Hiking the Grand Canyon is the most epic adventure I’ve been on in our National Parks. Here’s my journey with my best friend…
There are very few words that would do running + hiking the Grand Canyon any sorta justice. There’s nothing like experiencing it for oneself. Yet I do believe the photos and video we captured are second best and still give me chills and tears in my eyes as I look through them all.
I’ll try to keep it short and sweet and let the video and photos do most of the talking.
I’ve always felt connected to the Grand Canyon. My family knows that when I die, that’s where my ashes go. Yep— down in the canyon. I want them to hike down into it’s belly, breath in the beauty and release the little that is left of me into the wild. That’s how I want to go out. Now, I know that’s a bit morbid (do you ever think about that stuff too?) Yet that’s how special this canyon is to me.
I asked my friend Carissa, who got into ultra running at the same time as me if she’d want to go on an epic adventure and run the whole Grand Canyon. 44 miles (or so we thought! It was actually 47 miles when we finished). 10,000 feet in elevation gain. And we’d have to carry everything we needed on our backs. No one in their right mind would say yes to that…. which is why she did. And that explains why we’re best friends 🙂
We started our adventured by catching a cheap flight to Vegas and renting a car from there. We drove over the Hoover Dam (stopped to do some running!) then cruised down Route 66 and stopped along the way to take photos and grab a quick bite. The drive to the Grand Canyon was 4 hours from Vegas and well worth it. We had a blast!
Hiking the Grand Canyon
As for our actual hiking of the Grand Canyon, we knew we needed a strong game plan to even attempt something like this. So our first day we went and talked with some rangers and learned that it would be best to head down South Kaibab trail, cross the Colorado River and climb up North Kaibab Trail. Then turn around, go back down North Kaibab, cross the Colorado River and climb out through Bright Angel Trail (which is a little less steep). So that was the plan… for one day.
We caught the first shuttle to the trail head, which was 5am. Since it was dark, we brought our lamps to light our path. As the sun came up over the rim, we began to see colors and shadows and the canyon was painted with colors. Eventually we turned off our lights and were guided by the sun.
When it came to gear, Carissa and I both had hydration vests. Mine allowed me to carry 2 1/2 liters of water and Carissa had about 1 liter of water on her. When I run, I’m always thirsty. So I wanted to have as much water as possible. Yet let me tell you— that extra weight was intense going up the canyon! I felt like each step was a weighted squat!
We carried water and chia fresca in our bottles for the long run ahead. We also packed dried mango, cashews, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Sports beans, Clif bars and chews to keep us nourished and energized.
As for shoes, I have loved New Balance since my first marathon in 2003. I have never been injured when I wear my New Balances shoes— and I’ve done 5 marathons, 2 ultras and countless half marathons in them. The ones I wore for our Grand Canyon hike were the Leadville model. Carissa wears Aasics and feels really good about them too. Everyone has a favorite— you just have to try a few pairs out to know what’s right for you. I recommend going to a running shoe store where actual runners work, watch you run and fit you for the perfect shoe.
As for clothes, I wear a lot of Oiselle right now. I love how it looks and feels— so what’s not to love? My pants are lululemon… and the first time I ran in them was race day (which is a huge “no no”). You should always try them out before your big day. But I knew they worked great as travel day pants and would work well for this… and they did!
One of the hardest parts of hiking the Grand Canyon is the amount of down hill and uphill. It feels like it will never end. Your quads, hamstrings, knees and calves will scream in rebellion. Yet our heart + willpower always kept us going. With ultra distances, you just learn to ignore the pain and focus on the beauty that lies ahead.
Phantom Ranch— Bottom of the Grand Canyon
After 7 miles of straight downhill, we found our way across the Colorado River and into Phantom Ranch. I’ve wanted to get to this place ever since I read Through Painted Deserts by Donal Miller. And it was even more beautiful and special to see it in person. Carissa and I didn’t want to leave— we had coffee, made new friends and soaked our feet in the cool spring.
