The Death March
The Death March
Page Type: Trip Report
Arizona, United States, North America
36.05720°N / 112.1375°W
The Death March
Mar 27, 2004
Created/Edited: May 11, 2004 / Feb 23, 2009
Object ID: 169348
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This is a hike that has been referred to as "The Death March". The hike begins at the South Rim goes to the North Rim and then you do it all over again to come back. If you complete it in under 24 hours you have completed the Death March. If it's over 24 hours well then you just went hiking in the Grand Canyon for 2 days. I have been thinking about it for a long time. I finally convinced Brad and Tom to go in on it with me a few months ago. So we planned out a date for it and got a few training hikes in. We stayed the night up in Flagstaff on Friday and left for the Grand Canyon at 1:00am. After passing about 8 elk on the way, we got to the S. Kaibab trailhead at 2:00am. It was in the high 20's with very gusty winds. We each drank a liter of gatoraid in the car. Then we hurriedly threw on our packs and headed down the trail at 2:15 am. As we got past the switchbacks and around the corner the wind died down considerably (thank god). We got to the Colorado River bridge in 2 hours 5 mins. We went on the fill up with water at the faucet by the bathroom and ranger station. There were 2 deer next to the ranger station watching us. They posed for a picture and we were off to Cottonwood Campground along the N. Kaibab trail. Just past Phantom ranch we dropped off some food and our cold weather clothing that we wouldn't be needing until our return trip. There was a small creek crossing on the way which soaked Tom and I's feet as we were wearing trail runners. Brad was fine because he was wearing boots. We got to Cottonwood at 5 hours 45 mins. We were surprised to see a ranger up there. He came out of his station and we talked with him for a little while. He asked what we were doing and didn't seemed to concerned with us. Previous encounters with Rangers strongly opposed to Rim-River and back trips, so we were a little worried he might be like that. He said we picked the right time of year and told us what the trial conditions were and what the weather should be. He was also very nice enough to hold our 2nd supply stash until we got back. We were pleasantly surprised when he said that they had turned on the water there and at Roaring Springs. So after we changed socks and put some moleskin on our feet we were off again. We got to roaring springs and the water wasn't working up there so we filtered it from the creek and ate some food. After our 1/2 break we were on way the N. Rim. We got there 9 hours 56 minutes after we started. There was some snow up there and we took a few quick pics and were back on the trail. About a mile down or so there was a bathroom we used and we also checked on our feet again and switched socks again. We made it back to Cottonwood at 12 hours 45 minutes. Talked with the ranger again, got our food from him and filled up drinks and we were off to Phantom Ranch. The 7-miles from Cottonwood-Phantom/The river are a very long 7 miles, even with it being slightly downhill. We got there at 15 hours and 45 minutes, picked up our supply stash to find out that some type of animal wanted our trail mix and wheat thins more than we did. He was nice enough to leave our energy bars, beef jerky, power gels, and clothes alone. we headed to the water pump at the Ranger Station/ Bathrooms and filled up there. We then walked over to the boat beach and rested there for a good 20-30 minutes. We ate a bunch of food, and checked on our feet again. After a good rest and a group picture on the river we were off for the final leg of our journey. We knew that a slow steady pace was key to making up. We did just that. Brad did a great job the whole day keeping us a pace that was manageable. It seemed to take forever to make it up there but we kept checking the GPS we were still keeping a 2.1 overall average. We just kept at it. We had to take a couple quick breaks just to be able to drink some water and breath. Power Gels were giving us a nice boost of energy too. Tom took the lead for the last mile and we standing back at the trailhead 20 hours and 2 minutes after we had started the day. We were all very excited with our total time, especially since 24 hours was our goal.
Here is some other info as to the gear, planning and mental aspect of it.
My gear included:
Ultimate Direction Warpspeed Pack w/ 4 liter capacity bladder
Leki Super Makula Trekking Poles- (The make ALL the difference)
Petzl Tikki Plus Headlamp
Vasque Lightspeed trail running shoes
Nike Dry Fit Shorts
Nike Dry Fit Shirt
Lightweight wind breaker/rain jacket
Under Armor boxers/compression shorts
1 pair Thoro trail running socks
1 pair of REI brand socks
1 liter Nalgene Bottle
1 package Dr. Scholl's Moleskin Plus Padding
1 Adventure Medical Blister Medic Kit
Food / Drinks
About 15 Cliff Bars (Taste great but you get tired of them_
2-3 Balance Bars
5-6 Cliff Shots and GU sports gel (Will bring more gels next time)
About a pound of Beef Jerky (For the 3 of us) Compliments of Brad's Dad
1 Package of trail mix (Which some animal ate)
Gatoraid Mix for 4-liters (Good but too sweet)
Gookinaid Mix for 6-liters (Great, will only bring Gookinaid mix next time)
GU Mix for 1 liter (Not Very Good)
1 package of Oreo cookies (for Tradition)
1 box of wheat thins (separated into ziplock bags and added extra salt)
1 Can of tuna surprise. (1 can tuna, miracle whip, relish, lemon seed, A1)
1 Package of Ritz Crackers (For the Tuna Surprise)
Most of my planning and research was from reading all the posts on here, Hike Arizona, and especially Adventurehiking.com Just from reading through all the trip logs of people who have done it and learning from them. I knew that staying hydrated and managing salts/electrolytes was very important. Brad and I both had a little issue on the Superstition Ridgeline Hike with managing them that helped us learn.
We broke the hike down to 7-mile sections:
South Rim to the River
I choose to drink gatoraid on the way down because I knew that I can practically "chug" it compared to water, and it had electrolytes which would be much needed later in the day. I ate 1 cliff bar at the junction with Tonto trail. When we got to the river I poured the remaining gatoraid from my 1 gallon bladder into my Nalgene Bottle. I ate another bar at our river rest stop also.
I kind of underestimated this leg of the trip on the way up. It's 7 miles with only 1700 feet of elevation gain so I though that was pretty simple. I didn't drink enough water or eat enough on the way there. I was also anticipating a longer break there, but when we got there the were bugs attacking us so we kept it short.
Cottonwood - N. Rim
I knew this was going to be a hard uphill hike comparable to the S.Kaibab trail. I also realized my mistake of not eating or drinking enough on the previous leg. So I drank and ate a lot on the 1st part of the leg and was able to regain my energy. I also got to rest and drink up at roaring springs while we filled our bottles. The views were awesome on this part of the trail.
N. Rim - Cottonwood
Just keep eating and drinking. Stay at pace you can talk at.
Cottonwood - River
A very long 7 miles. It just keeps winding along Bright Angel Creek the entire time.
River - S. Rim
Slow and steady will win the race. Your tired of all the food you have but you need to eat because that is your only energy. The power gels were great for this part. Shorter breaks, don't sit down because it takes too long and too much energy to get back up. You mumble a lot more trying to talk. Math skills aren't the greatest anymore either. You are 100% exhausted. You need to take a 30 second break just to catch your breath in order to suck water from your bladder. When you get to the top you will think that every $ you need to pay for the parking ticket you got since you parked at Yaki Point next to 10 other cars is well worth the it.
All in all this trip went very well. I thought that I actually would have hated it the whole time. We all enjoyed it very much. We all had planned on it being harder also. If you are considering attempting to do this, this is what I would differently.
Eat and Drink more when in the easier sections of trail. Bring more power gels and less bars. More beef jerky.(I just love jerky) At least 3 pairs of socks. Do not even think about attempting in the summer.