J.D. Williams Still Making Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Trips at age 54

It’s no secret that the Grand Canyon is a great place for athletes to challenge themselves. Those seeking to truly push themselves to the limits can usually find what they’re looking for somewhere within the canyon itself or the surrounding park. There are hiking trails, challenging mountain biking trails, untamed wilderness, and the raging Colorado River, the canyon’s original architect and one of the most popular whiteriver rafting spots in the country.

When I imagine someone conquering the toughest challenges that the Grand Canyon has to offer, I usually think of a younger adult at the height of their physical prime, but the feats of J.D. Williams, a 54-year-old banker hailing from Kennesaw, have made me reconsider. Williams, husband and father of three, recently completed his fifth rim-to-rim-to-rim adventure, hiking and running a grand total of 42 miles with more than 22,000 feet in elevation change over the course of his latest journey. “It’s an incredible view. You can stand there on the South Rim and see the North Rim. It’s 21 miles from one rim to the other rim. It almost makes you dizzy seeing that far.”

Williams was originally introduced to the strenuous test by a friend of his who encouraged him to give it a try in the 90s. Williams and his friend set out for a simple rim-to-rim adventure, hiking and running from the Grand Canyon South Rim up to the North Rim in a single day and then staying the night at the North Rim. Then Williams had an idea that changed everything. He said, “We thought, ‘Why do that? Why not come on back?’”, and a legend was born.

By striking out towards the canyon, Williams learned the ins and outs of navigating the Grand Canyon National Park and the canyon itself, and in 1996, he made his very first rim-to-rim-to-rim journey after assembling a team of friends to help him on his way. Williams wasn’t completely prepared for his journey, however, and a lack of proper hydration found him in the emergency room after the end of that first 25-hour rim-to-rim-to-rim journey. In 2012, he made that same journey in just under 15 hours.

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“The thing that makes it unique is when you climb mountains you climb to the top of a mountain and you give it every effort you’ve got to get to the top because you know when you turn back around, even if you’re exhausted, you can stumble back downhill. This is different because you give everything you’ve got to go 36 miles and then you’ve got to climb 6 miles out. It’s exhausting. It’s debilitating and no matter how often I’ve done it, it’s a struggle to get out. No one can save you. Cell phones don’t work. The only thing that works in the canyon is a satellite phone, which you don’t have. The trails are so narrow there’s no way to fly in and swoop you out. The only way to get you out is to carry you out by hand or by mule. That’s what I love about it. The uniqueness of it is that you’ve got to save yourself, or your team has to save themselves.”

What’s the most difficult feat you’ve ever accomplished? Have you ever hiked one of the many challenging and relaxing Grand Canyon trails? Let us know in the comments section below!