After completing the Arizona Trail and hitching to Phoenix, we still couldn’t shake the idea of attempting a double crossing of the Grand Canyon. When else would we be back here and in such great physical shape? Once we picked up our van, we started driving back to Grand Canyon National Park mentally preparing ourselves for the behemoth day ahead. We got our hiking snacks together and decided it would be easiest to camp at an AZT trailhead just outside the park boundaries. We drove up to Grandview Tower where we had been just days before and found a flat spot to sleep for the night. We were happy to run into fellow hiker Snakefarm and were eager to share a little trail magic. By 8:00, our bags were ready, and we were laying down nervous and excited for our big day.
2:15 am – I hear Sean’s alarm go off in the van. The three of us woke up hastily and started getting ready for the day. We then drove about 25 minutes into the park, leaving our van at the visitor center.
3:00 am – It was time to walk. Unfortunately, there’s no public parking at the South Kaibab trailhead, so we began our day hiking the rim trail 2 miles to where the South Kaibab begins its descent into the canyon.
3:45 am – We arrived at the South Kaibab trailhead lit only by the nearly full moon and the beams of our headlamps. By moonlight, we could just barely see into the canyon we had traversed just days before. We set a quick pace and began switchback after switchback, staircase after staircase descending deeper and deeper into the canyon in darkness. From the trailhead, it’s over 5000 ft of elevation and 7 miles to the Colorado River.
5:30 am – Dawn broke allowing us to put the headlamps away and take in the beauty of the canyon once more. A group of five runners passed us, also attempting a double crossing.
6:07 am – We reached the bottom of the Grand Canyon and crossed the Colorado River for our first time that day. Soon after, we reached Bright Angel campground and took a quick break to shed layers, eat a snack, and fill up water.
6:30 am – It was time to begin our first ascent up the canyon to the North Rim via the North Kaibab trail. This trail is 14.8 miles and over 7000 ft of elevation change from Bright Angel campground. We followed the trail the first six miles adjacent to Bright Angel creek through a slot canyon which gently slopes uphill. The next 9 miles is where the climbing steepens consisting of switchbacks and staircases until you reach the rim. Over the next four and a half hours, our pace only increased as we steadily climbed up the North Rim. I fell behind the guys who were flying at speeds I simply could not compete with, but that didn’t stop me from trying. During this climb, we continued to see and pass everyone else heading up, including many runners. “They’re flying! I’m trying to catch ’em,” I commented to a runner as he let me pass. “You’re flying,” he confirmed. Our pace held at over 3 mph, maybe even reaching 3.5 mph, while we climbed powered by caffeine and adrenaline.
11:00 am – The guys reached the top.
11:04 am – I join them. We were halfway done with our day – 8 hours, 23.4 miles, and over 7,000 ft of elevation change. There isn’t much of a view from the North Kaibab trailhead, so we headed down about a half mile to take a lunch break.
11:20 am – We took our lunch at Coconino Lookout giving us an incredible view of Mount Humphreys far in the distance and our destination, the South Rim, seeming oh so far away. We scarfed bagels and avocados and loaded our pockets with snacks for the long descent in front of us.
11:55 am – We begin our long downhill haul back to Bright Angel making a brief stop at Manzanita campground to refill our water. We hit over 3 mph as we descended at times using gravity to turn our walk into a run. We enjoyed the change of scenery as we took in the canyon heading the opposite direction.
4:20 pm – We finished our descent and took another quick break to fill up on water and refill our snack pockets. We had just 7 miles left of our 45.5 total miles and one massive climb left to get back to the South Rim. I could feel the tiredness setting in, but I was mostly too excited to let it get me down. Could’ve been the caffeine Mio I added to my water, who knows.
4:40 pm – It was time for the final ascent, the last section of this double crossing. The sun hit me as I began to climb up, spreading the fatigue to my increasingly heavy feet. The guys got ahead of me, but never too far out of sight. We retraced our steps up and up, doing mini celebrations after completing switchbacks and staircases. I did my best to continue a steady pace, not wanting to give into the fatigue… not that I really had a choice anyway. My personal goal I had set was to be done by 8 and not to have to use my headlamp, and boy was I determined to make those goals happen.
6:34 pm – The sun was setting as we entered a plateau, and the South Rim came into view. This was it. The final push and this crazy endeavor would be complete. We were so close!
7:00 pm – The sun had set. The horizon still had traces of yellow and orange while the red rock glowed vibrant pinks and oranges. The nearly full moon rose over the east side of the canyon.
7:30 pm – It was mostly dark by this point, but I knew I was closing in on the final half mile of my day. I refused to reach for the headlamp.
7:35 pm – The guys’ celebratory screams made their way to my ears. They had reached the top.
7:45 pm – We cheered together as I emerged from the canyon. The mix of excitement and fatigue left me in a dreamlike state. My personal record had been topped. We had completed 45.5 miles over 12,000 ft of elevation gain in 16 hours and 45 minutes.
8:00 pm – A kind ranger offered Sean a ride from the South Kaibab trailhead to the visitor center to pick up our van saving us the 2 miles of the rim trail to the parking lot. We got back in the van fueled by adrenaline and disbelief at our athletic achievement.
Now, it was finally time to say goodbye to the beautiful state of Arizona and head back east. 800 miles of the AZT was a feat for sure, but I gotta say, I’m pretty damn proud of this double crossing. Despite the quantity of miles I’ve hiked, I still really don’t consider myself an athlete. But now, I proved something to myself and reached a new level of athleticism I didn’t know I had in me.