Grand Canyon Tips

June 10, 2008 at 9:46 am (Random thoughts)

Well we just got back from our very great, heck I’d even call it a “Grand” vacation to the Grand Canyon. Our trip consisted of the following

Sunday- drive from Poway to Flagstaff

Monday- Meet our party at the South Rim, leave their vehicle and carpool to North Rim, stay the night at the North Rim Lodge.

Tuesday- Hike down to Phantom Ranch via the North Kaibab trail (14 miles).

Wednesday- Spend the day at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, do shorter day hikes, take pictures, etc.

Thursday- Hike up to the South Rim via the Bright Angel trail (10 miles). Stay at the Kachina Lodge.

Friday- Drive back to our vehicle on the north rim and begin our trip back home to Poway. We stopped and spent the night in Vegas.

Saturday- Get home!

That was the trip, here are some tips…


When someone tells you all about their experience hiking into the Grand Canyon it will often sound amazing, exciting and for a brief moment you’ll think “I would like to do that”. Whatever you do, don’t actually say that out loud, because if you do you just might end up having to do it. That’s what happened to us many months ago while Athena’s uncle Woody and cousin Amy were telling us about their Grand Canyon hike. We allowed their passion to sway our better judgment and the next thing you know we were paying $12 for a pair of socks and testing out different flavors of trail mix.


There are two ways I can speak of this tip. first of all if you’re looking to stay the night at Phantom Ranch or any of the many campgrounds at the bottom of the Grand Canyon you have to make your plans a year in advance. They typically take reservations starting on the first day of the month on year before that month. So if you want to make reservations for November 16th, 2009 you need to call November 1st, 2008 at 6AM.

We were fortunate and didn’t actually have to do any work in the reserving process because the head of our little journey, Don (a good friend of uncle Woody) had actually called ahead on June 1st, 2007 at 6 AM and booked two 4 bed cabins. He then sent out the word to his hiking buddies to see who might be available and somehow or another we got in.

I also say make reservations because I’m a bit of a planner when it comes to vacationing. I don’t care for the stress of having to find some place at the last minute. In fact I’ve never left my home without knowing exactly where I’m going to be staying for the night. Until the “first” day of this trip…


The first night we had reservations for was Sunday in Flagstaff, AZ. But Saturday we had an early wedding to attend in Laguna Beach, CA. While Laguna beach is only about 90 minutes north of Poway we thought it would be a neat experience to leave from there in the late afternoon, early evening and head out towards Flagstaff thus allowing ourself more time on Sunday to enjoy the northern Arizona desert. We did not, however, make reservations, instead we decided to just stop when we got tired. In retrospect I can’t logically call this a contributing factor to what happened next but I also can’t seem to separate it from my obsessive compulsive impulses either. What happened next is that while traveling along the 91 freeway a non-California driver unfamiliar with the importance of paying careful attention to the flow of traffic while traveling 70 miles an hour on a 12 lane super-highway abruptly slammed on the breaks of his overloaded Kia rental car (2,892 lbs) thus sending the vehicle skidding out of control directly into the lane of the massive Chevy Tahoe (5,265 lbs) I was driving at the time. In order to avoid rear ending and possibly decimating the 4 passengers in his vehicle I swerved two lanes over and unfortunately just enough into the bottom of the K rail to blow out both of the drivers side tires and get some pretty nasty scratches from bumper to bumper. This was lame. Fortunately no one was seriously injured. ON a more positive note we didn’t have any hotel reservations we’d have to cancel. Instead my gracious brother-in-law Zac came out from Temecula and picked us up. We then shared a delicious dinner with the Elliott’s and the Blum’s at BJ’s followed by the Blum’s bringing us all the way back home to Poway where we would leave from in the morning to try to reach Flagstaff.


This is something I failed to do with Athena’s Hyundai (the car we now had to use to reach the Grand Canyon). When we finally got to Flagstaff I opened the car door for Athena (a very rare act of chivalry on my part) and noticed something very disconcerting. The passenger side front tire was so bald the steel belt could be seen.

What an idiot I am. This was totally my fault because for 20,000 miles of owning this car I had never rotated the tires. The next leg of our journey required us to add approximately 600 pounds before drive 250 miles through twisty mountain roads. Having just seen what a Red-under-sized-over-loaded-Korean-made-front-wheel-drive-four-door-passenger-vehicle can and cannot do I decided to get this car some new tires. Easier said than done at 5PM on a Sunday evening in Flagstaff. Incredibly there was such a place, Western Tires, located on route 66, just 10 miles from our hotel. Woo hoo! This place was a living stereotype. I pulled up to Western tire and was greeted by a toothless grease monkey named Ed. As he walked up to the car gazing down at the tires he stretched out his grime covered hand and asked, “What can I do you for?”

