Grand Canyon Adventure: The 750-Mile Hike That Nearly Killed Us (Part 1) | Nat Geo Live

Grand Canyon Adventure: The 750-Mile Hike That Nearly Killed Us (Part 1) | Nat Geo Live


What we’re gonna do tonight, Kevin and I are
gonna take you on an unusual and somewhat
remarkable journey through a remarkable
place, the Grand Canyon. But before we do that, we felt it’s important to get a little
bit of an idea of how we know each other,
and I think that might reveal who we are a little bit. – Yeah, and I should say that this is probably the moment, those of you who have
come here tonight expecting to get a window into the sort of deep, symphonic
emotional resonance that sets up between a professional
photographer and a writer, this is the moment where I
disabuse you of that delusion, because the pattern that unfolds between Pete and
I basically consists of, it’s extremely simple. Pete comes up with an apocalyptically bad idea. (audience laughing) And in the course of
attempting to convince him of what a bad idea this is and why we should not do it, he somehow, through
a mysterious alchemy that involves
intellectual seduction manages to drag
me into the idea, and I find myself in yet
another part of the world that I didn’t want to be
in in the first place. (audience laughing) – Alright, the
first bad idea was to convince Kevin to join me in the Caucasus Mountains
in the Republic of Georgia. Now, I grew up in the
mountains, I love skiing, and this place is
where the border patrol that patrols the Chechnya
border operates on skis, and I was like, I want
to follow these guys, I want to understand
this part of the world, great idea. – Would’ve been a great
idea, two problems. (audience laughing) These guys were very– (audience laughing) Very heavily armed. Second problem was that Pete didn’t check the weather report. (audience laughing) And the avalanches
that resulted from the massive series of
snowstorms that descended across the Black Sea and all
of the Republic of Georgia shut the entire country down. And we spent the next week holed up in what
should’ve been a hotel, except it was a bank… Eating food like this. (audience laughing) Alright, so that wasn’t, maybe not such a good idea. The next idea I had less guns, higher
chance of success, was to go to the north
of Canada, to the Yukon, to one of the most remote
areas up in the Arctic to follow the
Porcupine Caribou Herd. And we had this thing dialed. We’re gonna take the Firth
River north on rafts, and we’re gonna to time it, not only to see the
greatest migration of the caribou herd
move across there, but we’re gonna float
with them as they travel. – Yeah, and you’d think
that two National Geographic journalists would
be able to locate the Porcupine Caribou Herd. (audience laughing) The largest collection
of charismatic megafauna on the face of North America. But no, after two
weeks of searching we did not manage to locate a single live animal. (audience laughing) – Alright, alright, so. Third strike, I figured, this one’s gonna be a home run. How could this
possibly go wrong, I convinced Kevin that there’s this story on the
south side of Mount Everest that is totally unusual
and it’s unique, and it’s not about the circus of trying to get to the
top of the mountain, it’s about these guys that live, let me get
that clicker to work, that live inside
the Khumbu Icefall and basically build the route for everyone else to
climb the mountain. These are the unsung heroes. And they do this remarkable job of building and engineering the route through this icefall that goes from 18,000
feet to 22,000 feet. This is their office, and most people don’t
know even who they are. – And here’s the problem, if your office looks like this, things like this
tend to happen in it. A giant chunk of ice, about the size of
an aircraft carrier may break off of a cornice, plummet 600 feet onto
the top of the glacier and detonate,
creating a giant cloud of vaporized ice crystals which hurdles towards you at
about a hundred miles an hour. Now, at this point, I’m on the left side
of this photograph running for my life– (audience laughing) And this other guy with us is doing the same thing, it’s a testament to
Pete’s commitment to the art of photography that he managed to stand
there and keep shooting. (audience laughing) – The reality is I didn’t
know what else to do, I thought that the avalanche
was gonna basically snuff us out, so I figured
I’d give some evidence of what happened to us. At this point, however, I basically realized
that maybe that chasing these magazine stories
all over the world is maybe not, maybe
we need to change, maybe I’m ready to go home. And it had been a long journey and as you might detect, Kevin and I have a little bit
of a different personality. I have a tendency, in
