It was time once again for another Birthday Bullshit Event. (Birthday what? Read this. Read this.) This time it was my friend Katie's turn. I am not sure if she had too many beers one night, or what; but she chose to run her first ultra distance as 45+ mile jaunt through the Grand Canyon twice. Ambitious. I can appreciate that. Her goal was to run down South Kaibab, up North Kaibab, then back down, across and up Bright Angel Trail. After doing a 30+ mile day in the Catalinas near Tucson, she felt her goal time of 14 hours would be accomplishable. 5:00AM on Saturday the 21st arrived and the two of us laced up for battle; pointed our head lamps towards the North Rim and began the run.
Kashmir- The chime of four alarms fired off from different tents somewhere in the Mather Campground on the South Rim of the canyon. Two of Katie's friends, Katie and myself began organizing, eating and making final preparations. Some of us took longer then others (I won't name anyone but you would think being the first one up and the only male of the group that he would have his shit together.) The girls waited patiently while I stumbled into the car with untied shoes and we headed to the visitors center to catch the first bus to the trailhead. Scratch that. As our headlights hit the lot, we were blinded by the headlights of the bus leaving without us. My bad. Finally the second bus arrived and not a minute too soon, because Katie was at the limit of her nerves.
Back in Black After a few last minute adjustments we took our first steps on the trail. Due to our delay, there was a parade of lights bobbing down the trail. Our pace downhill began to increase as we passed backpackers and hikers making their way through the darkness. Strangers showered us with encouragement as we squeezed past them on the trail. Katie was fixated on the river junction roughly six miles down the trail. Spirits were high as we joked about the many duets we planned to sing along the run during the dark periods we knew would come. With each new song suggestion we got a boost of moral. After delayering twice and a little over an hours time we hit the Black Bridge spanning the Green Colorado. Luckily the sun had come up by now and we were able to admire the hue of the river.
Danger Zone- From the Black Bridge we walked into Phantom Ranch catching up on the nutrition we had neglected during our descent. Half way through the campground we found our stride and began the run towards the North Rim. We continued up the trail as it weaved through the narrow canyon progressively gaining elevation. A few miles before Cottonwood Camp we began the run walk routine of running the flats/downhill and hiking the uphills. A few groups of runners breezed by us as we filled our reservoirs at Cottonwood Camp. A group of young college kids from Colorado and a pair of runners from Florida headed up the trail before us. After some calories and water we made our way down the trail. Katie had planned to power hike this portion of the trail in her well developed spreadsheet she produced (It is nice to run with a former teacher).
Ain't No Mountain High Enough- We continued to push forward up the trail power hiking past some more day hikers and backpackers. After reaching the tunnel me met up with the two runners from Florida who were beginning to get worn down by the elevation change. They joked about only be able to train on one bridge in Fort Lauderdale. We pressed on up the trail only to find a hiker who put all runners on the trail to shame. I didn't catch his name but he was making his way up the trail with a 55lb load strapped to his back that included his mountain bike. When riding the Arizona Trail the section that passes through the canyon doesn't allow mountain bikes, so the riders have to carry their bikes across or shuttle them. He requested a Coke when we came back down the trail as we ran off.
Eye of the Tiger- After 5.5 hours of running and hiking we arrived at the North Rim. Katie were happy to have reached the rim but the thought of having to run back across was sinking in as we snacked. While atop the two guys from Florida made their way, with one suffering much worse then the other. I reminded him that the downhill he had ahead is the best part of the run, and it will fly by. We snapped some photos, finished eating and headed down the trail we had just slogged up.
Just Keep Swimming- The first ten miles of trail flew by as we dodged hikers and dropped elevation. The trail was smooth and the lack of mules made for an enjoyable run. A few miles outside of Phantom Ranch Katie began to feel the elevation and miles. The pounding of her feet had finally caught up to her morale. One thing about Katie is that she does a pretty good job of hiding the pain, which makes her a strong endurance athlete. Still running we hit Phantom Ranch just as indigestion was taking a hold on Katie and I. Having been here before I knew that force feeding myself was the only way to stay ahead of the bonk. Katie did her best to follow suit, but her stomach was not allowing it. We took an extended break at Phantom Ranch and mentally prepared to hike up Bright Angel Trail. As we made our way up the trail Katie tried eating some of my Skout Seeds (shameless plug). She popped Pepto Pills every 30 minutes and continued to trickle seeds into her system for the next few miles. Her stomach was overloaded by all the sugary fuel she had used and needed some balance of fats. Our pace was reduced to hike, stop rest, and then hike again. It was brutal, but eventually she dug herself out of the GI hole and began feeling better.
Hurt- Floating between 1-1.5 mph we made our way up the trail. Fourteen hours found us only part of the way to the rim. Katie continued to eat, which was helping. Unfortunately it was too little to late to dig herself out of the hole completely. We reached the 3 mile house and mentally prepared for what lay ahead. Katie continued to focus on Relentless Forward Motion. After 16.5 hours we emerged on the rim of the canyon to an empty trailhead. There was no welcoming party or finish line at the top, just the two of us and the canyon behind our backs.
Nice job Katie.