Evening before departure, pack-check overnight in Flagstaff
On the evening before your Grand Canyon Challenge trek start date, we’ll convene at 6:00pm for a one hour group orientation and pack-check in the main lobby of Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, AZ. At orientation we’ll hand out backpacks, tents and sleeping bags to those who requested them. We’ll also get to know our team, preview the trail and talk safety. If we anticipate significant heat in the Canyon during the first day of your trip, we may provide the option to camp near the Rim to ensure a before-sun-up early morning trail start (trek-by-trek basis).
Day 1 – Intense downhill
After reconvening in the lobby of Little America Hotel, Flagstaff at 5:00am, we’ll head out to the trailhead where our hike begins with a steep 3,000′ descent toward the Tonto Platform, an inner plateau within the Canyon roughly 1,000′ above the Colorado River. The first day is typically the most difficult day of the trek. There may be narrow sections of trail with significant exposure, sections of steep descent over loose rock, and waist-high drops that require scooting or hand and foot down scrambling. In addition, water sources are typically unreliable until we reach camp. This will make travel on day one slow and methodical. Expect 8-10 hours of trail time (including breaks) from start to finish for the 7 to 9 mile day.
Day 2 – Undulating trail
On day two the trail typically undulates until we drop below the Tonto’s ledge, above the gorge floor, and into one of the many side canyons and washes that lead to the Colorado River. A quick descent will bring us to a creek bed floor which we will follow out to the Colorado River and camp.
Day 3 – Moderate uphill
After a leisurely evening, or morning by the river, we’ll retrace our steps then continue up and onto the Tonto trail. This day typically offers some of the most impressive views of the Grand Canyon. While hiking the Tonto you can see a thousand feet down into the inner gorge, thousands of feet up to the Canyon’s rim, and miles across the Canyon divide within the same breathtaking glance.
Day 4 – Intense uphill
An early, before-sun-up start will move us up, and off the Tonto, then into the multi-layered, multi-colored walls of the Grand Canyon as we climb almost 4,000 feet to exit the trail and return to civilization. After celebrating as a team, we’ll return to Flagstaff, then home to brag.
The first day of your trip will likely be the most challenging. Some teams will be descending down the old Boucher or New Hance routes. Others will experience the slightly more forgiving, but no less intense Hermit trail. These are among the most difficult trails in the Grand Canyon. Three things make them exceptionally challenging.
First, there will be narrow sections of trail with significant exposure. There are also sections of steep descent over loose rock and waist-high drops that require scooting. On the Boucher route, there are sections that will require some hand and foot down scrambling. This will make travel on day one slow and methodical to ensure the safety of everyone in your group. Expect up to 8-10 hours of trail time (including breaks) from start to finish for the 8 to 9 mile day.
Second, theses trails are fully exposed with limited opportunities for shade, which means there is an increased risk for heat related illnesses.
Third, with the exception of the Hermit Trail, there are no reliable water sources on these routes until we reach camp. In certain instances, we may not reach reliable water sources until the morning of the second day. When combined with the long duration of trail time, and full sun exposure, there is increased risk of dehydration.
To ensure a safe experience, here are a few things we will do as a team to overcome these challenges.
First, on day one we'll be hiking closer together as a team. If there are any sections of trail where we believe your balance or footing may be more secure without a pack, your guide will offer to take your pack for you. Throughout the trail we'll need everyone's eyes, ears, and voices working together and looking out for one another. Voices of encouragement and high 5's important as well!
Second, to minimize risk of heat exposure, we'll plan on getting an extra early start. This means a departure time from Flagstaff of between four and five AM so that we can hit the trail shortly after daybreak to maximize our trail time during the cool morning hours.
Third, everyone will be asked to carry at least 3 liters of water for the hike down. Your guides will carry additional water to ration out to the group for backup on an as needed basis.
Fourth, our day-two itinerary typically involves shorter distances over better trail, and extended time at the river to allow recovery and renew the spirit.
These unique challenges also present opportunity. You'll be traveling through some of the most remote and secluded regions of the Grand Canyon accessible by foot. It will be difficult to find words to describe what you'll witness, and the magnitude of your accomplishment! Though some people have tried.
Trek date confirmation: We apply for Grand Canyon permits on the 1st of the month, four months in advance, and are notified by the park service of our exact permit dates within two weeks. You’ll receive an email from us as soon as the trek dates for your week are confirmed. At that time, you can start making plans for transportation and pre-trek/post-trek accommodations.
Pre and post-trip accommodations: Once your Grand Canyon Challenge trek dates are finalized, secure a lodging reservation in Flagstaff, AZ as soon as possible. You can request a TSX “corporate rate” at Little America Hotel (flagstaff.littleamerica.com / 800.865.1401) in Flagstaff where we’ll be having our pre-trek orientation, and where we will meet the morning of our hike (prices typically $90-$140 with discount). The nearby Roadway Inn & Suites is also a popular option within walking distance (prices typically $45-$85). If you plan on staying somewhere else, that is ok with us! Just let us know where you end up and we’ll do our best to accommodate.
Transportation: If traveling by air, Flagstaff is the preferred airport. There is a free hotel shuttle to Little America Hotel from the Flagstaff airport. If flying into Phoenix, consider renting a car or taking a shuttle to Flagstaff. Reserve your shuttle spot in advance with Arizona Shuttle (arizonashuttle.com / 928.226.8060) or you can arrange customized shuttle service from A Friendly Cab (afriendlycab.com / 928.774.4444).
Arrival time: When scheduling flights or planning your drive, please allow enough time to arrive no later than 7pm the evening before your trek begins so that you can attend the pre-trek orientation (typically scheduled between 6:00pm-7:00pm at the Little America Hotel, Flagstaff lobby).
Departure time: We plan on exiting the trail between 12pm and 2pm on the last day of the trek. However, the last day is always uphill, and there can be some variability based on individual fitness and preparedness. Please plan your return transportation accordingly. If flying out of Flagstaff on the same day, we suggest scheduling flights for departure no earlier than 4:50pm. Staying one additional night on the South Rim or in Flagstaff, and departing the following day is also popular option.
WHAT YOU’LL NEEED
Joining a TSX experience is easy. Don’t own a backpack or tent? Not a problem. We provide backpacks, tents and sleeping pads for those who need them, at no additional charge. We also take care of all group items like pots, stoves, food, food storage, water filters, first aid and more. Your guides will do the cooking and dishes. Just show up with your boots and personal items, ready to hike!