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Flagstaff author hiked the entire Grand Canyon — and lived to write about it

Peter McBride

In 2016, Kevin Fedarko was pitched a wild idea: to hike the Grand Canyon from end to end. The 750-mile trip spans from Lees Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs without any established trail. It pushed Fedarko and his best friend, National Geographic photographer Pete McBride, to their limits mentally and physically. But it also showed them the unexplored landscape of one of America’s most-visited national parks, the Native American tribes that call it home and the many threats facing the area.

KNAU’s Bree Burkitt spoke with him about his new book, “A Walk in the Park: The True Story of a Spectacular Misadventure in the Grand Canyon.”

Scribner Book Company

How do you prep for a thru-hike like this?

KEVIN FEDARKO: Well, part of the problem is that we didn't. Pete and I suffered from — I would characterize it as a level of hubris and arrogance that was almost as deep and grand as the canyon itself. I think some of that was rooted in the fact that he and I both felt that we had a level of familiarity with the canyon and so we felt like we really knew this space and it wasn't that big of a deal to throw on some backpacks and walk through it. And so the first phase of the project is the tale of how brutally we were spanked by the canyon. It stripped us bare of the delusion that we knew what we were doing — that we had the knowledge and the equipment and the physical fitness and the wherewithal to actually embark on this project and forced us to come back to Flagstaff and just kind of reconsider the whole thing. And then, reboot the whole project and go back into the canyon with a different attitude.

What was it like to experience this less charted version of the Grand Canyon in such an intimate way?

FEDARKO: One of the insights that it delivered most viscerally was it imbued — both Pete and I — with a sense of how tiny we are. The awareness of how small we are and how little we matter in the context of all of that rock and all of the time that is distilled within the folds of that rock — it's something that I think is unique to this landscape and this park. And that was the thing that was probably most profound for both Pete and myself.

How did the writing process compare to the hike?

FEDARKO: When I started writing, I didn't think that there could be anything more difficult, more miserable or that would involve more suffering than just hiking the canyon. And then what I discovered was, no, the writing is every bit as hard. And, boy, was it ever.

Author Kevin Fedarko
Kurt Marcus
Author Kevin Fedarko

As we reckon with the new Grand Canyon National Monument being established as well as uranium mining popping up near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon… this feels more relevant than ever.

FEDARKO: It does because these issues... they never really go away. We tend to think of these national parks as things that were permanently set aside and are permanently protected, but they are besieged continuously by projects that are brought forth by people who have a very different vision of the value of these lands and the value of these parks. We have only one landscape that looks and sounds and opens up a space inside of you like the Grand Canyon. And, for that reason, those projects never go away. The people who want to push those projects are replaced by others. And this is one of the insidious things about people who try and protect these landscapes — conservationists. Developers can lose and come back and fight again over and over and over again. But if you care about protecting land — if you care about protecting parks — you only get to lose once and then it's gone.

With so many competing interests between Arizona tourism as well as development, but also the tribal people who live there and stay there… How do we attempt to balance all these aspects?

Part of the lesson that the canyon taught me is that there's an arrogance in thinking that I have a solution to this problem. My role is to really bring forward the conversation and present it in a manner that allows others to participate in that conversation and judge for themselves what they think the answers are. Because that's one of the most marvelous things about our parks — they're part of our public lands. They're called public for a reason. They belong to all of us. We get to have a conversation about what these spaces are, why they matter, whether they're worth protecting and what's worth sacrificing in order to protect them. And it's not for me or anyone else to decide because it's the conversation itself that charts the way forward.

“A Walk in the Park: The True Story of a Spectacular Misadventure in the Grand Canyon" is available on May 28. Kevin Fedarko's Flagstaff book release event is sold out, but he’ll be at the Mesa Arts Ceneter for a reading and discussion on May 29.

Bree Burkitt is the host of Morning Edition and a reporter for KNAU. Contact her at