Grand Canyon Double Crossing – Rim to Rim to Rim
How many times in life have you seen people accomplishing amazing feats and you just watched, marveled, but never quite entertained the thought of “maybe I could do that, too?” Things so enormous, you never thought of what it would take to actually pursue it yourself? The first time I read about runners doing a Grand Canyon double crossing in a single day was a turning point for me – when I stopped being in awe and actually entertained the notion of “why not me?”. And not only in regards to doing the Canyon, but any extreme challenge that comes my way. This trip to the Grand Canyon held such significance for me, and to realize it with two of my favorite people made it that much sweeter.
Coming off of the TransRockies Run, David and I wanted to capitalize on the new found fitness level we achieved. Ian ramped up our training for a month and we set a date to do the Grand Canyon. The shortest round-trip route is about 42 miles, 24,000′ elevation change. It is also extremely hot at the bottom of the canyon and you have to be prepared to be completely self-supported. Preparation and safety are key, and those afraid of commitment need not apply.
We started our day at sunrise, around 6:15am, opting to descend in the daylight. The South Kaibab trail is steep and full of donkey steps. It’s a fun run down, especially with the rising sunlight dancing on the canyon walls. Each turns unfolds a new view and a yet older era of history. Your significance on Earth diminishes with each step as you feel smaller and smaller.
Crossing the Colorado River, you begin the long ascent up to the North Rim. We stopped for water at Phantom Ranch before heading into a spectacular box canyon. This was the last bit of shade and cool we’d have for many hours. Unfortunately, David decided to stop at Cottonwood. He wasn’t feeling that he’d make the entire journey so he wisely listened to his body and headed back to Phantom Ranch to wait for us. It broke my heart to carry on without him, but I knew it was the best choice for him and that I was in more than capable hands with Ian. Cottonwood is fairly far up the North Kaibab, giving David about 30 miles by the end – no joke of a day! I think it took a lot of courage and love for him to push me to continue on without him. I know he really wanted to do it and could have easily asked us to turn back with him, but he was more interested in seeing me realize this dream. That’s love!
Ian and I continued on up, stopping at each water stop to reconnect and refill. The climb to the North Rim was gorgeous, challenging, hot, and satisfying. At the top, we sat to celebrate – we were ALL IN at this point! The only way back was the way we came, plus we had to go get David. The trip was still long and incredibly tough, but I was smiling, embracing the idea that I would be completing this today. A burro train was about to start down the trail so we hurried out of there, packs not quite on, snack in hand.
The journey back down to Cottonwood and then Phantom Ranch was long and very hot. We later learned the temps were at least 105*, likely more in the exposed sun. The Grand Canyon is unforgiving to her visitors, but the people in the canyon are not. The caretakers at Phantom Ranch gave us food that was left by previous campers. We were so hungry that instant oatmeal and apples seemed like a slice of Heaven!
Now late afternoon, we headed back towards the Colorado River to begin the ascent back up the South Kaibab. This is a long, steep climb. No fancy words can make it anything else. The fun donkey steps of the descent became interminable switchbacks on the way back up. Our timing was impeccable, though. We watched the sunset as we climbed, creating the most spectacular colors on the Grand Canyon walls, spanning for miles. This was the breath of beauty I needed right then. After sunset, we put on the headlamps and pushed slowly onwards. With a headlamp on, your world is limited to just a few feet around you. At this point in the journey, that was about all I could handle so it was absolutely perfect. Listening to the sounds of nighttime canyon life, and occasionally turning off the lights to see the stars – it all helped keep me pushing forward. That, and David’s gentle encouragement.
We finally saw Ian’s light hitting those last few switchbacks and then turning off and knew we had finally made it. Three more turns to the top and we were there. I wanted to cry but had nothing left. I had dust tears of absolute joy, gratitude, exhaustion, and pride. I had completed an ultrarunner’s rite of passage, permitted by the Grand Canyon herself, done by my own two feet, led by Ian, and supported by the love of my life. I am so lucky!
My message to everyone reading this is to turn the switch on when you see amazing things. Go from “wouldn’t that be cool” to “I am going to do this”. Set a goal so big that you must recruit help to achieve it, and you have to grow into the person who can do it. If you are a parent, this is even more important. Set the example that dreams don’t stop at adulthood. By doing this yourself, you teach your children to set goals and work towards them their entire lives.
Thank you, Ian, for taking us on this journey. As we’ve talked about so many times before, it is about so much more than the running. You’ve given me one of the best gifts of my life.
“Sometimes the adventure lies beyond the race and the training can take you farther than imagined…” – Coach Ian
David, thank you for dreaming so big with me and loving me in such a unique way. I am very proud of you. What is next on our bucket list? Grand Canyon R2R2R = Check!