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The Grand Adventure

Chris Brewington trains in the Sandia Mountain foothills for a Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike he has planned for May. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While the Grand Canyon is more than 220 miles long, hiking across the canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim is about 21 miles, depending on the trail.

Chris Brewington, 40, has hiked the 21-mile span of the Kaibab Trail in four days and has trekked a handful of times from the South Rim to the Colorado River that carved the canyon. He’s training to see if he can hike it in a day.

“It’s my 90-day challenge,” says Brewington, who owns Brewington Fitness and Performance on McLeod NE, a personal training studio.

“I have not been below 200 pounds since early in my college days. I spent years trying to gain muscle mass and weight and now it is time to change my focus,” he says. “After shoulder surgery, sore knees and a renewed emphasis on health, my new 90-day challenge is to be under 200 pounds and ready for a ‘leisurely’ 21-mile day hike in the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim on the Kaibab trail.”

The more remote North Rim opens mid-May, so that’s when Brewington and hiking buddies Buster and Lori Mabrey plan their hiking challenge.

“It’s one step after the other,” says Buster Mabrey, executive director of the New Mexico High School Coaches Association, of his strategy. “Going down is optional, coming up is mandatory. The Grand Canyon is mystical and mysterious. It’s gorgeous.”

The North Rim is about 8,000 feet in elevation and drops to the Colorado River with an elevation of about 2,400 feet. The 14-mile North Kaibab Trail winds through Ribbon Falls and ends at Phantom Ranch, an area at the bottom of the canyon that has been inhabited for about a thousand years, according to the National Park Service.

“I’m sure we’ll stop and have a cold drink at Phantom Ranch,” Brewington says.

But then they plan to hike back up the canyon on the 7-mile South Kaibab trail, across the river from Bright Angel Campground through Skeleton Point and Cedar Ridge to the trailhead at the South Rim, with an elevation of about 7,260 feet.

“It’s a spectacular canyon that goes on forever,” says Brewington, who has also brought his team to hike in the Grand Canyon when he was a Team in Training Coach for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Brewington says that he will likely use the Grand Canyon shuttle to make the trip back to the North Rim.

Lori Mabrey, a basketball coach at Cibola High School, says she and Buster have hiked down to the Colorado River and back, so she feels up to the challenge. “The Grand Canyon is really a wonder of the world. When you get to the bottom, the river is exceptionally green. It’s so serene. Nothing can compare.”

Brewington says the group expects to leave at daybreak to finish about mid-afternoon, hiking about two miles an hour.

Training regimen

In the meantime, he spends six days a week training for the hike, he says. The Mabreys have also stepped up their training to include more miles of hiking in the Sandias, they say.

“The Forest Service definitely says do not do this hike in one day,” Brewington says. “And no one should do it in one day without the proper conditioning. A single-day rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon was one of my original hike goals, and it is time to accomplish this goal.”

Brewington says he remembers that goal from his days as an Eagle Scout. “I’ve always loved and had a great respect for the outdoors.”

Another Grand Canyon hiking enthusiast, Greg Scudder, an REI sales specialist, says he prefers hiking in and out of the canyon over the course of several days, but still increases his physical training to prepare.

“I enjoy the exploration as much as the pure physical challenge of it,” Scudder says.

He begins with day hikes in the Sandias and progressively adds distance and elevation. In the 15 or 20 times he’s hiked the Grand Canyon, he says he has discovered that the problems most people encounter are that they overestimate their strength and stamina and underestimate the amount of water they need. The park service recommends a gallon of water for the hike down and another gallon for the hike up, he says.

He says a good gauge of readiness is the ability to hike from the lower Sandia Peak Tram station to the upper tram and back in one day.

To train for the loose rock and steep trails, Brewington works to increase his agility and power with intense workouts three times a week, with hiking every day and a distance hike with elevation on the weekends.

Packing plan

Brewington says his day backpack will weigh about 15 to 20 pounds. His hydration pack holds 100 liters of water.

Along with protein bars and trail mix, Brewington plans to pack his favorite, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

He hikes with poles, and if the weather allows, in his Salomon Trail Running shoes, because they are lighter than his hiking boots. He wears a wicking shirt and hiking pants with zip-off legs, but usually leaves them on because of brush along the trail.

He’ll carry a first-aid kit with a compression wrap in case of sprains or strains. A windbreaker-raincoat combo will round out the pack, he says.

The temperature will likely be about 50 degrees in the morning at the North Rim and could climb as high as 90 to 100 degrees at the bottom of the canyon.

Brewington and the Mabreys will make “a decision hike” the first weekend of May to see if they are ready for their Grand Canyon challenge.

“Sandia Crest down and back is a good test,” he explains. “It’s not as much in elevation, but it’s similar conditions to the Grand Canyon.”

If you go

The entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park North Rim is 30 miles south of Jacob Lake on Arizona state route 67; the actual rim of the canyon is 14 miles south. Jacob Lake, Ariz., is in northern Arizona on U.S. 89A, not far from the Utah border. The Grand Canyon lies entirely within the state of Arizona.

The National Park Service recommends driving from Albuquerque to the North Rim, about 467 miles, via I-40 to U.S. 89, near Flagstaff, Ariz., and north to Lees Ferry and west to Jacob Lake and then south to the North Rim.

Visit details about shuttles, weather conditions and other details.

Getting ready

To train for the loose rock and steep trails of the Grand Canyon, trainer Chris Brewington is pursuing nonlinear periodization workouts three times a week to enhance strength, power and endurance. Additionally, he does an hour hike most every day and a distance hike with elevation on the weekends.

The nonlinear periodization workouts mean that he’s working to increase his agility and strength goals with different kinds of intensive muscle and power training, he explains.

The exercises may look similar each of the three days, but are practiced with varying weight, speed and propulsion for different results, he says. All the exercises also help build stability in his legs from his ankles to his hips, he adds.

Everyday he does a dynamic warm-up that incorporates lateral and up and down stepping for balance, he says.

On his strength training day, he does weights and body weight training with an emphasis on core strength with many variations of plank exercises.

The strength exercises of squats, lunges and dead lifts, for example, are done with heavy weight and fewer repetitions.

The second intensive day of the workout routine, Brewington focuses on explosive power, using propulsion with those lunges and squats and other exercises to enhance agility and speed.

“I do weighted movement with speed. These movements are about force and speed,” he says. This power workout will serve him when the uneven ground requires a big step up with his pack on his back.

The third intensive workout day, he does strength and endurance sets, such as lunges from multiple directions on an unstable Bosu ball, or one-legged squats, using a lightly weighted cable pull to extend and balance.

“This is a day for low weight and high reps,” he says. This workout will build his strength and stamina so he can hike the canyon for eight hours or more.

The whole plan of his training is to keep his body getting stronger and more agile for the hiking conditions he’ll face. Because of the variety, his body won’t become adapted or complacent with the work.

He says often the descent fools hikers into thinking they aren’t working hard, but on the uphill climb their legs and feet tell a different story.