Cramping, instead of camping, in the Canyon: The Grand Canyon offers many sights, and you shouldn’t try to cram them in on one day | MyWindsorNow.com

Cramping, instead of camping, in the Canyon: The Grand Canyon offers many sights, and you shouldn’t try to cram them in on one day

Dan England
dengland@greeleytribune.com

I doubt I will sell anyone on doing this as a run, and that's a good thing. You probably honestly shouldn't do what I did during my summer vacation.

I ran down the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back in one day.

This run, in my mind, was not as epic as some of the feats attempted by famous ultrarunners or people who could be famous ultrarunners. But I am neither.

In August, when I attempted this run, I was — and still am, thankfully — a 44-year-old guy who was training for a 50-mile race in Steamboat with more than 9,000 feet of climbing.

Before my attempt, I didn't see — or chose to ignore, I honestly can't remember — the signs warning you not to attempt this hike in one day. I'm pretty sure that also means don't run it in one day. It's a blur.

Anyway, we took a wonderful trip to four national parks this July. We visited Mesa Verde, the Canyonlands and Arches national parks, but the Grand Canyon was the highlight. I thought the Grand Canyon would be a good training run for Run Rabbit Run, my first 50-mile race in mid-September, because there was a lot of elevation gain, it was a trail run, and I really wanted to really see it because it is one of the most breathtaking spots in the world.

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It was July. It gets hot in July. I did read those signs. So I was extra smart and took my pack full of water and some salty snacks. I also left at 4 a.m., when it was dark and kind of windy and a little chilly. Nothing can stop me now. I told Kate I'd be back in four hours and we could go sight-seeing.

I did indeed wake up at 3:30 a.m. after a restless night. It was hot in our room on the canyon grounds because, well, it gets hot in July. After a little time hunting Pokemon with some coffee to wake up, I walked for 10 minutes to the trailhead and started down. My main goal at that time was to not die by falling off the trail in the dark. I almost failed in that mission a couple times.

The trail was steep, and there were many wooden posts in the way, I guess for traction, making it hard to really find a good groove or take small steps, my preferred method of running down a steep trail. That would haunt me later.

By the time the sun came up, bathing the campground below in a beautiful orange light, I was feeling mighty proud of myself. I'd run more than half of the 17 miles in much less than two hours, giving me plenty of time to hike up the trail and make it back in time for some sight-seeing.

By the time I reached the bottom, I was already sweating. The temperature usually increases by at least 25 degrees at the bottom of the canyon. That's the elevation change, and that's also because the sun was out. It was not a good combination.

As I jogged up the trail, I did enjoy the sights and tried to make them work for me. The canyon is a spectacular place, with amazing habitat that matched both the river bottom and the mountainous setting up top. It was also clear the sights weren't going to help me much longer as temperatures rose into the 90s. My legs began to tighten up, and I could tell they were going to cramp at some point.

Indeed, the cramps hit two miles from the top. Uh oh. The goal now was to make it back to our room and not wind up in the hospital. That would definitely delay our sight-seeing.

As I took one of my frequent breaks, a French guy, one of the many foreigners we saw enjoying the canyon, asked in French if I was OK. "Si," I said, which made him laugh but he understood.

"Down?" he said, asking if I had ran all the way.

"Si," I said again.

"Jesus," he said, the only English he seemed to know, and that made me laugh hard.

I did make it out and back to our room, five hours later (and an hour late), and I sat down. My legs seized up so bad I thought I was going to faint. My body was coated in salt. I grabbed some Gatorade while I occasionally yelped and held my dizzy head in my hands.

"Mommy, is Daddy going to die?" my 11-year-old son, Jayden, said.

"No," I answered him. "But I wouldn't mind it right now."

After a shower, the rest of the Gatorade and a bit of food, I was able to limp along with the family sight-seeing the rest of the day. Kate had a ball pointing out all the signs specifically warning people not to hike the canyon in one day. When I was defending myself during one of those times, a ranger overheard me, turned to me and said, "Just so you know, most of the people we rescue look like you."

He meant there were a lot of people like me, idiots who were in shape and thought they could take the heat and the brutal punishment of hiking 5,000 feet straight down and up in one day.

If you do the Grand Canyon, take an extra day and camp out at the bottom, visit the river and then work your way back up early the next morning. It's a two-day trip, and it's well worth the extra time. You'll probably enjoy it more.

This was probably one of the stupidest hikes I'd ever done. The 50-miler even felt better than it, at least until the end.

But sometimes you have to do some crazy stuff. It may have been one of the stupidest things I've ever done to myself. It was also one of the best.

— Dan England has climbed more than 150 peaks, including all of the state's 54 14ers, and logged thousands of miles on Colorado's great trails. He is the Adventure and NextNC editor for the Tribune. He also occasionally guides hikes and snowshoes, mostly 14ers. He can be reached at dengland@greeleytribune.com or 392-4418. Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.

Path of the month

WHAT IS IT? The Bright Angel Trail down the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River

HOW LONG IS IT? 16 miles. You lose about 4,500 feet. Keep in mind you have to gain that back to get out of the canyon and get home.

IS THERE A FEE? There is a $30 vehicle permit for seven days.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CONDITIONS: http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm or call (928) 638-7888.

HIKING TIP OF THE MONTH: You will need a permit to camp overnight in the canyon, and you really should camp overnight so you aren’t walking down to the bottom of the canyon and up in one day. It’s too hot and hard for that — unless you’re training for a 50-mile race. Then go for it if you don’t mind cramps in your legs.