Five years after probing the Grand Canyon’s least-traveled slots using the techniques of canyoneering – which variously combines climbing, rappelling, hiking and swimming – Todd Martin netted a 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for his self-published tome Grand Canyoneering: Exploring the Rugged Gorges and Secret Slots of the Grand Canyon. The 50-year-old Pittsburgh native turned Ahwatukee resident says he’s always been interested in the outdoors, since he was a kid who would bring home snakes from his exploits, and he continues to discover cool Arizona outdoors spots while developing his passion for photography. Martin, a Maricopa County air quality engineer who holds master’s degrees in electrical and environmental engineering, is also featured in the 23-minute festival film The Last of the Great Unknown. Find information about his growing media empire at toddshikingguide.com.
How did you become such an avid outdoors adventurer?
After I got my undergraduate degree in 1994, I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, about 2,150 miles. I was a day hiker up until that point and had only done one three-day, two-night backpacking trip. It seemed like such an interesting journey to spend that much time away from civilization, I decided to give it a try. The trip made me really appreciate the environment and inspired me to go back to school to study environmental engineering.
How would you characterize the Arizona outdoors?
We have a ton of wilderness here. It’s very easy in Arizona to hike to an area where there is not a ton of people. How many places can you say that for? When I went to college in Massachusetts, you’d go hiking on a trail, and you’re bound to see people. In Arizona, there are a number of places you won’t see anyone, and if you go off-trail, you’ll have it all to yourself.
Why should people try hiking?
Hiking is the best form of exercise. It’s low-impact and excellent cardio. It keeps you fit and healthy. People need an escape from hectic day-to-day life. For people just starting out, the Peralta Trailheads to Fremont Saddle in the Superstition Wilderness is a moderate hike that is an easy trail to follow. It’s easy to get to, and it gives great views of Weaver’s Needle.
What’s the scariest situation you’ve ever experienced while hiking?
I was hiking in a remote area in a canyon with a stream coming through it. I came around a corner and was about 20 feet away from a huge black bear. I’m not afraid of wild animals, but it started moving towards me, which was really scary. I took two pictures before slowly walking away. There is nothing you can do with wild animals but to be aware of your environment. Most wild animals won’t hurt you. Rattlesnakes know they can’t eat a person. Just be aware, and don’t intentionally interact with wild animals.
What other hiking tips do you have?
Plan your hike for the seasons. For example, a hike in the Superstitions in the winter months is exceptional. During the summer, it’s so brutally hot, it can be very dangerous. Carry a good map, and know your route. Let someone know where you’re going. GPS has gotten so good lately, and most phones have great mapping software. You should also carry a backup map, because your batteries could run out, or you could drop your phone. Know your limits and when to rest and get in the shade to not overheat… I’ve gotten lost a few times. Usually when people get lost, instead of turning around and going back to a spot they knew, they tend to plow ahead. That’s very dangerous. I think retreating as soon as you realize you don’t know where you are is key.