part, because of what I do to look for the
light in the world, I’m a photographer,
I make films, I’m constantly looking for
the bright side of things, I’d say I’m more optimistic. And Kevin, he sometimes
thinks a little differently. – Yeah, that would
be an understatement. (audience laughing) Look, I’m a dark person. The word itself is
woven into my last name. And part of what
that means is that I sort of specialize in and my ethos as a human being is rooted in the idea that it’s necessary and important to take the worst
possible interpretation of pretty much every situation. (audience laughing) If the sun is shining, it is raining somewhere. (audience laughing) Now it’s a very sort of complex psychological matrix that
I don’t fully understand. The simplest way I
can explain it to you is to put it into, well, let’s just put it into
terms of Winnie the Pooh. Basically, Pete is Tigger, and I’m Eeyore. (audience laughing) – So at this point, Tigger and Eeyore basically
had a small breakup. I think we had a
little fatigue of going in these
misadventures together. We both returned home, I
returned home to Colorado, this is basically
my backyard river, and I decided to do
something a little different, I was getting a little tired of chasing these short
magazine stories, I wanted to do something
a little longer and sink in my heels
in a little bit more. So I followed my, what I
call my backyard river, the Colorado River,
I followed it from the mountains in
the source of Colorado, basically 1,500 miles
to try to understand, where does the western water, where does this
lifeline that supports 40 million people
in the Southwest, where does it go when
it travels through this desert landscape, and what happens at the end, and does it reach the end. And to my amazement, the Colorado River doesn’t. It gets dried up in
this place right here. The Sea of Cortez a hundred
miles shy of the sea. We dried it up roughly
two decades ago, it ran to the sea for
six million years, and we turned it into basically this desert wasteland. And what I realized
at this point is that there are
a lot of stories around rivers and water, that’s the arteries of
our planet, so to speak, that are getting untold. And so I became very
committed, I think, to try to document these
stories on some level. – And I may have had some
notion of your commitment had I not decided that I had temporarily stopped speaking
to Pete at this point, and so I was completely unaware that he was engaged
in this very sort of comprehensive project
that was focused on, as it turns out,
the very same thing that I was focused on, it’s just the only difference was that I had my eye on one
particular section of the Colorado River. I’m talking about
the most storied and legendary section of all, the 277 miles that runs
through the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona. The section of river that
is defined by exceptional sections of gorgeous light and beautiful,
beautiful tranquility, punctuated by moments
of unholy chaos that are known as rapids. And it’s inside of those rapids that some of the
real sort of savagery unfolds inside the river and the river really
gives you an idea of how powerful it truly is and what it’s capable
of doing to you. (man yelling) (waves crashing) – [Pete] That’s you
paddling, right? – That was not me paddling, but there’s some
truth to it because I’d become obsessed, I’d become obsessed with
the world of the river, and I’d become obsessed
with the particular story attached to a particular man. This guy’s name is Kenton Grua, he’s a legendary Grand
Canyon river guide, in 1983, as Peter Gwin
mentioned a few minutes ago, he set the speed record, the standing speed record of
the fastest boat in history to race though the Grand Canyon, but Kenton Grua had
achieved something six years earlier
that was arguably an even greater accomplishment. It was an incredibly
bold vision. The idea was, what
he wanted to do, was he wanted to start
at the eastern end of the Grand Canyon
and walk on foot all the way through to
the western terminus, where the canyon goes
through something called the Grand Wash Cliffs and ends. Now he was following
in the footsteps of the man that
Peter just mentioned, John Wesley Powell, the
one-armed Civil War veteran, who accomplished one of
the most extraordinary acts in the history of
American exploration in the summer of
1869 when he led an expedition consisting
of 10 men in four boats, including himself, down
through the Colorado River. I want you to think for a moment about the 108 years,
that gap between 1869, John Wesley Powell’s
pioneering river voyage, 1977, Kenton Grua’s
first traverse through
the Grand Canyon. And I want you to ask yourself what that gap says about the brokenness
