April 21, 2006
On a whim, I decided to take time off work and make a quick trip to the South Rim for another double crossing. This would be my 4th double crossing, and my second double crossing from starting at the South Rim. The long 9-10 hour drive is a pain. I arrived in the early evening. The weather was sunny, warm, and wonderful I decided to take a leisurely walk along the rim in the tourist crowd. At Mather Point, I could see a great view of Phantom Ranch and The Box (canyon) heading up to the North Rim. The Canyon was hazy due to some controlled burns in the area. I felt anxious to get going, but I planned to start around 1 a.m. (Utah time). I like to do most of the first crossing in the dark, and make the return trip in the morning before it gets too hot at the bottom.
I noticed that there were rooms available in one of the lodges, but I just couldn’t justify paying $96 or $70 outside the park for a few hours of sleep. Instead I would eat a leisurely dinner at a lodge café and read a book I bought, “Over the edge: Death in the Grand Canyon.” The book was a fascinating account including sad tales of the many deaths from falling into the canyon or from exposure. Reading many of the tales kind of freaked me out. The authors made a point to highlight how many deaths occurred when people hiked solo. Hiking expert George Steck said, “A solo hiker often has a fool for a companion.” Gee, I wasn’t hiking solo, I was running solo, and doing it at night. Nevertheless, I don’t want to trivialize the danger. Recreational hikers should never attempt this.
I made my run preparations, drove to the Bright Angel trailhead, and then settled down in my car in an attempt to grab three hours of sleep. I must have been successful, because when I next checked my watch it was already 12:35. I finished gathering up my things and then debated whether I should take a long-sleeve shirt with me. The temperature was still warm, but quite windy. I finally decided to leave it behind. I would be traveling very light. I wore a waist pack and carried: two water bottles, my flashlight, my head lamp, a can of ensure, several gels, some Gatorade powder, some cookies, and some Red Vines. One of the water bottles was full of Gatorade, and the other included a can of Ensure that I would dilute with water at Phantom Ranch. So, I didn’t have much, but it was enough carbohydrates and electrolytes to do the job.
I hit the trail at about 1:15 a.m. I could see some lights far down in the canyon, which was a surprise. Usually I never see anyone in the canyon during the wee hours of the morning. My goal was to do the double-crossing in 13 hours. I knew I could do it faster, but I have a race next weekend, Zane Grey 50-miler, so I was going to be careful. I didn’t want to injure myself.
Down I went. After reading from the “Death in Grand Canyon” book, it made me just a little more cautious. I refrained from really pounding the downhill hard. I could see several lights ahead and I quickly reached a group heading up the trail. I reached the 1.5 mile rest house at 14 minutes, 4 minutes faster than my first double crossing from the South Rim. It didn’t feel like I was running that fast, but I am in much better shape than a year ago and love running down hills.
I next saw another light ahead…red lights. As I passed the solo hiker who was heading up, I said “howdy.” He had his head down (to avoid being blinded by my lights), grunted something, and I went on. I next heard something behind me. He was yelling something at me. I stopped, removed my headphones and started to head back up. Did I drop something? No, that wasn’t possible. What does this guy want? “Are you Dave Crockett?” What? How in the world would he know? Who could this be? I shouted, “Yes, who are you?” It was Phil Lowry! One of my training partners from Utah!! We laughed and just couldn’t believe it. Neither of us knew the other would be there. I had thought about sending him an email to let him know I was heading down, but didn’t because he would know how stupid I was doing a double-crossing just a week before a big race. So, here we were, good friends, at 1:30 a.m., about 2000 feet below the Grand Canyon Rim, trying to comprehend how funny this was to run into each other. After I had passed him, it dawned on him that it must be me. Who else would be running down the trail at night with a green flashlight and a red headlamp. Phil was finishing his double crossing as I was at the beginning of mine. Phil told me he was taking it easy and was in already past 14 hours. He asked me what my goal was. I told him 13 hours. He said, “You should be able to do that.” We only talked for a couple minutes and then parted.
