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Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim: FKT vs SKT

October 20, 2017



GCAFI R2R 2017, Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, Plateau Point, Arizona

Photo by Nina Rehfeld at Plateau Point looking back at the South Rim. Thanks, Nina!

A few days before setting off on the long drive east (almost 500 miles) to Grand Canyon for another October rim-to-rim trek (here’s a few accounts of my other R2R adventures: one, two, three , four times before), I read online how yet another runner had set yet another FKT (Fastest Known Time) for crossing the Canyon more licketly-splitly than anyone since stop-watches were thunk up.

That’s right: on Oct. 1, 2017, 26-year-old Jim Freriks of Flagstaff ran 21 miles down the North Kaibab Trail (5,781 feet in elevation loss) and up the South Kaibab Trail (4,800 feet in elevation gain) faster than a desert bighorn sheep being chased by a salivating mountain lion: 2 hours, 39 minutes, and 38 seconds–roughly the same amount of time most other R2R runners and/or hikers spend in the trailhead outhouses dealing with pre-hike nervous stomach issues.

It’s a both a physically and psychologically stressful thing, to travel through so many gazillion years of geological history so stripingly laid out in in bands of chalky white Kaibab limestone, pink Coconino sandstone, multi-hued Muav frozen silt, purple-red Bright Angel shale, and on and on. Being confronted with such a rocky past pretty much necessitates lengthy pauses to consider the mind-numbing numbers of “years” (a helio-centric construct fer sure) that have transpired before one’s own entrance on the scene . . . yep, this is a situation that demands more than a few hours of zooming down and up the main corridor’s dusty, stair-steppy, mule-poopy paths.


That’s why I was so very happy last week to be tagging along on a Grand Canyon Association Field Institute trip that was dedicated to taking a Very Long Time to travel from the North Rim to the South Rim: seven days! Maybe a SKT! (Slowest Known Time)

We started at the South Rim with an equipment check to encourage hikers to jettison any un-needed gear. Crossing Grand Canyon, as with most backpacking ventures, less weight = more fun. So bye-bye went extra clothes, food, toiletries, electronic devices, dorm refrigerators, hiking boots. (Just kidding about that last one. Most everyone in the group had drunk from the cultural Kool-Aid that hornswaggles folks into thinking ankle-high rigid-soled foot caskets are necessary for backpacking comfortably/safely/stylishly. Sigh. The barefoot crusade continues.)


My food choices before re-packaging.


A week’s worth of food: 6.5 pounds all stuffed into packets & pouches.


A typical mushy one-pot dinner: edamame “pasta” mixed with instant mashed potatoes, freeze-dried mixed veggies, veggie bullion cube, tuna packet, and a single-serving pouch of Italian salad dressing. Amazeballs. (Especially when consumed at the edge of Plateau Point.)

Then, off to the North Rim via four-hour shuttle for a chilly night at 8,297 feet/elevation followed by The Plunge down past screaming-red maple foliage, acrid-mule-piss mud, fossil-embroidered rock, juniper log steps, rocky switchbacks, alleys of fluffy dust, hesitant bird calls . . .  all the sensory overload of another Grand Canyon fall day under a wide sky that was neither fulgent nor lambent but just plain blue & brilliant.

The next six leisurely days allowed for 37 miles of hiking–besides the “required” 14 miles down the North Kaibab Trail and 9 miles up the Bright Angel Trail, our group traipsed through some amazing side canyon, following water to where it dangled and bubbled and dazzled us all into silence . . . and lots of picture making (NOT “picture taking,” according to hike leader and photographer extraordinaire Larry Lindahl; photographers don’t just “take” whatever the pre-programmed camera hands them . . . they MAKE artful images that reflect a thoughtful consideration of “light, composition, depth, focus, vision, intimacy, and passion”).

While my little pocket camera carried major constraints of F-stop and ISO and aperture et al, it did its tiny best to help me create some visual memories: Let the image-making commence!

The North Rim in October: all golden aspen and glowing gambel oaks and my favorite views from the Transept Trail.


Ambling down the North Kaibab Trail in the morning always allows for fun shadow shots. Does this pack make my butt back look big?


Hike leader Larry invited us to pause to consider this ancient sentinel so our group could conjure up words and phrases to describe it, all of which were creative, none of which I remember (ahh . . . the importance of note-taking!).

What was up with all the dead mammals last week?! On the left is a face-down ringtail cat; upper right is a bat on a rock; lower right a fawn. All were fully intact and non-smelly (in other words: newly deceased).

The next images show just a few of my attempts (and how impossible to convey the frustration!) to “capture” the extraordinary light at this most light-crazy place. Especially with a little pocket camera. (But did I mention it fits in my pocket?)


The clouds provided much entertainment our first night at Cottonwood Camp.


Cottonwood Camp & Clouds, again.


She who would venture to capture the moon is destined for . . . (crappy shots like this).


While my camera maxed out at a two-second exposure, those with “real” cameras did some amazing work in the dark with light-painting and star-chasing.


Dinner with a view from Plateau Point. Shoes optional. Mice mandatory (who else would clean up all the invisible crumbs us clumsy humans left behind?).


Standing in the Colorado River at Boat Beach . . . an effective instigator of all kinds of goose bumps.

Yeah, I kind of think desert plants are bee-yoo-tiful.


Water in the desert: where geology makes miracles.


Ribbon Falls (from behind the curtain).



