What do high school students look forward to on a three-day weekend? How about getting up at 4 a.m., driving to the Grand Canyon, slinging on a backpack with everything needed to survive for three days and hiking 27 miles, only part of which have real trails? That was the reality for six intrepid members of the Holbrook High School Running Club on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend this year. The trip was the Janu-ary outing for the Running Club, which meets twice a week to run after school, with weekend expeditions monthly as an added incentive to participate and stay in shape. Because of the rigors of this hike, members had to demonstrate the ability to run five miles non-stop to be eligible. Numbers were also limited by the backcountry permit in the canyon; including chaperones, the permit only allowed eight hikers.
Backpacks were readied on Friday evening–sleeping bags, tents, food, backpacking stove and fuel, wa-ter, clothes suitable for temperatures ranging from 10° to 60°, first aid kit, water filter, emergency beacon, maps and GPS locator. After not many hours sleeping at the Running Club sponsor’s house, everyone was up at 4 a.m. for breakfast, loaded into a school Suburban along with their gear and drove to the head of the New Hance Trail in Grand Canyon National Park.
Packs were donned, and after a quarter-mile walk through a flat ponderosa pine forest, the runners reached the edge of the canyon and plunged through the crunchy snow still prevalent in the Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino and Hermit formations before reaching dry ground and better going part way down the Supai. As generally happens, the speedsters grouped together to take the lead, waiting periodically for the more cautious hikers to bring up the rear. When the floor of Red Canyon was reached, there was a lunch break before following the drainage down to the Colorado River. Even though it was January, all the stu-dents couldn’t resist the slack water protected from the main current of the Colorado by a string of boulders, and jumped in for a quick swim. Some river rafters, bundled in layers of polar fleece and dry suits, watched in amazement as the guys dipped into the frigid water.
There was still more distance to make on the first day and after warming in the January sun, the group hoisted their packs and started upriver along the Escalante Route. The route is marked by occasional cairns (stacked rocks left by other hikers and perhaps some Park Service wilderness guides). After a short while, the route ascended over a steep boulder slope to a saddle and then back down to river level through a series of ledges. Packs were handed down to make the climbing safer. Another mile and they were at their camp-site on the river. Water was filtered, dinners cooked, tents pitched and the nearly full moon edged above the rim of the canyon. Chaperones slept; runners played hide and seek in the moonlight before turning in for the night.
Sunday took them along the Escalante Route through some spectacular narrows, climbing up 1,000 feet to the Tonto Plateau, making huge arcs to cross heads of side canyons before descending again to the Colo-rado upriver from Unkar Rapids. It was late afternoon before their last regrouping of the day, and the deci-sion was made to take advantage of the moonlight, hike part way out the Tanner Trail and camp on a small flat so they could shorten the hike on Monday.
The trip out the Tanner was scenic, albeit snow covered again in the upper reaches, and they met a few other hikers on their way down, their only contact with other humans in three days. Everyone picked their own pace, the trail was well defined, and the speedsters got to cool their heels on top and entertain tourists while they waited for the last hikers to finish.
The HHS Running Club was formed five years ago by their current sponsor, John Wehrman, an HHS math teacher, at the initiative of several runners who wanted to maintain the camaraderie and fitness they had gained during the cross country season. It has since expanded to include anyone interested in running for fitness and enjoyment, and members include casual runners as well as athletes participating in organized sports. The club pays for use of school Suburbans, as well as all costs associated with outings, and is fi-nanced by fundraisers and tax credit donations.