The Hardest Thru Hike in the World

If not the most difficult, a hike below the rim of the Grand comes close.

Learn about Ambassador Rich Rudow’s thru hike & Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s planning & prep for his 2 section hikes.

The UltaMid in Tuweep Valley as a snow and ice storm rolls in during Rich Rudow's thru hike below the rim of the Grand.
The UltaMid in Tuweep Valley as a snow and ice storm rolls in during Rich Rudow’s thru hike below the rim of the Grand.

More than four thousand people have summited Mt. Everest. Two hundred and fifty people have walked 7,900 miles to complete the triple crown of hiking (walking the PCT, CDT and AT). Twenty-four astronauts left the Earth’s orbit for the moon. But only 12 people have ever walked the length of Grand Canyon in one continuous push and just a handful have done it in sections. Why? There are no towns for resupply, no base camps for logistics support, and in fact, no trails for the vast majority of the 700 miles. Traversing Grand Canyon is like walking a complex three-dimensional maze with delicate routes that include hundreds of thousands of vertical feet of scrambling and climbing up to low class five terrain. There isn’t a guidebook, and beta is sparse. To most people, this thru hike seems impossible. But for people like Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow, the foremost expert on slot canyons in the Grand, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre, and a handful of others it’s not only possible, but one of life’s most exciting challenges. Rudow finished his thru hike late in 2015; St. Pierre has achieved the first two sections of the hike, and plans on finishing the entire journey within the next few years.
Read more.

Maps & an Ethical Compass For Grand Canyon Travel

A Master Cartographer Digs Deep to Find the Navigational Skills Needed to Succeed on One of the World’s Most Extreme Thru Hikes

Grand Canyon Backpacking
Which way do we go?

By Clay Wadman, photos by Mike St. Pierre & Clay Wadman

Once I’m oriented, a map is nothing but a close-up of that mental image I form before every trip, an overview if you will, from space. I marvel at how far these maps have come since Major John Wesley Powell first came to the Southwest with pencil and paper and tried to make sense of these great cirques and valleys. To glance up at the cliffs and huge amphitheaters of the Grand Canyon’s Red Wall and then back down to the impossibly high tech orthographic projection of these features I hold in my hand, they are perfect and these images help me see their scale and shape even more clearly.

In this blog post, I recreated notes from the journal I took on the below-the-rim section hike of the Grand that Mike St. Pierre and I embarked on, March 2016. The section we did is part of what Rich Rudow calls, “The Grandest Walk“—a thru hike that traverses the Canyon below the rim. Mike plans on doing it in three sections; he invited me for the second leg of his journey. Though a mapmaker with decades of experience, I dug deep on this adventure. It was one of the most difficult of my life. Strong navigation skills and tools were integral to our success.

Maps, mids and camping deep in the Grand Canyon backcountry.
Maps, mids and camping deep in the Grand Canyon backcountry.

On day four of our trip we awake to grey—grey skies, grey fatigue, a grey attitude like fog from last night’s sand storm and bad water. Everything above the 6,000-foot level is washed in fresh snow, including the rim above us. In the Crystal Creek wash, clear alkaline-poison water laps at our boots. I want to see something good in everything and think to myself: “At least in the weeks to come, the potholes will be full on the Esplanade…” From the streambed, our escape route out of the Crystal is unobvious. We just descended from Shiva Saddle, one of the highest saddles on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and dropped all the way to the river. Now we need to climb back up through five or six of the major geologic groups in the canyon, this time to the Sagittarius Saddle.

If you’ve ever seen a photo looking down on the Grand Canyon from outer space you can see the dark, almost black looking boreal forests that cap one of the biggest “oxbow” bends on the planet. This immense arch stretches from Nankoweep at River Mile 53 all the way to Tapeats at River Mile 137. In the scorching desert of the American Southwest, this part of the geologic up-thrust that created the canyon itself, has become a forest of huge conifers and moisture, rising to an elevation of 10,000’.

I hold onto this mental image as I study the maps of the inner canyon. Not just a random sweep of bends and corners, the river has purpose and direction; from its genesis to its evolution, modern topographical science magically reveals each of its secrets. Read the rest of Wadman’s story.

Prepping For a Grand Canyon Thru Hike (a guide to multi-sport expedition planning)

Stripped Down Grand Canyon Thru Hiker Beta, Logistics & Route Finding, By Mike St. Pierre

Grand Canyon Route Finding & Logistics

By Mike St. Pierre, Photos by Mike St. Pierre & Clay Wadman

Planning and prepping for any major backcountry adventure, whether the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail or a section hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon, is logistically challenging. And unless you’re the first thru hiker, canyoneer or climber to map and explore the route, you must rely on information gathered from numerous sources, from Google Earth to the people who first explored the area. I prefer more remote trips as the lack of information makes them more adventurous. Plus, the fewer the resources you have to depend on, the more careful you have to be and the more you have to rely on your own experience to accomplish the feat (so you’d better have a lot of experience for bigger adventures). However, the popularity or the remoteness of your trip is relative; you’ll have a greater chance of success if you know what you’re getting into. You’ll also more likely succeed if you travel simply, use gear wisely and constantly refine and lighten your systems. This thru hiker approach is applicable whether you’re a long-distance backpacker or a climber, packrafter, skier, or passionate backcountry adventurer of any kind.

The Way of the Thru Hiker 

Experienced thru hikers have walking dialed. They know exactly what they need to be efficient and conserve energy because they walk all day long. I took a thru hiker’s approach in very carefully planning the second leg of my section hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. I made sure to have exactly what I needed and nothing more. I dialed in my knowledge of the terrain, weather, water sources and resupply points by doing extensive research. And I reached out to more experienced Grand Canyon thru hikers, rangers and other experts.

Subsequently, when I embarked on my 200+-mile thru hike/canyoneering adventure this March, I felt ready to go bigger and further, increasing my mileage and distance. I had already done the first section over two weeks in the fall of 2015 with Rich Rudow, whose decades of experience make him one of the foremost experts of America’s biggest canyon. He spent a full year plotting his path, the gear and his caches for his 57-day, 700-mile thru hike below the rim (Read more). I joined him for his first two weeks. Despite the gnarliest terrain and harshest conditions I had every experienced (or maybe because of them), I caught the bug and immediately started planning the second leg of my journey. I also trusted my own 15 years of experience in ultralight backpacking techniques.

So how did I do it? Of course, I can’t download my life’s experience with ultralight backcountry travel and gear in one article, but here’s an overview of how I planned my trip. It’s not comprehensive, and you shouldn’t assume you can thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon based off what you learn from these articles. But in this three-part series of posts, I’ll share the most valuable things I’ve learned from my backcountry experiences. They culminated in this section hike, which was definitely the most difficult and challenging adventure I’ve embarked on to date. Read the rest of the article and check out photos.

Backcountry Recipes: How to Gain Weight On Even the Most Grueling Thru Hike

A photo of meals prepared using backcountry recipes developed by extreme hiking expert Chris Atwood.

Text & photos by Chris Atwood.

Chris Atwood did a 57-day thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon with Ambassador Rich Rudow (Read “The Grandest Walk: A 700-Mile Thru Hike Below the Rim“). During the trip numerous adventurers accompanied them, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre. The length and severity of the hike meant that the group had to eat a lot of calories to have the energy to continue hiking. But with proper planning of his backcountry recipes, Atwood managed to gain around five pounds while still exerting himself to the limit every day and hiking a grand total of over 600 miles. In this post, he shares backcountry recipes he used as well as an example daily ration of food.

Gaining Weight on a Grueling Thru Hike? All it Takes is the Right Backcountry Recipes

Before the trip began, Rich Rudow jokingly said he wanted to be the first Grand Canyon thru hiker to gain weight. I thought it a lofty aspiration, considering the challenging food logistics of this fully self-supported trek. We all knew it would be tall order to fuel the two months of hard work required to walk from Lee’s to Pearce in one push. And although gaining weight was not my goal, staying completely full and charged, at all times, by nutritious and healthy food that I loved to eat was. And with an eye toward carrying the lightest load possible, I didn’t want any more food than would be necessary. My idea was ample daily eating with an extra ration or two to cover any delays due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. Read More

Repair a Pack: How To Patch Your Ultralight Gear

Chris Atwood On How to Patch Holes In Your Gear While On An Extreme Thru Hike

Chris-Atwood-in-the-Grandj.Photo-by-Mike-St.-Pierre
Chris Atwood admiring the view during the Grand Canyon thru hike. Photo by Mike St. Pierre

