Valley professor becomes 3rd to hike length of Grand Canyon

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

MESA, Ariz. -- A Mesa Community College professor is writing a book after becoming just the third person ever to hike the entire length of the Grand Canyon on both sides of the Colorado River.

Andrew Holycross first began the trek with his late wife, Ioana Hociota.

“We were just crazy about the Grand Canyon. We loved being down there. We loved being with our friends down there, and we loved having ambitions,” said Holycross.

The couple dated for six years and tied the knot at the Grand Canyon. Just nine months after their wedding in 2012, Hociota mysteriously fell to her death while hiking a portion of the South Rim with their mutual friend.

“My first reaction after she fell was I just hated the canyon, and I never wanted to go back there again,” said Holycross. “Pretty quickly after that, after talking to friends and stuff, that wasn’t Ioana’s spirit. Ioana was a finisher.”

So Holycross made it his mission to finish what he and Hociota started.

Section by section, the pair covered almost all of the south side of the Grand Canyon before the tragedy. Then, on Sept. 22, 2013, Holycross began what would become a 65-day journey, covering more than 500 miles on the north side of the Colorado River, starting at Lees Ferry and ending at Pierce Ferry, through the Grand Canyon without stopping.

The quest took a lot of planning. With the help of friends, he mapped a route, obtained permits and stashed essentials.

"I had to put food caches in," Holycross said. "Eleven, 5-gallon buckets of food placed along the route."

The trek had its share of obstacles.

"Water was a huge concern, especially last year. It was pretty dry prior to the hike, so we were worried. A lot of the places, we were relying on pothole water," he said.

Then came the government shutdown, which forced the closure of all national parks, but Holycross and his group were allowed to continue on.

"We were in Phantom Ranch and there was nobody there, I mean a couple rangers and support staff, which was really weird,” said Holycross. “All the campgrounds empty. I had never seen it like that."

Each day, the adventure had highlights and new discoveries.

"Beautiful, enormous rock panels of art that were made before Christ was born," said Holycross.

With the journey of closure complete, Holycross has a better perspective of the Grand Canyon.

“People drive up to that rim, and they look over it, and they ‘oooh, awwww,’ and they leave," he said. "That's their visit to Grand Canyon. They have no idea how immense it is."

Holycross also carries a message for his students.

“Take time out now for your dreams. You don’t know if you’re going to get three years from now,” he said.

In the wake of Hociota’s death, a scholarship fund and charity have been set up in her name. You can find information on those here: