Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim Adventure Report

JonRoig.com | Posted: 2009-09-30 10:06:08 | 6791 hits | View in Hi-Fi Mode


They call me the Axe Murderer.

Ironically, it has nothing to do with all the people I've murdered with axes. Or hatchets.

... I guess, when you roll with the Firefighters, you pretty much get a nickname. As the sole guy who wasn't a firefighter on our last expedition into the Canyon three years ago, I guess I'd earned that title in absentia -- they'd been joking in the car that the random dude Rayne met on the Internet would probably turn out to be a homicidal maniac.

Needless to say, the trail running beard hasn't done anything to sway people to a new nickname.

I love it when stuff comes full circle. It was three years ago that I got inducted in the the world of real trail running on my first r2r2r in the Grand Canyon. It was brutal stuff, my first time venturing past 26.2 miles and definitely my first time doing those kinds of climbs.

Needless to say, it destroyed me. So, naturally, I was curious how I'd fare, all these years later. I've put a ridiculous amount of time in on the trails since then... but I've gotta say, that first r2r2r crossing I did really changed my life. For the better, I think. It was like two weeks later that I did my first trail race up in the Mazatzals and got, like, totally destroyed by Jenn Shelton. Needless to say, I was hooked. The chatty bald dude who just barely edged me out at the end of that race turned out to be Chris McDougall, researching the book that would become, "Born to Run."

The folks who do these things are so rad.

So, when Rayne hit me up and asked if I wanted to join them for another trip into the Canyon, well, duh. Of course. What could be more fun than that?

At the beginning, there were five: me, Rayne, Fireman John, Ricky, and Zack.

Rayne is the most experienced Grand Canyoneer out of us, probably, with like six trips. He's a firefighter. Fireman John is doing the Javelina Jundred, same as me... that will be his first ultra. Ricky is a schoolteacher and did a double IronMan awhile ago, which is kind of insane. Actually, really insane... and it's exactly what you'd think -- it's the same as a regular IronMan, except the distances of the swim, bike, and run are all double. And you do the run on like a one mile loop... or something. Zack is a recent U of A grad, not a super hardcore runner, just some guy out for a little adventure.

We began our descent at 6:00 pm on the Bright Angel trail just as the sun was going down. Rayne set a pretty good pace and Bright Angel, at least down to Indian Gardens, was pretty much what you'd expect: well maintained, rocky, pretty steep but not too bad. It seemed like we reached IG in no time. From there, it's just more descent -- we ran into a bunch of other groups also doing a r2r2r, including some pretty happy looking Canucks who looked like they'd been beaten to hell, hiking in the Canyon all day.

I'm not sure how warm it got at Phantom Ranch on Saturday, but when we rolled up several hours after the sun went down, it was like 80 degrees.

At first it seems a little crazy, doing as much as possible of the r2r2r hike at night, but the Canyon is a pretty unique place. You have to time it just right so it's not exceptionally cold on the rims, but not too hot in the Canyon itself. Even within the Canyon, you get pretty extreme temperature variations. I mean, to some extent, us desert dwellers are used to those kinds of high temps, but really, I think we just learn to avoid them.

Phanton Ranch to Cottonwood is relaxed and mellow, but it seems a lot longer than the 8 mile distance implies. Lots of little undulation, of course, but nothing too technical. With the headlamp on, you just kinda settle into fast hike mode and start going.

That climb up the North Rim in the dark was probably one of the most intense things I've ever done in my life. The trails are pretty narrow and the drops off the edge of the trail are incredibly severe. In the light, It's scary, but in the dark, it's kind of terrifying... plus, the temp dropped about 50 degrees -- in the canyon itself, it was like 80 and calm. At the top of the North Rim, it was 30 and windy.

Fireman John and I spent about 30 seconds up there before bailing and heading down. The other three boys had the good sense not to do that climb, but since FJ and I are training for the Javelina Jundred, we pretty much to get this done to properly prepare. I think. At least that's what I told myself at the time. He did great -- like, really great -- and I bet he'll be really happy he did it in a few days, when he's recovered.

