2018 Grand Canyon

A few years ago, I ran across the Grand Canyon and back (Rim to Rim to Rim), with a group of friends.  In the highlights reel of my life, this is somewhere near the top and it’s always an adventure that I’ve wanted to do again. 

Back in January, I booked a room at the Bright Angel Lodge with the idea that I might do it again.  I didn’t know for certain but I figured I could cancel the room if things didn’t work out.  Well, things did work out and this past weekend, I set out for a solo double crossing. 

Life has been chaotic lately and a run as big as this really helps put things into perspective.  But little did I know!

On Saturday, I got up at 4am, drank some cold brew, got my gear together and sometime just shy of 5am, I was off into the Canyon.

There are so many factors that come into play with the Grand Canyon, I didn’t want to set a time goal.  If anything, I thought I could get across in under 6 hours and maybe get back sometime around 12 hours.  I wasn’t planning on racing it but I wasn’t on a complete tourist mission either.  I have hundreds of photos from my last trip so if something looked really photo worthy, I pulled out my phone, otherwise, I tried to move throughout the day with purpose.

As I made my descent, I used my headlamp for quite some time and it wasn’t until I was deep in the Canyon before I turned off the light.  When the sun was up enough for photos, I took a few but the first bit of scenery that really struck me was the view to the East on the Colorado River. 

Continuing on, I make my way to the river, get to the bridge, cross over to the other side, and I roll on toward the base of the North Rim.  Not long past Phantom Ranch, I spot an orange-ish, pink-ish, salmon-colored looking rattlesnake. 

I wasn’t bothering it, it wasn’t bothering me, and it’s a pretty decent relationship to have with a snake that really has no interest in tangling with humans.  Recognizing there was no real danger for either of us, I paused, it crawled off the trail, and I snapped a photo while remaining out of its personal space.  Later I would learn that it’s the Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnake -- often described as pink in color, this species is found nowhere in the world but the Grand Canyon.  I was also told they are friendly and not as venomous as a standard rattler.  I was not interested in making friends nor being a venom tester.  Moving on…

Getting near the base of the North Rim, I’m starting to realize the trails are not the same as my previous adventure.  Climbing up the North Rim made this even more obvious and then was confirmed when I spoke with a few people on the Arizona Conservation Corps who explained the trails were damaged by heavy flooding.  It was a mess and it was significantly more difficult to ascend and descend. 

When I got to the top of the North Rim, I checked the watch – 6:13:48, not too shabby.

Descending back down was challenging due to the heavy amounts of scree.  It was equally challenging dealing with a new style of shoe which isn’t as good a fit as my previous model. 

Back into the Canyon, the temperate was definitely much higher than earlier and my water consumption increased to compensate.  In some of the more exposed sections, I went through a Camelbak and two bottles worth of water in just a few miles.  Nearly empty, I wasn’t sure how far out I was from the next refill location so I asked some hikers who said about two miles.  That was too far given I was out so I decided to use my filter and get water from the stream. 

Note to self:  check the functionality of the filter prior to the adventure.  And if that isn’t a clue as to what occurred next -- for some reason, the filter wasn’t passing water.  I tried and tried but It didn’t work so I gave up and started making my way toward the faucet.

About a mile out from Phantom Ranch, I found a guy on the ground, nearly unconscious, and unresponsive. 

Me:  Can you tell me your name?
Me:  Can you tell me your name?

He was a big fellow, on the ground, hands curled, body twitching in unison.  At that point, I decide to get help.  I start running to the ranger station and about a half mile from Dude, a runner coming the opposite direction asks if I’ve seen a runner whose description matches Dude’s.  I then take runner back to Dude and he’s basically in the same situation.  There’s a woman with him now, she found him as I did.  She heads toward the ranger station, I stick around for a few minutes, then I head toward the ranger station.

When I get to the ranger station, I give them everything I know – white male, 30’s-40’s, etc., etc.  I then take two of the rangers back to Dude who is still in the same shape.  They begin to do their thing, more rangers show up, they give him a full workup and decide they want to do a “short haul”


The helicopter pilot decides this is not a good idea given the location so we, yes we, have to load this guy onto a mono-wheel gurney and roll him back down the trail.  Sounds easy, it was not.  If this were a movie, I would call it a dark comedy.  I often use humor as a coping mechanism and when I blurted out the question – is there a special Strava segment for this gurney adventure, the audience was mixed with opinions. 

By the time we got Dude back to the ranger station, hours had passed and I’d had little water and no food.  The manager at Phantom Ranch was kind enough to let me use the phone to call my wife, she also fed me, and gave me tons of snacks for the journey ahead.  I regrouped and then set on out to finish my trek. 

With a big burrito in my stomach and still kind of wonky from the lack of water, I decided that it was probably best to just take it easy.  I ran a little bit here and there but most of the remaining miles are up.  I figured no point in making this hurt so I just cruised up at a leisurely pace.  On my way out, I bumped into a couple of fellows just south of Indian Springs, hung out and chatted with them for quite some time.  By now, I was cooled down, my belly was settled and I was ready to go.  We decided to move ahead and after a mile of hiking up, they wanted to stop again.  I was ready to be done so I refilled my water, said goodbye, and finished out the long day. 

It definitely was not the day I was expecting but I’m glad I could be of help.  I got word back that Dude is still in the hospital but doing ok.  His issues were heat related and while he’ll be in the hospital a bit longer due to his kidneys taking a hit, it sounds like he’ll be ok. 

There’s a sign on the way into the Canyon that reads something like:  “Going down is optional, going up is mandatory.”  I think that sums it up nicely.