H.U.R.T. Charter Member Jim Budde Shares a Grand Canyon Crossing
Jim Budde here. As a charter HURT member you might ask What have you done lately? And the answer would be Not much. So I thought I'd give the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim a shot.
For the last few summers I've played camp doctor in Arizona at a camp where my daughter gets to ride lots of horses and I get to chill out for a couple of weeks. Two years ago I walked a bit of the South Rim trails and last year I walked a bit of the North Rim trails. Only logical thing would be to connect them and walk the rim-to-rim. I may be old but I have enough sense to know I couldn't do this on my prior years of running nor my good looks so I made an effort to prepare. I bought some new Keen (excellent choice) trail shoes from Sierra Trading Post and found my old hydration bag and replaced the water bag. I read stories of other people who made this same journey. Then, finally, I realized I better do some training and made a few jaunts into the hills behind Waimea on the Big Island, though I couldn't do realistic heat training for the expected 100 degree temps in the Grand Canyon.
My daughter flew ahead to Phoenix to join friends before camp and I got my mother and brother to join me on a road trip. We started near San Francisco and first drove to Carson City Nevada where my kin gambled and I toured the various historic buildings of Nevada's capitol city. I also found a pool for a swim workout, which was tough at the 6,ooo elevation. Next day we drove across America's Loneliest Highway to Ely, Nevada. Again we stayed at a historic casino-hotel and I eexplored the railroad museum and old mines. There were also a couple of brothels near the hotel but must admit I avoided them. Third day of road trip we had more scenic driving to North Rim of Grand Canyon. I had luckily managed to score a cabin near the rim. Normally they book a year in advance but I had just called on the right day. Cabin came with a fireplace and rocking chairs on the porch. And since my mother and brother don't walk much they really enjoyed the chairs. We also had a wonderful dinner at the Grand Lodge, a depression-era building built with huge stone blocks and with enormous windows overloking the canyon. Only disappointment was that clouds obsured what was to be a spectacular sunset.
At the rim the ranger's headquarters had a photo essay on a young lady who completed the Boston Marathon in three hour fashion and came to hike the Grand Canyon a month later and died from heat and dehydration. The essay described the amount of food and fluids she took and assorted mistakes she made. It stressed not attempting to go to the Colorado River at base of the canyon and back in one day. There were probably also admonishments against walking alone but that was another warning I was going to ignore. I did make sure I filled up my pack with a full hydration pack, couple of other bottles and plenty of trail foods, candy, and jerky.
The next morning my brother drove me the two miles to the trailhead for a 5 a.m. start. I ate a couple of pita breads with humus and drank cold day-old coffee (no 7-11s at the rim). I asked my brother not to leave the North Rim for at least three hours in case I should find some difficulty during the first segment. They were due to leave me and drive 265 miles to the South Rim, whereas I had a mere 24 miles of trails with a mile elevation drop and a corresponding elevation gain.
The first couple of miles were steep switchbacks and required dodging of mule poop as this was the course for day-trips on mules. The first five miles continued ever down about 4000 feet with one tunnel, one bridge and several cliffhanger narrow trails. At five miles I reached Roaring Springs where a huge amount of water poured from a cliff face and has been the longtime reliable water source for both rims of the Grand Canyon. This was about my point of no return and I needed to think forwards and not back. From that point the trail moderated and the next nine miles were a gentle decline following Bright Angel Stream. In fact, for the next fourteen miles I was always within earshot of running water. The stream was beautiful and I would have taken hundreds of pictures if I had brought a camera along.
After fourteen total miles I reached Phantom Ranch and bought some fresh coffee to stop any caffeine withdrawal headache. To this point I had been extremely lucky and the day proved mild. The first few miles had cloud cover and even some drizzle. I was able to bypass the three or four water sources and made it to the ranch with a few drops to spare and then refilled. Another quarter mile I was at the Colorado River and was able to cool off with a dip. The river was ripping past and the rafters were having a ball. I made sure to stay in the eddy or I might end up a half mile downstream or worse. Then there was the suspension bridge across the river and the start of the nine mile ascent.
First couple of miles paralled the Colorado and were a bit of downer because the trail was very much sandy and made for some tough slogging. Then the trail turned more uphill and trail improved and another stream kept me company. I had seen very few people but on the south side there were many more to be seen. The trail became quite difficult in the last three miles as the stream disappeared and the ascent steepened. The masses appeared as the South Rim was approached. No one was passing me as I climbed but there were plenty of people who were wondering why they walked down a mile or two. There were many who were going to need some assistance getting back to the rim. I too was getting weary and the thighs were grumbling over the last two miles. But I managed to avoid disaster and made the trip in about eight hours. I had witnessed some awesome geologic scenery, seen some diverse fauna such as deer, coyote, lizards, snakes, birds, etc., and managed to not get hurt and not require evacuation.
I consciously did not run a step during the trek because I thought I might hurt something and time was not important as I had about fourteen hours of daylight to complete it. Happily, my kin made their portion of the trip and we re-connected at the South Rim.I had been extremely lucky with mild conditions and don't know if it would have gone so smoothly on a typical over 100 degree summer dday in the canyon. I would highly recommend some version of this trip to others. Others have done this as a run or even a double rim-to-rim. I'm quite content to have done my version and to have added to my memory bank of great times had while "runnning".
P.S. Thanks Jim, great story. A trip I want to do. In early May some other Hawaii runners went to the Grand Canyon but I have yet to hear their story. Maybe yours will encourage them to submit something. Aloha, Bob