Date: November 25, 2006
What: One day R2R2R Run across the Grand Canyon and back
Where: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Weather: 25-75F, sunny, calm to light winds
Distance: 46 miles
Elevation gain: 11,300'
Technical Difficulty: Grade V, Class 1
Physical Difficulty:9+ out of 10
Time: 17hrs 30min 00sec trailhead to trailhead
Calories burned: 14240
Map: Click Here for Map
Photo Gallery: Click Here
Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Run - November 25, 2006
We have been talking about running a R2R or R2R2R for quite some time. I had been sending out emails for the last year or two trying to sucker some folks into doing it. I sent another email in October of 2006 asking if anyone wanted to "run the big ditch" over Thanksgiving. Much to my surprise, Peter, Yasuyo, and Todd all signed up! Todd intended to go Rim-to-River-to-Rim and Yasuyo was leaning towards joining Todd.
I spent several weeks reading trip reports about R2R2R, including some great ones by Davy Crockett
and several on the Ultra List
. Peter Bakwin
, local Boulder ultra runner and uber-athlete, had just run a R2R2R
and offered a lot of good advice too.
Peter and I warmed up for the trip by running 14.2 miles with Charles on the Mesa Trail on Thanksgiving. After pigging out and packing, I went to bed early, in anticipation of our 4am start on Friday. Yasuyo and Peter showed up and my house at 4:30am Friday morning and we loaded my gear and drove to Lakewood to meet Todd. We arrived at Todd's at 5:30am, loaded all the stuff in his new Outback and headed west. The trip to the Canyon was uneventful but long, taking about 11 hours to drive the 650 miles. We arrived at the South Rim East Entrance right at sunset... with barely enough time to peer down into the massive hole we would be running across the next day. We found a campsite in the crowded Mather Campground and Todd and Yasuyo made a great pre-run meal of pasta, chicken, and aspargus. After dinner, we packed our camelbacks, set our alarms for 3:00 am, and headed to bed.
3:00 am came very quickly, and after a couple hits of the snooze button we awoke to a frigid and clear morning. It was about 25 degrees. We quickly packed up our gear, ate a quick breakfast, loaded the car and headed towards the Bright Angel Trailhead. It was cold and dark at the trailhead, and we couldn't see the massive task that was laid out below us. At 4:45am the journey began down the Bright Angel Trail. It was difficult to run in the dark so we keep a quick hiking pace with short stops at the 1.5 mile and 3.0 mile resthouses. From high on the trail I caught a couple glimpses of a solitary headlamp down on the Tonto Plataeu. It turns out it was Davy Crockett running his second 100 mile run
in the Canyon this year. The lights of Indian Gardens came into view just before sunrise and we passed a couple of backpackers headed uphill. Other campers were stirring in the campround, probably wondering what the 4 idiots where doing jogging through at 5am. The sun finally lit the sky enough to run as we reached the Devil's Corkscrew. The trail drops very steeply through the Vishnu Schist as it drops into the inner canyon. We began running and soon reached the river... I was actually surprised how quick the river snuck up on us.
Once you reach the Colorado River, you turn upstream and run along the River Trail for a couple of miles. Our spirits were soaring and it was hard to not run this stretch fast. We were coming across our first backpackers of the day, several of whom were a bit perplexed at the site of 4 people running along the bottom of the Grand Canyon with minimal gear. Soon the Silver Bridge came into view and we ran all the way to it. As Yasuyo and I approached the bride, a small herd of deer ran up onto the trail behind us and followed us for a couple hundred yards. We reached the bridge and were passed by a couple from Wyoming running a R2R2R.
Soon after crossing the bridge, you run into Bright Angel Campground. Here we used the bathroom (flush toilets!) and I left Susan a message (pay phone?!?!) and we filled up our bottles at the tap. After a 30 min break we headed out, running strong through Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch. Peter and I dropped a bag of gear under a small bridge and we continued up into The Box, a deep narrow gorge carved by Bright Angel Creek. We settled into a nice rhthym of running the flats and slight grades and power hiking the steeper stuff. There wasn't a big rush, as the North Kaibob Trail would be our home for the next 29 miles!