Text & photos by Chris Atwood

Editor’s note: Hyperlite Mountain Gear also sells Dyneema® Repair Kits (formerly Cuben Fiber Repair Kits) which we recommend for patching a hole in a Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpack or tarp/shelter. By using the Dyneema® tape, you maintain the strength of the pack because you are using the same lightweight, ripstop and waterproof fabric as the pack itself. To properly use one of these kits to repair a pack or shelter, follow the same instructions as below, but don’t complete the third step. The powerful adhesive on the back of the tape means that the Seam Grip is not necessary, saving you a step and a sticky mess. If you do not have a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Repair Kit, we recommend that you follow the steps outlined by Chris Atwood.

After 57 days in the Grand Canyon backcountry, my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 4400 still looks great. It saw the spectrum of conditions, literally every type of weather imaginable below the Canyon’s rim, yet never failed to protect my kit. It carried very well, proved elegantly functional with its minimalist design and came to Pearce Ferry in great structural condition.

However, the outback of Grand Canyon is tough on gear. Most routes, in addition to being choked with poking, clawing and slicing flora are themselves composed of carnivorous limestone, eager to nibble any exposed flesh or backpack side pocket that wanders into the kill zone. We sometimes willingly drag and scrape our packs along such routes, hauling precious drinking water from deep within slot canyons. With this type of abuse, a thru hiker is bound to get a few holes in her/his pack. Fortunately, repairs in the field can be easy if done right. Here’s how to repair a pack.  Read More

The Grandest Walk: A 700-Mile Thru Hike Below the Rim

Chris Atwood eyes a fast moving storm from the moonscape near Fishtail Mesa. Photo: Rich Rudow
Chris Atwood eyes a fast moving storm from the moonscape near Fishtail Mesa.

Stories and photos by Rich Rudow

How 2012 Outside Mag “Adventurer of the Year,” Rich Rudow, achieved one of his greatest objectives–a rarely done thru hike of the full length of the Grand Canyon.

More than four thousand people have summited Mt. Everest. Two hundred and fifty people have walked 7,900 miles to complete the triple crown of hiking (walking the PCT, CDT and AT). Twenty-four astronauts left the Earth’s orbit for the moon. But only 12 people have ever walked the length of Grand Canyon in one continuous push. Why? There are no towns for resupply, no base camps for logistics support, and in fact, no trails for the vast majority of the 700 miles. Traversing Grand Canyon is like walking a complex three-dimensional maze with delicate routes that include hundreds of thousands of vertical feet of scrambling and climbing up to low class five terrain. There isn’t a guidebook, and beta is sparse. To most people, this thru hike seems impossible. Fortunately, Dave Nally and Chris Atwood, my hiking partners on this journey, weren’t like most people. They had thousands of Grand Canyon off-trail miles under their belts too, and most importantly, we had hiked together many times on difficult Grand Canyon expeditions. I could count on their judgment, strength and fortitude.

But, I wondered, “Could I do it?” Would my 50-year-old body hold up to the rigors of a thru hike on some of the most difficult terrain on the planet for 57 continuous days? I made sure to cover my bases. We spent a year planning the expedition. We defined a highly detailed day-by-day route, identifying water sources and bailout options. We placed eight caches throughout the length of the Grand to resupply along the way. They contained food, extra approach shoes and hiking poles, first aid supplies, clothes for the changing seasons, a warmer sleeping bag for late Fall, maps for each leg of the route, technical climbing gear, and of course, tequila, coffee and peanut M&M’s. Selecting the right gear was paramount for success. A pack failure would end the trip. A shelter failure could be life threatening. Read on… the Expedition Begins!

Ultralight Winter Backpacking Through Canyon Country

Ultralight Winter Backpacking in The Grand Canyon
Elyssa Shalla and Matt Jenkins have completed a thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Photos & text by Matt Jenkins

Rangers Matt Jenkins and Elyssa Shalla recently joined an exclusive group of just 26 backcountry experts to have embarked on this extreme thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. As well, they are among the eight most recent people either thru hiking or section hiking below the rim who are using Hyperlite Mountain Gear equipment. In this post Jenkins shares the gear choices they make specifically tailored to ultralight winter backpacking. You can read the other posts in his series, including their Ultralight Winter Backpacking Sleep System Strategies. And read more about what it takes to do a huge adventure like this in Rich Rudow’s blog, “The Grandest Walk.”

