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Running the Grand Canyon: May 2006

Our good friend Davy Crockett who used to bring up the rear of our hiking group (with me) started running in these crazy 100 mile races back in 2005 called Ultra Marathons. In order to train for these races which cover 100 miles (duh!) and 1000’s of vertical feet, he often ran the Grand Canyon.

Davy is in exceptional shape and knows his body very well….and his limits. No one should really do this alone (like Davy) nor venture out into the GC without proper training and know how. It is just way to dangerous. But given that Davy had done this many times and that the rest of us would only be going half the distance Davy was going, we felt confident we could do it.

Do it? Do what? Well, Davy’s plan was start at 1am and to run from the South Rim along the Bright Angel Trail down to the bottom and cross the Colorado River at Phantom Ranch. He would then continue up to the North Rim on the N. Kabob trail. Once he got to the North Rim, well he had to get back home…..no car shuttle involved. Just turn around and run back the other way!

For the mere mortals (me, Brad Kim and his son, and David H.) we planned to start a little later in the morning (4:30am) and run from the South Rim down to the river and Phantom Ranch and after a brief break, “run” back up to the South Rim.

At 1am, we drove Davy to the edge of the Canyon and pushed him down the Bright Angel trail. We all went back and tried to get another couple of hours of sleep. Then at 4:00am we ate some oatmeal and drove over to the trail head. Plenty of parking at that hour of the morning!

On a cool moonlight night, we had fairly good visibility as we started down into the canyon wearing headlamps for better vision. As we descended we could feel blasts of warmer air coming up from down below. The GC is about 5000 feet deep so just with the elevation alone, the air down below is easily 15-20 degrees warmer. But it usually more than that.

As we got warmed up, we began running on the trail. It was kind of fun. Sort of like skiing a bit. Your body was in a fall and you would move your feet around to make sure that each running step had a good place to land…avoiding rocks and debris. The more we did it, the more fun it was and the better we got till we were all running at a very fast clip. I was beginning to understand why Davy liked these downhill sections of his runs a lot.

As dawn broke, we were in the vicinity of the Indian Gardens camping area about 3000 feet down. From there we took a right turn at the trail branch and headed into a section called Devil’s Corkscrew. This is just a steep descent along a stream with lots of switchbacks.

As we reached the end of the corkscrew we got our first glimpse of the Colorado River! We all let out a big yell as we had made it all the way down. What a thrill! We continued along the river upstream about a mile or so till we reached the bridge that took us over the Colorado to Phantom Ranch. I think we arrived around 8am to a large group of mule riding tourists enjoying a hot breakfast before they departed on their mules for the rim. We ate and drank and filled up on water before fairly quickly starting back up the trail to our starting point.

As we crossed the bridge back over the Colorado we started out with a reasonable jog pace along the river. The trail was pretty flat and not too difficult to maintain a pace even for me. Brad was startled shortly after we started running by a rattler in the middle of the trail which he almost stepped on! But instead of a crisis emergency, he saw the snake in time and instead settled for a picture as it slithered away.

We headed up the cork screw in the next section. We were all still fairly fresh and power hiked the section at a very rapid pace, but not a run. None of us were in the kind of shape required to run the uphills. But I was still impressed with my ability to keep a fast pace going.

Once we got up to Indian Gardens, the heat and dust was beginning to get to us. The pace slowed a bit and we were sure to fill up our water at each ranger station/rest stop on the way up. Above Indian Gardens there is water about every 1000 vertical feet. I also found that soaking my shirt in water made the heat a lot more tolerable. With a dew point in the single digits, my mobile swamp cooler worked wonders.

We reached the top around 2pm and got some ice cream at the lodge. I felt pretty good as did Brad and David H. We grabbed some showers and waited out the arrival of Davy and Kim and his son. They all showed up around 4pm or so. Davy said he had a great run. We piled into the cars for the long drive home.

For me, this was one of my greatest physical accomplishments, especially for a guy near the big 40 mark. What a great thrill to do something most people could never do. Of course Davy went on to do several quadruple crossings (over, back, over, back!) later in his training expeditions. Wow.

2 Responses to “Running the Grand Canyon: May 2006”

  1. Three Mormons and a Jew: Exploring the Great Outdoors » Grand Gulch and The Grand Canyon: May 2006 Says:

    […] station. We got some water and headed down 261 to get the other car. Our next stop would be the Grand Canyon! View Kane Gulch to Cedar Mesa in a larger […]

  2. Brad Says:

    I’m still bummed that I lost my hat on that run.

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