and brutality and complexity of
this landscape. It suggests that
it is a place that does not invite and indeed, ferociously resists
human intrusion. – So I came back to
this broken landscape three years ago. I was invited by
the national park to do a talk about my project on the river itself. And I suddenly, I had
this kind of epiphany, I hiked down into the
canyon, and I had this idea. – Please don’t be
seduced by the rainbow. (audience laughing) Worst idea in the
history of journalism. – Alright, well that’s
Eeyore saying that, but fortunately, National
Geographic agreed that this might be a
good idea, actually. And they agreed to sponsor us, and eventually I was
able to convince Kevin to follow in the
footsteps of Kenton Grua. I’m gonna be honest. I’m not sure I really
like hiking that much. With a heavy pack, no trail, and no guarantee of
water, it’s hard, stressful and very slow. Sure, hiking can lead to
some zen-like moments, but not so much if you’re lost, really tired and dehydrated. Yet there’s something
about the Grand Canyon and its rocky, secret world. It is alluring, magical even. So in the fall of 2015, my friend and author
Kevin Fedarko and I set out to walk the
entirety of the Grand Canyon from east to west. In order to understand the
insanity of this venture, you first have to know a
little bit about this place. In stretches, it
is 18 miles wide and over a mile deep, so deep, in fact, you could stack five
Empire State Buildings, one on top of the other inside. It is 277 miles long, if you’re floating
the Colorado River. But on foot, by the
time you’ve gone up and back down the
numerous side canyons, it’s more like 700 miles. Oh yeah, and for
more most of it, there’s no trail. How far are we going? – I don’t think we’ve
gone five miles yet. – This is really
hard hiking, it kinda demoralizes you a little bit. – As a result, more
people have stood on the surface of the moon than have completed a
continuous thru-hike of the Grand Canyon. Unlike those intrepid few, Kevin and I decided to
do a sectional version, chipping off a hundred to
150-mile chunks at a time. Just 30 hikers have
completed sectional lines through the park. And for some, it took
them decades to finish. Tragically, others have
perished attempting it. Kevin and I would be
the first journalists ever to tackle
this hiking lunacy. We plan to complete our
mission over a year, watching the seasons change and teaming up with
hardened canyon veterans to help us find our
way and our legs. But beyond that challenge, something else drew
us on this quest. Many claim the Grand
Canyon is facing an unprecedented
array of pressures from all four points
on the compass. Development projects
are poised to change the integrity of
perhaps the most monumental landscape in America. And we believe walking the park might give us a
unique perspective on this secret world and what’s at stake to be lost between the river and the rim. So like I said, I think I was quickly reminded how I don’t like
hiking that much. So the real purpose
of this project from the beginning,
from the genesis of it, was to actually
shine a spotlight on what’s happening in the park as it approaches its
hundredth birthday. And the reality of
what’s happening, and we’re gonna walk you through some of these issues, is that it is getting pressure
from all four points on the compass, from all sides, east, west, north and south. And we figured that
this walk would, basically we could
walk through it, the walk would be the
backbone to talk about this. We did know when we started that alright, this was maybe a place we knew the river better than we knew the area
between the river and the rim and so we needed some help. So this guy wearing the
Star-Spangled Banner gaiters, Rich Rudow is one of
the gurus of the canyon, he spent over 700
nights below the canyon. When we started I asked him what the hell were these
Star-Spangled Banner thingies. They’re maybe the
most important little item you can have if you’re
a Grand Canyon hiker, they’re these gaiters
that keep the ferocious, angry cactus and everything else that wants to get into
your feet, ankles on, of course, we didn’t
know what they were, so we were a little
clueless on some level, but we basically
latched onto these guys. He agreed to let us follow them on their 57-day thru-hike. They were gonna start
hiking in September of 2015 and not stop. – This is basically
what a special forces Grand Canyon A-Team looks like. (audience laughing) The level of experience that’s captured
in this photograph extends back into decades. These are men who spent an enormous amount of time, they’ve invested time and energy learning this environment. This is what it looks
like through their eyes when two yahoos from