“I think I may need some new front tires”

He quickly made up a number…

“hmmm, Well I may have some, but they’ll run you ’bout 80 dollars a tire plus tax.”

“How long will it take?”

“Well, If we can git er done in 10 minutes will you buy us a beer?”

“What kind?”



And so 9 minutes and 200 dollars later I found myself for the first time ever buying a 6-pack of beer at a gas station.

I’m betting the next guy who need tires heard something like…

“If we can git er done in 30 minutes will you buy us a beer?”

Tip# 5 TRAIN

This is actually the most important tip I can give you. Since you know you’re going to be hiking the Grand canyon about a year in advance start training for it immediately. Hike long. Hike often. Take the stairs everywhere you go. And you still won’t be prepared for the physical demands of such a journey. It’s not easy. Don’t let anyone tell you it is. Athena and I have both run marathons (well she ran I kind of moseyed) and we both agreed that the physical pain of this hike is in every sense equal to the physical pain of that experience. Of course we trained for the marathons for this our training consisted of 4 hikes over the course of 4 months. hmmmm. Do more than that!


You’re going to get blisters (that is unless you’ve trained very hard and developed calluses). Your feet are going to hurt. You won’t like this. But you can avoid it generally through the preventive measure of putting mole skin on your feet where the blisters may develop. It’s a good idea. Do it.


We started both our journey down and our journey up at about 5:30 AM. This was ideal, especially on the way down. The temperature difference at the bottom is 30 degrees hotter than at the top. This means that the lovely 70 degree weather the weak tourists are enjoying up top is an oppressively hot 100 degree oven down at the bottom. The earlier you start the more you can avoid having to endure this torment. The trip down from the north rim is about 14 miles to Phantom Ranch. It took Athena and I about 7 hours and we were about 2 hours ahead of the rest of our group. I can’t imagine having to spend another 2 hours in that heat. And from what they told me we were actually experiencing relatively cool weather for June. YIKES!

We got pretty good weather on the way up as it was about 65 when we started and then 65 when we got up top. So even though the temperature rose 30 degrees we barely felt any increase at all because we had climbed a mile high in elevation. Again, this was only possible because we left early.


North Kaibab Trail is 14 miles. South Kabiab trail is about 8 Miles. Bright Angel is about 10 Miles. Bright Angel is the most popular trail in the park. it has lots of water stops and is well maintained. North Kaibab is only open from the middle of May to the middle of October. South Kaibab has no water and is allegedly the steepest. Many folks go down South K and up Bright Angel. If I went again that is what I would do. The last thing I would do however is start at the south and go north. Why save the 14 miler for after you’re worn out? The one positive about North K is that the upper half is very shady and it’s about 2000 feet higher in elevation so it’s even cooler than the south rim but it still is not something I would want to experience. Going down it was more than enough for me.


Water is a very good thing to have. I highly recommend the imitation Camel Back bladders that you can get at any Wal Mart or Target. They typically range in size from 1 liter to 3 liters. We both had a 2 liter, plus I carried another liter in a different bottle and we both had small 20 ounce bottles to mix electrolytes into. This is another thing you’ll want to invest in. I really liked the Berry flavored PowerAde brand of electrolyte mix. These are necessary because you’re sweating way more than you’d think possible and more than you notice since you’re sweat evaporates quickly in the hot, dry climate.

Tip #10 EAT ALOT

We brought more food than we needed which was kind of a bummer. We kept hearing people tell us to bring a lot of food so we did, but we didn’t eat even half of it. Maybe we could’ve, maybe we should’ve, but we didn’t. Part of the problem was that we had pre-paid for meals at Phantom (another thing you have to reserve in advance). These meals were delicious and more than you could possibly handle (and also very expensive). If you buy the meals in advance the only food you’ll really need is enough to get you back down and back up. You really aren’t going to need any food while you’re down there because the food that you paid for will satisfy you.


We took over 200 pictures, but I honestly wish we had taken more. There were so many incredible sights that would’ve been great to photograph but we simply didn’t want to interrupt our pace to get the camera out and take the pictures. For one thing we have a rather large camera (the digital rebel XTI) so keeping it in your pocket is out of the question. Next time, if there is a next time, I’d like to take a smaller camera that would be easily accessible and could just snap stuff along the way. Most of our pictures were taken not on the main hikes down and back up but rather on deliberate photo hikes while we were down or up. I should also note that from a photographic view point the pictures from up looking down are far superior to the pictures from down looking up. However the experience of hiking down and back is far above the average experience of the Grand Canyon visitor (Average time a tourist spends at the Grand Canyon: 4 hours. Time we spent: over 80 hours).