After 5 miles or so, the trail exits the Box and crosses a muddy bog. We continued running/hiking for a couple of miles until we passed Ribbon Falls and finally arrived at Cottonwood Campground (mile 17 of our run). We were greeted by a stoic Bald Eagle in a tall Cottonwood tree. We took a nice long 40 minute break and ate, drank, and Todd tended to some foot issues. It was finally decided that Todd and Yasuyo were turning back here, giving them a 32 mile day, and much more distance than they had originally planned! Peter and I were going to continue up the N Kaibob Trail for a few more hours and make a turn-around decision at 2pm. It was 11:30am when we left.
We headed out at a nice pace and made quick time to the bridge over Bright Angel Creek, at the Roaring Springs creek junction. The tap at the Roaring Spring ranger/caretaker cabin was on, much to our surprise (Cottonwood was turned off) so we filled up our hand bottles and camelbacks. From here the trail ascends very steeply, passing Roaring Springs, and climbs up through layers of cliffs. Parts of the trail are shelves carved and blasted into the cliffs. It was very beautiful and quite steep. A pair of R2R2R runners passed us on their return trip as we were passing through the Redwall Formation. Just below the Supai Tunnel, the Wyoming runners passes us headed down.
After what seemed like an eternity we finally popped out at the North Kaibob Trailead at 1:45pm, 24 miles and halfway into our journey. We stopped and ate a couple bites and watched a family have a snowball fight (the North Rim was open later than normal this year). It was cold here so we dropped down to the Coconino Overlook (mile 26) and had nice lunch in the sun.
After lunch we began running back towards Phantom Ranch, 13 miles and almost 6000' below us. We found a good rhythm and ran all the way to Phantom Ranch, stopping to refill at the Roaring Spring tap and to use the restroom at Cottonwood. Our goal was to reach Phantom Ranch before dark and we arrived just as it was getting dark. The smell of dinner wafting from the Canteen was hard to resist, and I was a bit jealous at the sight of all the campers eating there! We grabbed our extra gear from under the bridge and headed back to the Bright Angel tap. After topping up our water and a quick meal I called Susan to let her know we were ahead of schedule and feeling good. She was pretty surprised at how good I sounded. I apparently hide my pain well because I was getting pretty sore by this point.
Peter and I took a left onto the S Kaibob and soon crossed the Black Bridge. Only 6.4 miles and 4700' to go from this point! The climb out was very slow, I just couldn't get my body up to speed. About 800' above the river we came around a small bend and I saw a pair of eyes looking back at us from behind a small bush. I turned up my headlamp and was surprised to see a cat crouched down watching us. Peter thought it was a bobcat or lynx, but after a few seconds it walked out from behind the bush and revealed a very long (3-4 foot) tail. This was the first mountain lion either of us had seen in the wild. It was smaller, probably juvenile, and weighed about 80lbs. I picked up a big rock and we proceeded up the trail, checking over our shoulders frequently.
After almost 4 hours of slow hard climbing we reached Yaki Point and the South Kaibob Trailhead. Peter pulled out the radio, we put fresh batteries in it, and radioed for Todd to come and get us. No Reponse. We radioed again. No response. Crap. That meant another 3+ miles back to the campground. There wasn't much we could do, so we bundled up and started walking down the road! With a mile to go, a very nice woman pulled up and offered us a ride. She had done a rim-to-river-to-rim early in the day and said we 'looked pretty beat' so she offered us a ride. She dropped us near the grocery store and we trudged back to camp around 10:00pm or so.
The entire R2R2R took us 17 hours and 30 minutes, including all stops. The death march back to the campground took at least another hour. Total elevation gain was 11,300', breaking my previous one-day record by 3000 feet. Trail mileage was 46 miles, 49 counting the hike back to camp. Overall, I felt incredibly good and it was a big confidence boost. I feel much more confident about running the San Juan Solstice 50 mile endurance run next summer.
Sunday we woke up, broke camp, took some photos at the rim, had breakfast and began the long journey home. We arrived back at my house at 1am. I dropped my stuff in the living room and headed straight to bed.
Next spring we're going back to try for a faster time. I'd like to run sub-15 hours, which I think is very possible.
Things I learned for my next R2R2R:
- Go up the Bright Angel Trail. It's less steep and more runnable
- Go when the taps are still on if possible. Carrying large amounts of water slowed us down quite a bit.
- Next time we'll go in late April or very early May so we don't have to bring as much clothing. We took way too much stuff to be able to run a good pace.