R2R2R (Spring Break Part 2)

My big adventure for Spring Break centered in the Grand Canyon. This was my first visit and I enjoyed the expansive views and beautiful scenery. I spent all day Friday exploring along the South Rim. It was very busy and one of the buses I took set a record for the most number of people it had transported in one day. I also spent time scoping out the terrain for my hike the next day.

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My goal for this trip was to do a double crossing of the Grand Canyon from South Rim to North and back again all in one day. This is also known as a Rim to Rim to Rim ultramarathon. I was talked into this challenge by two instructors from the HAMS course that David and I did this winter, Wayne and Bob. They and a group of friends do this trip each spring around this time. Apparently it is classic ultra runners trail and goal to accomplish. As a first timer I just wanted to safely finish without injury. So I met up with them and others on Friday night for dinner and we finalized our plans. I wanted to give myself the best chance at success so I decided to depart with Bob. Not only did this give me a hiking partner in the dark but also the added advantage of an early start. The trip can be broken down into six separate legs of about equal distance. The map shows a very general overview of the route I took.

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After a very short night of sleep in a loud campground we rolled out of bed and Marlene (our amazing support crew) dropped Bob and I off at the South Kaibob Trailhead. We started our decent just after 12AM. The trail is highlighted on the photos I took during the day on Friday. It was about 32 degrees and breezy when we departed. The moon and stars were out and we even met a mountain goat on the trail as we quickly lost elevation from the ~7,400 ft elevation of the South Rim. It took us about 2 hours and 30 minutes to descend to the Colorado River ~2,400 ft. elevation, cross the Black Bridge and make our way to the first water stop at Phantom Ranch.

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We had managed to complete the first of six legs and spent about ten minutes grabbing a bite and refilling our water. We started off again and I decided to strike out on my own and push the pace a little faster. (This is Bob’s 11 R2R2R and he is 65 years old) With lots of good advice I headed up the Box Canyon towards Cottonwood Campground. My next goal was the Pumphouse or the Residence for the next scheduled water stop. In a couple hours I arrived and tried the water faucet…hissing noises but no water!!! The NP Rangers had said it was on but for the first time in 10 yrs it wasn’t. Luckily there was a nice creek and I had brought along some water treatment tablets. I would be a little shorter on water then I had planned but with the early departure I was pretty sure the cool temperatures would help me make it anyways. After a little calculating I realized it meant only 5 liters of water for almost 28 miles of hiking since there would be no water until I got back to Phantom Ranch which was 8 miles behind me and I still had to go up to the North Rim and back down. But I wasn’t going to turn back. I continued hiking and the trail got steeper. I was really starting to climb up the North Rim. By the first light of dawn I finally got to see where I was headed.

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There was quite a bit of rockslide on the North Kaibob Trail but I worked my way up to the North Rim by 8 AM. Three legs of the hike were check off and I was halfway done. I had hiked 21 miles and had just finished a climb of about 6,000 vertical feet. I was the first one across for the day and was feeling pretty good. It was cold and snowy with a breeze so I didn’t stay long. After forcing down more food and rationing my water I started back down towards the river. After not seeing any one since leaving Bob I quickly started to run into others also attempting the double crossing. Every one from our group seemed to be doing well and were spread out along the trail based on what time they had started. (We had spread out our departures from 12AM to 5:30AM)

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As I headed down I got to appreciate the scenery a lot more than I had on the way up. At one point a helicopter hovered through the tight canyon and I got to see it land.

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The day was quickly warming up and I decided to jog as much of the down hill as my knees would handle. I was running low on water and wanted to get through the Box Canyon as early as possible since it is known for its high temperatures. It was very scenic down by the creek and I started to see guests from Phantom Ranch out for little day hikes. I arrived back at Phantom Ranch for the second time that day sometime near 12PM and the temperature was in the mid 80s. My peanut butter and honey sandwich sure tasted good and I quickly downed a liter and a half of water to try and stay hydrated.

I could see my final destination way off in the distance and started gearing myself up for the big push. I had already hiked about 36 miles and still had 9 more to go with a ~5,000 ft vertical climb. I would be returning on the Bright Angel Trail which was a little longer but more gradual than the South Kaibob I had descended 12 hours earlier.

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The trail crosses the Silver Bridge, winds along the river, climbs up through an area known as the Inferno until it plateaus in a beautiful section known as Indian Gardens. I met a pack mule train and started passing short day hikers at regular intervals. My competitive nature kicked in and I found my motivation was to keep gaining on and passing other hikers. The PB&H must have kicked in and I was still going strong. I stopped for a quick water break at Indian Gardens then headed on up. The day’s mileage and elevation were really starting to tire me out and I struggled up the switchbacks slowly working my way up to the 3 mile house and eventually the 1 and 1/2 mile house. I have never had to push so hard just to keep going those last three miles.

I Made It!!! It was 4:15PM. I had just hiked just over 44 miles with ~ 11.000 vertical feet of gain and loss in just 16 hours. I was exhausted, relieved and pretty proud of myself. It was an amazing experience where I had challenged myself and accomplished my goal. Plus I met some great people and had a tour de force of the Grand Canyon, one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

2 thoughts on “R2R2R (Spring Break Part 2)

  • April 3, 2013 at 7:41 am
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    You are amazing! What a day, What beauty, What a trip! I can’t imagine doing 44miles let alone doing it on that terrain. At one point I did manage to hike down to the river and back and thought I was about to die. Hope your drive home wasn’t too painful, So glad you could do this on your break.

  • April 3, 2013 at 9:43 am
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    Wow! Congrats! It was so fun to read about your adventure. I can’t believe how fast you did it. You are definitely a good match for David. I hiked with him in Yosemite and all he wanted to do was catch up with the people in front of us. He didn’t want anyone passing either. 🙂 Thanks for sharing all the beautiful pics too.

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