Rim to Rim to Rim- Grand Canyon (not a race, just an adventure worthy of a race report)
Our alarms went off at 4 a.m. after what felt like a really short nights sleep. The first words out of Blake's mouth were, "That's not fair." Fair or not, it was time to get up and get going if we were to accomplish our goal of running rim to rim to rim of the Grand Canyon. We got ready, headed out, and were at the south rim Bright Angle Trail Head by a few minutes after 5:00. It was cold (upper 30s) and windy but we knew it would warm up quickly as we descended the canyon so I opted for short sleeves and removable sleeves. I also had on my trail running pack with 2 20 oz bottles filled with water and pleanty of food. It was dark when we started so we both wore Ultraspire Lumens 600 light belts. Those things like up the night like brighty headlights on your car.
The first few miles going down are fairly steep and technical so we weren't moving too fast but we seemed to find a nice rhythm. At one point we made the turn on one of the many switch backs and standing right in front of me on the trail were a couple big deer. It startled me at first seeing those eyes staring at me until it registered what it was. Some of the shadows cast on the canyon walls by our lights were pretty cool. About 5 miles in, at Indian Gardens, the sun started coming up and casting its light in the canyon. It is neat to see the canyon from that veiw point as the sun rises. I removed my sleeves about that point as I was starting to work up a sweat. We hoped to drink often and tried to eat something about every 30 minutes as well as taking electrolyte tablets every hour. At Indian Gardens we stopped and filled our bottles to encourge ourselves to keep drinking.
With the sun now up we no longer needed our lights, at least not for now. We continued to descend the south rim. After passing through a little canyon with a stream running through it we began dropping quickly again. It's crazy to look down the canyon and see all the switch backs below that you have to descend and know that you are going to have to climb back up later in the day. Before long we were at the Colorado River. The water flows swiftly though that section of the river. The was a group of rafters on the shore cleaning up camp and getting ready for another day on the river. After crossing the bridge over the river we knew Phantom Ranch was not far away. At Phantom Ranch we stopped and refilled our bottles. A girl who had camped there that night was asking us if we were going rim to rim in one day. We said, "yes, and back." She got this real perplexed looked on her face as she said, "so you are going to run rim to rim (pause as you can see it register in her mind).... to rim! It was funny to see how crazy she thought we were. She was probably right.
After leaving Phantom Ranch the next water stop isn't for about 7 miles. That is the farthest space between water on the run. It is also the flattest part of the run, but it is definitely not flat. We ran through Box Canyon which is really neat with the steep canyon walls on both sides of the narrow canyon with a large fast flowing stream going through it. After getting through that section we came upon a wet area with some springs coming out of the ground. We did our best to keep our shoes dry. At one poing we turned a corner and a spring right in the middle of the trail was shooting water out of the ground like a geyser about 20 feet high. I have never seen that before. We eventually made it to Cottonwood Camp not long after running out of water. We drank up and refilled and walked through the camp a few hundred yards and then refilled the bottles again at the other end of the camp. From there it is only a couple miles before the next water stop. We made sure we were full again before departing that stop which is about 5 miles from the North rim...straight up!
At this poing there was a lot of power hiking and a little running. It is so steep that even power hiking, it was taking 23 to 28 minutes per mile the rest of the way up with each mile getting steeper. On the north rim trail the trail gets more narrow and the drop off on the edge becomes more cliff like so it is important to consentrate and stay away from the edge. It was warming up and the sun was beating on us and we were looking forward to the final water stop which is 1.7 miles and 1400 feet elevation from the top. We had a temporary melt down when we saw the water was out there. We were out of water, but our only option was to keep climbing. It was a painful 1.7 miles without water that took us about 45 minutes. I was so happy to get to water when we reached the top. We both drank all we could. The elevation on the north rim is 8300 ft. so my heart was pounding as we reached the top. It felt good to sit and relax, drink, eat, and recover for about 20 minutes. We made it across in 6 hours 13 minutes. Both of us can run a marathon in just over 3 hours and it was only 24 miles across. I ran a 50 mile very hilly race in January in a few minuters under 8 hours. The Grand Canyon is a totally different beast.
At around the 6 hour and 35 minute mark we started back. It is so steep heading down, I'm not sure you can call what we were doing, running. We were making good time and had a good rhythm as we descended and the temperature started rising. Temps in the bottom of the canyon were in the 90s and the sun was beating down. When we got back to the geyser-like spring Blake stopped and stuck his head in to cool down. He was staring to hurt at that point but he kept pushing forward. It wasn't long before he was in a bad spot and we still had 3 or 4 miles till we hit Phatom Ranch. We slowed way down, but he was tough and kept running until we got there. There is a little snack place down there were we were hoping to get a cold Coke, but all they sell is lemonade and beer, so we opted for the lemonade. It was way sugary. We sipped it and ate and refilled our bottles with some ice water. Blake was a little dispondant at this point. He had a dead look in his eyes. I told him we had to get going and he just stared straight ahead with no acknowledgment that I even said anything. I let him sit for a bit more. I think we were there for about 30 minutes before I convinced him we had to go or we weren't going to get out of the canyon. We ran a bit for the first mile when I finally had the realization that I had to change my mindset to finishing this adventure as a hike or we weren't going to get out together. We still had about 8 uphill miles to go. We walked and talked and enjoyed the views. When we would cross a steam we would get our heads wet to stay cool. The miles continued the click off and we did some math and decided we were going to make it a goal to get out under 14 hours. We needed to keep our miles around 21 to 22 minutes and while it was not as steep the north rim it was still steep. We stopped each place we could for water, but didn't stay long. With a couple miles left, it was dark again and we had to turn our lights back on. We were passing a lot of people who were hiking rim to rim from the north rim. We would encourage them and they would encourage us. Some of them didn't look very good. I hope they all made it out that night. As we made it to the final switch back we broke out into a run and ran the last 50 yards or so to make it official that it was a run. :) We finished the 48 mile run adventure in 13 hours and 53 minutes.
I can now cross that off my list of life adventures. I'm pretty sure I will never do it again, but it felt like a big accomplishment and I'm glad I did it and I did it with my best buddy. It would not have been nearly as awesome without him. I'm writing this 2 days later and to my surprise, I had no leg soreness yesterday or today although I have been very tired.