The magic of the Grand Canyon is hard to describe. It’s a powerful, sacred space that cast its spell on me decades ago when I laid eyes on it for the first time as an eleven-year-old.
It all started with a mule ride down to Phantom Ranch when I was a kid, but soon turned into ever-longer day hikes, which eventually became long-distance trail runs and multi-day, east-west backpacks.
Today, I am blessed to live less than two hours driving distance from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon - the Big Ditch is now my local adventure backyard which I’ve been playing in for years.
A few weeks ago, I got to embark on one of my most challenging Grand Canyon adventures yet: the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim ALT route.
Many long distance trail runners are familiar with the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R2) - it’s a 42 mile double crossing of the canyon that includes a healthy ~ 21,000 feet of vertical change.
The R2R2R2 is an amazing run and a formidable challenge - but I had my sights set on something else: the 'ALT' route.
The ALT is similar to the standard R2R2R2 in some regards like distance and elevation profile, yet very different in other aspects: the trails for the ALT are a lot wilder and more remote.
The route uses the Bass Trail system on the west side of Grand Canyon National Park, far far away from any paved roads — and, most importantly, where North and South Bass trails reach their respective banks of the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon, there is no bridge.
To complete the ALT route, you have to get yourself across the river.
This is the challenge that my friends Christin Douglas, Lexi Miller and I took on, October 20 and 21, 2020.
because I knew I could cover quickly lots of ground in them yet they'd hold up to a route as rugged as the R2R2R Alt!
I won’t rehash much of the R2R2R ALT’s what and how here.
Christin, Lexi and I went for the ALT onsight, meaning none of us had seen the trails or the river crossing ahead of time.
In fact, Lexi and I hadn’t met in person until the evening before we started our adventure.
The combination of a big endurance endeavor, a brand-new team, new-to-us terrain, and a complete unknown — having to swim the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon — created a heady mix of challenge and uncertainty. Uncertainty of what we would experience, and uncertainty of what the outcome of this record attempt might be.
It is this uncertainty that motivates me in all my trail and mountain endeavors: I love the sensation of not knowing what to expect.
Discovery and exploration are my reasons for pushing hard in the outdoors; being able to pursue those values in the Grand Canyon, a place that’s been as formative for me in my progression as an adventure athlete as Aconcagua has been, is both a treat and a privilege.
* Sunny, Christin and Lexi were lucky to find excellent conditions on their R2R2R ALT attempt. They successfully crossed the river twice and became the first women to complete the R2R2R ALT in a single push in 22 hours and 27 minutes.