Nearly 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year. While some people are happy visiting from the top, Weekend Warriors are likely to take on heavy hiking. Don’t let the incredible views fool you. Half-hearted attempts of being prepared will put you on the path to pain.
Before hiking the Grand Canyon, Martin Benoit, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and joint reconstruction specialist with Banner Orthopedic Surgery Specialists, recommends making preparation a priority.
“The goal is to be prepared and take precautions so you don’t end up in the hands of an orthopedic surgeon,” Benoit said.
Benoit, a hiker himself, urges trekkers of all types to be mindful when planning their upcoming trail excursions.
- Pay attention to weather conditions. Weather can quickly change from the top of the rim to the bottom.
- Pack plenty of water. Elevation and climate changes affect hydration levels.
- Break in and lace up appropriate footwear. Your first hike in the Grand Canyon is not the time to break in a new pair of shoes.
- Choose a trail that fits your individual fitness level and hiking experience. It might be tempting to take on an extra steep hike to see the views, but consider the consequences of what you might encounter.
- Use walking sticks or trekking poles to add stability.
- Never hike alone and carry a GPS devise whenever possible.
- Stay up to date with news and safety information from the National Park Service.
At the end of the day, it’s all about exercising common sense.
Hiking injuries are often caused by dehydration. Dizziness, poor balance and falling are all symptoms of dehydration, increasing risks of serious injury.
Benoit suggests carrying more water than needed and taking extra precautions in the sun. Hikers should plan to consume about eight ounces of water for every mile hiked. Due to elevation and abrupt climate changes, take extra precaution with sunscreen, hats and protective clothing.
If an injury does occur on the trail, it will typically involve the wrists from trying to break a fall, knees and/or ankles. Fractures, usually to the tibia (shinbone), can also be quite common.
Hikers tend to suffer from a sprained ankle or knee as a result of rolling the ankle on a loose rock or slipping. These types of injuries usually occur when going downhill.
If you do hurt your ankle, knee or another part of the leg but are still able to stand on it, then it’s a sign to turn back and plan a visit to the doctor. Don’t try to push on and keep hiking.
A bit of soreness is to be expected after hiking. However, if soreness doesn’t resolve within a few days, something more serious may be going on.
While no one sets out for a hike anticipating a major injury, it’s important to remember that injury is always a possibility.
Younger hikers can be more prone to injury because they tend to be more adventurous. They don’t take as many precautions and they sometimes try to tackle more extreme terrain.
On the flip side, Benoit says with age comes diminished balance, back issues, and hip and knee replacements. These challenges can stack up against a more mature hiker, making the risk of injury even greater.
People come to the Grand Canyon with high expectations and leave in disappointment because they were unprepared. Do your homework, train hard and prepare to be amazed.