Read the rest of the article & check out gear weight charts.

Bikepackrafting Cataract Canyon with Mike Curiak

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador, biking enthusiast and founder of Lace Mine 29, a custom bike wheel company, Mike Curiak has pushed the sport of extreme cycling to new heights, and was nominated for a spot in the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame.  He, Jesse Selwyn and Travis Anderson recently used packrafts, bikes and their legs to explore Cataract Canyon. This is a repost from Curiak’s blog

A few years back I had the opportunity to complete a unique trip in Canyonlands National Park. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassadors Doom, Moe and I rode, walked, and floated for three days and roughly 75 miles through Beef Basin, the Needles, Cross Canyon, Cataract Canyon and Imperial Canyon, as well as the northern edge of the Abajos in completing our loop. A few months ago Jesse and I got to talking about that trip, and it wasn’t something that he could let go of once the seed had been planted.

Check out the rest of the photos and article here.

A Photo Gallery: Climbing, Bikepacking & Packrafting

Doomed: A Hot, Dry Utah Desert Multi-Sport, Packraft & Bikepacking Expedition

Ambassador and Photographer Steve “Doom” Fassbinder works for Alpacka Rafts, but we don’t know where he finds the time for a 9 to 5. He’s constantly sending us stellar photos of his bikepacking, packrafting and climbing adventures. For his latest trip, he invited fellow ambassadors Scott Adamson and Angela VanWiemeersch to embark on a wild multi-sport adventure in the Utah desert backcountry. It involved numerous first ascents of sandstone towers and granite walls, plus packrafting the San Juan River and bikepacking. All photos in this essay are by Doom.

After reading Steve “Crusher” Bartlett’s book, “Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock,” five years ago, Steve Fassbinder felt that he needed to climb the Grand Gulch Spire (also called Shima Sani). A remote towering pillar of rock in the lower Grand Gulch area, it’s typically accessed by a 42-mile float down the San Juan River, but with creative bike, packraft and hiking beta the tower can be reached without the hassles of big boat river trips and the long shuttle involved with such an endeavor. With only one “classic” route, Corso de Gallo (5.11), up the West flank of the tower, it‘s relatively untouched. Fassbinder had made two previous climbing trips to the tower, and had often scoped out the South Face of the tower, but never climbed it. Then after hearing Van Wiemeersch interviewed on a climbing podcast, Fassbinder realized they had plenty in common, and knew she would be a perfect companion. Once Adamson got word that the trip was happening, he too jumped at the chance to climb the spire. Finally Fassbinder was ready to ascend the new route on the steep south face of Shima Sani, but first they had to handle the problem of extreme temperatures.
After reading Steve “Crusher” Bartlett’s book, “Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock,” five years ago, Steve Fassbinder felt that he needed to bikepack out to and then climb the Grand Gulch Spire (also called Shima Sani). A remote towering pillar of rock in the lower Grand Gulch area, it’s typically accessed by a 42-mile float down the San Juan River, but with creative bike, packraft and hiking beta the tower can be reached without the hassles of big boat river trips and the long shuttle involved with such an endeavor. With only one “classic” route, Corso de Gallo (5.11), up the West flank of the tower, it‘s relatively untouched. Fassbinder had made two previous climbing trips to the tower, and had often scoped out the South Face of the tower, but never climbed it. Then after hearing VanWiemeersch interviewed on a climbing podcast, Fassbinder realized they had plenty in common, and knew she would be a perfect companion. Once Adamson got word that the trip was happening, he too jumped at the chance to climb the spire. Finally Fassbinder was ready to ascend the new route on the steep south face of Shima Sani, but first they had to handle the problem of extreme temperatures. Doom is carrying a Summit Pack in the front and a 4400 Porter Pack on the back of his paddle.

Check out the rest of the photo essay now.

Adventures Below The Rim: Days 10-15 In the Grand Canyon

Grand CanyonHyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s account of his Grand Canyon thru hike is coming to a close with this third and final installment. This week’s post will contain his journal entries from day 10 to 15, which feature a flash flood, extreme rain, a summit attempt and a sad goodbye.

