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Down is Optional ...
Up is Mandatory


View from the Bright Angel Trail

On our summer trip (12) we visited the Grand Canyon's South Rim. The Park was a marvelous wonder and the views were at least spectacular. As we gazed out over the South Rim, we knew that we needed to hike into the Canyon. We decided to hike the famous, Bright Angel Trail.

ON the days before our hike, we toured the South Rim of the Park and found the Bright Angel Trailhead. The kiosk provided information on the trail. The main focus of the display was to warn hikers of the heat, but while we read the signs, we were dressed in jackets. It was cool on the Rim. So, how hot could it be in the Canyon?

We discussed our options and decided to heed the Park Service's warnings. Naturally, we had wanted to hike to the Colorado River and back in a day, but we instead planned for a shorter trip to Indian Garden and out to Plateau Point. From the Point we would at least be able to see the Colorado River.

We started our hike early the next morning (5 am). The temperature was cool and we wore jackets. In a short while we met hikers coming up the trail. We assumed that they were coming up from Indian Garden (the nearest camping area), but we did not have a conversation with any of them. The trail was in great shape and the hiking was easy.

As we walked lower in the Canyon we passed a sign - Caution, Down is Optional, Up is Mandatory. The Sign sponsored by the Grand Canyon Search and Rescue also said they are called on to perform an average of 350 rescues each year. That is almost one a day. The sign caught our attention or was it the rising sun that did... We had long since stowed our jackets. It was getting hot.

Up is Mandatory sign

We finished our hike to Indian Garden and out to Plateau Point with ease. I began to second guess or compromised trip to the Point. We had really wanted to go to the River and it was only 1.6 miles further than the trip side trip to the Point. Rats, but hopefully, we would return to the Park some time soon.

Of course that talk was before we started hiking out of the Canyon. The 4.5 miles uphill were hot, difficult miles even though the grade was not steep. Through the hike, I thought about the sign - Up is Mandatory. Hikers needed a plan for hiking in the heat and for self rescue.

As we climbed we stopped at the 3 Mile Rest for water and shade. The rest stations was extremely crowded as hikers sought refuge from the sun. It would have been nice to have sat and rested longer, but it was still morning and it was only going to get hotter. Up is Mandatory.

At the 1.5 mile Rest Station we saw a Preventative Search and Rescue Ranger. She stood beneath a reflective umbrella as she talked to hikers. The PSAR Ranger tried to prevent rescues by making hikers more aware of the special heat related issues involved with hiking in the Grand Canyon. The Park took heat related problems seriously.

The last 1.5 miles of the trail was a bit easier than the first 3 miles. The canyon walls gave us some relief from the sun and the temperature was cooler as we approached the Rim. We were finished with our hike before noon, but as we neared the trailhead we passed downbound hikers who were just starting on the trail. Wow! Down is Optional - Up is Mandatory.

Whether you are walking into the depths of the Grand Canyon, climbing a mountain, or just going on a short day hike - safety for yourself and your group is your responsibility. Reaching your final destination is mandatory. In the Canyon, no matter how far down you go, you have to also be able to walk back up to the rim. In the mountains whether you reach the summit or not, you must have the strength to return to the trailhead. And even on a day hike to a local park, the hiker must complete the hike. Rescue is not a right, but learning self rescue is a must.

This is the start of a new series on Self Rescue (it is a continuation of the Hike Safe Series). Join us each week it should be fun.

Happy Up is Mandatory trails


Detailed Bright Angel Trail post from summer (12)


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