After that, smooth sailing. It's a strange thing, hiking all night... when the sun comes up, it's totally reinvigorating. It's like that whole crazy climb was just a weird nightmare and it's time to wake up and do your morning run. At dawn, I ran from Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch and had the Canyon totally to myself for miles... it was just unbelievable.

I made it to Phantom Ranch about 8 hours after I'd left it, right around 7:00 in the morning. I think. I found Rayne, shot the shit, ate some beef jerky, and sat around for maybe 30 mins. Rayne had gotten some rest and was looking good, ready to get the heck out of there.

Three quarters of the way through this adventure, I was feeling just fine. Sure, I was a little sore and stiff and another 5,000 ft climb sat in between the Ranch and the Bright Angel trail head, but I knew I'd make it no problem. That is a very good feeling.

I pushed myself as hard as I could on the climb out. Each rim climb is a full vertical mile, so that kinda sucked... but I raced some crazy Canadian and made pretty good time. I love the folks who hike the trails here in AZ -- good people. Plus, much to my surprise, my pal Robin was waiting at Indian Gardens, just chilling and chatting with the people passing through. She braught Fanta. We did the remaining 4.5 mile climb out together -- it was nice to have a buddy. I don't really have a watch or anything, but I think the entire PR to BA portion took around 4 hours and some change.

At the end, I was covered in dust. The whole Rim to Rim to Rim trip took 17:30 or so, but it was one of the best things I've ever done. It's theoretically possible that I could have done it faster, but I'd much rather have fun hiking with cool people than push myself for no reason. Besides, I needed time on my feet -- this was, after all, a training run for JJ.

At the top, Ricky and Zack spotted me and we grabbed some breakfast / beer. Yum. Then I went and slept in Robin's tent for awhile, cried and moaned. Mather Campground has public showers and they work just fine.

As far as I'm concerned, this whole thing went down flawlessly. As a group, we had some logistical challenges, but it all came out ok. Just a really great time.

Oddest moment? Our first trip through Phantom Ranch was like something out of an indie movie: as we roll up, off to the side in the "Employees Only" area they've got a fire going and someone is performing a Radiohead song on an acoustic guitar. Behind one of the buildings, we stumbled on some random worker smoking a joint. He didn't seem too disturbed by getting spotted by a bunch of runners wandering through in the middle of the night. Also, on our climb up North Kaibab we ran into two other runners who told us, "If you see a cat, try and pick it up." At the time that seemed pretty normal. I was looking for a cat, but I didn't see one.

The absolute weirdest thing, though, was realizing that I felt a hundred percent fine after doing that climb up the North Rim. The last time I did it, I was pretty sure I was going to die -- if the physical effort of climbing didn't kill me, I was positive I'd fall off a cliff into the endless pit of darkness. This time, no problem. At all. I've learned to pace myself well and have enough confidence in my trail skills to know that I'll be fine if I huge the very inner wall of the trail at all times. Turns out, practice and experience really helps... who knew?

Here's what I brought along:

I returned to the South Rim with 5 gus, 3 powergel packs, a mojo bar, almost all the beef jerky, and one bag of Perpetuem. I could have easily dropped 1000 calories and been just fine and probably consumed more like 2500 calories total.

The Perpetuem worked really well for me. I kept the Camelbak as kind of a reserve tank with around 40oz of water and the UD bottle filled with a two scoop mix of perpetuem. If anyone can suggest a good way to handle that powder, I'd love to hear it -- my individual serving in a bag idea works ok, but it's kind of sloppy.

GU... obviously that stuff is pretty standard. I busted out the Rocktane for this one just because I've come to believe that it holds mystical powers, but I alternated between that and the Orange Burst flavor. Yum!

Just wanted to finish this off with a special thanks to my pal, Robin, who totally helped me out with this crazy thing. If she hadn't driven back, I'd probably still be asleep somewhere in the Grand Canyon parking lot.

Oh... and one final thing: we got free admission into the park on Saturday since it was National Parks Day. How awesome is that?


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