Tip #12 TALK

You need to talk for a few reasons. First of all it’s helpful for setting your pace. If it’s difficult for you to talk then you are going to fast. You need to slow down. the air is very thin up top and if you’re from pretty much anywhere outside of Denver you will have difficulty adjusting to it. (Athena got altitude sickness the evening before we went and this made for a very tough night sleeping as well as a hungry hike down.) Not only is talking good for your pace but it’s also fun to talk to the folks you meet along the way. One of the funniest things is to ask the people coming the opposite direction where they started and how far away is your destination. Our most common question was “how far till Phantom ranch?” within ten minutes we heard answers ranging from “4 miles” to “7 miles” (The real answer was 5). This is entertaining and interesting. Another great question to ask people is where they are from. We met people from places like Holland, Tallahassee, Phoenix, Detroit, Hungary and Toronto just to name a few.

Another good talking tip is to bring along walky talkies, especially if you have a group that may get split up. Our group of 8 had 4 radios and they came in very handy.


Mailing postcards from the bottom of Phantom Ranch is a really great idea. They are the only place in the world where you send mail “delivered by Mule”. But postcards down there cost about 3 times as much as postcards up top. And since you probably don’t want to carry an address book down with you it’s smart to do that before you go down as well. I think the stamp prices are higher at the bottom as well but I don’t know that for a fact since we bought ours up top as well.


I’m not one to be paranoid about athletes foot. In fact this tip has nothing to do with fungus. It has to do with reptiles. when I went to the bathhouse to take a much needed shower the first thing that I saw when I opened the door was a rather large snake come slithering out at me. I’m really glad I was wearing shoes.


Ribbon falls is about a mile off the North K trail. Approximately 6 miles away from Phantom. I decided it would be a nice deviation of our hike to try and go see it. Long story short: if you are married and doing this hike with your spouse, save your marriage and avoid trying this or any other side trip that will add to the length of your hike.


One last tip for you guys who might be considering doing the exact same trip we did. From south rim to north rim and back towards southern CA you are about 10 hours of drive time till you hit Vegas, making it a good place to stop for the evening. There are so many incredible places to stay in Vegas the absolute best way you can choose is to let priceline choose for you. The key to priceline is to offer low for the highest possible hotel. We had my brother Paul do the bidding for us while we are about 2 hours outside of Sin city and he managed to get us into the finest hotel we’ve ever stayed in for less than half the usual Friday night rate. The Trump International hotel and tower… To paraphrase Ferris Bueller “It is so choice, if you have the means, I highly recommend staying there.” After sleeping on bunk beds and in over priced motel rooms this place was an oasis of luxury and opulence. We were bumped up to a 1 bedroom suite that was over 1000 square feet. It was located on the 54th floor. It had a full kitchen, 3 Plasma TV’s, 2 toilets, 3 showers and a jacuzzi tub! But the absolute best thing about this place is what it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have a casino! Nor is smoking allowed anywhere in the building. It’s so nice. I can’t say enough good things about the hotel especially it’s staff that treated us exceptionally despite our ragamuffin appearance. I laugh when I think of the valet parking our Hyundai next to a Lamborghini (which actually happened).

So there you have 16 tips on how to have a Grand, Grand Canyon Adventure yourself. I hope you employ them and enjoy them and get to experience such a trip at some point in your life.



  1. Albino Hayford said,

    Dude, this post was GREAT writing. You ROCK!

    My favorite part:

    This place was a living stereotype. I pulled up to Western tire and was greeted by a toothless grease monkey named Ed. As he walked up to the car gazing down at the tires he stretched out his grime covered hand and asked, “What can I do you for?”

  2. Out of thin air said,

    One of your best posts ever. It brings back memory of the pain and agony of my many backpacking trips in the Sierras when I was young. But great memories.

  3. Aunt Jo Anne said,

    Loved the article with all the helpful info – PS What is mole skin?

  4. danielbalc said,

    “Mole skin” should have been “moleskin” . It’s sticky on one side and fuzzy on the other. You stick it on your feet where you are most prone to blisters. In my case I should have put it on my heel.

  5. RubeRad said,

    I find that wicking sock-liners (thin inner mini socks made of Cool Max or some such) prevent blisters very well. All the friction takes place between your two pairs of socks, not on your skin.

    Very enjoyable post Daniel, someday I would like to hike the Grand Canyon (oopx, does that count as out loud?), and when I do, I will be back here to pay close attention to your tips!

  6. danielbalc said,

    Rube, I saw several families with young children doing the overnight hike. The youngest child was probably 8 or 9. With your posse you’re still probably a few years away from making a full on family vacation out of it, but If and when the time comes you’d have a blast.

    It was also be a really cool “just guys” or “just girls” type of trip. We have some ladies in the church who make the trek every December (when it’s nice and cool and ideal hiking conditions).

    If my brothers were at all into hiking (they aren’t) I’d definitely do it with them. Maybe I could get all 4 of my brothers-in-law to do it though.

  7. Pablo Honey said,

    What are you talking about? I happen to love hiking, I just never get the chance to do it. I’d be down for the G.C. anytime.

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