I pushed on, arriving at Indian Garden (4.6 miles) at 49 minutes. I was wearing some new shoes just put out by Vasque – Vasque Blur. I noticed that I was getting a bad hot spot on my inside left foot, on the ball of my foot by the big toe. As I was thinking about that problem, I made a stupid mistake. I took a wrong turn out of Indian Garden and headed on the trail to Plateau Point. I kept thinking about my foot and finally figured out that my laces were too loose. I stopped to tighten them up, but realized the damage had probably been done. I would suffer from blisters. As I continued on the trail, I finally woke up and realized that the trail wasn’t heading down, it was fairly level and even going up. Was I on the wrong trail? Where was the stream? I turned around and headed back to Indian Garden. I could see the lights of the South Rim above and I was pretty sure that I was out on the Plateau. I hoped that Phil couldn’t see my lights and see my stupidity.
I arrived back at Indian Garden, checked my watch. I had spent 20 minutes on that detour. “Oh well,” I thought, “Two bonus miles.” I stopped my clock for 20 minutes to make up for the mistake, found the right trail and pushed harder. Going out of Indian Garden, I was startled by a bat in the face. A bat swooped down and clipped the bill of my hat, almost causing it to come off. Yikes. I quickly reached the River Trail along the Colorado River. I could hear the great roar of Pipeline Creek Rapid in the powerful river below me in the dark. I made good time and arrived at Phantom Ranch (9.8 miles) at the 1:50 mark, a very good time.
One thing I was doing different this time was to make sure I was hydrating much better. I drank plenty on the way down and refilled at Indian Garden. I could really feel the difference. The ranch at the bottom was quiet. I quickly filled up at the faucet in front of the store, preparing a diluted water bottle of Ensure. I sipped on that for the next few miles and it really hit the spot. I felt strong with plenty of energy. I cruised up through The Box, a narrow winding canyon with the strong Bright Angel Creek running down it. This is my favorite section because it isn’t too steep and I can run it pretty fast. I was surprised to see that the creek was not very high. Last year, with the heavy runoff, it was roaring through the canyon.
I arrived at Cottonwood Campground (16.9 miles) at the 3:39 mark. I was eleven minutes ahead of my pace goal. From this point, the trail starts getting steeper. I arrived at Aikens house (a ranger who recently retired used to live there), made sure I drank plenty and filled up my two bottles. That would be the last water stop for the next three hours. I hoped that I would have enough. A half moon was peeking over the cliffs and the sky was becoming brighter. Dawn was almost here. The sunrise caused amazing colors in the sky.
The trail now becomes quite steep. I was very surprised that I could still run up much of it. A couple weeks ago I ran in a trail marathon and was pathetic on the uphill portions. But today, I felt very strong. My quads seemed like they were begging for more. I concluded that my hydration and fueling efforts were paying off. I reached Roaring Springs (19.1 miles) at 4:16. I soon realized that I had a chance to make this crossing in less than six hours! That would be a very good accomplishment starting from the South Rim. The North Rim is 1,400 feet higher, so it is tougher to post a good time for the first crossing, going this direction. I pushed on, reaching Supai Tunnel at 5:13. “Gee, only two more miles to go,” I thought to myself with a chuckle. I fully knew how tough these two miles are. Could I do them in 47 minutes? I dropped off my waist pack, only carrying my two water bottles. I would pick it back up on the way down.
It was really getting quite cold as I climbed higher. The wind was blowing. I wished that I had my long-sleeve shirt with me. My hands were getting very cold. But I knew if I could just quickly get to the top, I would rapidly become warm as I descended again. I next noticed that my hands were quite swollen and arms tingling. Because I carry my water bottles in my hands, on uphills, my hands and arms stay very low and start to swell up when I run at altitude. This was really a problem last summer at Leadville 100 in Colorado at 13,000 feet. I held my hands above my head for a while (above my heart) and that helped. They soon felt better. Snow patches started to appear on the trail.
