Barefooting the Grand Canyon
A big thank you to Jay Anderson, ultrarunner and RD of the Orange Curtain 100k and 50k races, and Tracy Bahr, a true ultrarunning champion, for allowing me to join in on a Grand Canyon adventure weekend.
If you ask the question, "Can one run down the Grand Canyon barefoot?", the answer would be yes. If you ask the question, "Should one run down the Grand Canyon barefoot?", the answer should be, "Hell no!"
Due to car troubles, we started 6 hours later than we had expected at around 11:30. Even though we didn't know it yet, it meant that we would not have time to do a rim to rim to rim run. Thanks to a nice couple from Tucson for giving us a lift to the trailhead. We crammed 6 people into a compact car. Nothing was going to stop us.
Running down the Bright Angel trail, barefoot, was certainly one of the most difficult things I have done barefoot. Going up the South Kaibab trail barefoot was fine. As I have said a thousand times, going up is always easier than going down on rocky terrain when barefoot.
Why was it so difficult? Well, it was not just that the trail was quite rocky and steep, two things that already made it difficult, but it was also filled with hikers, so I did not have the whole trail to select from when trying to find sweet spots to place my foot. Sometimes we would have to run off to the side of the trail to make room for hikers. That was hard.
I nearly made it to the bottom barefoot, but we came upon a mule train. At that point, I decided I had better put on my FiveFingers in order to help navigate around the mules, plus the trail was REALLY getting to me.
Less than a quarter mile after putting on my shoes, we reached a barefooters paradise: a river sand trail paralleling the river for another 1/4 mile until we got to a bridge to cross the river.
While running down the trail, all I could do was breath and focus. I had no time for anything else. Literally every step had to be thought out and executed consciously. There were a lot of opportunities for disaster. Is this zen?
When we finally got to Phantom Ranch, it was becoming clear to us that we would not have time to continue our journey to the North Rim, so we decided to return to the South Rim via the South Kaibab trail.
Coming down Bright Angel, I had not been drinking enough. I started up the South Kaibab feeling pretty damn good; however, I was sweating a lot, and since I was only wearing a singlet, the sweat was just pouring off me and not having time to cool me. When I sweat this much, I can get in trouble fast, especially if I have not been managing my electrolyte intake.
Sure enough, after feeling really good at the beginning of the uphill, I started feeling crampy. I was not peeing. So, I started drinking, but it was nearly too late. Lesson: manage your electrolytes and wear clothing that traps moisture and holds it so that it evaporates on the skin.
6 hours and 20 minutes later we were back at the top of the South Rim. It was cold and dark, and we were damn lucky to have made it in time for one of the last shuttles. In the van-shuttle bringing us to our hotel, we were comparing stories with other hikers. One guy said that he had seen a guy running down the trail barefoot. None of his companions believed him. I enjoyed egging him on a little. We had a good laugh when it was revealed that he had not been hallucinating.
As with most adventures, the location is just one part of the enjoyment, the other major part is being able to commune with other runners. Sharing and comparing life stories with travel companions is one of the most interesting things you can do. Each person represents a fascinating tale waiting to be told. When stories begin to intermingle, well, that just borders on miraculous.
PS. For the complete set of photos, click here.