Yet we need we had to keep going if we wanted to make it through this journey. So we took off again… and were thankful for a few miles of flat trails. Our bodies were flying and we felt so energized! We were loving every moment of it as the canyon walls closed in around us and the sun warmed our bodies… until eventually it got too hot. Thankfully we had hats, sunglasses and lots of water to combat that!
Eventually the flat trail ended and we began to climb back up… and up… and up. When hitting the North Kaibab Trail, we literally ran, hiked, walked uphill for 13.5 miles! It was unreal! At one point, my quads were in so much pain that it took me 40 minutes to do a mile. I was slowing down and hurting… yet I forced my body to keep going and it did. Slow and steady was my motto the last 4 miles of the North Rim.
Ugh! No pain. No gain.
After miles and miles of elevation gain, we finally made it to the top and were able to celebrate. We had done 24 miles in one day, with 5,000 feet of elevation gain, and 4,000 feet of elevation descent. Our bodies were trashed. As tired as we were, we hitched a ride to the lodge, rested for a bit and decided we better stay the night on the North Rim before heading 23 miles back in the morning.
Unfortunately this wasn’t our plan, so we weren’t prepared. We had no clothes to change into. No toothbrushes. No deodorant. We were able to get a few things from the lodge, and an amazing lady named Annie offered to buy us some extra clothes for the night since the temps were dropping into the low 30’s. Annie was our trail angel.
The next morning, we headed out at 5:30 to begin the 23 miles back to the South Rim. Our bodies were stiff, slow and tired as we forced them down the side of the canyon. One step at a time. Eventually the sun came up and the colors on the canyon walls came to life. The steep cliffs also came to life too and we clung to the trail as carefully as we could. The Grand Canyon is no joke! Death is around every corner if you trip, slip or aren’t paying attention!
There was also quite a bit of water on the trails that we had to jump over or cut the trail to avoid. Water in your shoes = blisters… and that was the last thing I wanted!
The Final Stretch… that felt like eternity
After a second visit to Phantom Ranch, we started up the Bright Angel trail with 80 degree temps. It was a hot hot hot trail! We for 7 miles to climbed our way through switch backs. It felt like it would never end… and the canyon rim never seemed to get close enough to give us hope. Yet we knew the only way out was up, so we kept on going.
We distracted ourselves from the pain by talking with fellow hikers. There were very few people who were doing rim-to-rim… let alone rim-to-rim-to-rim. We were some amazing women doing this! I had to keep reminding myself of this as the moments got harder and harder.
Yet eventually, we made it up to the top of the Canyon.
When we reached the top we were in disbelief we were there. It left us in tears and we wrapped arms as we took our last step of our 47-mile adventure together.
Where we stayed at the Grand Canyon
We did a lot of research and the Red Feather Lodge was only 15 minutes from the park entrance and half the price of most hotels. For us, it was the right choice and we had a great time there. The rooms were clean, the staff was great and the location was perfect. I definitely recommend staying here for your trip to make it affordable, convenient and nice.
We took a few pics of the place and the room so you can see what it was like:
What’s next?! After Running + Hiking the Grand Canyon…
After running + hiking the Grand Canyon in 18 hours and 47 miles, I feel so grateful for a body and family that allows me to do this. I know not everyone is as lucky as I am… which is why I wanted to share this journey with you. I hope it inspires you to do your own kind of adventure— no matter how small or big that is. It’s all about what you need right now.
As for me, I have one last trip planned for the year before I settle into my slow season, where I relax, recharge and get grounded with my kids and husband. This holiday season I really want to spend more weekends at home, playing board games, hiking together and just connecting. I’ve been away a bunch lately and it’s getting a little hard on me (and I’m sure them too!) Yet I know they love seeing my living my life to the fullest and it helps spark their own dreams.
Life is all about seasons— changing it up so you can feel most alive and do the things that matter most to you. Right now I need that rest. What do you need? I hope you go after that.
Special thanks to Red Feather Lodge for helping us get a room, for Annie our trail angel, for Nicole Rupe Photography for capturing some truly epic photos and for for my husband Ryan who put together the video for us.