Grand Canyon hiking: Tips on how not to have a heart attack

If hiking the Bright Angel Trail, or any other trail that leads down into the Grand Canyon is the stuff of your dreams, be warned–it isn’t the easiest thing to do. Sure, going down is fine. That path of switchbacks, often with mule pee at every turn, beckons downward. “This is swell, ” you might say to yourself. “Isn’t the Grand Canyon grand?”

Sure. It’s spectacular. The Grand Canyon is probably one of the most glorious, breathtaking sights I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot–not to brag, just saying. But that alluring trip down towards the Colorado River that formed such majesty can be hell on the way back up. It can even give people a heart attack.

That what happened to Frank Poole. He was fit as a fiddle, a real exercise buff, but ended up in an Arizona hospital because of breathing problems. Tests found out that he had had a heart attack.

Frank Poole is not the first to have had physical issues when testing ones mettle against the great outdoors. According to the article I read that talked about Frank Poole’s plight, Grand Canyon’s park and health officials see more people with health issues as the summer tourist traffic picks up. [Kraig gave his words of warning also.] The high temperatures can cause heat stroke and the terrain is stuff muscle pulls are made of. Or, people can have just a crappy time, much different than the feeling they had when they still were at the top, slipping into their day pack and feeling perky

I’ve experienced what hiking in the Grand Canyon can do myself. The first time I hiked there it was in April. I headed downwards while wearing a jacket. By the time I got to the half-way point of Bright Angel Trail, I was sweating from the heat. The temperatures rise substantially due to the shift in the climate. The further down, the more desert like the landscape.

By the time I got back to the top, I became colder and shivery as the temperature dropped again. Luckily, I was prepared and slipped back on my jacket. My hiking companion and I also paced ourselves. Since we knew that we only had enough time to make it to the half-way point to the bottom, we turned around for the strenuous hike back up. We also came prepared with plenty of water and snacks. We also had on hiking boots.

On the other two times I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, as with that time, I saw other people who weren’t so fortunate. They definitely weren’t having the best of times. They were weeping in pain with several more switchbacks to go before reaching the top. As I passed them, I tried not to think about how my own thighs burned. I was thankful that I had on a good pair of shoes that offered support. I was also wearing a hat to help regulate my temperature.

At the Grand Canyon, it’s easy to go too far downwards. My suggestion is to think about how far down you’re willing to go, and how much time you have to do it. It’s roughly twice as long to come back up as it is to go down.

Here are the main points to keep in mind from the Grand Canyon Hike Smart Guidelines.

  • Have a plan
  • Don’t hike alone
  • Know your limits
  • Don’t huff and puff
  • Take food
  • Be kind to yourself (Give yourself a break when you need it)
  • Watch out for mules and other hikers
  • Keep track of your time

And here’s one more from me. Hike to have fun, not to prove a point.

Even if you aren’t able to hike that far downwards, so what? You’re at the Grand Canyon.

The sign in the photo is of the 3 mile rest area on the Bright Angel Trail. I rested there and kept going for a little while.