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What A Bass Trail FKT Means to Me and My Friends by Eric Senseman

What A Bass Trail FKT Means to Me and My Friends by Eric Senseman

“The English novelist J.B. Priestley once said that if he were an American, he would make the final test of whatever men chose to do in art, business, or politics a comparison with the Grand Canyon. He believed that whatever was false and ephemeral would be exposed for what it was when set against that mass of geology and light.” -Kevin Fedarko in The Emerald Mile

The Bass Trail, which includes a south and north section, is a roughly 21-mile point-to-point trail in the Grand Canyon. It’s designated as a primitive trail, which means that it’s not regularly maintained, it receives little visitation, and the use of cairns is permitted to keep people on trail. At the southern trailhead on the canyon’s south rim at about 6,700’ above sea level, there’s a miniature parking lot at the end of a deserted dirt road that takes a long time to drive to. Swamp Point trailhead, on the north rim at about 7,500’ elevation, can be accessed by car when the road is open, but the road is not open in the winter and I’m not entirely sure how long it would take to drive there from any city with a sizable population. It’s truly in the middle of nowhere. Between the two rims, and far below at about 2,100’, is the Colorado River. It’s a very big river and its current is as strong as you’d expect a river’s current to be when that river has carved a canyon a mile deep over millions of years. If you run the trail from one point to the other, you have to cross the river somehow. There isn’t a bridge. You can haul a packraft down, or you can bring flippers to swim, or you can try to walk on water. But you’ve got to find some way to cross the river in order to run the whole trail. And if you want to run the trail from one point to the other and back, then you’ve got to cross the river twice (and run about 42 miles). This is about the extent of what me and my friends knew when we discussed the possibility of running rim-to-rim-to-rim on the Bass Trail. We also knew that the route had been covered before.

On October 18, 2014, Peter Bakwin, Buzz Burrell and Charles Corfield attempted a first-known double-crossing of the Bass Trail. Only Bakwin made it all the way from the south rim to the north rim and back (Burrell and Corfield turned around short of the north rim), but the trio did manage to successfully swim across the mighty Colorado River twice. Bakwin completed the feat in 16 hour and 15 minutes and Burrell dubbed the route “R2R2R-alt”. The name seems appropriate because the only other trail that traverses the entire Grand Canyon from south to north is the Kaibab Trail. The Kaibab Trail is designated as a corridor trail because it’s well maintained, it’s frequented by many visitors, it has running water on the north side, and ranger stations and emergency phones dot the trail throughout. The traditional R2R2R route is run on the Kaibab Trail. There’s been increasing interest in recent years, and perhaps even decades, in running across the Grand Canyon via the Kaibab Trail. Similarly, there’s been increasing interest in recent years, and perhaps even decades, in covering terrain faster than anyone has before. When executed successfully, such achievements of speed are called Fastest Known Times (FKTs). So, it’s no surprise that the traditional R2R2R route on the Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon has been a very popular FKT route.

One of my friends, Jim Walmsley, is very probably one reason why the R2R2R FKT has gained popularity recently, for he both runs the Kaibab Trail often and has done it faster than anyone has ever before. In October 2016 he set a new R2R2R FKT in a frankly ridiculous time of 5:55:20, while simultaneously setting a new R2R record of 2:46:08 during the first crossing of the Canyon from south to north. The accomplishment received a lot of media coverage. People were interested, including another one of my friends, Tim Freriks. Freriks was so inspired by Walmsley’s effort that a year later, in October 2017, he established a new R2R FKT, running from the north rim to the south rim in 2:39:38. Also last fall, Cat Bradley reset the women’s R2R2R FKT, bettering a mark that had stood since 2011, and Alicia Vargo established a new R2R FKT, similarly improving a 2011 mark. Then, just this fall, the women’s R2R2R FKT was reset twice and at least two ladies unsuccessfully attempted to reset the record. Like I said, runners have lately shown an increasing interest in dipping below the rim to navigate the canyon walls.

Me and my friends run in the Grand Canyon a lot. We live in Flagstaff, just a 75-minute drive from the canyon’s south rim, and you're likely to see someone from our group in the canyon almost any week of the year. Collectively, we’ve spent weeks of our lives descending its depths and scaling its walls. We’ve each walked out in defeat on a bad day; we’ve each marveled at the colorful layers of rock at sunset. We’ve all felt we might never escape the canyon alive; we’ve all triumphed after a fast ascent to the rim. From running in the canyon, we’ve each learned a great deal about ourselves and about life, and we’ve developed a healthy respect for the unwavering challenge that awaits every time we reach the deep depth of the canyon’s bottom. The Grand Canyon has left its mark on us. And, in turn, and out of respect, we'd like to try to leave our mark on the canyon.

