Mara on the Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Lagena McBride.

Overcoming self-doubt in the Grand Canyon

My heart was pounding, my hands were sweating, and my breath was short. One of my best friends and I had just obtained backcountry permits to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon – nearly a mile deep. And even though part of my nervousness was left over from standing in line in hopes of obtaining the hard-to-get permits, a voice from the bottom of my stomach whispered, “Are you sure you can do this?”

My friend Lagena and I live in Arkansas where the highest mountain is just over 2,700 feet in elevation. We have our fair share of trails that go up and over multiple mountains, making the elevation gain add up quickly. But we don’t have that many that climb 4,460 feet in only nine miles.

I’m not entirely sure where this self-doubt comes from, but it creeps into my spirits before nearly every epic hike that I tackle. Lagena and I hiked the Bright Angel Trail. On our first day we hiked from the trailhead to Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. For the hike out, we split the trip into two days. Camping at Indian Garden Campground, which is halfway, our second night.

This wasn’t the hardest hike we had ever done. In Olympic National Park in Washington State, we climbed about 5,500 feet during a 34-mile, three-day trip. This is what I kept telling myself and Lagena, “We’ve climbed 5,500 feet before. We’ve got this!”

The hike down into the canyon was tough. When we got to Bright Angel Campground, we were both so tired he just went straight into the tent and to bed. We both commented several times that we were so glad we didn’t have to make the climb out in one day. Lagena even mentioned she was afraid we wouldn’t have been able to finish it.

Oh man, my pride would have been so bruised if we had to call someone to haul us out.

The next two days we only had to hike four miles a day, and we totally smoked it. In fact, it only took us an hour longer to hike to the rim than it did to hike to the river. I hardly even got winded. We we got the top, we celebrated and felt strong. After the hike, we both agreed we could have made the climb in one day.

Why do I let that voice plant a seed of doubt? Even now, as I plan an upcoming trip to New Hampshire and am looking at a three-day trip in the Presidential Range, that voice is back.

“Boulder scrambling with a pack, are you sure you can do that?”

“More than 8,000 feet in elevation gain, that’s too hard.”

“Snap weather changes, you’re going to be so uncomfortable.”

But I’m not listening to this voice. With preparation, I can combat those scary elements of the trail. I know Mount Washington says it’s home to “the world’s worst weather.” But I can prepare for that by bringing layers of clothes and having a bailout plan.

Mara at the highest mountain in Arkansas - Mount Magazine. Photo courtesy of the author.
Mara at the highest mountain in Arkansas – Mount Magazine. Photo courtesy of the author.

I started running when I turned 30. I have never been athletic, but I wanted a way to keep in shape as my body got older. At age 32, I trained for and completed two half marathons. If you had asked me when I stared running if I would ever run 13.1 miles, I would have laughed.

I wasn’t even sure I could complete a half marathon when I stared my training. The night before the race when I picked up my packet, I sent a picture of bib with my name printed on it to my friends and secretly hoped I didn’t jinx myself. I was nervous. I didn’t want a bib with my name printed on it from a race I couldn’t complete.

At mile 10 my best friend texted me words of encouragement. I replied, “Only a 5K left, I’ve totally got this!” Once I started the race and got into my groove, all that self-doubt melted away.

When I finished the race, and when I reached the top of the Grand Canyon, the feeling of invincibility was so much greater than the voice of self-doubt at the bottom of my stomach. And that applies to any physical challenge I give myself.

That invincible feeling is my reply that voice.

About the writer:

Mara Kuhn is a full-time photojournalist for the Hot Springs, Ark., newspaper, The Sentinel-Record. She is also the community and continent manager for, and founder of the outdoor travel blog When she’s not taking photos or blogging, you can find her in the wilderness hiking, camping, kayaking, or mountain biking.


  1. Jerry Zimmerman

    As I read the, “Overcoming self-doubt in the Grand Canyon” article, I thought, “I like this author’s style.” After reading the author’s credentials at the very end, I understood why. (;-)


    1. Hatie Parmeter

      Isn’t Mara’s story great? She’s very active an always after adventure! 🙂


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