National Geographic show up. (audience laughing) Prepare to tie themselves onto the back of their bumper like a couple of tin cans, which raises an
interesting question, why in the world
would these guys allow us to come along? The answer’s interesting, and it says
something about them. Their commitment to the canyon and their concern
over what’s happening to this environment is
so great that basically they were aware of the fact that we were capable
of telling a story that they thought was
incredibly important, and they were equally
aware of the fact that this environment is
so difficult physically that we would be incapable
of moving through it without their assistance. And so we embarked on
this journey with them starting off through the
first part of the canyon, a section known
as Marble Canyon. – And since Kevin and I had, we’d been down the
river a few times, we both rode the river successfully, unsuccessfully, I, however, had this idyllic view that we would do basically a raft
trip in hiking boots. We’d be walking and we’d
enjoy the tangerine light and maybe we’d
have a little swim after six hours of hiking, Kevin might pen some poetry, I might do some
time-lapse photography. Wrong. We quickly started
realizing, alright, it was a little more complex, we knew it was gonna be hard, but when you start
looking at the 22 layers of rock inside the Grand Canyon and the endless
number of tributaries that puncture this landscape and that you have to
walk around and leave, you quickly start
realizing like, this is no raft trip on foot. – Right, and that’s
just the first of a whole series of problems that start coming at
you like a fire hose. And all of them
are rooted, really, in one basic fact, which is that there’s no trail, right? And so what that means
among so many other things is that every single
step that you take in this landscape is a careful
negotiation between you and the terrain itself. It’s an act also
that’s complicated and made infinitely
more difficult by the heat, by
your level of energy and by the fact that you are carrying on your back 50 pounds and so when you have to perform a dynamic and energy-draining
full body move in order to maintain
your balance, you do that over and over again. Minute after minute,
hour after hour. It’s so destructive to the body that by the end
of the first day, you basically end up
looking like this. (audience laughing) Pete, where’s Tigger
at this point, huh? (audience laughing) – Yeah, I think
day one, day two, Tigger crawled into a
dark cave with Eeyore. Pretty much wanted to just crawl under the cave
permanently at this point. This looks like a
nice, idyllic scene, I was expecting this, sit around and tell stories under the spray
of stars at night. Au contraire, this is
September, late September, an unusual heat wave rolled in. I just don’t do well with heat. It’s 110 degrees consistently
throughout the day. This is about 98 degrees,
we’re trying to sleep, this is a furnace. And this is a total nightmare. By day three or day four, I’m starting to
feel really weird and sick, I’m not
thinking clearly. Day four or five, I
realized we are completely in over our heads. I’m not eating anymore, Kevin’s having a hard
time with his ankles. We’re in a bad spot. – We’re in a bad spot, and most of it really
is related to the heat. It’s difficult to overstate
just how difficult, just how awful 105 degrees is. But to give you an idea, one of the things it did, was so hot that the
heat was literally melting the bottoms
of our shoes. And so the story of the impact that that process had was written in our feet for the first couple of days. But there was another
story unfolding invisibly inside of our body that was less evident. By the third day, I had descended into
what seemed to me to be a bottomless well of
despair and death. (audience laughing) And as bad as that may sound what was happening
inside of Pete was far more alarming, I think. – So by day three
I’m starting to have this weird sensation,
I’m not thinking clearly, and I’m starting
to get body cramps. I got to a point where my
tongue cramped and my hand, I was like, this is weird. Something ain’t right,
so I must be dehydrated, I wasn’t peeing all day. So I started consuming
a lot of water, I’m drinking salts
and serum, too, but basically, I sweat a lot, I sweated so much, I sweated all of my
natural sodium system out, and I became hyponatremic, this is the opposite
of dehydration, you deplete your salt
levels so low in your body that you start to vomit water, you can go unconscious, go into seizures
and then a coma. I was, at this point,
feeling like I was headed towards unconsciousness, we realized we gotta evacuate. So we hike out, we
call in a friend. This great guy JP comes in, brings