There are more than 20 trails below the rim of the Grand Canyon. Some, like the Kaibab Trail, the Bass Trail, and the Tonto Trail, have established FKTs. Others do not. But me and my friends feel a compulsion, if not a duty, to bring attention to this magnificent place, to make times on these established FKT routes more competitive, and to establish FKT routes on Grand Canyon trails that don’t yet have one. We think this is one way for us to leave a small but lasting impact on a place that has left its mark on us. We think it’s one way for us to help grow the sport of trail- and ultra-running, and it’s one way to help push the FKT movement to heightened competitiveness. We think it's our way to expand boundaries in our sport. We think it's a way to challenge ourselves against a mass of geology and light, and to inspire others to do the same. That’s what a Bass Trail FKT means to me and my friends. That’s why we did it. Here’s how it happened.

We departed from the South Bass trailhead in the dark at exactly 6:15am. The South Bass Trail hugs the canyon walls tightly except when it darts, in a series of switchbacks, quickly downward. So, there’s a lot of traversing followed by rapid descending, along with some bushwacking and, for the uninitiated, occasional route finding. Having scouted the trail the week prior, we moved quickly and had the river in sight after 78 minutes and 7 miles of running. The Colorado River is steadily around 47-48 degrees since the water is released from the bottom of Lake Powell. For this reason, it is imperative to wear a wet suit when crossing the river. We changed into those. We put the gear we would need for the north side into dry bags, which doubled as personal flotation devices (PFDs - also and unequivocally an imperative) after they’re blown up with air. The dry bag/PFDs attached to our waists during the swim. With the help of Chris Thornley who hiked down early to scout our crossing, and with Jamil Coury who joined us for the descent to the river, we picked our way down a wash until we arrived at the water’s edge. Thornley recommended that we start our swim toward the bottom of a rapid so that we’d shoot straight into a beach on the north side. This did work. I won’t go so far as to advise others to cross in this same place. On the second river crossing, we chose calmer water farther downstream and I, personally, felt much more at ease crossing there since the water was less tumultuous and didn’t thrash us around as much. In any case, we made it, dropped the wetsuits and drybags next to the North Bass Trail after climbing up a wash from the beach, and we were off.

The North Bass Trail covers some of the most truly eclectic, visually stunning, and remote landscape that I have ever seen. Early portions of the trail crisscross a flowing Shinumo Creek that’s flanked with thick vegetation. The trail leaves the sandy shores of the creek for higher ground after a mile or so, and pitches steeply up to the Tonto layer, where the smooth trail flows in and out of drainages and around sundry cacti. Soon the trail picks up another creek bed, this one dry initially but with flowing water after some miles, until the trail disappears into a tight canyon with thick brush just below the Esplanade Sandstone. The canyon opens up during a massive, switchbacking climb up the Esplanade, and we were suddenly greeted with 180 degrees of 2,000-foot walls around us. The sheer cliffs we were navigating, and the surrounding views, gave me goosebumps.

Once on the Esplanade Sandstone, the trail rolled up and down until we hit yet another creek bed, which we followed until we were just two miles from the north rim. At this point, the trail again pitched upward and as we hit a ridge with one mile to go, the trail turned snowy. We reached the top at approximately 12:26pm, took a few minutes to regroup, then made the return trip, stopping for water using small water filters throughout our journey on the north side of the Colorado River.

We arrived back at the river at approximately 3:30pm, again changed and bagged our stuff, and got back across. We were happily greeted by Jamil who had stayed at the river for more than 6 hours waiting for us.

Together, the four of us ascended the last 7 miles to the south rim, hiking steadily on the steep climbs and shuffling along the flat traverses. However, we failed to achieve our stated goal of avoiding headlamps for a second time as darkness enveloped the canyon with just 2 miles to go.

Nevertheless, we emerged at the South Bass trailhead at 6:35pm and thereby established a new Bass Trail FKT of 12:20:54.

A big thanks to Chris Thornley and Jamil Coury, without whom the trip would have been less memorable, more stressful, and altogether not as enjoyable. Photos by Jamil Coury.

Squirrel’s Nut Butter Review - by Running Without Injuries (earlier this year)

Squirrel’s Nut Butter Review - by Running Without Injuries (earlier this year)

http://runningwithoutinjuries.blogspot.com

It doesn’t matter if you are an elite runner or a weekend warrior, if you have ever had chaffing issues, you never want to let it happen again.  There are a bunch of different products out there and I have tried most of them.  I was given a sample of Squirrels Nut Butter at the Salmon Falls 50k last year and decided to give it a try after hearing great things about it. 

 

Squirrels Nut Butter makes an anti-chafe and restorative skin salve.  Chris and Stacy Thornley founded the company out of their own necessity.  Their daughter battled severely dry skin and Stacy, who is a Registered Nurse specializing in allergies, decided to start exploring solutions. None of the skin health products she had found could properly help with her daughters eczema and other conditions.  She put her knowledge to work and started trying to create a salve.  It took a ton of trial and error, but finally an effective product was created. 

 

Chris and Stacy started offering the product to friends and family around Flagstaff, where they live.  Everybody loved it!  Eventually the new product made its way to a guy whose nickname is Squirrel (who works for Chris’ tree cutting company).  He tried the product instead of his normal anti-chafe product and raved about how well it worked.  Chris came up with the name and started marketing the product to endurance athletes.  Once he knew he would be able to sell the product, it was time for a name.  Because the original blend was made with almond oil, he knew the name had to be Squirrels Nut Butter.

