people hike in the Grand Canyon during the summer. That’s how I started back in May 1973. My first Rim to Rim hike from north to south took place on a Memorial weekend. I should have picked up on the stark contrast between the light snow fall on the North Rim and the much warmer rainfall camping next to the Colorado River, but I was too exhausted to care.
OVEN: TANNER TRAIL
More recently, I hiked the Tanner Trail in mid-June. Anticipating higher temperatures below the Rim, I started down at 1:00 am under a full moon. I got to the Colorado River at 7 a.m. and promptly stuck my bare feet in the Colorado River. “Steam boiled” up from the frigid water. My goal was to get back above the Red Wall by noon before I got cooked. I made it by 10 a.m. I still felt cooked. That’s what happens in an oven. There was no shade below the Red Wall. Why do people do this? Isn’t there a better way? A better time? As it turns out, yes, there is. That time is now. The best time to hike in the Grand Canyon is not when everyone else is doing so and permits are easier to come by.
FRIDGE: MT. BALDY
At the end of the same week that I hiked the Tanner Trail, I left the house in Prescott at 1 a.m. and arrived at the Mt. Baldy trailhead at 5 a.m. and began the 25 mile loop trail. Near the summit at around 11,000 feet, it was trying to snow. I was beginning to get it. It was refreshing rather than miserable. I felt invigorated rather than wilted. Not being the sharpest tool in the shed and going through yet another midlife crisis, it took another experience hiking in an oven and a refrigerator for me to finally get it. Your midlife crises might involve buying an expensive red sports car. This one of mine involved a trip to Death Valley on another Memorial Weekend. In short, I failed. On the way back I found myself on another refreshing summit hiking across snow fields at 11,000 feet on Mt. Charleston, just west of Las Vegas. Wonderful.
The Southwest is characterized by wide variations in elevation and terrain. That makes it relatively easy to choose a great hike under optimal conditions. If you want to endure wilderness hardship, there are plenty of desert destinations in the summer and just as many alpine summits in winter. It’s also just as easy to flip those around and have your cake and eat it too in the context of hiking. For example, my son and I hike in the McDowell Mountains on a Friday afternoon with snakes on the trail and cacti in bloom, then on Sunday we were hiking in snow on Bill Williams Mtn. Delightful.
I’ve read and seen that there is a time for every event under heaven. Whether you want to be tough and endure wilderness hardship or have fun and enjoy yourself, you came to the right place. If you’re in the latter group, now is the time to hike our amazing deserts, including the Grand Canyon.
Comparisons based on contrasts bring things into focus. Next we’ll consider the pros and cons of hiking on trails versus cross-country.
Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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