When a friend invited Jennifer Lebowitz to join her on a Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim ultra-hike, her first reaction was doubt. “I couldn’t do that,” the Gilbert part-time teacher and stay-at-home mom recalls, thinking about the 48-mile trek that starts on the South Rim, leads to the canyon floor, goes up to the North Rim, and then all the way back again. But the seed took root.
“After she asked me, I couldn’t get it off my mind, and kept wondering if I could do it,” Lebowitz says. “[I spent] the last eight years… having three babies. I was very active – going to the gym regularly and running and hiking – [but] 6 miles was my long run at the time. So, I was starting from scratch.”
Although her intense training of running, core strength workouts and practice hikes on the grueling Mount Ord trail in northeast Maricopa County got her body ready, Lebowitz also needed to mentally prepare.
“The mental challenge of this hike is by far the hardest aspect of it,” she says. “Every section of this hike takes enormously longer than you can ever imagine.”
Another key factor was nutrition and hydration planning. During the 18-hour hike, Lebowitz often had to force herself to eat and drink to meet her 100-calorie-per-hour goal. “Our hydration plan was drinking constantly and alternating periodically between water and electrolytes,” she says. “Drinking only water can eliminate all your minerals and leave you very sick. For an adventure this long, sodium and potassium need to be replenished.”
Lebowitz advises would-be R2R2R trekkers to never underestimate the risk of injury and limited rescue options.
“Be completely trained before attempting this,” she warns. “Have a group that is also properly prepared, because you will be responsible for them, too. If you don’t think you can hike for an entire day and night and have about 18 of those miles straight up canyon walls, don’t attempt this.”
IF YOU GO
LENGTH: 42-55 miles roundtrip depending on route
RATING: Extremely difficult
ELEVATION: 2,400-8,200 feet (11,600-accumulated gain)
GETTING THERE: nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/directions.htm
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