With so much to love, I guess it’s only natural that immense quantities of humans want to experience Grand Canyon’s main corridor trails . . . so . . . researchers from the University of New Mexico are conducting a years-long study on rim-to-rim hikers/runners; they counted 600  of them between the hours of 4 am and 3 pm on Saturday, Oct. 14. (And an additional 40 or so R2R2R runners.)

Problem: 600 people in one day (?!) have the potential to excrete a lot of waste products (no duh). While there are bathrooms along the trail, some oblivious knuckleheads think it’s OK to leave used toilet paper just . . . wherever. NO IT’S NOT.

And don’t get me started on how/why/WTF someone would leave a syringe along Bright Angel Creek . . .

Where was I? Waxing happy about Grand Canyon. Yeah, that’s right . . .





Seeing even the tail of a rare Grand Canyon rattlesnake counts as yet another “Transcendent Canyon Moment” (TCM).



And did we (the royal we happens when you’ve crowned yourself queen of the TCM) mention the relentless gold-rose light that reflects off the steep inner canyon walls in a way that threatens to decalibrate even the most durable TCM meter? Does the rattlesnake suck its scale-tint straight out of the air, like in an old “Just So” story?






And . . . more happy stuff, like this crimson monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis), to be stumbled upon near most side canyon waterfalls.


And the lichen! (Almost enough to make me want to pun about likin’ lichen. But I will refrain.)

This is starting to feel like a crap-ton of photos. Kind of reminds me of Weird Al’s new tour title: The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.  Yep. That is me and barefoot hiking & blogging (and balancing on stuff everywhere).

Thanks to all the adventurers who made this 6-day R2R so fabulous: Larry and Nina–for all your wise guidance — and Jim, Kim, Sophie, Spencer, Tom, Bill (gratitude!), Charlene, and Keith . . . super hikers and photographers all!

grand canyon group photo.jpg

Photo by Larry Lindahl at Plateau Point; filter by Prisma app.


(Photo by Nina? with my little camera . . . )

Happy Trails! Barefoot or Shod, FKT or SKT, Grand Canyon or ??? . . . just get outside and move and show some love!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Caveman Hiking permalink
    October 21, 2017 3:10 am

    I have visited the canyon and only appreciated its beauty from the rim. Your photos of the canyon’s inner beauty are inspiring. What was the total mileage for you trip? All barefoot?

    • October 21, 2017 1:09 pm

      Thanks for the note . . . and the kind words about my photos. Total mileage for the trip . . . let’s see . . . going down North Kaibab and up Bright Angel is about 23 miles, but we did a bit of day hiking too, since our brilliant trip leaders scheduled us for two nights at Cottonwood Camp (seven miles down from the North Rim) and two nights at Bright Angel Camp (at the bottom near Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River). (of these 23 backpacking miles I hiked the last mile into Phantom Ranch and then all the 9-mile Bright Angel Trail after we crossed the (painful, metal grated) Silver Bridge. The rest I hiked in my old Merrell Barefoot Pipidae Wrap Sandals . . . they’re getting pretty thrashed, and have no tread on the bottom, but they did the job of allowing me to keep up with the group with a full pack going downhill)

      Side hikes included:
      — a seven-mile day hike from Cottonwood Camp to Ribbon Falls, then farther up-canyon to Upper Ribbon Falls. (Barefoot about half the time)
      — a 1.5 mile hike along the “River Trail” loop that takes you over both the Black Bridge and Silver Bridge (didn’t go on this hike; I sat and watched the Colorado River flow by Boat Beach instead 🙂 )
      — a 3-mile day hike along a side canyon near Bright Angel camp (all barefoot)
      — a 3-mile afternoon/night hike out to Plateau Point from Indian Garden Camp (in my sandals)

      The weather was amazing . . . perfect barefoot weather . . . neither too hot nor too cold (well, it was pretty chilly when we started out at the top of the North Kaibab Trail, but things warmed up in just a few minutes of descending into the much warmer lower canyon).

      Thanks for asking, Rob. You know I could go on about this stuff all day 🙂

      Keep hiking, Caveman!


      • Caveman Hiking permalink
        October 22, 2017 3:13 am

        Thank you for the additional details. I’m sure temperatures are one of the biggest factors when hiking in the canyon, and it sounds like you were there at the perfect time (October). One last question: I’m sure the trail surfaces in the canyon vary greatly, but on the whole, how would you rate the difficulty of the surfaces for us barefoot hiker types?

      • October 22, 2017 11:58 am

        The “main corridor” trails (North and South Kaibab and Bright Angel) seem pretty barefoot-friendly for hikers/runners who do this on a daily basis back at home; of course there are lots of steps (rock and log) to go down (and then up), but no sections of trail are riddled with cactus spines and/or endless talus chunks and/or broken glass and/or hypodermic needles . . . mostly dust, sand, rock–all of it much more comfortable than the “chip seal” blacktop that covers a few of the foot bridges that span Bright Angel Creek in the “Box” section just north of Phantom Ranch. (Of course, if you go up side canyons on lesser-used trails, you need to be more vigilant about cactus, etc.)

        But, yeah: October! 🙂

  2. airo permalink
    October 20, 2017 10:00 pm

    wow !

  3. October 20, 2017 5:15 pm

    awesome blog, thea! very fun to read. now lemme upload my foot pics of your skinny boots!!

    • October 21, 2017 1:14 pm

      Thanks, Nina. Glad you enjoyed it. (I was thinking of you and trying to be funny when I wrote it 🙂 ) I can’t wait to see your photos . . . it was SO FUN to have you taking pictures all week . . . “skinny boots” . . . Ha! 🙂

      Happy Grand Canyon Waldeinsamkeit!



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