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Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike

May 9, 1998 Grand Canyon, Arizona

In case you just dropped in and have no idea who I am, or what I'm doing here; my name is Rich Hale. And like so many other's I can't help but think you're so interested in hearing about my exploits of hiking in the Grand Canyon, that I've posted a web page for you.

From the first time I heard about people hiking the Grand Canyon, Rim to Rim to Rim, non-stop in under 24 hours, I was rather intrigued with the idea. Also known as "The Death March" our hike would start at the Bright Angle trailhead on the south rim, go 9.5 miles down to the Phantom Ranch, up the North Kibab trail 14.5 miles to the north rim, back down the same 14.5 miles to the ranch again, and then 9.5 miles back up Bright Angel trail to the south rim again.

Now it was my understanding this hike was so tough they would toss you out of the park if they got word you were going to try it. This is something I have yet to verify, but after completing the hike myself, I could see where if I were in charge of the Grand Canyon, I may not allow this hike to take place either.

What I would do (maybe), is allow runners and hikers an opportunity once or twice a year to attempt a triple-rimmer. Say, once in the spring and once in the fall. That way, we could arrange volume discounts with the rescue helicopter, get group rates at the local hospital, arrange a mass burial, and cut a deal with Heraldo Rivera - so he could finally broadcast a real disaster on live television.

Not that I want to discourage any of you from attempting this particular hike. Heavens no! I mean it's really not all that tough. In fact I think my ex-wife should even try it. And she should take her new husband with her too. Just joking . . . I don't really think she should take her husband with her.

The Goal:
The Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim to Rim - 48 miles - in under 24 hours.

The Results:
As it turns out we did the hike in 23 hours, 58 minutes and 34 seconds. Yes!!! Although we can hardly take the credit for that. We had already given up on the time frame. It was just too hard and we were too tired. Several miles short of the top, we had determined we could never make it under the 24 hour limit. I thought for sure we would be at least 15 or 20 minutes late, so we kind of relaxed, moved a little slower and took a few more breaks. When we reached the top and checked the time - we were shocked.

Now, looking back, it may have been our relaxed attitude that let us come in on time. Had we stressed and tried to speed up, I think we may have blown up instead. So here's a short story of how all this came down.

We reached the Grand Canyon about 5 PM Friday afternoon. The first thing we did was find the trail head, so we wouldn't be wandering around at night looking for it. Next was to get some sleep. So after we located the trail, confirmed our hotel reservations for Saturday night and relaxed a little, we kicked back in the car and slept until about midnight.

Being dark kept us from getting ready as quickly as we thought we could so it wasn't until 1:40 AM that we actually hit the trail. Even though we had lots of energy at this point, the trip going down the trail was stressful in it's own way. We had to be very careful not to trip, slip or do harm to ourselves in any way. We had 48 grueling miles in front of us and we didn't want to do this on a sprained ankle.

We reached the bottom of the Canyon about daybreak, so we took a break to fill up our water, check our feet for blisters or sore spots, put away our jackets and headed up the North Kibab trail to the north rim. Damn, I got to tell you, that's a long way.

The trip up was really quite nice. We still had lots of energy and the new sights were beautiful. It did get a little rough the last few miles up to the north rim, in that we were getting a little tired and we were now almost 24 miles into our hike. After an hour rest and a bite to eat, we started back down.

 

 

The trip back down to the river seemed to take forever. Walking and walking and walking. By the time we reached the ranch at the bottom of the canyon we were getting tired (classic understatement). And I must say not in the best of spirits. People wanted to talk to us and ask us all kinds of questions, all I wanted these nice people to do was shut up and let me sit there. We were now 38.5 miles into the day and were looking at another 9.5 miles "uphill". Yes all I wanted was a little peace and quiet. Even my natural urge to brag about our achievement to this point had subsided to an abnormal level. An hour later I was still tired, still non-friendly . . . and it was time to go.

With our break over, the canyon wall in front of us and the fear of failing all around us - we started walking again. The next 5 miles were really not all that bad. We traveled along the river for several miles, so there was no elevation gain at all. Then when we did start up the hill, it still wasn't that bad for about 3 more miles. Only now, when we reached the hard part, we were really, really tired. We had long since turned off our CD players that once played our favorite motivation music. By now the music was no longer motivating - it was irritating. So was the thought that we still had to carry these useless things up and out of a 4,000 foot canyon. Oh well.

The last 4.5 miles were something to remember . . . I mean something to forget, is more like it. By now we were so tired that we couldn't even lay down on a pile of rocks without the fear of falling asleep and dying of exposure. So now our rest breaks consisted of sitting for a moment until one of us said, "Come on, let's go I'm getting cold."

Of course by now we're no longer as physically stable as we used to be and our foot steps were a bit awkward. We had to make a special effort to stay close to the wall side of the canyon, in that when we would trip a little we no longer had the muscle control to catch ourselves quickly. Instead we may stager a foot or two either way side to side on the trail. Not something you want to do on a trail that would often be only 3 feet wide. We had already gotten word that a lady earlier that day had stood too close to the edge and it gave way. This ended in tragedy of course, in that there are few places in the Grand Canyon where you can survive a single mishap such as this.

All in all, when we found ourselves standing back on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in the same place we had started out 48 miles earlier and in just under 24 hours. Had we had the energy and the skill - we may have done back flips. Instead we settled for a high-five, a hug and a beer.

Points to share:

You can't live on Power Gel for as long as I thought you could.

Even lithium batteries increase in weight exponentially per hour carried.

Proper use of the English language (while hiking) decreases exponentially per hour up to 20 hours, at which point you're
speaking in tongues.

Mind over matter can only take about 10 years off your age at best, not 20.

It takes about 10 seconds to fall asleep on a bed of rocks when you're 35 miles into a 48 mile hike.

Although my partner may look to be very tired, he can't be as
tired as I am.

There's good reason they call this hike "The Death March".

In friendship & adventure,

Rich Hale & Steve Tackett

Back to: Rich & Steve's Grand Canyon Adventures

 

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