Readers should absolutely not consider this a guide to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. Rich Rudow carefully planned this adventure over the course of a year, after spending decades exploring the Grand Canyon. There are no trails at all, anywhere, and water sources are extremely limited and difficult to find. To see more photos, please visit our Thru Hike Below the Rim of the Grand Canyon Facebook photo album. Read Days 1-4 and Days 5-9.

Day 10–Today was supposed to be a layover day, but we are skipping it due to getting behind while the other two gentlemen were with us. Instead, as a reward for the hard push to just get here, we are forgoing the 4:30a.m. wake up call and sleeping in. On the move by 9:00 a.m., we are all sore and tired but welcome the sleeping in.

We traversed saddle canyon, 49 Mile and 49.9 Mile canyons. Super hard, but exhilarating day traversing three huge canyons; these things are big and take hours to hike around. Came across some rock art that dated back to 800-1000 years old, cool to find and see. Downclimbed from the top of the Redwall to the Little Nankoweap drainage and then down to the Colorado River. I felt like I was in “Lord of the Rings” on the route down; it was jaw dropping, technical and steep. We got off the Redwall after four days and camped at Little Nankoweap on the river.

6:30 p.m. Washed clothes inside a Hyperlite Mountain Gear large roll top stuff sack in the river by adding a little gravel and soap and swishing it around. It worked really well. Sipped margaritas and inhaled 1500 calories for dinner. I’m too tired to write right now, but it was an amazing day. Read the rest of the article now.

Adventures Below The Rim: Thru Hiking the Grand Canyon, Days 5 to 9

Thru hiking the Grand Canyon.Continuing on last week’s post about Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s 16-day thru hike adventure through the Grand Canyon, St. Pierre shares his journal entries from day five through nine. This week features destroyed gear, hyponatremia, two members of the crew dropping out and getting sick because of bad water. 

Note: Readers should absolutely not consider this a guide to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. Rich Rudow carefully planned this adventure over the course of a year, after spending decades exploring the Grand Canyon. There are no trails at all, anywhere, and water sources are extremely limited and difficult to find. To see more photos, please visit our Thru Hike Below the Rim of the Grand Canyon Facebook photo album. To Read the first installment of this series, please click here.

Day 54:15 a.m. wake up. We hiked two miles to 25 Mile Rapid and arrived at 8 a.m. Filled up on water, and there was a discussion to stay there due to one of the crew not feeling well. Not the best of ideas as we would have been totally exposed to the sun. We thought we were at Cave Spring (which we were not) and agreed we really needed to get a few more miles in before the heat was too unbearable on top of the Redwall Limestone (This layer averages about 335 million years old and is composed of marine limestones and dolomites). From 25 Mile Rapid, we left the river to hike up above the Redwall. We hiked two miles to Tiger Wash. There was a break in the Redwall that allowed access to the river via a steep 500′ downclimb. We rested during the hottest hours of the day with plans to push on to Fence Fault, another break in the Redwall with river access 3.5 miles down river. Two of the crews feet are in total disarray and not sure how they are going to make it 10 more days. My shoes are falling apart and will need serious repair when we get to our next cache. We are almost a full day behind.

7:45 p.m.we came 1.5 miles short of our destination of Fence Fault as night came over us. We are still 400′ above the river on top of the Redwall. By headlamp we downclimbed into the top of a slot where we found some potholes of water in one of the drainages that cut into the Redwall layer. We made camp here. We followed the slot and it ended up being a non-technical canyon that ended at a 400′ drop straight down to the river below. Two of the crew decided to bail on the rest of this leg at South Canyon due to severe blisters and continual heat exhaustion. That’s the right choice for these two. We are logging about four to six river miles per day, which equates to eight to 10 miles on foot. Hard, hard miles. All our shoes are seeing severe wear. My sole has a four-inch split running down it, and the sticky rubber sole layer is starting to peel off. Not good! I’m totally whipped tonight and starting to get more and more sore.

It’s truly hard to wrap your head around the scale and magnitude of what has, can and does happen in this place. When you have a chance to reflect, even on what we get to see each day, it’s truly jaw dropping.

Read the rest of the post here.

Adventures Below the Rim: 16 Days, 200 Miles in the Grand Canyon

Mike St. Pierre stands high above the Colorado River.
Mike St. Pierre stands high above the Colorado River. He is wearing the Southwest Pack, which recently won SectionHiker.com’s “Gear of the Year” Award.

