Acrophobia or Fear of Heights

Walking along the rim of Grand Canyon, you certainly see examples of people, especially mothers with young children, experiencing varying degrees of acrophobia or a fear of heights. And for good reason! A fall at many places here can mean a drop of several hundred to over a thousand feet. Many of us have seen the movie Thelma and Louise as they drive off the rim of the Canyon to their death. So it’s logical to wonder if hiking the Grand Canyon is going to be a white-knuckle experience. After leading hundreds of people in the Canyon, many with a fear of heights, I thought I would share my insight with you and tell you where the “hot spots” of fear are. I hope you find this helpful.

  • The Silver Bridge – (Bright Angel Trail) The metal grid on the bridge does not have a floor covering and allows you to see through to the Colorado River over 60 feet below. If possible, have someone walk ahead of you and look at their back. If no one is with you, look straight ahead; it helps make the bridge look solid and you can’t see the river’s flow. Even for someone without this phobia, this view can be very disconcerting. You must cross the bridge to get to Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground! The Black Bridge is an alternative that adds an additional 1 1/2 miles to your distance by continuing along the River Trail. The Black Bridge is at the base of the South Kaibab Trail. It has floorboards and is the bridge used by the mule trains. See Phantom Area Map.
  • Past Eye of the Needle – (North Kaibab Trail) This section follows a cliff face and the trail is cut out of it. This section is between miles 3 and 4 (from the trailhead) and must be hiked to get to Cottonwood and Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel from the North Rim.
  • Hakatai Shale – (Clear Creek Trail) Just before the final drop into Clear Creek, the trail through the orangeish-colored slope freaks a lot of people out—and not just those with acrophobia! I think most of it is because they are exhausted after the long slog across the Tonto Platform from Phantom. The trail here is extremely narrow and slopes to the side. It looks and feels like you are going to slide to your death! You’re not, trust me. The ground is very stable; it just looks slippery and like it’ll give way. Everyone that I’ve been with has been shocked at how little they noticed it on the way out.
  • The Supai Formation – (Hermit Trail) This is a long stretch of boulders and rockfall on the Hermit Trail. The park has done a lot of work on the trail, so it is actually pretty easy to follow if you are paying attention. If it starts looking like you are off trail, you probably are; go back and find the trail again. Don’t do anything dangerous. There is one stretch near Lookout Point that can be a bit challenging for those with a fear of heights since it is a steep rockslide area. The park has built a good trail through it which is easy to follow as of September of 2012. Just take it slow and steady. Then as you get closer to Hermit Creek, there is a stretch where the trail is built close to the edge of a drop-off going into the final side canyon created by the Tapeats Sandstone. The Tapeats Sandstone creates many of these side canyons along the Tonto Trail into which you drop along its length: Salt, Horn, Indian Garden, Grapevine and many others. At Hermit, the trail follows the edge for a small distance which can bother some people, but it is over quickly. Again, it is helpful to have a hiking partner ahead to watch and keep your attention focused on until you get past.

There are certainly more trails in the Canyon, but if you are going beyond these, you are going to be dealing with a lot more than acrophobia and better be much more educated about what you are getting yourself into. The points above are the ones that I have seen to be the most troublesome for those with a fear of heights. I hope this helps out with preparing you to deal with them in your mind. You can do it!