Rim2Rim2Rim Planning and PreparationDate: May 12th, 2007
What: One day R2R2R Run across the Grand Canyon and back
Where: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Weather: 50-113F, sweltering with a hot breeze
Distance: 51 miles
Elevation gain: 11,300'
Technical Difficulty: Grade V, Class 1
Physical Difficulty: 10 out of 10
Time: 20hrs 38min trailhead to trailhead
Picture Albums: My Photos
Chris G's Photos
Charles' TR and Photos
Michael/Smudge's Trip Report
Grand Canyon from the South Kaibab, photo By Amy D.
The Grand Canyon “Rim to Rim to Rim” is one of the premier and ultra runs/hikes, and something I’ve been dreaming of doing for several years now. So when my buddy Chris proposed the idea I couldn’t say no. Planning went in motion and soon our group had grown to a dozen people; runners, hikers, climbers, and cyclist from all over the Colorado Front Range. The date was set, May 12th, 2007, with half of us shooting for the “Rim to Rim to Rim”, the other half for the “Rim to River to Rim”. On Thursday May 10th 2 carloads took off at the crack of dawn, myself and 3 others were going to wait until the evening, as we needed to get some work done.
At 630p I met Chris F(mitzflip), Joy, and Kari in Genesee, we loaded up my Forester and were on the road by 7p. We made the long haul to Moab, where we camped just outside Arches for the night. The morning greated with a lovely sunrise, then we spent the rest of the morning touring Arches before heading to the “Big Ditch”. Our car arrived at the Mather Campground at 2p Arizona time, finding the others already holding beers and relaxing after they spent the morning wandering the Rim. They gave us the bad news, “temps were over 100 today at Phantom Ranch”. Not a good sign, though we remained optimistic that we could endure the heat. After gorging ourselves and arranging some gear it was off to bed. The Rim2Rim2Rim group(Myself, Chris G, Chris F, Charles, Michael, Joy, and Kari) was planning to get up at 230a with a planned departure from the Bright Angel Trailhead of 330a. The Rim2River2Rim group(Andy, Jim, Todd, Amy, Seth, and Sara) was planning on waiting until first light to take off, so around 5a.
Off and Running
At 215am the first alarm sounded waking Chris F and I, it was promptly reset for 230a, ahhhh another 15min of sleep. At 230a I finally rolled out of bed, changed clothes and grabbed my pack. I wandered over to the picnic table where the others were assembling gear, at this time temps were cool(50s), some hope for the day. As we were packing up Sara and Seth arrived in camp, they had driven all night from Boulder with the intent of doing a Rim2River2Rim. It was 3am, so they grabbed a tent and slept for an hour or 2(true troopers).After a quick breakfast we hopped in the cars and headed for the trailhead. Somehow Chris F and I ended up alone in my car(5 in the other car), so without hesitation we put on some Guns n' Roses “Welcome to the Jungle”, no better way to start a 50mile death march. We were excited and the adrenaline was flowing in full force. Our proposed route for the day was; to start at the Bright Angel Trailhead and run over to the South Kaibab Trailhead(Chris G’s idea), then down the South Kaibab trail, up the North Kaibab, back down the North Kaibab, then finally up the Bright Angel trail back to our cars. Simple enough right, just two climbs and two descents, though these were -4500ft, +5500ft, -5500ft, +4300ft of elevation. Throw in some small ups and downs along the way and you have an 11000ft+/- 50mile day.
We started off from the Bright Angel TH at 330a, in high spirits, chatting the whole way. The jog to South Kaibab was a nice warm-up in the cool morning air, a mellow 5miles alongside a big black abyss. We headed down South Kaibab into the darkness at 430a, the trail dropped abruptly next to us into the canyon below. We started out slow, as the darkness limited visibility, but the sun soon lit up the morning sky, allowing us to cruise down the trail to the river below. The warm twilight bathed the colorful canyon walls, this was by far the most beautiful part of the run. After numerous picture stops, a bathroom break, and passing two mule trains the 7 of us crossed the mighty Colorado River just after 6am. The water was a brilliant green color, and the first glimpses of sunlight where beginning to reflect off the upper canyon onto its surface. The entire group reached Phantom Ranch by 630a(water stop), feeling great and loving the hike/run. Joy, Chris F, and I took off ahead up , a narrow section of Bright Angel Canyon that slowly climbs up to Cottonwood Campground. The rolling terrain of “The Box” was very scenic and great for running. By 8a the entire group had gathered at the Cottonwood campground, after this the trail begins to climb much more rapidly. The temperature had been mild all morning(50-70s), giving us hope for the afternoon passage through the inner canyon.
