There is a sign posted at the top of the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
Meant as a word of caution, it reads: “Do not attempt to hike from the canyon rim to the river and back in one day. Each year hikers suffer serious illness or death from exhaustion.”
It is likely that the sign helps keep the vast majority of those people visiting the Grand Canyon each year perched safely atop the rim. However, it did little to dissuade Larson Gunness and Rob Trachtenberg from lacing up their sneakers and running the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim in just six hours time late last month.
The two Barrington residents recently returned from their Sept. 29 adventure, nursing some sore muscles and overtired bodies, but relishing in an experience that few people have ever attempted.
It was Rob’s idea, said Larson during a recent interview.
He said it was just a day or two after this year’s Boston Marathon in April, which Larson ran and which was scarred by a deadly terrorist bombing near the finish line. Rob had been in Boston that day to watch Larson run the race, his first Boston Marathon ever. And for six scary hours after the explosions, Rob had tried to reach his friend and running partner.
Finally, at about 9 that night, Rob stopped over Larson’s house. They talked about the bombing and the emotional toll the day had taken. A day later, Rob mentioned the Grand Canyon, and Larson jumped at the idea.
On Sunday, Sept. 29, Larson and Rob woke early inside their hotel room and climbed out of their beds. They pulled on their running shorts, shirts, socks, laced up their sneakers, and by 5:40 a.m., stood at the head of the Bright Angel Trail on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The sun was buried below the horizon. The early morning air was crisp and cool. And the trail was almost completely quiet when the two locals took their first steps.
The next nine miles of their adventure were downhill over rocky, rugged terrain. It was not like running in Barrington. Nothing was flat or paved or easy to traverse. “You have to pay attention to every step,” Larson said.
During short breaks to eat and fill their water bottles, the two men gazed into the canyon. They saw sunlight brighten the first few layers of earth at the top of the canyon walls and move slowly down toward the river. They were amazed with the colors and the quiet.
“It was just spectacular,” Rob said. “After the first three and a half or four miles, Larson and I had stopped. There was no one else on the trail and it was perfectly quiet. It was just spectacular.”
The two men covered 5,000 vertical feet to the canyon floor where they took a break to eat some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches Rob had made a few days earlier. They sat at a picnic table not far from where hikers can camp overnight. They snapped a few photos.
Then it was up.
For the next 14 miles and 6,000 vertical feet, Rob and Larson pushed uphill over more difficult terrain. The camera phones stayed stowed in their backpacks, as the two focused on the climb. A low grade incline morphed into a steeper pitch, and steeper again. There were moments, Larson said, where it felt like they were going straight up.
The jog slowed at times to a hike for the locals, who despite the challenge, managed to pass at least four other individuals on the journey.
Larson recalled reaching the seven-mile mark — just seven more miles to go before they had conquered the rim-to-rim. The two experienced distance runners knew they could cover seven miles with little effort back in Barrington, cruising the flat roads with relative ease. But this final leg of the canyon run would not be easy.
They sucked down more water and devoured gel energy packets and kept moving. Then, with less than three miles left, everything seemed to get easier, said Larson. He felt stronger.
“It was kind of a spiritual moment,” he said. “I just felt like … this is awesome. I was in the zone. I was tired, but I was in the zone.”
Six hours after they had started the trek at the top of the south rim, Larson and Rob stood at the top of the north rim. A flat mile stood between them and the lodge where they were to stay that night, but walking the distance was not an option. The two men hitched a ride back to their rooms from some sightseers.
That night they called their families back in Barrington and shared their story. Then they sat down for a meal, watched a few quarters of the Patriots game that was on the television and retired to some chairs outside the lodge that overlooked miles of unspoiled, uncluttered landscape.
“It was just beautiful,” Larson said.
The two local men said they would love to do the run again, although now they’re considering the rim-to-rim-to-rim — a daunting excursion down into the canyon, up the other side, and then back down and up again.
“I think I’d like to do that,” said Rob.
Larson and Rob also agreed that the next time they take on the Grand Canyon, they will bring their families along.