us in salty stuff, I’m drinking soy
sauce desperately, and we’re able to hike out a hike that should’ve taken three hours in
normal temperatures, under normal conditions, it took us about seven hours, we limp out and crawl
back to Flagstaff, where I get, really,
the first glance of Kevin’s ankles and realize that they’re totally
blown out and sprained. And at this point, we’re basically staring
down the barrel of failure. And I’m embarrassed
on one level, these amazing thru-hikers
have us let join them and we’ve screwed their plan up, they kept going, but we
delayed them a little bit. I’ve brought Kevin
in on this mission where he’s miserably
depressed at this point. And then what am I gonna
tell National Geographic, my friend Sadie
Quarrier, the editor who’s here somewhere, what am I gonna tell her, we’re just total clowns and how are we gonna
pull this out because not only was I messed
up, I was sick, but I was frankly scared
to go back into this place. It was daunting. It had really, really
beaten it out of me. – Yeah and I felt the
same way, no surprise. (audience laughing) Which brings me to kind of a
difficult moment right now, because as it turns out,
we were on the threshold of a turning point
in this journey. And it therefore forces me
to say something positive, because much to my surprise and unbeknownst to Pete, a miracle was about to occur. And that miracle had to
do with the fact that Flagstaff is a very
small community, but it sits on the edge
of the Grand Canyon, and there’s a very tiny
but incredibly passionate group of people who are deeply committed to the Grand Canyon. And because it’s a small town, word travels very, very quickly. So word got out that these two idiots from National
Geographic– (audience laughing) Had basically tailspinned
out of control, retreated back to Flagstaff with their tails
between their legs and were considering abandoning
this very important story about the Grand Canyon, and so what these people did was they decided that
they were gonna rally. They showed up my house, whole group of them. And over the next
two to three weeks, they redid our entire program. They redialed our gear, they re-engineered
our food system, and they basically embarked on a process that resulted in a Grand Canyon hiking makeover that was designed to get
us back into the canyon, back in gear and enable us to
resume the mission which was to get our butts
continuing downstream. – And that we did. They brought us back in, and one challenge for me is that usually when you do
these assignments for National Geographic, you’re really afraid
that if you go in with one camera and
that camera breaks, you can’t be like, well
I didn’t have a camera. But it is so challenging
that they convinced me that I had to drop
all my extra lenses, all of my extra cameras, all of my extra batteries, I did the whole thing on
one camera and one lens. And then they brought
us back into the canyon and showed us ways
to get through following the sheep trails. Don’t be near the river, follow, look for the hoof prints, look for the little
black pellets. They brought us
through ancient ruins, they brought us through
some recent impacts, you can see some old markings that people have carved their
names a hundred years ago. And they basically
got us back on track to our initial mission.

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Comments

  1. This is the type of story I grew up watching ntional Geography with!!! stories of travel, amazing landscapes, animals…….Good job guys!!

  2. Boring af. A couple of egomaniacs trying to prove their self importance with 4th grade humour and overinflated stories of hardships. I miss true stories of travel as in 70s, 80s. People are boring.

  3. wow this is awesome. thank you. the human spirit lives! And thank you to the team that rebooted your mission.

  4. i had the pleasure of doing part of this journey in 2001 8 days and about 110 miles give or take where wonderful but grueling ps i did the easy part on the eastern side it really is quite an experience i hope this video inspires others to give it a shot at part of it

  5. These privileged two get go to where we will never be able to. (Because of time or money.) They get paid to do it, & USE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO TRY AND JUSTIFY TO THE THE WORLD WHY THE REST OF US "DEPLORABLE" PEOPLE DON'T DESERVE TO ENJOY THE JOYS & PLEASURES OF NATURE THAT THEY CLAIM AS THEIR RIGHT.

  6. After kayaking Grand Canyon, I now have your book based on the hike, I watched the film, I read The Emerald Mile. I think I'm obsessed.

  7. " Comically" is so appropriate a visual rendition of what happens. Good job guys. Glad your team survived the journey.

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