continuing story of Rich and Steve's Grand (canyon) Adventure.
who loves the Grand Canyon enough to take on its challenges
also learns to respect, and at times, even fear it. I say
that because respecting the Grand Canyon may help you accomplish
a Rim to Rim to Rim hike in under 24 hours, but fearing it
just may help you survive a Rim to Rim to Rim hike in under
you can hike to the North Rim and back without a self imposed
time limit of 24 hours, but I was introduced to the idea
of hiking the Grand Canyon, rim to rim to rim, as an unofficial
event called the Death March. In
order to have completed the Death March, you had to hike
from one rim to the other and back in under 24 hours. If
you take 24 hours and 2 minutes, you didn't do the Death
March, you simply went hiking in the Grand Canyon for "2
days". This is number three in a series of Death Marches
that my best friend, Steve Tackett, and I have done in an
effort to, well, for the lack of a better word, "Conquer" the
As I sit
here trying to think of a more appropriate word than "conquer" it
dons on me that conquer may very well be the correct word;
only it's not the Grand Canyon we're actually trying to conquer,
but ourselves. After all, how do conquer the Grand Canyon?
Is anyone's ego really that big? That's like saying I conquered
outer space because I managed to jump out of an airplane,
open my parachute, and land, without breaking an ankle.
can no more conquer the Grand Canyon, than you can conquer
the oceans or outer space; the best you can do in any of
these regions is to prepare yourself as best you can, both
physically and mentally, then get your stuff together and
start moving. If you did everything (or just enough) right,
you'll live to write about.
Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim crossing consists of 48 miles of
ankle breaking trail, that has 26,100 feet of elevation change,
in temperatures that vary from freezing cold on the rims
to triple digit heat on the canyon floor. Water may or may
not be available at key locations along the trail and to
our surprise, dust storms in the Grand Canyon come straight
from hell, and do their best to take you home with them.
all, if you did your homework, developed a doable plan, and
have a rabbit's foot that brings you more luck than it brought
the rabbit, you'll leave the South Rim, travel down to the
Colorado River, continue up to the North Rim and be back
to the South Rim again within 24 hours.
not fortunate enough to have done the above, it'll take you
something more than 24 hours to get out of the canyon, as
you trip, stumble, and curse your way up the trail. I expect
your legs could be quivering a little and your vision blurred,
so don't be surprised when an occasional misstep lands you
in a puddle of mule piss, which areleft by the pack trains
that carry tourists to and from Phantom Ranch. You can expect
to be moving at a snail's pace during which time your stomach
will feel like a cross between something that will never
eat again and something that's trying to eat itself. But
that doesn't mater anyway, because even if you were offered
something to eat, you would likely just say something smart
like, "No thanks, I'm okay. I just need a to stand here
a minute (in this little puddle) and I'll be fine."
you'll be fine, and a lovely shade of pale ash too, and your
muscle spasms, chills, hot flashes, and cramps will go well
with your clammy skin and headache. Not to mention how occasional,
yet unprecedented, releases of "natural" gas will
make the mule piss, your standing in smell like perfume.
who would like an alternative to sacrificing their entire
body to the canyon, as described in the above scenario, you
can always pay for a helicopter to fly you out, which will
only cost you an arm and a leg.
I go any further, if you just dropped in on this
page without reading about our first two triple rim
crossings, you can either go back to: Rich & Steve's
Grand Canyon Adventures and start at the beginning,
or you're welcome to continue on with this episode.
My suggestion is to start at the beginning, but then
I hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim twice
before I learned how to do it without killing myself,
so why should you be any more patient than I am?
gear packed and repacked for the final time, moleskin strategically
placed upon a couple toes, and both ankles taped for stability,
we set the alarm for 2:00 A.M. If we fall asleep within the
next hour or so, it'll give us a good 5 hours sleep before
we spend the next 20 hours hiking up, down, back and forth
across the Grand Canyon.
As I lay
there, waiting for sleep to take hold, I kept wondering if
I packed enough Endurox, food and miscellaneous stuff, or
if I packed too much Endurox, food and miscellaneous stuff.
Between those thoughts I was reminding myself that Sunday
is Mother's Day and no matter how tired, beat and battered
I was after getting out of the canyon, I can't forget to
call mom. I also had to wonder how smart it was to tell Kathie
I was going to run the San Diego Marathon with her on June
3rd, just 3 short weeks after I completed (or hoped to complete)
a 48 mile Grand Canyon day hike.
this rushing around in my head I was sure I'd never get to
sleep and would be starting a 20 hour hike with little or
no sleep the night before. Somewhere between all this thinking
and wondering I fell sound asleep, waking up on my own, fifteen
minutes before the alarm sounded. I took this as a good omen.
