Stephen Kiser - Finding My Limit In The Grand Canyon

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

My name is Stephen Kiser and I was born and raised in Kannapolis, North Carolina. I did not have a lot of outdoor experiences as a kid since I was pushed pretty heavily into sports that was pretty much all I knew until after I was 19-20 years old.

I never felt called to nature or was your typical outdoors person, if anything I was the opposite. Give me the A/C, clean clothes, nice restaurants and the city life.

That was until June 2019 when I realized how miserable  I was and just had to get away from everything I knew. At that time, I was being called into nature. I came up with the idea to drive all around America hiking and camping around the most popular national parks and landmarks.

Up until that point I had ZERO camping experience and would practice setting up my tent in my living room before leaving on this journey. The first time I ever used a backpacking stove was in Badlands National Park in a free boondocking sight 20 minutes outside of the park. That was also the first time I had slept outside in a tent and many other things. I guess you could say my inspiration came from desperation.

The thing I love most about the outdoors is how quiet it is. You are able to go inside yourself and hear the negative self talk that you were unaware of in your day to day life. You can hear and feel everything and it allows healing and reflection that I personally don’t think is possible anywhere else.

At the moment being outdoors, hiking, taking photos of epic landscapes and all of that is my full time work. I was blessed in real estate over the past 5 years to be able to put 100% of my efforts into building an outdoor/travel brand that allows me to do this as a career.

I like traveling with my girlfriend most of the time. Her schedule doesn’t allow her to travel as much as me but anytime we can make it work we do. People often ask where my favorite place to hike, travel, etc... is and it is a tough question because every place I have been is so unique and beautiful in its own way.

All I saw was around 5,000 ft elevation gain, 8 miles one way and figured it wouldn’t be that bad.

If I had to pick one I would say Yosemite though. That place is magical and I hope to conquer the JMT next year and PCT a year or so after that. 

I became me after living 99% of my life trying to be other people. It wasn’t until June 2019 that I finally became so miserable and disgusted with myself that other peoples opinions on who I was supposed to be no longer mattered.

I sat on the floor like I used to do as a kid and thought to myself, what did I love doing as a kid? And my answer was skateboard, take photos/videos of my friends, play outside in the woods and just create.

So I bought a camera, a skateboard and prepped to drive around America for 3 months. I was me all along, I just had him hiding under layers of what I thought other people wanted me to be. 

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

If I had to choose one hike to highlight here it would have to be the hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, across the Colorado River and then back to the top in one day.

Leading up to this hike the most intense hike I had done was around 7 miles total, elevation gain of maybe 1,200 ft and could be done in a few hours. So when I had the idea that I wanted to hike to the bridge that crosses over the Colorado RIver in the Grand Canyon I just found a trail (Bright Angel Trail) and picked the day I was going to do it.

I gave it zero thought as to how difficult it may be. All I saw was around 5,000 ft elevation gain, 8 miles one way and figured it wouldn’t be that bad. Fast forward to the morning of the hike, me and my girlfriend arrived at the trailhead around 6:15am. We started down as the sun was rising which was an incredible thing to see firsthand.

For the first 5-6 miles (all downhill) everything was easy! I was thinking this is going to be a breeze! So we continue to go further down into the canyon, mile 7, mile 8 and bam! We made it to the bottom! BUT it turns out that the bridge that goes over the Colorado is an additional 2 miles. SO… we start walking again because what is another 2 miles after you just walked 8?

By the time we arrived at the bridge my knee was KILLING me. I could barely put weight on it and had to stop every couple steps to give it a break. Kept going. When we finished having our fun on the bridge, reality kicked in and we realized we had to walk 10 miles back to the rim, all uphill. 

We were exhausted...But since we had no other option but to walk back to the top, we started our long journey back to the rim. Mile 1, mile 2, mile 3, we are dead… My girlfriend is considering “passing out” to get a helicopter rescue, I am trying to keep a positive attitude and tell myself that it's not that bad but the exhaustion and the pain my body is in is really making it difficult.

