Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Over 6 million people from all over the world visit the Grand Canyon every year; however, less than 1% of them run from one rim of the canyon to the other and back to the start. This run, also known as Rim to Rim to Rim, is approximately 48 miles long and over 11,000 feet of elevation gain. On October 23rd, 2021, a team of all Black hikers set out to tackle this Grand challenge. At 0300 hours sharp, under the cover of darkness the hikers slipped onto the Bright Angel Trailhead with headlamps lighting the way and hiking poles in hand. They were well prepared and fully equipped as each individual had been preparing for over three months for this moment. Some of the hikers knew each other from other endurance sports such as obstacle course racing, running, triathlons,etc. Most of the training was completed individually, some teammates infrequently trained together and there were regular virtual meetings. The entire team didn’t meet until the day of the event. The wind was cool and crisp but not sharp or piercing. The headlamps bobbled and danced in the darkness, like fireflies in the night. The light from the lamps illuminated the massive and never ending canyon walls. Single file they trekked into the predawn night, some chatted nervously, others hugged the canyon walls anxiously as they navigated the tight switchbacks, loose gravel, and boulders on the path. Koach Solomon led the way down into the canyon floor. An experienced hiker and trail runner, he called out trip hazards and steep dips on the path. At times, the trail became very thin and the drop offs as high as 6,000 feet meant imminent death. Koach was a large man, standing six foot two inches tall and 240 lbs, he bounced fluidly down the trail allowing gravity to pull him forward and downward. Que and Karrisa followed directly behind him, repeating out his calls, “hug the wall, steep dropoff” Koach roared, “hug the wall,” Que and Karrisa echoed.
The trail was varied, sometimes flat and straight, other times curvy and rocky but always descending. Picking and choosing the best opportunities, Koach trotted at a slight pace at times, other times he walked purposely and cautiously. 7 miles into the hike, the trail began to flatten slightly. Taking advantage of the rocky but flat trail, the crew began to pick up the pace. In the middle of the pack was Obadiah. Tall, slender, and strong, he cautioned the team to slow down when necessary to allow the rear to catch up. Pulling up the rear was Herman, Bobby , Brian, and Marquette Shumate a.k.a Marquette The Spartan. It was Marquette The Spartan who proposed the challenge to the group over a year ago. A fitness enthusiast, former football defensive back, and elite obstacle course specialist, he was more than familiar with running trails and tackling tough goals. Approximately 9 miles into the hike, the crew reached the canyon floor. Daylight was beginning to creep over the canyon rim. The team paused for a second and stood in wonder of the canyon walls towering above, the rushing water of the Colorado River sang in applause. They had come so far, but had so far to go, thus they carried on. Approximately 11 miles into the expedition, they arrived at Bright Angel Campground. They took advantage of the restrooms and picnic tables. “10 minutes then we are moving again folks,” Koach reported. He timed every break and stop. The entire crew knew that the clock was racing. They stopped at times to admire the beauty of the canyon, yet they kept a sense of urgency as all knew that the clock was running and time was limited. After Bright Angel they encountered the infamous “Box” - a narrow section of the trail adjacent to Bright Angel Creek that is tightly enclosed by the canyon walls. They took full advantage of all running opportunities in The Box. The air in the box was warmer, not quite suffocating but not as crisp. The canyon walls crowd in on you in the box, like a packed subway car or sold out concert, but instead of people standing over your shoulder, it is massive and ancient reddish brown stone walls, towering above you. Upon exiting the box, the canyon walls opened up and folded away. Rolling hills and green
meadows took center stage, the cool air on the canyon floor hugged their faces. The crew carried on to Cottonwood Camp then stopped briefly to refuel and refill their hydration containers. The next leg of the journey, the infamous North Rim ascent, was in front of them. The North Kaibab trail up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is over 8,000 feet of elevation gain, which is the equivalent to climbing The Empire State Building 6 times. With the sun beaming directly upon their shoulders, the crew set off up the North Kaibab trail. Koach began to tire and slid to the back of the hiking line. Obadiah took the helm, his long powerful strides covering ground quickly, Que and Karisa Dyce were directly behind him. The rest of the team held up the rear.
The North Rim was unkind to the crew. Brian and Koach fell to the rear, Obadiah and Karisa were slightly ahead of them, Que, Marquette, Herman and Bobby were well ahead and reached the North Rim first. The cofounder of BlacK With Endurance, Lani Woods, was at the North Rim to greet them all. She welcomed the crew with life saving water, electrolytes, and food. “How are you doing, Koach? You're heading back right?” Marquette asked. “I want to,” Koach replied, but he knew he
was done. Brian, Koach, Karisa and Obadiah
decided to not go on. They had crossed the Grand Canyon, 24 miles and over 8,000 feet elevation gain. They were tired and depleted but their spirits were high. They had accomplished what few would ever complete. Marquette, Que, Bobby, and Herman huddled together closely, with their arms around each other's shoulders, they prayed, then bolted quickly down the North Kaibab trail. The ascent up to the North Rim had taken a lot out of the crew. They were tired and weary, yet they were stubborn and determined. The road back to the Bright Angel trailhead would take every bit of energy and grit that they had.
Once the crew hit the canyon floor, Marquette took the helm. Running through the Box at 9 minute per mile pace at times, they covered ground quickly, resting and refueling as needed. Halfway through the return trip, the sun began to set. As the crew pushed on, the darkness of the night slid in, so they crowned their heads with headlamps once again and set forth up the Bright Angel trail. Although not as steep as the North Rim, the 6,860 foot climb up Bright Angel trailhead was long and winding and after traveling over 38 miles already, the crew was depleted and fatigued, however their spirits were far from broken. Fueled with grit, heart and pure determination, Herman, Bobby, Que and Marquette hiked up the Bright Angel trailhead. With less than a mile left, once again, Lani was there to greet them. Her voice and presence gave the crew life and second wind as they knew the finish line was near. Herman and Bobby reached the peak first, followed by Que. Marquette led from rear and reached the peak shortly behind them and was quickly greeted by Koach Solomon. 48.5 miles, 11,000 feet of elevation gain, and 19 hours laters, the crew of 4 had finished the unthinkable, the incredible. They crossed one of the 7 wonders of the world twice in one day. The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim is perhaps the only challenge that is just as much beautiful as it is hard. On this day, the 8 hikers who participated in this challenge all walked away victorious. Some went further than others, but everyone gave their all. And all witnessed history in the making!