Of course, I did drink a quart of water just before I went
to bed, which may have had something to do with my eagerness
to get out of bed in the middle of the night, but I still
preferred to see it simply as a good omen.
A.M. and we're making fast tracks down the Bright Angle Trail.
Our goal is anything under 20 hours, but Steve and I had
briefly discussed how, if all went well, there was no reason
we couldn't be back in 18 hours - maybe less.
shouldn't all go well? We're more experienced and in better
shape than either of our first two crossings. We have crackers,
noodles, jelly beans, jerky, Endurox, Balance drink and Balance
bars to eat. We have S-Caps to make up for sodium loss, caffeine
pills for a boost, and both Aspirin and Advil for those things
that go bump in the night. All we need to do is pace ourselves
correctly and we should be on a record breaking hike.
was cool and comfortable at 2:45 in the morning as we left
the lodge on the way to the trailhead. Thankful not to be
freezing, we also knew this meant it could be hot as Hades
coming back across the canyon floor later that afternoon.
Steve's two sons, Jim and David, drove us from the lodge
to the trailhead where, Steve's older son, Jim snapped a "before" picture
of us at the trailhead. The picture was taken as we stood
behind a sign we later learned was painted with a (very)
the boys met us on the return leg of our trip, at Indian
Gardens, with a thermos of hot chicken soup. I can't begin
to tell you how much we appreciated that chicken soup, but
I think the boys knew, because this year they brought two
new and larger thermoses.
and best wishes from the boys, Steve and I started down the
trail. From the beginning, we kept some distance between
us as we ran the the first leg of our trip down to Indian
Gardens. We did this to avoid having to run through each
other's trail dust (something we learned last year). We had
decided to run, instead of scurry, down the trail this year.
Not a fast run, but it was fast enough to reach Indian Gardens
15 minutes ahead of last year, or ahead of schedule as we
put it. We picked up an additional 8 minutes on the way to
Phantom Ranch, so this put us 23 minutes ahead of schedule.
So far, so good.
check point, after Phantom Ranch, was Cottonwood Camp where
we picked up another 8 minutes, then Roaring Springs where
we were somewhat disappointed to discover we had lost 11
of our, hard earned, minutes. On the way from Roaring Springs
to the North Rim we lost another 14 minutes, putting us only
6 minutes ahead of last year. Too bad that unlike an automobile
who's horsepower remains the same mile after mile, no matter
how fast you drive it, we could see our downhill and flat
stretch running had taken some power away from our uphill
interesting discovery, upon reaching the North Rim, was that
the water had not yet been turned on at the water fountain.
The official opening of the North Rim was that day, so we
certainly expected water to be available. Steve was counting
on it so much that as we neared the North Rim he poured out
some of his water, just to make the last mile, or so, to
the top a little . . . more pleasurable.
for us, we met a group of hikers on the North Rim who had
a few extra bottles of water they graciously shared with
us. Their plan was to hike down the trail the following day
and were there checking out the trailhead - a very lucky
break for us indeed.
for us, all this took up some more of our valuable time and
the unforgiving clock was still ticking, so after filling
up with a sufficient amount of water and saying thank you,
about a hundred times, we headed back down the North Kaibab
Trail toward Roaring Springs.
great about having water to drink and going downhill again,
we picked up a few minutes of our lost time on the way back
to Roaring Springs, arriving 22 minutes ahead of schedule.
Now it was time to pull out our secrete weapon - Top Ramen.
On the way up the trail we had split a pack of Top Ramen
into a couple of baggies, added water and stashed them into
the hillside behind some the rocks. During our trip to the
North Rim and back it had been hydrating, so upon our return
to Roaring Springs our lunch was waiting for us.
for being an almost weightless packet, Top Ramen, with a
little water, turns into a big bowl of noodles, with high
sodium, fat, carbs and calories -making it a standard for
many backpackers. Only when you're stomach is already kind
of sensitive from fast packing up and down the Grand Canyon,
we discovered it can be a bit spicy. After a bite or two,
Steve decided it was more than a bit spicy and completely
uneatable. He decided to forgo lunch and keep moving. He
said I should have no problem catching up, as he wasn't feeling
all that well anyway and would be taking it slow and easy.
This should have told us something in itself because, under
normal circumstances, had I stopped for five or ten minutes
to eat, while Steve kept moving, catching up to him again
would have been a chore.
the memory of my own nauseous experience still fresh in my
mind from last year's bonk, I was determined to eat my fill,
so I wished Steve well and went about eating my noodles.