Walking the length of the Grand below the rim takes years of planning and significant backcountry navigation skills. Our CEO Mike St. Pierre accompanied slot canyon expert Rich Rudow on part of his more than 600-mile thru hike below the rim. In this series of blog posts, we will explore the nature of this extreme thru hike, plus share St. Pierre’s diary entries from the trip. In parts of this series St. Pierre details the path they took. However, readers should absolutely not consider this a guide to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. Rudow carefully planned this adventure over the course of a year, after spending decades exploring the Grand Canyon. There are no trails at all, anywhere, and water sources are extremely limited and difficult to find. To see more photos, please visit our Thru Hike Below the Rim of the Grand Canyon Facebook photo album.

Only two-dozen people have hiked through the Grand Canyon from Lees Ferry to Pearce, and those who have all did it differently and at different paces, says Tom Martin. Martin, the author of “Guide to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon: From Lees Ferry to South Cove,” hiked the trail over 42 years. Twelve have done it as a thru hike and 12 as a section hike, two have walked the south side in a push, and ten the north side. Only three people have done the distance on both sides of the river: Robert Packard in segments; Andrew Holycross as a thru hike on one side and in segments on the other; and Robert Benson as a thru hike on both sides. Park Ranger Todd Seliga, who has done the north side twice, is the only person to do the thru hike on the same side more than once, and holds the record for hiking it in 24 days.

“Any way you look at it, that’s a mighty small number of people,” Martin explains. “To attempt to put this in perspective, about 5,000 folks have made it to the top of Everest, and over 300 have climbed K2.”

As reported by Outside Mag’s 2012 Adventurer of the Year and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow in our post, “Below The Rim: Extreme Grand Canyon Thru Hike,” the terrain is just too difficult, complicated and devoid of water. It takes years of experience and careful planning and preparation to hike the 500 to 700 miles along the river and up, down, through and across the canyon’s different cliff bands.

On the other hand, says Martin, while it’s an extremely difficult endeavor, the key reason it’s rarely done is that it’s been off most peoples’ radar simply because there is no trail for the journey. “Yes, it is true that in places there are trails going the length direction in Grand Canyon, the Tonto Trail being the most well known. As more people make the journey, a trail will no doubt be created, making the walking and the very nature of this journey much much easier.” Rudow and Chris Atwood are currently trying to become the 13th and 14th people to finish this extreme thru hike. Dave Nally accompanied them for 24 days and 300 miles, and Pierre joined the adventurers for 16 days and 200 miles. Both Dave and Mike plan on finishing the trip in upcoming years. Read Mike St. Pierre’s Grand Canyon Thru Hike Diary!

Below The Rim: Extreme Grand Canyon Thru Hike

Giant life-saving water pockets on Pocket Point. Photo by Rich Rudow
A giant life-saving water pockets on Pocket Point. Photo by Rich Rudow

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is enormous. Most people look over the rim convinced they’ve seen it all with a long gaze. The reality is much different; they’re looking at a fraction of a percent. Even the few thousand people who raft the Grand or backpack its trails have only just barely scratched its sandy, desert surface. But not so Rich Rudow. A 2012 Outside Mag “Adventurer of the Year” and a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador, Rudow is the foremost explorer of slot canyons in the Park; he’s descended more than 160, including over 100 likely first descents. His latest adventure is an entirely self-supported, 56-day thru hike down river, which he is doing with Dave Nally and Chris Atwood.

“Roughly 3,500 people have climbed Mt. Everest; 250 people have done the triple crown, but fewer than a dozen people have thru hiked the Grand Canyon all the way through in this way,” Rudow explains. “The terrain is just too difficult.” According to Rudow, an absence of trails complicates navigation, especially on the north side of river. While the Colorado river runs 277 miles through Grand Canyon, the hiking routes are between 500- and 700-miles long depending on the route chosen. Rudow’s route will require regular class 3 to 5 scrambling to transition up and down thousands of vertical feet of the different cliff bands. Read the rest of the article!

To Hell and Back — Across North America’s Deepest Canyon with Steve Graepel

Two hours from Boise, but a world away from the daily grind, the Snake River cuts through the narrows bordering Oregon, Idaho and Washington. It’s here where over 60,000 Cubic Feet per Second of water has carved the deepest gorge in North America. Yes, Hells Canyon cuts deeper than the Grand, plunging 8,000 feet inside the 10-mile gap. Yet as best the record showed, this plumb-line remained un-run as an out and back inside a single push. Mike James and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Steve Graepel ventured out on a whim to set the first known Rim-Rim-Rim.  Read on for Steve’s report.

