By Michael Lanza

We shuffled silently up the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail in the last hour of a 42-mile, over 21,000-foot, one-day rim-to-rim-to-rim run across the canyon and back. Following the beams of our headlamps—night had fallen a few hours earlier—exhausted but knowing we had the gas to reach the South Rim, my friends Pam, Marla, and I trudged upward in the darkness, heads down.

Suddenly, we stopped in our tracks, startled by the unexpected sight of a young couple sitting beside the trail in the dark. Shining my headlamp on the two of them, who had not yet said a word, I asked, “Are you okay? Don’t you have headlamps?”

The guy tapped the tiny light on his forehead, which I hadn’t noticed, and replied, “It died a couple hours ago.”

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“Do you want to walk between us in our light beams?” I asked. They nodded and rose shakily to their feet. As we continued slowly uphill—the two of them clearly physically spent, the woman stopping to sit beside the trail repeatedly in the last mile or so before we reached the trailhead, where our ride was waiting—I got their story from the guy.

A hiker on the upper South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.
” data-image-caption=”David Ports hiking the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ width=”427″ height=”640″ src=”″ alt=”A hiker on the upper South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.” class=”wp-image-30765″ srcset=” 427w, 200w” sizes=”(max-width: 427px) 100vw, 427px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />David Ports hiking the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.

They had arrived at the park that morning and sought a walk-in permit to backpack overnight but none was available. So around mid-morning, they decided to dayhike down the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and return up the South Kaibab—a 16.5-mile hike with over 9,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss that park management warns hikers against attempting.

While people like Pam, Marla, and I obviously choose to disregard the park’s official warnings against attempting ultra-runs and hikes in the canyon, we trained for it and came prepared to finish. This couple had undertaken a hike for which they didn’t have the fitness, proper gear, or enough food and water, starting it far too late, which exposed them to the day’s wilting heat. And if they had made it to the South Kaibab Trailhead on their own—and I’m not sure they would have—they’d have gotten there hours after the last park shuttle bus departed and found
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