|About a mile from finishing!|
When my friend Ben asked me if I was interested in joining a Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R2) Grand Canyon trip, I couldn't say no. Running R2R2R is on every ultra runner's bucket list, and even though it was only two weeks after the To the House 135 and four weeks after Pine to Palm, it was an easy decision to join. I also thought this would be a great opportunity to get out there before any drastic rules or regulations are established, as R2R2R is somewhat controversial at the moment. I won't go into too many details, but as the popularity of ultra running is growing so is the number of people attempting this route. Unfortunately, not everyone is well prepared, either physically or with their gear, and get themselves into trouble. Therefore, the park appears to be addressing these issues and may regulate such activities.
Our group, of eight, split into two groups. The first group of six, myself included, planned to start around 3:30am and move slower. The other two planned to sleep in, hit the trails around 6am and move a little quicker. After hitting the South Kaibab Trail at 3:40am, I made it to the North Rim just before 9am. The return trip back to the South Rim took a little bit longer, but I made it back just after 3pm. The total time was 11:28, and here is the strava file. I wrote this in the same format as a race report. If you are planning a R2R2R trip, be sure to give the lessons learned a quick glance.
We started about 3:40am, and although the temperature was nice, it was really windy. Descending all the switchbacks on the South Kaibab trail was somewhat treacherous as the dust was blowing all over and getting in our eyes. However, we eventually made it a few miles to Skeleton Point, and the wind had died down considerably. After we regrouped, we all turned off our headlamps to enjoy the silence, darkness and remoteness. This was absolutely incredible as a countless number of stars littered the sky.
After a few minutes, we carried on, downward toward the river. Soon, we got our first glimpse of the Colorado River, under the starlight, and shortly after, we made it to the huge suspension bridge. It was still completely dark. Our group separated a bit, but each of us had a buddy to run with. I was running with Brad. After a quick bathroom brake at Phantom Ranch, Brad and I powered forward toward Cottonwood.
|Brad and I on our way to Cottonwood|
Eventually, we pulled into Cottonwood, and we refilled our bottles in preparation for the upcoming seven mile, 6,000' climb to the North Rim. After running all of the last 14 miles, we ran and hiked up the North Kaibab trail. Now, the sun had completely risen, and it was getting noticeably hotter. As we hiked and ran up, I pulled ahead of Brad. At this point, I caught up with another guy, Taylor, who was also attempting R2R2R. However, Taylor was having a tough day and was considering dropping at the North Rim. I made it to the North Rim in about five hours, and a half hour before Brad.
The North Rim is 8,000' above sea level, and it was quite windy and cold. So after resting a bit and refilling my bottles, I was anxiously awaiting Brad. Once he arrived, he quickly refilled his bottles, and we started our descent back down. Brad and I ran and chatted with Taylor, which was great, and it was also really nice to see the others in our group powering up to the North Rim.
|Glorious single track!|
Taylor was waiting for us at Phantom Ranch, and he also had a buddy meet him there for the way back up. Since both Brad and Taylor were pretty wiped out, they decided to stay together, while I decided to head up on my own.
I wanted to head up the climb at a hard effort, however, this only lasted to Skeleton Point. After that, the wheels fell off, and I was forced to pretty much all hiking with little to no running. My quads were destroyed, not to mention the lack of oxygen at 5,000' - 7,000' above sea level. I was feeling it for sure.
|Heading back up the South Kaibab Trail.|
As the first one back in our group, I was in charge to pick up some beer at the local market. Looking across the canyon as the sun set with a cold beer, was a fitting end to an epic adventure.
1. Dropping Out - Unlike a race, there is nowhere to quit if things are not going your way. When you start, you are committing to the entire trip. I don't think most people, myself included, realize this fact, which can lead to serious situations with severe consequences. Sure, you could plan for a crew at the North Rim, however, that is a 200+ mile drive, one way, from the South Rim. In most races you can easily drop out at the next aid station if you get sick, fall or whatever else, but in the Grand Canyon, this is not so easy. I am sure you can find help at Phantom Ranch or Cottonwood, but obviously resources are limited deep in the canyon. Make sure you are 100% confident in your current abilities.
|Perfect day in the Grand Canyon!|
|A lot of wooden steps...|
3. Difficulty - This goes without saying, but R2R2R is hard. The route is 42 miles with 11,000' of gain at altitudes up to 8,000'. Not to mention it is hot and exposed with little to no support, other than a few water stops. Also recognize there are long climbs and long descents, 7-miles, which is a different workout, compared to a bunch of short climbs and descents, as in the Marin Headlands, for example.
4. Weather - The weather is drastically different on South/North Rim than deep in the canyon. It was nearly 90 degrees at Phantom Ranch, while it was in the 60s and windy on the North Rim. Be sure to plan accordingly and consider bringing some extra layers, arm sleeves, gloves or a hat.
5. Rules/Permits - The rules and regulations regarding hiking and running in the Grand Canyon are changing. Make sure to check with the park before your trip. As I write this, only publicly organized groups (like a school or church group for example) or guided tours need permits, but this could change in the near future.
6. Respect - As R2R and R2R2R become more popular, it is also becoming more controversial, and it is especially important to be courteous, leave no trace and come prepared. Respect the other trail users. I always stopped running to hike past others after letting them know I was passing. In this way, I was just a faster hiker, and they could not be upset I was running. Finally, respect the difficulty of the route and be prepared for anything. If we don't follow the basic rules, it will be easy for the park to considering regulating such attempts in some way making it less accessible for others.
The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular places on earth. As you approach the canyon from afar, there is absolutely no sign of the beauty ahead, which is quite different than the mountains as they can be seen from a distance. As you approach the rim through the pine forest, eventually the canyon comes into view. The vastness and magnificence of the canyon is breathtaking. From the rim, you can't even see the bottom, nearly a mile below.
Growing up in the states, I learned about and saw countless pictures of the Grand Canyon in grade school, however, I never thought I would ever see it. Fast forward a couple decades and here I am, looking across the canyon, knowing I will be attempting a double-crossing the next day. It was an awesome feeling I'll never forget as the sun set to the west.
R2R2R didn't disappoint one bit. The views are epic, the climbs are long and steep, the weather is hot and cold, and route makes sense. This year, I have thoroughly enjoyed racing less and adventuring more, which could not be more apparent after R2R2R. Racing is fun no doubt, but it is much harder on the body. Adventuring is a more casual effort, which allows you to truly appreciate your surroundings.
|Somewhere on the North Kaibab Trail|
|Brad and I at the North Rim|
|Looking back near the North Rim.|
|North Kaibab Trail|
|Deep in the canyon.|
|Bright Angel Creek|
|The mighty Colorado!|
|Suspension bridge across the Colorado!|
|Epic adventure, R2R2R!!|