Thought for the Day

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Grand Canyon Crossing 2004

The plan was to start out around 5:30 am on Sunday morning down the South Kaibab Trail.
Saturday night it stormed all night. There was constant thunder and lightning, often close enough to shake the building. At 5 am we met and decided that heat, the primary reason for going early in the morning, was not going to be an issue. It didn't make sense to start out in the dark in a storm without any certainty how far we could get on the trail.
We decided to meet again at 8, look at what our options were, and decide what to do.
Some people went and got a good breakfast at the cafeteria when it opened at 7. I wish I had done that, but I only had a Clif bar around 5, before plans changed.
At 8 it seemed like everything was decided by the time I got there. I had turned my insulin basal rate down when I thought we were running at 5:30 and turned it back up to normal when I didn't know when we would start.
We were about 24 altogether, and 7 people were only planning to go one way. All 7 of those who were going one way and 3 who didn't want to risk the trail on Sunday were going to take one of our vans around to the other side.
Someone told someone that the South Kaibab Trail was blocked by a boulder, so we would have to take the Bright Angel Trail. We found out later that several people hiked past the boulder and the trail was cleared fairly quickly. There were many times that day when we simply had to go around or over rock slides.
So 14 of us started out straight from the lodge and down the trail in pouring rain, with the other side of the canyon obscured by thick fog.
At the trailhead we met two hikers who had been standing at the edge trying to decide if they should cancel their plans to go down to Phantom Ranch. We took them with us and started in.
It didn't seem like anyone wanted to run. The trail was often a stream, and there were lots of minor mud and rock slides, but the footing wasn't too bad.
I guess a few people felt like they were warmed up enough and started jogging down. Most remained in the back and kept walking. I started running about a mile in.
I was concerned about my blood sugar because I had left my pump at the normal basal rate instead of turning it down. When I checked at the second water stop, 3 miles down, it was actually too high, 260. I was sure that it would start to drop and I would be okay, but I needed to monitor it.
Two guys were coming up, soaked to the skin, one in a tee shirt and one in a flannel plaid shirt. They had hiked down the night before, gotten caught in the rain, and spent the night in the restrooms at Indian Garden.
At Indian Garden, 4.5 miles in, my blood sugar was still higher. I remembered that the same sort of thing had happened when I hiked into the Canyon in April. I am thinking that this has something to do with the pressure and my pump. As the air pressure rises while I am going downhill, the working of the pump to deliver a basal rate is really only equalizing the pressure. That's a guess, anyway. Anyway, I bolused some insulin.
Some hikers coming up with trekking poles told us we should abort, that we weren't going to be able to cross some of the streams they had crossed.
But the rain had pretty much let up, and the run off had to be much less by the time we got to whatever they were talking about.
There was no way to keep your feet dry. I had to wade through a couple of places where I couldn't find any other way. I was frequently running at the edge of puddles that filled the trail.
By the time we got through the Devil's Cork Screw, it wasn't raining, and it was warming up as we crossed the Silver Bridge over the Colorado River.
Someone later said it was 92 in Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Canyon. My blood sugar there was still 280, so I bolused again. I got a cup of coffee, but I still didn't eat anything. Everyone else in the group I was with was fueling up.
My quads were hurting pretty much by that time, but I wasn't worried about finishing that day. I was worried about how much I would have left for the second day, though.
This has gotten way longer than I intended. Anyway, the descent was the fun part. I can summarize the rest of the trip.
I jogged pretty well through Cottonwood. My blood sugar was finally down to 90, so I ate a pretty good meal, some crackers and a Clif Bar.
After that I was walking more than jogging, especially that nasty hill right before you get to the bridge to Ribbon Falls, I had enough energy to take the detour to Ribbon Falls, although in hindsight, I could have used that energy later.

Note of actually useful information:
When Bright Angel Creek is not high, it is possible to hike around that hill right before the bridge to Ribbon Falls. Watch for the sign if the Creek is low, and you can save yourself some unnecessary pain.

Anyway after that I walked all of the uphills, which is virtually everything.
My blood sugar was consistently good when I checked it until right after the last bridge. Then it was 74, a little low, so I ate some more.
I actually jogged across that last bridge, but it was painful to do that, and I was finding it hard to imagine going back the next day. I walked slower and slower toward the top.
I got some more energy after going through the Supai Tunnel, but I started to cramp with less than a mile to go. I had to walk fifty yards then stop for a minute before going on, over and over.
It was clear but cool that night, and freezing the next morning. I opted not to get up at 5:15 to run back. Instead I rode around in the van after sleeping until 7 and eating two breakfasts.
All of the fastest people were already out when we got to the South Rim, but I was able to walk down a mile and meet the stragglers coming up.
I know, I wimped out. I will regret it for at least a year.

My excuses are:

a) stupidly raced a half marathon the weekend before.
b) didn't get started when I was ready.
c) wasn't able to eat anything until 17 miles into it, only a Clif Bar for breakfast hours before starting.
d) I'm a wimp.

But it was a great adventure. And while I didn't do a double crossing, I did cross in a day, (something around 9 hours) in the more difficult direction, (North Rim is 1000' higher altitude than South) in a storm.

PS: That's a pretty long post. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't go both ways.

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