My body was shutting down. I was lightheaded, knees were wobbly, body was just shaking all over.

Mile 4, mile 5, we run into a guy who points out where our finish line is, and it seemed so incredibly far away my mind told my body that it was impossible. There is no way. So we keep walking. One switchback at a time, then rest, switchback, rest.

We did this for over 5 miles on our way back to the rim. By now its around 4pm, we have been hiking for around 10 hours and had nothing to eat but a few protein bars (did not plan this well). My body was shutting down. I was lightheaded, knees were wobbly, body was just shaking all over.

I looked up to the sky and asked God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, HELP ME FINISH THIS!! And not 2 seconds later a man named Walter came up to me and offered food, electrolytes and humor to help us get to the top.

We walked with Walter, the 50+ year old from Florida who had hiked a quarter of the way down and was now on the way back up, for the last 2 miles of this hike and I know I could not have finished without him. 12 hours and 20 miles later we finally reached the top.

I screamed some profanities out of pure excitement, accomplishment, I'm not sure. I just know that I felt like I could do anything. I had just conquered the Grand Canyon.

I couldn't walk the next day, and my girlfriend had blisters on her feet from hell but at the end of the day we hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back to the top in 12 hours. We did not quit. 

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

I want to be known for inspiring other people to live the life THEY want to live and not trying to fit into a system. I want to be known for leading by example and always pushing my limits to show others that what they want to do is 100% possible and the only thing holding them back is their mind. 

I definitely have not found my limit. The Grand Canyon was the toughest thing I have ever done to date BUT I did not die so I do not know my limit yet.

I read one time from a guy named David Goggins who said that when our minds tell us that we are DONE, that we can't go any further, nothing left in the tank, etc... that we still have around 40% left to give. I definitely believe that now after hiking the Bright Angel Trail in a day. 

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

My favorite item in my pack is my Sony a7iii with 24-70mm 2.8 G Lens, I am a photographer and do not go anywhere without this camera. Does not matter the difficulty, added weight etc… Always with me. 

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

My advice would be to first decide on where you want to go and what you want to do in that location. From there just work backwards to what gear you would need, when the best time to go is based on your weather preferences, best places to camp, etc... And then after you have all of the questions answered just go. Don’t sit and think about it or over analyze it. Just go. 

I have noticed that when I procrastinate in my life it is stemming from me not being grateful, comparing myself to others and not being patient. Once I fix one or all three of those things, I am usually motivated to do what I need to do. 

I want to be known for inspiring other people to live the life THEY want to live and not trying to fit into a system.

If you are just starting out I think you need to assess your physical condition honestly and then go from there. I was very much a beginner but I had been working out for years to stay in shape, so when I saw a trail rated difficult it did not scare me.

If you live a very sedentary life and could afford to lose some weight maybe start with a moderate to easy trail. At the end of the day it is up to you and I believe that you are capable of much more than you probably give yourself credit for. 

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

I love “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey. This book has made me want to spend my life in the desert of Utah. Also you can't go wrong with “My First Summer In The Sierras” by John Muir.

I usually listen to audio books when traveling and not podcasts but some audiobooks that I enjoyed on my last trip was “You Are The Placebo” By Dr. Joe Dispenza along with two of his other books titled “Becoming Supernatural” and “Breaking The Habit Of Being Yourself” 

I give everyone the same book every time... “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen

Where’s your next adventure?

My next adventure is going to Alaska in March to photograph the Northern Lights. This will be my first trip to Alaska and the coldest place I have been so far.

I will consider this trip a success no matter what, because even if it does not go my way, I know that it is going the way that it should go.

Other than Alaska, I plan to spend a few  months or so exploring more of Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. I also have Canada in late September and possibly Germany after! An exciting year. 

Where can others learn more about you?

I spend majority of my time sharing my journey on Instagram (@stevekiser12) and occasionally I release a blog post about a thought I have been pondering on my blog at 

Want to share your Story From The Mountain?

Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.

We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.

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