Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grand Canyon R2R2R

Given the beauty of the Grand Canyon, the pictures come first...

Sunset on the North Rim

The beauty and challenge of the North Kaibab trail... can you see the winding trail and the bridge down at the bottom?

It doesn’t say to not hike from the Rim to the river to the other Rim to the river and back to the first Rim… so this must be ok, right?

Rob and Cody in Bright Angel slot canyon- peaceful and cool

Headed towards Phantom Ranch and the South Rim

The gang at Phantom Ranch

Where else can you see views like this?

Typical canyon running

On the South Rim

Entering the tunnel at Silver Bridge

Cody at mile 48...

...Jon at mile 48...

... and Rob at mile 48. (He who struggles the most ultimately learns the most and will have the fondest memories. And for the record, Rob asked me to post this picture...)

Finished, back at the trailhead. Can you guess who worked the hardest based on facial expression?

Like Joe said, “It’s mostly flat, other than actually getting into and out of the canyon”

Last November, I ran the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim (R2R2R) with Davy and company. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and immediately began planning a trip this year. However, the whole thing was in doubt when I moved to South Carolina... but a timely trip back to Utah gave me just enough time to sneak in the run. There were as many as 15 people interested at one time, and it appeared Geoff Roes would be joining us before he had to bow out. Ultimately, Cody and Rob Murphy were the only people who ended up coming. I was excited for a great trip.

After a quick, delicious breakfast at Rob's house (thanks again), we drove to the North Rim on Sunday and enjoyed the overlooks and sunset. I never saw the North Rim during the day last time, since we started and finished at night, so enjoyed the views. After a very fitful night of rest (I think I slept only 2 hours), we started our run at 4:30 am. The first 2 hours before sunrise seemed to pass quickly as we descended the steep and windy trail. Dawn found us cruising along the relatively flat Bright Angel canyon, a unique desert that happens to be surrounded by 5000 ft cliffs. We crossed the Colorado River at 6:30 am and began the climb up Bright Angel trail. Temperatures were nice as we were still in the shade, though the number of hikers on the trail increased dramatically. I felt good and enjoyed the climb and overlooks. We reached the South Rim in a relaxed 5 hours running time (plus 45+ min for stops). After a few pictures and food purchases, we were on our way down.

Rob struggled with his footing a bit on the descent, but never went off trail or fell. I focused on staying smooth and was pleased that my quads never got shot.Apparently a summer full of trail running results in bomb-proof downhill quads. The run down the South Rim is enjoyable because you see many of the same people from the previous hours, and they realize exactly how crazy these R2R2R runners are. In fact, rather than the typical comments (i.e. “I'll pay you to carry me), we had people encouraging us all along the way. At one point, a few groups even began applauding and cheering for us- I can't recall that ever happening before during a trail run. The temperatures were rapidly rising, though, with the thermometer reading 85 when we once again reached to river.

Rob continued on while Cody and I made a 20 min detour to see the Black Bridge and the tunnels. After a quick photo op, we stopped by Phantom Ranch to refill water and talk to some more interesting campers. I enjoy the many conversations with the variety of people hiking the Grand Canyon, all of whom have a love of the outdoors. After using only one bottle up to this point, we filled both bottles for the leg back to Cottonwood campground. After a few miles in the slot canyon, we were completely exposed to the hot sun and almost 90 deg temps for over an hour. Cody was still strong, but I began overheating and slowed down after ~mile 38. Our 7:15 pace a few hours earlier over this stretch was now a 10-15 min pace. Fortunately, a fortuitous creek crossing allowed me to soak my shirt, and we pressed on to the campground where Rob was waiting. We spent a few minutes talking to the crew of Rangers and volunteers working on the camp, then ran to the house water stop.

The house is really the start of the climb up the North Rim, gaining 4000+ ft in just over 5 miles. Rob had never run longer than 26 road miles and 3.5 hours in his life, so our 8+ hour trail run was really taxing his limits (as he told his wife afterwards, he was very wrong when he assumed the trail would be smooth and fast, and he felt very tired for much of the run). But he was mentally tough and pushed hard. Cody was pulling us from the front, making sure were were running most of the reasonable grades. I began feeling better at about mile 44, and thereafter just enjoyed finally seeing the beauty of the North Rim and annoying Rob and Cody with my non-stop blabber and lame jokes. The last few miles are very steep and challenging, but Rob kept putting one foot in front of the other and we reached the finish just before the 11 hour running-time mark (about 13 hrs including stops). Considering that the climb up the North Rim is 1500 ft higher than the South, plus our fatigue and the heat, I was very surprised and happy that our return trip was less than 1 hour slower than the outbound trip. After a quick shower, we drove all the way home. Aided by massive amounts of sugar and caffeine on the drive, Cody and I bid adieu to Rob in SLC and reached Logan just before 4 am.

R2R2R is a truly awesome run. Including the detour, it was 48.5 miles with over 11,000 ft climbing (my garmin said 32,000 ft climbing, and even Sporttracks recorded 20,000, due to the poor satellite reception in the canyons). The beauty and solitude is truly unique. The Grand Canyon has a grandeur and splendor that is unmatched. Running along beautiful, rugged trails, surrounded by red and white cliffs thousands of feet high and billions of years old... words are incapable of doing it justice. A rim to rim hike/run should be on every reasonably-fit person’s bucket list. It’s simply a wonderful, beautiful, challenging experience. Rob and Cody, thanks for sharing the experience with me- I loved every minute of it. For the rest of you, a few pictures from the journey will have to suffice.