 

Squirrels Nut Butter is now made with four simple ingredients; coconut oil, cocoa butter, beeswax, and vitamin E oil.  They have been selling their product since 2015 and it has really taken off.  It is now utilized in several sports including running, cycling, triathlon, hiking, and any other sport where chaffing may be an issue. 

 

They now have a spicy salve for pre and post workouts called Born to Rub.  Happie Toes is a foot-specific salve blended with peppermint and tea tree oils.  They even have a vegan version of the original Squirrels Nut Butter.  In addition to being an anti-chafe product, it prevents blisters on your feet and can heal and restore your dry, irritated skin (including eczema).

 

I have been using Squirrels Nut Butter for months now and have to say that I like it way better than the other products out there.  There are several reasons why.  The first reason is that it isn’t clumpy like Bodyglide.  It isn’t greasy and won’t stain your clothes like other products either.  It isn’t made with a ton of chemicals that I can’t pronounce.  It simply is easy to put on and works forever.  I ran my recent 50 miler and didn’t have a single chaffing issue after 13.5 hours of really wet and hot running.  I couldn’t have thrown more at Squirrels Nut Butter and it protected me like my own personal secret service. 

They recommend that if you are looking to use it in colder temperatures, that the stick works best, which is my favorite option.  They also have a double-walled tub that works great in heat up to 120 degrees.  In cold weather the SNB can get rather hard.  I just rubbed it between my hands for a few seconds to have it melt.  Then I applied it where needed.

 

 

I really liked the Happie Toes as well.  My feet really get thrashed, especially when I am doing a lot of runs in the rain and mud.  My feet get dry and sometimes even start to crack.  Other brand’s products are okay, but I really liked the effectiveness and feeling of the Happie Toes. 

 

Pros:

Great anti-chafe product lasts forever

Non-clumpy

All natural

Washes off easily and won’t stain clothes

Great prices

 

I can’t say enough good things about Squirrels Nut Butter.  It really is an amazing product and would definitely recommend it over other products.  The only downside is that because it is made with cocoa butter, it does have a chocolaty smell (more like cocoa), which makes me want candy.  Hopefully it doesn’t make a bear think I am a huge candy bar. 

Tip’s when tackling your first 50km trail ultra words by Jenni Hadfield 

Tip’s when tackling your first 50km trail ultra words by Jenni Hadfield 

 

Train specifically. The more closely you simulate the trail terrain you'll be racing on in training, the more prepared you'll be.  The more you know the better you can tailor your training to weave in similar terrain and optimally prepare your body and mind for race day.

Merge off road gradually. Although the impact forces while trail running are lower than road running, the demands on your muscles, tendons and joints will be greater when you begin to run on trails.  Start your journey to the trails with a few shorter runs during the week and hold this pattern for the first 4-6 weeks.  Once you begin to feel comfortable, begin to transition your long endurance runs on the trails.

Watch out for trail drain. One sign you know you've run hard on roads is the unmistakable muscle tightness and fatigue that comes from the impact forces.   You can literally feel the effects of the impact on your body.  This is not the case on trails.  The body hurts less and fatigue shows up in an overall energy drain and decrease in the ability to maintain strong running form (tripping, falling).  Like marathon training, it is just as important to follow the flow of easy and hard workouts to allow your body to acclimate and recover efficiently.   It is wise to respect the new demands of trail running and in the initial stages treat trail runs as harder workouts until your body adapts.  Listen to your body for signs of trail drain.

Modify your long run strategy. Yes, in order to race longer you need to train longer but you don't need to go crazy.  Remember to build these long runs gradually just as you did for the marathon training.

Mix it up, run on roads and cross-train. Balance out the rest of your training program with a mid-week 60-80 minute easy run, a faster paced road run (tempo or intervals) to maintain foot speed, and one or two shorter easy paced road runs.  Weave in cross-training activities that are lower in impact and will complement the needs of the ultra-athlete.  Mountain biking is one of the best forms as you are in and out of the saddle developing core and leg strength in your hips and quads all while training without impact.  Don't skimp on the core strength.

Run with the rhythm of the trail. The greatest part of trail running is it teaches you to run by the terrain rather than your watch.  Set a goal to run by effort (how you feel - breathing, heart rate) rather than pace.  This can and will change the way you run forever.  

Be self-contained.  Although there will be aid stations on the ultra-course (bananas, chips, sports drink, water, electrolytes and more) you will need to carry fluids and gels with you on the trail.  Fueling for an ultra is much different than a marathon because you will be out there longer (due to the longer distance and the demands of the trail).  Find the right balance of fuel for you while training this season and learn the hydration system that works for you. 

Make friends with walking.  Even the best ultra-runners utilize the benefits of walking in training and on race day.

Race like the tortoise, not the hare and be kind to yourself. The secret to successful and joyful ultra-marathon races is in your pacing strategy.  Because any given km could be flat, rolling, muddy, technical, it is impossible to race by your watch at a specific pace.