‘You are my hero’: 92-year-old’s inspiring rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike seeks world record

‘You are my hero’: 92-year-old’s inspiring rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike seeks world record

Alfredo Aliaga told USA TODAY that doing the rim-to-rim hike felt ‘amazing’ and that it’s never too late to do something big, even in your 90s

Amanda Lee Myers
 USA TODAYplayShow CaptionHide Caption#videoDetailsToggle{color:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));cursor:pointer;display:inline-block;font-family:var(–sans-serif,sans-serif);font-size:var(–type-7);font-weight:var( –font-weight-bold,900);line-height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);margin-bottom:-8px}#vdt_hide{margin-bottom:10px}.vdt-flex[hidden]{display:none}.vdt-svg{fill:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);width:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px)}Watch this 92-year-old hiker seek a world record at the Grand CanyonAt 92 years old, Alfredo Aliaga aims at a world record by hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim with a smile on his face and joy in his heart.

A 92-year-old man who just conquered a 24-mile, rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon is set to become the oldest person on record to have accomplished the feat.

Alfredo Aliaga, a Spaniard who lives in Berlin, hiked for 21 hours over two days to complete the hike on Oct. 15, according to hundreds of photos and videos submitted to USA TODAY, an independent witness’ account and fitness trackers.

Along the way, Aliaga spread joy with his upbeat attitude and inspired plenty of hikers decades younger than him.

In his first interview following the accomplishment, Aliaga told USA TODAY that finishing the rim-to-rim hike felt amazing and said it’s never too late to do something big, even in your 90s.

After all, he said, it’s “only one step after the other.”

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Did Alfredo Aliaga break a world record?

Aliaga’s journey in the Grand Canyon was well-documented by his daughter, son-in-law, two independent witnesses and the many strangers who posted photos with the 92-year-old during the journey. Aliaga and his family tracked the hike using several methods, including Google Earth and shared the evidence with USA TODAY.

Aliaga’s network has so much material and proof to submit, that they’re still organizing the package that they plan to send to Guinness World Records this week.

A Guinness spokeswoman says the company reviews submissions within three to four months and analyzes all submitted evidence to confirm the success or failure of a record attempt.

The current record-holder for the oldest person to have hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim is John Jepkema of Craig, Colorado. Jepkema completed his hike over five days at the age of 91 in 2019. He died this past March.

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Who is Alfredo Aliaga?

Aliaga was born on Aug. 28, 1931, in a tiny village in northern Spain called Mozota, which had no running water when he was a boy, according to Aliaga’s daughter, Anabel Aliaga-Buchenau, a longtime resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a professor of German and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina.

During the Spanish Civil War  – which broke out in 1936 – Aliaga’s parents sent him to live with his aunt and uncle on a sheep farm in the mountains, where he helped shepherd the animals, his daughter said.

Aliaga spent time in the military, worked for a telephone company and at the age of 25, immigrated to Germany to study geology. There he met his wife Ingrid, then became a pharmaceutical rep and the couple settled down with their two children in Northeim in central Germany, about halfway between Berlin and Frankfurt.

In their retirement, Aliaga and his wife began traveling the world on a shoestring budget, bringing their tent and hiking poles to places like Machu Picchu, Mount Everest Base Camp and the Grand Canyon. They once went on a 2,000-mile bike ride from Finland to Germany.

Aliaga lost his adventure buddy in 2006 following 39 years of marriage when Ingrid died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, at the age of 76.

“My dad would say, ‘Oh, how about if we do this?'” Aliaga-Buchenau said. “And she would say, ‘Yes, let’s go!’ She was always ready to take on the next adventure.”

After his wife’s death, Aliaga “was a shell of his former self, having taken care of Ingrid 24/7 for two years,” his daughter said.

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How the Grand Canyon helped Alfredo Aliaga find his joy again

To help him heal after Ingrid died, Aliaga decided to return to all the places he had been with her. At the top of his list was the Grand Canyon.

He took his daughter and his then 9-year-old grandson Nick to the natural wonder, where they camped for the night and left a paper origami crane in Ingrid’s memory (family and friends made her 1,000 cranes as she lay dying and threw them on top of her grave at her funeral).

Since then, Aliaga has returned to the canyon repeatedly and has done various rim-to-rim hikes. He’s been so many times, his daughter said, that rangers and other hikers recognize him.

Ahead of his most recent trip, KNXV-TV in Flagstaff, Arizona, reported about Aliaga’s record attempt, and that story was posted in a rim-to-rim hiking group with more than 70,000 members on Facebook, further solidifying the 92-year-old’s fame.

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Aliaga could barely get into a good rhythm because of all the people stopping him during his most recent hike.

“(There were) a lot of people asking me, ‘Oh, you are Alfredo. May I get a picture with you?'” Aliaga said. “We lost a lot of time making pictures, and they (would say), ‘Oh, you are my hero, you are my inspiration.'”

While he said he felt honored by the recognition, he joked about having to disguise himself to stop losing time. “I put my hat down over my eyes and the people could not see that I was Alfredo.”

How did Alfredo Aliaga do the rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon?

playWatch this 92-year-old hiker seek a world record at the Grand CanyonAt 92 years old, Alfredo Aliaga aims for a world record by hiking across the Grand Canyon from rim to rim with a smile on his face.

In order to train for the hike, Aliaga walked three hours every day in Berlin, where he lives with his son.

He didn’t do any mountain training but wanted to make sure he was prepared for long efforts.

Asked whether he could share his tips for a long life filled with adventures like his, Aliaga said it’s quite simple.

“I have a routine, three things that I do every day and that is enough to be strong, happy and healthy when you are so old,” he said. “The first one: Eat healthy food, drink water with it … The second one, just 30 minutes each day walking. If you can do more, very good, but 30 is enough. But every day!”

The third recommendation, he said, is the most important one: Sleep eight hours every night, going to bed and getting up at the same times every day.

Aliaga said he began his three-step method when he was 74 so it’s never too late.

“We are willed by Mother Nature to move, and if you are eight hours sitting in a chair, you cannot be healthy,” he said. “We must move.”

‘You made our day, Alfredo’

On a post in the Facebook group about Aliaga’s hike, about a dozen people shared the photos they took with the nonagenarian.

“You made our day, Alfredo!” one user wrote along with a selfie with a beaming Aliaga.

Another posted their photo with Aliaga and wrote: “I felt like I was meeting a celebrity!”

A video shared with USA TODAY showing Aliaga’s final steps on the rim-to-rim hike shows dozens of people cheering him on as he nears the end.

“We heard about you and wanted to see you,” one person told him. Another shouted: “You’re our idol! We love you!”

The cheers appeared to give Aliaga a boost as he lifted his trekking poles higher and brought them down with force with each new step.

As he finished 21 hours of hiking, Aliaga raised each pole in the air and declared: “We did it!”

Amanda Lee Myers is a trending reporter and editor for USA TODAY. She writes about ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

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