By the way, I also found the Top Ramen to be way too spicy,
so I flushed them out with fresh water a couple of times,
removing most of the salt and spices (thus flavor) leaving
me with a fairly bland, but very eatable meal of noodles
been there to see what I had done, and followed suit, he
may have eaten some lunch too, but sometimes things just
don't always work out the way we wished they would.
caught back up to Steve, I could see he wasn't looking the
best I had ever seen him, but he seemed to be okay, so we
kept moving. As we reached Cottonwood Camp our spirits were
lifted once again as we realized we were now 40 minutes ahead
of schedule. By the time we reached Phantom Ranch we were
55 minutes ahead and even gained 1 more minute between Phantom
Ranch and Indian Gardens, putting us a total of 56 minutes
ahead of last year's effort.
surface this sounds good, but let's look at it this way instead.
It's only about 5 miles from Phantom Ranch to Indian Gardens,
a distance we covered in 3 hours. Yet on the northbound leg
of our journey we went from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood Camp,
a distance of 7 miles in just 2 hours. So what do you think
happened between Phantom Ranch and Indian Gardens that took
so much time?
last year we also took 3 hours to go the 5 miles from Phantom
Ranch to Indian Gardens because this is where I crashed,
bonked and burned to the ground. This year it was Steve's
turn to go horizontal. You'll get an inside look at bonking
below, but for now just imagine yourself being totally sea
sick and someone offering you a nice meal of sour milk and
anchovies. That should give you some idea what my hiking
buddy looked like.
ever have the opportunity to live through one of these (most
uncomfortable) experiences, just sit down in a safe place,
and stay there until you can eat and drink again. If you
puke it up, don't worry about it, just sit there until you
can do it again because until you can eat something, you're
running on empty and aren't going anywhere. Let me rephrase
that. You can keep going, but if you do, you're no longer
living on the edge - you're going down the other side.
eventually on his feet and moving again, we had still managed
to reach Indian Gardens almost an hour ahead of last year.
With only 4 miles to go, one might think we should have made
it back to the South Rim at least an hour sooner than last
year, but remember me mentioning the sand storm from hell?
Indian Gardens and the South Rim we were caught in a most
amazing sand storm. With steady winds of 20 to 30 miles an
hour and gusts of 40 plus, our visibility, and ability, to
follow the trail was nil. To assure you we aren't overestimating
the wind speed, Steve is a licensed hot air balloon pilot
and I'm a licensed sky diver, two sports that require a fairly
good ability to judge wind speed. This stuff was blowing
and blowing hard.
thing about being caught in a sand storm like this at night,
is not only did it limit our visibility by filling the air
around us with flying particles - making us squint our eyes
into little slits, but all the sand and dust in the air absorbed
so much light from our headlamps that they barely illuminated
our feet. Seeing 2 feet beyond our own 2 feet was out of
with having such limited visibility on this section of the
Bright Angle Trail is it happens to be the steepest and most
twisty/turning section of trail going up the South Rim. In
other words, if you can't see the trail and therefore don't
turn when the trail turns, you could find yourself hiking
off the trail, heading downhill again . . . at a fall rate
fast enough to open a parachute . . . if you had one.
four miles were slow going, but after 19 hours and 59 minutes
of hiking, running, crashing and burning we were once again
standing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. After everybody
hugged everybody, Jim took the "after" picture,
of Steve and me standing behind the same (very) reflective
sign that was in our "before" picture, then the
boys drove us back to the lodge for a hard earned nights
morning, before our drive back to Phoenix where I would catch
a flight home to California, the four of us ate another great
(big) breakfast at the El Tavar Hotel and swore we would
never do this again.
can't help but wonder: What if we analyzed all we've learned
over the past three hikes and did it one more time. This
time we could ease up on the running a little, saving more
energy for the long uphills and carve our rest breaks and
eating time into stone. Call
me crazy, but if we hiked smarter instead of faster, maybe
we could, just once, finish a Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to
Rim hike in better condition than ever before. Well, it's
something to think about anyway.
this was our third Rim to Rim to Rim hike, our overall ultra
distance experience has been very limited. Steve and I have
both done a lot of hiking, but we haven't been involved in
many organized events where we could learn from more experienced
athletes. Steve participated in the 50K leg of the Crown
King Scramble in Arizona a couple of times which provided
some valuable experience, but in another way that comparison
was partially responsible for our undoing this year. Our
error was in comparing Steve's 32 mile Crown King Scramble
too closely to our 48 mile Grand Canyon hike. I guess this
was symptomatic of our inexperience.
