written by: Christine Reed
When I told friends about my desire to run Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon, I was met with perplexed looks. And the most commonly asked question was not one of the difficulty of the task, but about the consumption of the canyon, “Wouldn't you rather take your time and really enjoy the experience?” This is a totally valid question, and if given the opportunity, of course I would love to spend 3 or 4 days traversing the canyon, appreciating every cactus and strange desert flower, studying the layers of rock and standing for hours at the side of the Colorado River listening to the water rushing. While I did decide to run the canyon this time around, I am certain that a hike is in my future.
Deciding how to interact with the trails in Grand Canyon can be daunting in itself. They are traveled daily by mule trains, hikers and runners. There are a few very popular trails that offer regularly spaced water and restrooms, beautiful views and guaranteed encounters with aforementioned mule trains and hundreds of humans. But there are also far less traveled trails that offer an experience much closer to what some might consider Wilderness. These trails require much better preparation, including carrying several gallons of water during certain months of the year. All this to say, how you experience the canyon is completely up to you.
If you're not a runner, they can seem like a different breed, bouncing down the roads and trails. Everywhere you are walking, there they are, but faster. I remember my early hiking days, struggling up hills and being passed by other hikers. I thought to myself, “Will I ever be that fast?” But then I would be surpassed by a runner, breezing up the trail, and I would think to myself, “Who does that?”
I've seen them on Colorado's legendary 14ers, on the 93 mile Wonderland Trail in Mt Rainier National Park and yes, even in the Grand Canyon. Under the blazing sun traversing the unforgiving terrain of the canyon, ultra trail runners make sport of crossing the canyon, not once, but twice in a day. The famed R2R2R, a whopping 46 miles with 10,000 ft of gain and descent, is not a challenge to be undertaken lightly.
The first time I visited Grand Canyon, I knew I had found something special. When I walk beneath the canyon's rims, I feel alive and connected to this mysterious place. It is beautiful and curious, like a foreign planet and every time I return it welcomes me back. Between December 2017 and July 2019, I ventured down from the South Rim 5 times and the North Rim once, but never made it to the Colorado River. I heeded the warning signs that suggest that a hike to the river and back in a day is a fool's errand, a dangerous proposition for the millions of visitors that pass through the park.
When the plan was laid, I picked up a copy of Death in the Grand Canyon, a voyeur's guide to all mistakes, unfortunate circumstances and downright bad decisions that have led to some poor soul's demise in the Grand Canyon. I immediately began to question the plan to run across the canyon. This place is savage and alien and the conditions are extreme. It is easy to read those stories and imagine yourself crawling on hands and knees, dizzy from dehydration, lost in the desert, collapsing from exhaustion, burning from the midday sun. But it is also easy to notice a pattern of poor planning, dangerous over confidence, and a lack of basic backcountry protocols. So we researched and planned and discussed our safety rules.
Click here to check out our upcoming hiking adventure with Christine in September 2020!
She will be hosting a small group in Peru.