I finally arrived at the North Rim (North Kaibab Trailhead). My time was 5:54. I was very pleased. That is my PR (Personal Record) for a single crossing. In November I did a 5:55 crossing, starting at the North Rim. There were some piles of snow near the road, but nothing like the several feet of snow last year in May. I didn’t stay long, just took a quick look and started to run down. “Now the fun comes again, running down hill,” I thought. The muscles complained at first. After using the uphill muscles for so long, it takes about a mile for the downhill muscles to crank in. I also noticed that I had a real blister problem on both feet in the same place. “That’s my own fault,” I thought, “for using new shoes without testing them out in training runs.” The blister pain settled down, and I concentrated on the run down.
The North Kaibab trail had not yet been cleared by trail workers this season. There were plenty of rocks to trip on. I thought about my “Death” book again, and backed off on the speed. Between Supai Tunnel and Roaring Springs, there is a bridge that crosses a chasm. After the bridge is a rare uphill portion. As I ran up the hill, I felt bad pain in my right calf. I had run out of water and concluded that I was becoming dehydrated which was the cause of the cramping. This was a concern because I pulled my left calf a month ago. I didn’t want to do the same thing to my right calf, just a week before a race. So I backed off. Every mile, I would stop to massage the muscle. It hurt if I kept a run going, but it wouldn’t complain during fast power hikes. So much for posting a great time. It just wouldn’t improve and I didn’t want to strain it further. I was disappointed because I looked forward to a fast run through The Box. Instead I alternated short runs with fast power hikes. I reached Cottonwood Camp Ground (30.7 miles) at the 7:30 mark, exactly my pace goal time for a 13-hour finish.
I ran into a bunch of young trail workers in Ribbon Falls who I startled as I ran up to them. They were doing great work. The trail really needed it after a hard winter. I also started to run into day hikers heading up from Phantom Ranch. My run through The Box was pleasant, but my calf was still bothering me and I was disappointed that I couldn’t run fast. All the other muscles and joints felt fantastic even after 37 mikes. I worried what this meant for my race next week. “Pretty stupid,” I thought. I even had thoughts about a possible DNS (Did not start).
I arrived back at Phantom Ranch (mile 37.8) at the 9:11 mark. Wow! Despite my problems, I was still making good time. I was 19 minutes ahead of my pace goal. As I filled my water bottles at the Canteen, a guy mentioned that it looked like I had come a long way. I explained that I was doing a double crossing. “In one day?!” “Yes, I’m 9 hours into it, and just have to climb back up to the South Rim.” “Do you run?” “Yes, much of it.” “How long will it take you to get back up?” “Probably about 3 ½ hours.” He just couldn’t comprehend it. I cut off the conversation and headed on my way. I took quick inventory and predicted that I had just enough food left, so I didn’t buy anything at the store.
The morning was getting quite warm. As I ran toward the river, I noticed some day hikers in pain. One guy was rubbing his very sore muscles. They were at the bottom, but the real pain would come when they headed back up. I ran most of the River Trail, passing a few surprised hikers, and then started the steeper section up to Indian Garden. There was more traffic on the trail along Pipeline Creek, and I had to continually ask people if I could pass them. One girl saw me coming and kicked it into gear in attempt to stay ahead of me. Finally I asked her if I could pass. I think she was very surprised. I saw so many young-pretty-fit hikers pushing up the trail. I thought about how amazing this was. I (an old 47-year-old) was on mile 43, cruising up a steep trail, going at a pace nearly twice as fast as these young hikers.
As I approached Indian Garden, I realized that I didn’t feel any pain in my calf. I was delighted. This meant that I probably didn’t have a bad strain. I would be fine. I arrived at Indian Garden at 10:48. I had a great chance finishing in less than 13 hours. Hikers at Indian Garden gave me strange looks. I didn’t say anything, but I later realized that they were probably looking at all the salt on my face. I guess I was taking in too much sodium (Puzzling because I only took 4 e-caps during the run).
Only 4.6 miles to go (not to mention 3,000 feet to climb). I pushed on, pleased to see that I still felt strong, never bonked, and didn’t need to stop for any rests. I kept an eye on my watch to make sure I didn’t start getting lazy. The last couple miles were tough, but I finally reached the top. My time was a personal record, 12:47. Despite my problems, I thought that was pretty good. I had a wonderful run.
Below are my split times from my two double crossings that originated from the South Rim