completed the Crown King Scramble's 32 miles in 7.5 hours,
Steve had an average of 4.2 miles an hour. One may think
that even if we slowed down to 3 miles an hour towards the
end, we should be able to do an additional 16 miles in about
5 or 6 hours, for a total time of under 14 hours for the
48 miles. At face value, I agree completely.
do some math. Steve completed 32 miles in 7.5 hours, but
was totally exhausted when he got there. This would make
a 4.2 mile per hour pace unrealistic for a 48 mile event
in the first place. In order to save some energy for the
final 16 miles we would have to slow down during the first
32. Let's say, in order to conserve energy, we slowed the
starting pace to an average of 3 miles per hour. At 3 miles
per hour it would still only take 16 hours to complete the
48 miles . . . if we did everything right, didn't bonk and
could maintain that pace for the entire 48 miles.
say we didn't do everything right or we simply over estimated
our abilities and bonked for an hour at mile . . . 39. Even
with my limited experience in ultra distance events, I know
if you were averaging 3 miles per hour before you bonked
and still had 9 miles to go (up the South Rim yet) you would
be lucky to average 2 miles per hour after you got moving
again, so now let's do the math one more time. The first
39 miles at 3 miles an hour equals 13 hours. Add in an additional
hour for downtime during the bonk and we're at 14 hours.
Now add on the 9 remaining miles at 2 miles an hour (4.5
hours) and we have a new finish time of 18.5 hours.
unless we couldn't quite average 2 miles an hour on the way
back up the South Rim. To keep moving again (at a steady
pace) after a bonk is almost impossible - especially when
you have 5,000 feet of elevation gain to go. So, let's be
a little more realistic and say all we could average on the
way back up the South Rim was 1.5 miles per hour. Now we
have a finish time of 20 hours, or in our case 19 hours and
59 minutes. (Have you ever noticed how much easier it is
to do the math - after the fact?)
last trip, I marked down the time it took us to reach five
key locations along our hike. This gave us an opportunity
to check our progress along the way. Not that our only goal
was to beat our prior time, but if we were moving more quickly
between check points, we equated that with being in better
shape and being better prepared, which was our goal. What
we didn't count on was becoming obsessed with how much time
we spent at each food cache, water stop and photo opportunity.
when Steve started keeping a mental log of the time we spent
at rest, we both became a little obsessed with our down-time,
and it was the beginning of the end. We just didn't know
it yet. Even when we were a full hour ahead of last years
time, we couldn't shake the idea that we were wasting time
and should keep moving.
point, when Steve told me our stops had already added up
to forty minutes, we became even more convinced we were wasting
too much time. From that point on we started to shave minutes
off any and every stop we made. In no time at all we're cutting
away at our down time by minutes. All it cost us was . .
. about an hour and a half, maybe two, when Steve bonked
on the way back up the South Rim . . . just like I did last
year and right near the same place.
our haste was totally responsible for Steve's bonk wouldn't
be totally correct, but I think you can see it's still the
underlying cause. Technically, Steve bonked because he ran
out of gas - the result of not eating enough during the first
twenty or thirty miles of our hike. Part of that was the
direct result of our inexperience at eating on the run, but
it also had to do with our food choices. Not only did the
Top Ramen not work out exactly as we expected, but because
we had been training on the same foods that we took on our
hike, we were tired of them already. This being the case,
we just didn't have a taste for them anymore and didn't eat
as soon, or as much, as we needed. Had we selected something
new (but tried and true) to eat along the way, maybe we would
have eaten more.
there's just no better education available than the one offered
at The School of Personal Experience, so this year you could
say Steve and I graduated to a new level with the class of
2001. With 3 hikes behind us I guess this kind of puts us
in the . . . 4th grade next year. Cool!
for sure - the next time we do something like this, both
of us will be placing eating ahead of clock watching.
you do in an ultra adds up. If you wait too long
to drink and eat, it'll catch up to you. Drink soon
and drink often - Eat little bits continually along
the way. Just like an automobile, the human body
can't run on empty.
to your partners. They
can have a much better perspective on how you're
doing than you may have yourself. If they offer you
assistance don't think, "No, I'm fine".
Instead think, "Yes" and "Thank You".
Listen, and Learn . . . all you can about what the
body goes through in an ultra event. Then pay special
attention to all those things all the experts seem
to agree on.
and learn from everyone who has done what you're
planning to do. The advice of someone who has been-there-and-done-that
these are the exact same points I shared after last