bright angel trail: grand canyon rim to river

Last week I promised a video blog post. I suspected that I wouldn’t be able to capture the essence of the hike, neither the physical challenge, nor the mental one,  through written word alone.

Like childbirth, our brains banish out the worst bits. We forget. It’s the only reason we willingly choose to do it again, right? If we fully remembered every detail of the trauma, the world would be overrun with single-child families.

Oh but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add in at least a slight soupçon of writing to connect some of the dots. Also to apologize for a few things.

On Thursday May 29th at approximately 6:40 am I set out to hike from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River and back along the Bright Angel trail.

I already published many of the details (length, elevation change) of the trail in my oh-shit-I-might-die-doing-this post, so I won’t rehash them here – except to say that while most websites describe the trail as 16.2 miles round trip, some sources say it’s only 15 miles, while others say 19 miles.

Since my FitBit device records my actual movement, I will choose to believe its final readout which tells me that I hiked a total of 19.43 miles.

This hike was brutal. A total grind.

1.5 Mile House - Bright Angel Trail

1.5 Mile House

It offered a relentless descent of 4,380′ from the rim to the river. Followed by a relentless climb of 4,380′ back up again.

It also offered the most breathtaking views.

And it offered me perspective.

It humbled me with its cruelty.

And also with its beauty.

The Bright Angel trail could have broken me.

It almost broke me.

But it didn’t.

I’m not broken, just bent.

I will recover from calves so painful that I can’t stand to bear any weight on the balls of my feet.

I will recover from heels missing layers of skin, flesh torn away after blisters filled and then burst.

I finished this hike. And I did it in less than 8.5 hours.

While many hikers traveled parts of the trail that day, only a handful took on the full length of the Bright Angel. Warriors, every one of them.

Please enjoy a glimpse of my journey via my pathetic attempt at videography.

But first, a few notes in the form of apologies:

  • I apologize for the poor sound quality. At times my voice barely audible, at other times seemingly shouting.
  • I apologize for having to switch from video on the iPhone to video on my Nikon camera, and the resultant difference in video format.
  • I apologize for the Blair-Witch-Project-style shaky camera work. Those prone to motion sickness, beware.

And finally, I apologize for my prolific use of the word fuck.

I say it a lot, apparently. And the frequency increases as I get more tired and frustrated. Virgin ears may want to turn the volume down.


Keep moving,

xoxo nancy



142 thoughts on “bright angel trail: grand canyon rim to river

  1. Incredible hike, Nancy. Back in the 90s I ran a few marathons, and I could hear that same “doneness” in your voice. Finishing is amazing. And I say that during such exertion, “fuck” is a therapeutic word. It’s what the Little Train That Could would say on that hike: “I ‘fuck’ I can, I ‘fuck’ I can, I ‘fuck’ I can.” Ha! Congrats. P.S. I bet your feet were screaming from all those rocks.

    • Oh, I was SO done, John. So over it, but like the sign said, “down is optional, up is mandatory”. When I’ve been done in other activities: running, squatting, etc., I have the option of quitting. There was absolutely nothing I could do but get to the top of that canyon. :-S

      You know, at one point I got really concerned about Ed. I wondered if he was okay, if he needed help, etc. I thought about going back down until I could find him. But then I realized how much pain and suffering it took to get to the top and I thought… sorry bud, you’re on your own. 🙂

      The rocks weren’t back – it was literally just the sheer incline (which I read was, on average 10% the length of the trail) which killed me. To put that in perspective, set your treadmill on a 10% incline and then walk for 5+ hours. Then add in some altitude… 🙂 Brutal!!

      • Holy wow! 10%. That would entail sucking in air through your eyeballs. Funny, when I saw Ed in your video, I thought–and I quote–“Hmm!” He must have some serious inner-chops. Picture me bowing to both y’all and saying, “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”

  2. So, I’m finally here and I can’t watch the video. It won’t play and now I’m sad. Maybe…..can you message me the direct link? Maybe that would work?

    Aside from that, you are a warrior. I’m in awe of your strength, truly. Kick. Ass.

  3. So, I just managed to watch the video right now and Good Lord, the view! So, is it illegal to pee in the bushes? Because that’s what I would do if it were me. LOL 45, 506 steps! That’s badass!
    And I have to ask how you edited the video! How did you add those texts? Did you use a video editing app?

    • There were no bushes, Jhanis — the trail is only about 5 feet wide, with a rock wall on one side and a sheer drop down the other. 🙂
      I’m a big fan of nature peeing – but there wasn’t even the hint of privacy along the trail. I may or may not have leaked a bit on the way to the 1.5 mile house – when I was most desperate to pee. 🙂

      I edited the video in Microsoft Movie Maker. It was really simple to add in still photos and captions. 🙂

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  5. Good heavens, Nancy, you are truly an amazing woman. I can’t imagine the amount of energy and determination you possess. It must be record level.
    Your family must be so proud of you, your efforts and all your successes. Congratulations on so many levels. You’re a marvel and an inspiration!

  6. Like Deanna, I couldn’t get the video to play for me either! And like Deanna, I say to you: You are a freaking Warrior!!!!! seriously, you amaze me!!! Great post and sharing this now!!! xoxo ❤

    • I don’t know why the video won’t play. 😦
      Here is the direct link to the YouTube video:
      Hopefully this link works for you.

      Thank you for your kind words! Now that the pain has faded I’m itching for my next adventure. 🙂

      Looking forward to checking your new book out!

      xoxo nancy

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  9. That is an awesome hike!! I would definitely like to do that one day. I’ve only been to the Grand Canyon once – now I want to go back!

  10. Amazing! Epic! Ridiculous! Inspiring!

    I need to get myself out west and give this bad boy a go. I’ve only been to the Grand Canyon once and just had a day there, so did the North Rim Trail, not making it all the way to the canyon floor, before having to hoof it back up before sunset. And I remember being totally wiped out just by that — a R2R would have definitely tested everything I had including my ability to use fuck creatively in every sentence that came out of my mouth.

    • It was fantastic (now that the blisters and muscle soreness have gone!) 🙂 J/K it really was epic!

      Next on my list is Rim to Rim (north to south) – but not until mid to late fall at the earliest. We REALLY lucked out with that overcast day. Had that sun appeared sooner than my final mile, I would have been in big trouble. 🙂

    • I’m kind of glad I recorded it because I honestly don’t remember saying half of what I said. Case in point the informative PSA, “And also…donkey piss smells like fucking ass.” 🙂

      • Talk about missed opportunities! They have no idea the goldmine that they are missing out on. 🙂

      • I’m thinking about buying one of those GoPro cameras that clip onto your cap. Battery life is good, and because it’s on my hat, no risk of extended rock wall cinematography. 🙂 I figure if I strap that bad-boy on every time I hike, there’s sure to be some comedic gold in there from time to time.

      • Part of me worries, because with the GoPro, you’re just pretty much recording all the time. And a stream-of-consciousness-nancy can be a scary, scary nancy. 🙂 Also, I worry about what the camera might bust me for looking at. 🙂

      • That, Nancy, is the magic of cinema. 🙂 Think of it as a rock climbing version of Blair Witch. And please, no editing. 🙂

    • It was hell. And also wonderful. Mostly I complain and swear in the last half. But that shouldn’t stop you from doing the hike. It was totally awesome. Really. 🙂

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