The North Kaibab
After a snack and water refill at Cottonwood Joy, Chris F, and I again took off ahead, jogging/walking up the North Kaibab. By the time we hit Roaring Springs the sun was out in full force and the temperature had begun to climb, already in the mid 80s. The climb from Roaring Springs to the Supai Tunnel traverses some impressive cliff bands and climbs up many a dry hot switchback. Every bit of shade was our friend along this section. At 10a I finally passed through the tunnel to the oasis that is the Supai Tunnel faucet. I drenched myself, and filled my water for the final climb to the North Rim. Chris F had fallen a little behind, so Joy and I took off ahead, topping out on the North Rim at 1050a, 6:20 South to North, not bad. We grabbed a snack, snapped a few pictures, then took off jogging downhill, something we hadn’t done in quite sometime(5h to be exact). We passed Chris F about 10min from the top, and met up with the others(Chris G, Charles, Michael, and Kari) at the Supai Tunnel faucet. The heat was starting to get to everybody, as temps were pushing into the 90s.
I took a break to chat with the others, wash my feet, and change socks at the Supai Tunnel. At this point I was still feeling good, but had a long way to go. Chris G, Charles, and Michael continued up, while Kari had opted to turn around. I continued my jog down the hot dry switchbacks. At some point between the Supai Tunnel and Roaring Springs I strained an abdominal muscle, which soon turned into a permanent cramp that I would harbor for the remainder of the day. I slowed down, mixing walking and jogging much more frequently, finally reaching the faucet just above the Cottonwood Campground. The temperature was now pushing 100F, and the heat was taking its toll. Joy and I drenched ourselves in the pump house’s icy water, took some salt caps, and tried to eat some food. By this point most food didn't taste very good, so it was a struggle to get something past the perma-cottonmouth I had developed. I tried to jog down to Cottonwood, but the combination of the heat and the ab strain were hurting me pretty bad.
Sufferfest; Sun, Heat, and ExposureAfter once again resting and dousing myself with water Joy and I continued down into “The Box”, where we hoped to find shade among its narrow walls, no such luck. The sun was beating down straight overhead(1-3p), giving us no reprieve, and the black walls served to amplify the heat. At one point my watch read 113F in “The Box”. About half way down “The Box” Joy took off ahead, as she was handling the heat much better than I(or anyone else for that matter). I started jogging again, then walking to let the pain subside, then back to jogging. I realized that I need to get down to Phantom to cool off, and walking wasn't going to get me there any faster. I finally arrived at Phantom Ranch at 3pm, finding Joy inside drinking lemonade and trying to cool off. I was dehydrated and in need of sustenance and made the mistake of drinking a glass of lemonade before addressing the hydration issue. The acidic drink instantly put my stomach into knots and I quickly realized my mistake, but it was too late, as chasing with water and eating crackers did no good. I had a tums and tried to settle my stomach, but it wasn’t working. I told Joy to go on ahead letting her know I would wait for Chris F to arrive.
Chris F arrived around 330p, and found me hunched over on a bench trying to calm my stomach. We grabbed some ice water and started walking down toward the river, at that moment I knew my stomach just needed to be evacuated. I pulled over to the side and out came all the lemonade, water, and crackers from 20min ago. I instantly felt better, but knew I needed to rehydrate. Chris and I went and laid in the river while we ate and drank, knowing the climb out was going to be brutal. We left Phantom Ranch at 4pm headed for the Bright Angel trail and the homestretch, 9miles of climbing in relentless heat.
