FKT: Drew Frehs - Grand Canyon Crossings (AZ) - 2021-10-18

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Total time
19h 29m 15s
GPS track(s)

On Sunday October 17th I made my third attempt at the 4x Grand Canyon Crossings FKT. 

To begin, I parked at the lot about 1km from the TH and rode my bicycle to the start. I’d keep a small bag for my turnaround on my bicycle and eliminate to need to go back to my car. I opted to do the first set of crossings in the dark so I could manage the cold and (inevitable) night running first instead of totally fatigued. To this end, I dropped in South Kaibab at 9:44 PM. 

Nights in northern Arizona in October can get cold - when I stopped to navigate around 4 bighorn sheep also using South Kaibab trail I was dressed in my rabbit tights I wear for ski season and winter running plus a Rabbit singlet to wick, rabbit/ Aravaipa long sleeve to retain heat, and Patagonia Houdini, my favorite hyper light windbreaker. I brought gloves and a headband but actually lost them of trail until I could find them again on the next crossing. 

The first crossing to the north rim was pretty quiet and uneventful. I saw lots of bats down at Boat Beach and topped off my water at a totally quiet Phantom Ranch. I skipped Cottonwood camp on the campers behalf and filled up water at Manzanita. Supai Tunnel and North Kaibab taps were off for the season so Phantom and Manzanita (and to a lesser extent Cottonwood just 1.5 miles away) were my lifelines for water and I grumpily carried a bladder in my pack to supplement my two soft flasks for the long, slow, climbs. 

I finished my first crossing in 4:28 and was ecstatic how easy the splits came getting back down to the river. Initially I was concerned doing rim to rim to rim the previous week would leave me too fatigued to complete the FKT, but as the sun came up on me around Cedar Ridge and I knew I’d be picking up my support (Sarah Ostaszewski) I was wildly optimistic. 

I topped out from the first set of crossings right around 7:05 AM so about 9:20 moving time that first go around. Moving as fast as possible I ate two fruit cups, changed out of my tights into shorts, grabbed a new batch of Spring “Awesomesauce” gels, and ditched my gloves, handband, and waistband with Kogalla light and battery. 

Now with my pacer in the full daylight we dropped back to the river. My goal was to be quick but continue to try and minimize the damage to my quads and knees on the steppy downhills so lots of soft steps! We topped off bottles at Phantom and continued up canyon where we’d run into Flagstaff runners Jeff Browning and Peter Mortimer whom were on their own run going the other way. Just over 100k around mile 62 we topped out North Kaibab at 14:32 moving time. That left a full 7 hours to get back and claim a fastest known time. I ate another fruit cup that I’d packed and we got back at it covering the downhill to Ribbon Falls with quicker splits than I thought we’d be managing after 100k and 17,000ft of climbing.

Now my full obsession with split math began to take hold. Every mile was about building a buffer and shaving off seconds and minutes without redlining. After topping off fluids at Phantom and throughly soaking my hair with water at Boat Beach we began the last climb up to the South Rim and I was truly surprised to find the energy to jog some of the flat or modest sections. My goals shifted to reflect the conditions, break the FKT, break 21 hours, break 20 hours… my most optimistic plans put me 1:30:00 ahead when I’d been in the planning stage so after topping out at South Kaibab in 19:29:15 I was completely overjoyed we took a full two hours off the previous overall FKT. 

Grand Canyon has always been a special place for me as a runner and backcountry hiker and although my heart is mostly in the quiet, challenging trails way off the corridor this FKT has been calling me for years. After tackling so many adventures in the canyon it felt amazing to finally execute the 4x crossings FKT and I am beyond grateful to Sarah Ostaszewski for agreeing to join me on the back half of this adventure as the full unsupported journey had previously slipped from my hands twice.