May is the busiest month for backpacking into the canyon and this year is no exception. With fairly moderate temperatures and (usually) very little precipitation, plus the North Rim opening mid-May, people choose to visit the Inner Canyon during this month before the summer heat sets in. Beware though, the real heat is just around the corner and as temps reach into the nineties canyon explorers need to begin implementing proper “hiking-in-the-heat” strategies, such as being off the trail in the middle of the day when the heat is at its worst. So, please, stay out of the mid-day sun, rest often, drink plenty of electrolyte enhanced fluids, and eat salty foods while on the trail. Those are the things that save lives when the heat arrives (maybe we can make a safety jingle outta that little rhyming gem?!?).
This is a busy time at the canyon as more campers choose this time of year than any other, keeping campgrounds very full. Temperatures along the Rim have been moderate with days in the mid-eighties and nights around sixty degrees. Inner Canyon temps are staying well above 100 degrees, keeping many visitors off those trails and using the Rim Trail which follows along a huge stretch of the expansive South Rim. Be aware though, the Arizona Monsoon season has been very active lately, kicking up afternoon thunderstorms with heavy localized downpores. Humidity has also been fluctuating wildly between dry comfortable air and sweaty sticky humid air. Believe me, it makes a huge difference when trying to cool oneself down. You take a dip in a pool when there is 10% humidity and when you get out you have goosebumps from the chill of the water evaporating off your skin so fast. Whereas, if you do that on a humid day, say over 60% humidity, and you’d hardly notice the cooling effects. So, just be aware on those humid days that it is all the more difficult to try and cool yourself down.
The trails had been drying out, but with this weekend’s snow they will be sloppy again for the near future. This really means sloppy trails during the middle of the day, but mornings will be slick and icy as snow melt refreezes during the still cold (20-30 degree) nights along the rim. If venturing into the canyon you are still advised to wear cleats or crampons for the first mile or so. The need for cleats on some trails could last for the next couple of weeks.
For now, Inner Canyon temperatures are HOT! Staying above 105 degrees (in the shade) during the day, while cooling down to a comfortable mid-seventies at night. Summer hiking conditions will prevail usually until late September, so, I say again… hike in the cool time of day, rest often, eat salty snacks, and drink a minimum of a quart of water each hiking hour (with electrolytes). And take heart, by October the extreme heat should be on the wane.
What a great time of year to be at the Grand Canyon! The North Rim is closed and the South Rim is quiet – very quiet. I hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch on Saturday, January 22nd and barely saw a soul, the day was crisp and sun filled, and I had a cabin all to myself at the ranch. It took me about 4.5 hours to get to Phantom Ranch where I checked in, strolled around taking pictures, and showered before dinner. After an excellent dinner I relaxed listening to some “Prairie Home Companion” podcasts before bedtime at 9 p.m. The next morning I got up early and headed out via South Kaibab Trail at around 7 a.m. It was cold by the time I made it to the popular day hiking spot – Cedar Ridge (and one of the only times I’ve ever been there all by myself). The wind had picked up and being moist with sweat from the climb I felt decidedly chilled. I didn’t stay there long and made it back up to the rim in 5 hours (while trying to take my time).