While Chris F and I struggled up Bright Angel, the other 4 were having their own problems back in “The Box”. All were dealing with fatigue and heat exhaustion to some degree, but Charles had started hallucinating and emptying the contents of his stomach all over the canyon. The others did their best to keep him wet and cool, but the temps just weren’t cooperating. When they reached Phantom Ranch they opted to wait for the sun to set, hoping for cooler temperatures. Meanwhile on the South Rim the Rim2River2Rim group was back in civilization(5pm) after suffering through the hot climb up Bright Angel. Joy would return only an hour or two after them, as she handled the heat very well and made good time out of the canyon(South Rim around 7pm).
Chris and I slowly trudged uphill, the heat had really zapped our energy(still mid 90s), but we were still moving along. The hike to Indian Gardens was slow, taking nearly 3h to cover 4.5 miles. Our mouths had long ago dried up so we sat at the Indian Garden’s faucet and tried to force a granola bar down with lots of water. Chris’s stomach was not feeling great, so we laid on the benches at Indian Garden until 730p. We had hoped that with the departure of the sun the temperature would start to drop, but it still hung in the high 80s. While we laid on the benches the top did not get any closer, so we pushed on, but Chris’s stomach only got worse, preventing him from keeping anything down. We took it slow uphill, resting as needed, lying down as needed. By now darkness had fully set in and we were back to headlamps. As we plodded along we passed numerous deer, they seemed to understand the world of hurt we were going through, staring and pitying our every step. We finally reached the 3mile resthouse, where I refilled my water. While I was able to keep down minimal food and plain water, Chris was still struggling to hold anything in. Nothing tasted good to us anymore. By this point I was tired, but was well past my illness and low point at Phantom Ranch.
Pushing Through the PainWe continued alternating walking and resting, slowly progressing up the steep switchbacks of the Bright Angel trail. At the 1.5mile resthouse we decided that the long rests weren’t netting us any extra energy and it would benefit us to push on and get out of the canyon. We went through 3 more cycles of resting and hiking, finally coming upon the lights of the South Rim at 1210p. When we saw the parking lot a wave or relief spread over us, we congratulated each other on surviving and thanked the other for sticking by throughout the ordeal. 20h40min after leaving my car we had successfully completed the Rim2Rim2Rim, no speed record, but a true test of our fortitude. We joked about laying down in the car and sleeping right there, but knew we just needed to get back to the camp and sleep. We hopped in my car and headed straight back to camp where everyone else was sound asleep. We drank some fresh water, then Chris went straight to bed. I opted to sponge off my arms and legs, change clothes, and eat some pretzels before bedding down. Both of us were too exhausted to do much else. Around 1pm I heard a car roll in and heard the other 4 climb out, everyone was back safe and sound. Charles, in his exhausted state, came running over to our tent to make sure Chris and I were back(neglecting to see our car sitting next to the tent).
The sun lit up the sky at 530a the next morning and I could sleep no more, I needed food and drink, something to replace the massive deficit I had built up the previous day. Chris and I downed some noodle soup and drank 1L of water each. The others began to wake up and we swapped war stories, filling the others in on our late night adventures in the canyon. Todd’s photo of the rattlesnake v squirrel matchup, Charles hallucinating and sleeping in the creek with frogs, the hurling trio(myself, Chris F, and Charles), the night nearly spent at Indian Gardens, and the irony of us laughing at the signs warning of extreme heat. After a shower we made our way over to the Bright Angel lodge to stuff as much food as humanly possible into our empty stomachs. In the end it took between us between 15-22h to finish the Rim2Rim2Rim, temps maxed out at 113F around 1-2p, and the return crossing took over 6h longer than the initial crossing. Things had not proceeded as planned and for the first time ever I had been brought to the true limits of my energy. Not only had we learned how far we could push ourselves, but we learned what good friends we had. Through all the pain, heat, and suffering no one had been left behind, we had pushed, supported, and cared for the person next to us as if we'd known them our whole lives. I can say without hesitation that I would put my life in the hands of any of those people, I don't think there is a better way to put it. Planning has already begun for a return trip, hopefully not on the hottest day of the year(May 12th was the hottest to date for 2007).