The Snake serves as the lifeline for southern Idaho, bridling fertile ground and power where there would otherwise be neither. The canyon is no different, only here its always taken more than it provided. Dry and inhospitable, traces of man’s eagerness to eek out a living has been preserved in an arid time capsule scattered along the route to the canyon floor. At 8,000′, the Seven Devils reference back to Nez Perce Indian lore, where the “devils” traveled West yearly to feast on the tribes newborn. At 6,000′, the McGaffee summer cow camp decayed under the conifer canopy. A trophy elk was entangled in the remnants of wire fencing at 4,000′. Fruit orchards grew ferial and tangled at 2,000′. A prehistoric rock shelter and ancient pictographs etched the canyon walls at its low point at 1,400′.

©2013 AllTrails ©2013 National Geographic
©2013 AllTrails ©2013 National Geographic
While cleaning debris out of our shoes on the McGaffee winter cabin’s porch, a cackle of voices broke the din of wind and water. The most common way to see the canyon is by water; rafters float downstream from the dam while jet boats hurdle upstream over the rapids from Pittsburg Landing. We strapped our shoes and stumbled out of the hackberry thickets and out onto the pebble beach to see a flotilla of rafts pulling out for lunch. A Wilderness with no bridge for miles, we eagerly thumbed a ride into Oregon with their scout boat. Our captain asked about our itinerary; we shared our plans, pointing fingers and arching necks to describe our progress and intent. “You boys have a good time”, he shook as we eddied into Oregon.
On the West side of the Snake parallels the manicured and historical Nee-Me-Poo trail—the same route Chief Joseph led his people into Montana while fleeing General Howard in 1877. We followed it south until we saw the sun-weathered Hat Point trail sign, marking our route to the Oregon rim. We stocked up on water and began to negotiate the heat of the day with the pain of the climb. The trail quickly turned to game trail quickly turned to runnels between bunchgrass and brought us up a stringer canyon, rotten with volcanic choss. The canyon took back half of every step we made. The angle eased and we picked up the pace as we ducked under Ponderosa pine for the final climb.
6 miles, 5 hours and 5 liters of water later, we eventually broke the rim’s crest and climbed out onto the fire tower’s observation deck to review our day’s progress. With thunderheads on the horizon, we anxiously retreated towards the river with a shuffle, slipping down a series of grassy fells and into darkness.
We cautiously navigated the route mostly by braille. The angle of the slopes, the shadow of adjacent slopes, the crossing of a stream indicated by the map. We were actually making reasonable progress until I heard the friction of rubber skid over gravel. Mike slide maybe 5 feet, righted himself and gingerly walked down to my perch. He flashed his headlamp, revealing probably 200+ cactus spines studded down his right side. We spent the next 45 minutes extracting the barbed quills … some buried deep past fascia and into muscle.
Photo by Steve Graepel
Photo by Steve Graepel
After pulling most the of the damage, I pulled my sleeves over my calves, draped the map over my torso and drifted into sleep as the glow of the Sheep Fire illuminated the sky behind the Idaho ridge.
I awoke to find Mike still pulling barbs from his ass. He stuffed a glove between his shorts and leg and snorted, “you ready to go?” Mike James—toughest man in America.
We strolled lazily down to the river, knowing that we would likely not get the same luck as the day before. We carefully chose a placid stretch of water, well above the next rapid set, stripped down to our shorts and shoved everything into our packs and dove into the current. Taller and stronger, Mike held a line into Idaho. I found myself washing out downstream a few hundred feet below. I pulled myself out over the river rock, collected myself and resumed the climb out of Hell.
With a day behind us and the steepest portion ahead, there was no racing out of the canyon. We each slowly picked a line and wrestled our own devils to the Idaho rim. Once on the plateau at Dry Diggens, we still had 8 miles and 3 hours to the trailhead—plenty of time to temper any celebration of success in snagging one of the North America’s greatest trail running challenges.
For more from Steve Grapel, check out his contributions to the National Geographic Adventure Blog.
Steve Graepel
Idaho 2012