There’s a book called Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon. The cover depicts a human skeleton lying at the canyon rim, not subtly. It’s not so much a safety manual as a collection of terrifying stories—it promises “gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps” in the canyon.
Most of them involve falling. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I imagine it starts with something foreboding, like “Nobody plans to fall into the Grand Canyon ...”
Yet people do. A “newly expanded” tenth-anniversary edition of Over the Edge came out in 2012, and even that is no longer a comprehensive catalog. Last year a 35-year-old Florida woman made news when she fell 400 feet over the edge to her death—shortly after posting what would be her final Instagram, a photo of her sitting at the edge.
I came across the book as I was preparing to run across the Grand Canyon. This would require going over the edge—down from the North Rim, across the bottom, and up to the South Rim. Many fewer people die this way.
Running the canyon “rim to rim” is a thing. According to the National Park Service, the trail “approximates a route used for millennia by many Native American groups.” It follows a natural break in the canyon rims. The trail was “built” in 1891 to reach mining claims, and it was turned over to the park service in 1928. Now the trail is mostly used by hikers and mules. But at least a few people run it every day during non-winter months, for reasons variously healthy and not.
Our group consisted mostly of my dad and his friends, who are semi-retired or tenured and so have decided to spend a not-insignificant amount of their time running. They had trained extensively. My own training consisted of running around Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which is a three-mile loop with one hill. Sometimes I did it twice, and twice I did it three times. The total distance across the Grand Canyon is around 24 miles. (Though measurements differ. By the end, my iPhone would register 48,890 steps, or 29.5 miles.)