Four former McPherson men recently crossed an item off their bucket list that few people attempt to accomplish.
They made the trek from the North Rim to the South Rim through the Grand Canyon in one day. The 24-mile, 16.5 hour-feat included almost triple-digit temperatures, a change of 6,000 feet in elevation, and lots and lots of water.
“It’s just very fulfilling, lots of fun,” Dave O’Reilly said. “We couldn’t have made it without help from each other.”
Inspired to adventure
The group included O'Reilly, 54, an experienced Eagle Scout; Gary Meagher, 62, former McPherson city administrator; Dennis Shaw, 56, retired McPherson police chief; and Mike Welch, almost 73.
The men ride bicycles together regularly, often traveling 100 miles a week. Many of their winter days are spent in the gym.
Their decision to accomplish this brave task came in 2010 when Meagher, Shaw and Welch traveled to the Grand Canyon and hiked up and down two trails on the South Rim. As they did, they met a man in his 60s who was alone and had started on the North Rim (elevation of more than 8,000 feet), hiked down to the Colorado River (elevation of about 2,400 feet), then back up the South Rim to the top, (elevation of about 7,000 feet). He had twine wrapped around his feet because the heat had melted the soles of his shoes as he walked.
“We thought, ‘If he can do it, then we can do it,’” Shaw said.
But it is not recommended. Canyon information stations state bold warnings: “The difference between a great adventure in Grand Canyon and a trip to the hospital (or worse) is up to YOU. DO NOT attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day, especially during the months of May to September.”
Disregarding all such warnings, the group pressed on and planned their journey for May 22, 2013.
“That’s all it generally takes for us to do something like that,” Shaw said. “It’s to do something that very few people ever do.”
This time, however, they came more prepared. They dressed in proper attire and brought protein and electrolytes for energy, many bottles of water, and even water purification tablets if they needed supplies in desperate straights.
Down and up
They began at 4:45 a.m.
Because of the drastic change in elevation, the terrain varied on their journey. The area where they began at the north rim was more mountain-like and involved many trees. Other stretches near the bottom of the canyon were sandy and desert-like, and included much direct sunlight. One area, called the Indian Gardens, provided shelter, water and cooler temperatures for a long rest.
Page 2 of 2 - They compared their journey to climbing an inverted mountain, as they must climb thousands of feet up on the second half of their journey when they are tired.
O’Reilly said he didn’t think it was very difficult.
“The beauty around us was such a distraction,” he said. “It’s incredibly breathtaking to take those trails. There's so much history in the area. I found it to be very humbling.”
Shaw said hikers can be easily deceived. Going down often looks easy — he saw some visitors in sandals and others in all-black clothing.
“Then all of the sudden you look up and realize you’ve got to climb out of this,” he said. “No matter what the trail, it is strenuous.”
More than 250 people have to be rescued each year from hiking in the Grand Canyon. The McPherson men saw two flown out by helicopter that day, but were all in their group were spared from hospital visits. Shaw, however, said he had blisters on every toe.
By 9:35 p.m., their mission was accomplished.
Motivated for more
Immediately following, the men said they would never do it again. However, after three days of recovery, it was suggested they try again for Welch’s 75th birthday. If not, several said they wouldn’t mind rafting down the Colorado River for their next adventure.
For most, they recommend taking the time to see the sights and enjoy the Grand Canyon from a tourist standpoint.
They had already taken their pictures. They wanted to accomplish something grandiose.
“The whole thing is like climbing Mt. Everest,” Welch said. “It’s something that few people will ever do in their lifetime. To do what we did is pretty impressive. You could not take the average person off the street and do it.
“A lot of people will look at this, especially when they see my age, and think ‘That guy is nuts. He’s trying to overachieve,’” Welch said. “That’s been my whole life. And I feel that if you’re body will allow you, then use it. Because you’re going to be in the ground a long time.”
Shaw took pictures every 30 seconds of the journey from a camera attached to his chest. He will give a presentation to the McPherson Optimist Club at 7 a.m. June 18, but said no word, picture or video can quite capture the experience.
Contact Jenae Pauls at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel