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‘Into the Canyon’-Hiking the Grand to Save It
Thursday, September 12, 2019



Pete McBride’s 750-mile trek through the entire length of the Grand Canyon nearly ended five days after he started when he came down with hyponatremia—severe salt depletion that nearly killed him.

The National Geographic filmmaker/photographer drank a bag of soy sauce, replenishing his body with sodium. And he and his hiking partner Kevin Fedarko retreated to Flagstaff, convinced they had no business trying to traverse the mile-deep canyon.

But that’s when some people who consider themselves guardian angels of the Grand Canyon pitched in. They redesigned the two men’s food plans and routes and helped them pack more efficiently.

And, a little more than a year later, the two completed the journey, which is depicted in a breathtaking  film, “Into the Canyon.”

McBride will show that film at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Argyros Center for the Performing Arts in Ketchum. Zach Crist will introduce the film, and McBride will be on hand to field questions and answers following the screening. Tickets are $15, available at

The film captures the beauty of what is perhaps America’s most revered landscape in ways that have not been seen before. Awe-inspiring lightning storms, sunsets, rainbows and a river of stars add the finishing touches.

But the film also pinpoints threats to what is the jewel of America’s national parks, including a proposal to tap into the aquifer and uranium mining that has contaminated springs and wells.

“I did this walk to see whether if my nephew were to do it in 30 to 40 years would he see the same park or different park. Right now, I would say, he would see a very different park,” McBride said.

McBride, who has shot for National Geographic for 20 years from his base in Basalt, Colo., enlisted the help of Fedarko, who lives near Santa Fe, N.M., to share his adventure. The two had worked together on projects from the base camp of Mount Everest to the Arctic.

And both had already worked on Grand Canyon projects. McBride had taken photos for the book “The Colorado River: Floating through Conflict.” And Fedarko had penned “The Emerald Mile” about the fastest boat ride ever down the Colorado River during the legendary flood of 1983.

They started their journey through the mostly trail-less canyon under a hot August sun in 100-degree days.

The trip from Lee’s Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs near Lake Mead fast ended up being more than they had bargained for with McBride quickly succumbing to the salt deficiency.

“It was physically challenging and psychologically it was even harder,” he said. “We had to climb up and down 3,000-foot vertical walls and hike through a winter storm that dumped a foot of snow sending temperatures below zero. And we ran out of food.

“But the stress of not knowing where our next drink would come from was the most difficult part of the journey. The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon. But, often, it was 6,000 feet below us. We had to seek out scarce springs and water that had collected in potholes. We couldn’t find water some days. And we knew how scary it would be if we couldn’t find it the next.”

After McBride recovered from hyponatremia, the two resumed their trek in mid-November. They ended that stretch near the confluence of the Colorado and little Colorado rivers where Renae Yellowhorse of the Navajo Nation shared her concerns about a proposal to build a rim-to-rim gondola from the canyon rim to the confluence—a sacred place to the Navajo.

The proposal would include hotels and restaurants, a visitor center and museum and even a helipad—all  designed to accommodate up to 10,000 people a day.

They passed under the bright lights of Grand Canyon Village during the middle section.

During the winter leg they trudged through unexpected snow, which made narrow razor-like ridges and ledges more perilous than they already were. And in mid-March they traversed the western part, which was the longest, most difficult section.

 But they reveled into the solitude. Silence so absolute that McBride had to recalibrate the microphones on his camera. Silence only occasionally broken by the flapping of bat wings or the clatter of sheep hooves on rock.

“What we heard—nothing--through many parts of the canyon blew my mind even more than what I saw,” McBride said.

But that solitude was rudely shattered by the thwap, thwap, thwap of helicopter blades as the two entered a three-mile stretch of the lower canyon that has been dubbed helicopter alley.

“They run up to 400 helicopter tours and flights a day from Las Vegas. And it starts a half-hour after sunrise and continues until a half-hour before sunset,” McBride said.

McBride and Fedarko completed the last leg of their trek—from Lees Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs in early November 2016, a little more than a year since they started.

While the Colorado River itself runs 277 miles through the canyon, walking around tributaries on foot and up walls brought the trip to well over 700 miles. The two figure they walked over 750 miles by the time they walked in and out of the canyon to recharge lightweight solar panels McBride needed to photograph and film the trek.

They estimate they climbed up and down 100,000 vertical feet.

In the end, they joined the ranks of only 30 people known to have completed such a trek. More people have stood on the moon than have completed a continuous through hike of the canyon. Nine have done it without stopping.

 “Some have lost their lives trying to do it,” said McBride, who lost 40 pounds from his 200-pound frame.

The 71-day trek was more than an endurance test, though. The two men saw rock paintings believed to have been made 4,000 years ago. They encountered geologic marvels and big horn sheep.

McBride finished the film in January 2019—just in time to premiere it in Aspen Film Festival in February in conjunction with the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

 “It’s wilderness as wild as it gets—magical, beautiful. It was astonishingly diverse,” said McBride. “It’s harsh, foreboding, humbling—beyond human comprehension. We were lucky to see it. But we also realized that it’s not as protected as we think”

 “One park official told us it’s the most protected place in the world. Yet, the threats that could destroy it have never been greater.”


Peter McBride has compiled many of his most compelling photos in a 235-page coffee table book titled  “The Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim.”

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