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How a 92-Year-Old Man Hiked the Grand Canyon From Rim to Rim, and Why He Thinks It’s No Big Deal

When Alfredo Aliaga crossed the Grand Canyon from rim to rim in 2022, he didn’t know he’d broken a world record for being the oldest person to make this trek on foot. After his son-in-law pointed it out, Aliaga figured, why not do it again in 2023 and make it official? So he did; this time at 92 years old.

Turns out, this type of hike is nothing new to Aliaga, who has lived a life full of outdoor adventure. For decades, he has accomplished feats like hiking the Grand Canyon with no one watching—at least, no one official. Up until his world-record hike, which he completed in October 2023 alongside witnesses and a fair bit of pomp and circumstance, the only people around to revel in Aliaga’s accomplishments on the trails were members of his family. 

The Guinness Book of World Records recently officially recognized Aliaga for his feat, but his real legacy is a long life lived outdoors—something that continues to inspire not only his children and grandchildren but also anyone who meets him.

92 year old hiker Grand Canyon
Image courtesy of the Aliaga family

A Geologist in Love With the Natural World

Aliaga was born in Spain and immigrated to Berlin, Germany as a young man. He currently lives in Berlin with his son, Simon, who is a doctor. By trade, Aliaga was a geologist, and in retirement, he brought his love and knowledge of the natural world wherever he went—which, as it turned out, was a lot of places. 

In his younger years, Aliaga says he spent time hiking in the Pyrenees and the Alps. After retiring, he traveled to Nepal seven times, hiking to Everest Base Camp, and he also spent time extensively exploring countries like Australia, Finland, Chile, and the United States. In 1996 and 1997, Aliaga and his wife spent a year traveling around the U.S. They visited all of the national parks in the lower 48 states. This was a special trip for Aliaga, and it was the first time he laid eyes on the Grand Canyon. 

“When I retired . . . we visited the Grand Canyon, going down to the river and rim to rim too,” he told me in a video call from Berlin. “It is unique in all the world, and people who have been there must return to it . . . it is a wonder of geology.”

92 year old hiker Grand Canyon
Image courtesy of the Aliaga family

Reliving Cherished Memories

Also on the call was Aliaga’s daughter, Anabel Aliaga-Buchenau, a professor of German at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Aliaga-Buchenau explains that her mom passed away in 2006, and one way her dad chose to honor his wife’s memory was by revisiting the places the couple traveled to during their life together. 

One of those places was Grand Canyon National Park

“The first thing he did that summer after she passed away,” she says, “[is] he took me and my then nine-year-old son and said ‘we’re going down [the canyon].’ And even after that, he kind of traveled the whole world, going to all the places that the two of them had been, back to Nepal and everywhere . . . but the Grand Canyon has this very special meaning because they spent so much time there.”

Aliaga did the rim-to-rim trek again in 2022 with his son, daughter, and son-in-law. It was after that trip when his son-in-law, Aliaga-Buchenau’s husband Jurgen, pointed out that Aliaga had just broken the world record for being the oldest person to complete the hike.

“[Jurgen said] ‘you’ve already broken it, but it’s not official, of course,” Aliaga-Buchenau says. “So then my dad said, ‘well, we can do it official then.’”

92 year old hiker Grand Canyon
Image courtesy of the Aliaga family

The Path to Official

Jurgen Buchenau registered his father-in-law for the world-record attempt, and Aliaga and the Buchenaus prepared to make the attempt in October 2023. At the time, there was the possibility of a government shutdown, and Aliaga grew concerned they would have to push the hike back.

“We needed witnesses for the record,” Aliaga explains. “We had talked to the park rangers [and said] ‘can you be our witnesses?’ They said, ‘of course, why not?’ But a week before we went there, the government said we [might] lock down . . . so we were in despair, and my son-in-law put [on] Facebook that we need witnesses, and so we got two witnesses. [They] came to us and said we are going with you down [into the canyon], and they did.”

Aliaga-Buchenau further explains that her husband had posted in a Facebook group asking if any rim-to-rim hikers would be hiking on their same dates. The hope was that they’d find two people willing to witness their world-record attempt in case the rangers could not due to a shutdown. It worked; two people contacted them: Julian Coiner and Peter Todd. 

“These two guys contacted us and said, yeah, we will be your witnesses, and we thought they would sign at the beginning and at the end,” she says. “But as my dad said, they walked every step with us and they stayed with us overnight, and they were just the most amazing guys in the world. We just couldn’t believe that somebody wanted to walk with us.”

92 year old hiker Grand Canyon
Image courtesy of the Aliaga family

‘A Celebrity on the Trail’

The government didn’t end up shutting down, so Aliaga had support not only from his daughter, son-in-law, and two new friends (Coiner and Todd) but also from park rangers and fellow rim-to-rim hikers. Because of the Facebook post, the trail was abuzz; everyone was looking out for Alfredo Aliaga, the 92-year-old man attempting a world record.

“Everybody knew he was doing it,” Aliaga-Buchenau says. “He was a celebrity on the trail. Every single person on the way down stopped him, [asking] ‘can we get a selfie with you?’”

After 11 hours and 15 minutes down from the North Rim, the group spent one night in the canyon at Phantom Ranch then hiked 10 hours up to the South Rim the next day, officially breaking the record.

Aliaga says he enjoyed being a trail celebrity, but taking all those selfies did slow him down. He was also bummed that he didn’t get to enjoy the geology much during the hike.

“When I am in the Grand Canyon, I am always looking [at] the geology,” he says. “But this time, I had to [look at] my feet and the stones. I [didn’t want] to fall.”

92 year old hiker Grand Canyon
Image courtesy of the Aliaga family

Hiking at 92 Years Old

Hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim is not easy by any standard. It’s 21-24 miles across, with up to 5,781 feet in elevation gain, depending on the route. When you cross from rim to rim, you descend into the canyon on one side, and then you must climb out. The Grand Canyon’s Rim to Rim Club suggests fewer than 1% of visitors attempt this strenuous hike, and the percentage of visitors in their 90s who go beneath the rim is likely next to zero. 

Aliaga did it, though, multiple times. And everyone wants to know how. 

“A lot of these people who we met down in the river, they asked, ‘What have you done [at] 92 years old and you are looking young and you are [doing] such crazy things like crossing the Grand Canyon rim to rim?” Aliaga says. “I had prepared in Berlin [for] a few months every morning, going 8 miles in three hours.”

92 year old hiker Grand Canyon
Image courtesy of the Aliaga family

Alfredo’s 3 Steps to a Healthy Life

Aliaga also believes his lifestyle has played a role in his physical fitness. 

“I have a routine in life,” he explains. “I say [there are] three steps. First one is healthy food. Always healthy food, if it is possible, and drinking water with it. Then the second step is 30 minutes each day walking. If I have more time, I do [longer], but 30 minutes every day. And the last one and the most important is sleeping in the dark of the night, eight hours or more . . . These things are helping me be a little healthier and happier and strong in this adventurous age of 92.”

His daughter, Aliaga-Buchenau, walked through some of the emotions she felt as she embarked on this world-record journey with her father. 

“I can’t lie. It’s very scary . . . it’s been scary every single time, because the Grand Canyon is the Grand Canyon, and it’s not a walk down the street,” she says. “There’s a lot of potential for things going wrong. It’s the desert. And specifically, going with the 92 year old, it’s that fear of falling, you know, because anybody can trip.”

92 year old hiker Grand Canyon
Image courtesy of the Aliaga family

‘It’s Such a Gift’

Aliaga continues to hike in his 90s because he says he feels at peace when he’s in nature. 

“When I am with the birds, I am better,” he laughs. “I like always to be with nature and the trees and the rivers.”

This love for nature is something he’s passing on to future generations—and, in reality, that is his true legacy, not the world record.

Aliaga-Buchenau describes how hiking the Grand Canyon has changed her own life: “In terms of your perspective, you come back and all the problems that seem insurmountable at work and whatever, it’s just small stuff.” 

“You could say, because my dad loves geology and he loves hiking so much and he took us there, he’s given that to us,” she adds. “It’s such a gift, because, you know, it’s something that we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

92 year old hiker Grand Canyon
Image courtesy of the Aliaga family

Aliaga hopes that his story inspires other people, no matter their age, to go outdoors.

“I invite them to move, to go outside and move,” he says. 

As to whether or not he has plans to break any more world records, Aliaga says no way, but he says so with a big smile on his face.

“I think this is the last one, yes,” he says. “I [want] to do other things in the canyon, but without any record. Only to have fun, no pressure.”

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