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Grand Canyon

Sharon and I ran to the floor of the Grand Canyon
and back in 2012.  Starting down on Bright Angel Trail.

Although still not feeling great, my 11km run this morning went better than yesterday's and I'm feeling a little more positive about life.  I found it harder than the same run last Thursday, but sense improvement and think I'll be recovered enough to run with Terrigal Trotters's this coming Saturday morning and maybe even get in a long gentle trail run on Sunday or Monday.

In fitter days (1986), I wrote the article below for my running club newsletter
THE GRAND CANYON - AS TOUGH AS IT LOOKS!   Letter from Dave Byrnes

The Colorado River at the base of the Grand Canyon.
No runner can stand on the rim of the awesome, mile deep, Grand Canyon in Arizona without wondering if they could run down to the Colorado River and back again.  Prior to arrival, I hadn’t planned such a journey but a look down in the Canyon and a quick check of a map kindled my interest and I resolved to make the attempt before I left.  I'm sure many runners had preceded me, and I know there is an annual 'ultra' which runs from the South Rim to the North Rim and return (a forty mile, eight hour plus epic), yet there was still an immense challenge to contemplate. 

Encountering a mule train on the ascent up
the South Kaibab Trail.
The course I planned to follow involved a four mile, gradually uphill, run along the South Rim road from our campsite to the South Kaibab trailhead at 7300 ft; a steep descent along the trail (4900 ft in a little over six miles) to the Colorado River; a couple of miles downstream by the river on the other bank; an ascent of 4600 ft in just under eight miles along the Bright Angel trail; and finally, one and a half miles back to camp (also uphill).  The total distance was to be a little over twenty-one miles and despite my failure to perform well in marathons since leaving Australia, I was confident I would make it.  The real challenge of the run was to be an ascent up Bright Angel without stopping and I mulled over my chances as I set out before sunrise on a clear, cold Sunday morning.  Almost immediately, I regretted the intense physical activity of the previous three days that had seen Barb and I hiking, cycling and running around various parts of the National Park.  Fortunately, we had become accustomed to training at altitudes up to 10,000 ft during our travels, but resting up for long runs had not been one of our priorities.

Further up the South Kaibab Trail ascent.
I decided to throttle back as I ran along the Rim and focussed instead on the magnificent sunrise that was gradually illuminating the brilliant orange/pink cliffs of the Canyon.  Out of the sun, the temperature was still well below freezing and I was glad of my gloves and Goretex top.  After half an hour, I reached the trail head and paused briefly to wonder at the sanity of the venture - at least running downhill would be easy.  From the Rim, you could not even see the Colorado River, only the shadow of the smaller canyon on whose floor it flowed.  The Kaibab Trail zig-zagged its way down an almost sheer drop and I set off gingerly on the ice-¬covered surface; being particularly careful on the tight corners.  Even after the ice disappeared at lower altitudes, the going was slow because of the steepness and frequent turns.  The surface was a curious mixture of rocks and green dust, the latter composed of dust created by the mule trains coloured by their manure.  Lovely.

The top at last.  The South Kaibab Trailhead.
Mule trains are common on the trails and National Park rules require all pedestrians to stop completely if they meet with one.  Apparently, mules are easily spooked and may dash over a precipice carrying an unfortunate tourist.  I met a train on the descent just before reaching the river.  After crossing the Colorado on a suspension bridge, I climbed down to a sandy beach to ceremonially dip my hand in the broad, green, fast-flowing river.  It was just over an hour since I had left the rim, and I had a little less than two hours to complete the ascent in order to achieve my other goal of under three hours rim-to-rim.  I crossed the river on another bridge after stopping for a quick drink near the Ranger station at Bright Angel Camp.  I was feeling good - a result of much more oxygen (a mile lower) and the relatively level river trail that crossed some sand dunes.  I began surprising bushwalkers, who had camped on the canyon floor overnight, from behind which is always a bit of fun.  The trail turned away from the river and began climbing gradually along a small canyon.  The pace was steady and I was doing it easy.  Passing the hikers was exhilarating, but I was forgetting that the ascent was concave with the steepest parts near the end.  I reached Indian Gardens, four and a half miles and 3000 ft from the rim with an hour to go and feeling a bit weaker.  Two and a half miles later, I met a mule train descending and was forced to stop for the first time on the ascent.  Damn.  Feeling distinctly tired, I set off jogging again on the steepening trail and half an hour later met another one.  This time on resuming, I was exhausted.  I couldn’t believe how sapped I felt as I staggered on for another half mile before I had to stop and walk.  The trail was now zig-zagging up almost sheer faces and I even had trouble getting forward momentum to walk.  I looked anxiously at my watch and resolved to walk 50, jog 200 to the top.  It soon changed to walk 50, jog 50, but I made it to the rim, groggy, but with ten minuted to spare.