So you consider yourself a hiker? Following are three hikes located in the U.S. Southwest that will test your abilities and desires. Complete one and you have earned your stripes. Finish two and you are on your way to epic status. Nail all three and you have earned the “Triple Crown” of the West.
- Grand Canyon – Rim to Rim – Whether you are moving north to south or south to north, this hike is the Grand Daddy of the Southwest. Unlike most hikes, the difficult part starts once you reach the halfway point. Starting on the canyon rim, trails lead down to the Colorado River. Once at the bottom, you need to have saved enough energy to hike back up to the opposite canyon rim. Due to this fact, most parties begin on the higher north rim and hike out on the shorter 8 to11 mile south rim routes. The south rim is also slightly lower in elevation. Depending on which trails you take, the overall distance is around 23 miles.
- Mt. Whitney Summit – At an elevation of 14,505 the summit of this mountain is the crowning jewel on any hikers resume. For mere mortals the two main routes are Whitney Portal Trail and the Mountaineers’ Route. Neither requires technical climbing, however it is common to see hikers roped together on the Mountaineers’ Route. The first is a very long 21+ mile climb gaining over 6000 feet. The latter is shorter, but no less time consuming. Most break the trip up into 2 or 3 days. However, if you plan on completing the hike in one day, prepare to be on the trail between 12-16 hours. Being the highest point in the contiguous United States brings many peak baggers to test their mettle which has resulted in a quota system being implemented. An annual lottery is held each April to allot the summer climbing season passes.
- Cactus to Clouds – Not well known outside of Southern California, this hike is considered by many to be the most difficult of the 3. Starting in the city of Palm Springs the trail follows a steep and rugged course with an elevation gain of over 10,000 ft. To put it in perspective, that is highest elevation gain in the U.S. and is even a greater elevation gain that from Everest base camp to the world’s tallest mountain’s summit. Throw in the extreme weather change from the desert floor to the top of Mt. San Jacinto and you have a day hike of epic proportion. It is imperative to bring a minimum of one gallon of water per person. Like the Grand Canyon the extreme heat can and does cause injury and death. Fall and Spring are the recommended seasons to attempt this hike.
Which of the three is the most demanding? All are difficult, but doable. The answer is up to you to determine for yourself. Personally I believe my hiking partner’s answer may be the most accurate. She says, “The toughest hike is the one you are currently on”.