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Local hikers tackle Grand Canyon in ultra marathon hike

RANCHO SANTA FE — While most people were getting ready to go to bed the night of April 14, businessman Jerry Morris and orthodontist Karson Kupiec were making final preparations for what would be an “ultra marathon hike” through the Grand Canyon.
The men first finished up a dinner of plain pasta, then left at 10 p.m. and hiked continuously until 7 p.m. the next day, traveling 50 miles on foot through every biosphere as they scaled and descended all three rims of the park.
“We started among pine trees, in temperatures of 20 degrees with snow and ice, and descended into what would be the equivalent of the Sonora Desert floor with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s,” Morris said, adding that it would have been easier to walk 100 miles, than this 50-mile hike, because of 24,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, and temperature changes.
One of the most challenging aspects of the trek was navigating 1,000-foot precipices in pitch black darkness, particularly between the period when the moon sets and the sun rises.
“It was like a bottomless pit, like in the movies when a kid throws a rock and you never hear it land,” Kupiec explained.
Morris was experienced, having made the trip last year. “You try to keep your mind in the happy place,” he said. “You can’t go negative or it could be terrifying.”
The adventurers came across deer, rabbits, bats and owls along the way. At one point Morris thought he saw a mountain lion, but calmed his nerves telling himself it was probably just a fox.
They kept each other within eyesight, no more than 100 yards apart. At times they’d talk, but mostly they used the time to absorb nature, cleanse their mind and think about the purposeful things in life such as their families.
Both men are 41, and were adamant that their age was an advantage. They agreed that they couldn’t have survived the trip in their 20s.
“You need to be more mature because of technical aspects of this,” Morris said. “When you are younger you rely on pure physical strength and you think you can conquer anything. The canyon will conquer you unless you respect what you are doing.”
Morris, who runs a hiking clinic at the Crosby Ranch called “Gate Escape,” trained Kupiec for four months.
“Jerry knew I was involved in physical activities,” Kupiec said. “I was well above average shape for hiking, but not for this.”
Training included 40-mile hikes in the local backcountry, hitting four different mountain peaks per hike, as well as instruction on fueling, foot preparation and proper hiking gear.
Morris explained that the key to survival is proper hydration and fueling which they did by consuming electrolyte and caffeine supplements, protein and energy bars, and GU, which is a mixture of complex carbohydrates.
“Everybody is different and you have to know your body,” Morris explained. “Karson was our time keeper and put us on 45-minute intervals to fuel regardless of whether we were hungry or not. Fueling early and often is critical to get out of the canyon without ‘bonking.’”
Bonking is a term to describe stomach cramping which subsequently can lead to the body crashing. Morris and Kupiec came across some triathletes on their hike that bonked.
“This (an ultra marathon hike) is not sanctioned by National Forest system,” Morris warned. “It’s incredibly dangerous if you don’t do it right. People die every year doing it.”
Although Kupiec admits to indulging in fantasies about enjoying a juicy hamburger, when the expedition was over that was the further thing from his mind.
“It’s just not palatable,” he said. “Your stomach can’t expand after drinking all that liquid.”
Morris adds, “Having something heavy can put your body into shock. The meal after is not what you think it would be.”
In the end, Kupiec was exhilarated by the experience. He’s contemplating taking on the challenge of the Cactus to Clouds hike to San Jacinto Peak, at almost 11,000 feet in elevation, within the month.


Candace S. May 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Congrats on your Rim to Rim to Rim hike. I’ve completed 4 myself and know it’s brutal. However, I do wish to correct something. You said that people "die every year" from doing to Rim to Rim to Rim hike.

Untrue. No one has died doing this hike since 1982, according to the book "Death in the Grand Canyon." And that was an unfortunate man who attempted it in August, which of course is suicidal in that heat.

FaithSD April 29, 2011 at 9:14 am

Outstanding! This story should be in every junior high and high school for the kids to learn and understand what will power, commitment, determination, perseverance and patience really is.
What a great triumph! I should be so fortunate to be in above average shape and have the amazing goal to accomplish a feat most tri-athletes can barely muster.

TrailRunnerGuy April 28, 2011 at 7:49 pm

You guys are rockstars!! That’s one heck of a distance, both horizontal AND vertical, to cover in 20 hours!

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