Glad to finally get this one-off the hiking bucket list! Just hiked this route last week on June 2nd. The Canyon Rim-to-Base Kaibab-to-Angel hike is a 27 kilometer route with a 1.5 kilometer descent followed by a 1.3 kilometer ascent.
Is it hard? The range of disparate answers you’ll find for that simple question is nuts. On one hand you’ll see fit marathon runners talking about it as the hardest hike of their lives and on the other you’ll see mild-mannered older folk talking about how relaxing and fun the trek was.
Frankly, it boils down to a few basic factors. The first thing to get out-of-the-way is the distance/elevation, the hike is at its heart a simple 17 mile hike with a +/- 1 mile ascent and descent. If you’ve done hill hiking before along similar distances there’s really nothing magically different about the trail itself (i.e. insanely steep crumbling slopes etc) that makes it physically un-hikeable in a single day. The critical difference I found between this hike and others is the climate you do it in. And that really boils down to two simple factors :
- When you do it
This is really the main thing. If you do it in Spring/Fall when temperatures are @ a balmy 5 to 16 (c) degrees I’d say it’s a fairly easy hike. In the summer though when temps go from a low of 27 @ the start to a high of 40 (c) on the route, it becomes infinitely harder. The heat factor is of course moderated by the time of day you set out (I started out way too late and ended up doing the hardest bits at peak sun which was not fun).
On my walk, I passed by two folks having heat strokes (one was helicoptered out) both whom had trained for months for it but just weren’t ready for the raw heat + a dozen folk who decided to sleep out the evening/night in the canyon from sheer heat exhaustion.
I’ve heard too that around winter (while heat is a non-issue, tgh you might get too chilly), the trails get ultra-slick which could be a massive problem if you’re not ready for it. There are no railings and it’s a long way down….
- How fast you go
Needless to say if you hike down and take a bit to rest up at Phantom Ranch before heading back up, things’ll be much easier vs. a straight-non-stop hike. It’s hard to say which will result in a faster completion time but if you’re not gunning for that (I wasn’t this time around but didn’t rest there anyway) there’s always that option.
My experience?.. the summer heat & 0% humidity made hiking this route in the summer pretty intense. Water was scarce due to all but one of the water stations running dry and I made the mistake of not carrying water treatment solutions with me which made things a lot harder than they needed to be….Smack anyone who tells you to do down Angel and up Kaibab. Angel has shade, water and a gentle slope. Kaibab has no shade, no water and far steeper slopes. You pick which you’d rather hike uphill on.
I had a blast hiking this trail though. The views are amazing and the sense of scale is awe-inspiring. On route I passed by a drunk guy wandering around without water…. a bunch of chili grilling french tourists… a few half-naked Spaniards… a large (14+) extended Indian family from Canada (who were kind enough to share some water with me. Hoorah!)…a Slovenian soldier… and countless other fascinating characters…. All in all, including breaks, I took 9.25 hours (10:30 am to 7:45 pm) to complete the full loop….
All in all tgh, it was totally worth it…one of those hiking feats that (if you’re ready to attempt) is pretty sweet to have on the list….nice thing about it is the ability to adjust the difficulty just by choosing your season all the way from easy (Spring) to hard (Summer),…Just be sure to carry at least 3 liters of water with you (or 1.5 liters + treatment solutions) in case stations run dry… -_-… the usual hiking carry-ons (i.e. carb & salt heavy snacks, hiking poles etc.) could help loads too….