GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Nearly 150 years after his death, author Charles Dickens sums it up nicely: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
For National Geographic photojournalist Peter McBride and local author Kevin Fedarko, an epic year-long sectional thru-hike of the Grand Canyon is an embodiment of those words.
It was starry skies and stinging sunburns, hyponatremia and the hypnotic flow of the Colorado River, blazing sunsets and blisters the size of silver dollars. The best and the worst that one of the world’s most awesome natural wonders has to offer.
In 'Are we losing the Grand Canyon,' Fedarko notes that more people have set foot on the surface of the moon (12) than have completed a continuous thru-hike of the Grand Canyon (10) in a single push. The number of those who completed sectional thru-hikes, a series of shorter hikes punctuated by rest periods, is larger, but still minute considering around 200 times as many people have summited Mount Everest (4,093), one of the most inhospitable environments in the world.
National Geographic’s Peter McBride is the first journalist and photographer to complete a sectional thru-hike of the Grand Canyon.
Last year, Fedarko and McBride set out on their journey to document the rising threats against the unparalleled but unforgiving Grand Canyon. Setting out from Lee’s Ferry in Sept. 25, 2015, they climbed out of the Canyon after the final leg of the journey at Grand Wash Cliffs Nov. 2, 2016.
Helicopter traffic, air pollution, increased tourist traffic, water contamination from abandoned and active uranium mines, and encroaching development are just a few of the imminent threats explored by Fedarko and McBride as they made their way through the wild, winding world below the rim.
Published in the September issue of National Geographic, “Are we losing the Grand Canyon?” is a culmination of their efforts to lay out the effects that humans have had on the Canyon over the decades and future perils on the horizon.
“Since it entered the American consciousness, the Grand Canyon has provoked two major reactions: the urge to protect it, and the temptation to make a whopping pile of money from it,” Fedarko says in the article.
“What I saw—or rather, what I understood—was that … the canyon is emphatically not an amusement park. It is without handrails, a place where the dangers are real. But no less real are the rewards—among them the fact that when you move through an ancient wilderness that has not been compromised, you are reminded of our species’ humble place in it and the fragility of life.”
A self-taught photographer, filmmaker, writer, and public speaker, McBride has traveled on assignment to over 75 countries for the National Geographic Society, Smithsonian, Outside, Esquire, Microsoft, The Nature Conservancy and many more.
Kevin Fedarko is author of ‘The Emerald Mile.’ He is also a part-time river guide for Grand Canyon National Park. In addition to his travel narratives in ‘Outside,’ where he worked as a senior editor, Fedarko’s work has appeared in Esquire, National Geographic Adventure, and other publications.
An interactive map of their entire journey is available at nationalgeographic.com/adventure/2016/11/grand-canyon-national-parks-interactive-map/.
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