Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rim2Rim2Rim - Oct 2012

In early 2012, my friend Rachel sent out an email asking if anyone wanted to join her for a Rim to Rim to Rim adventure in the Grand Canyon. The trip crept up on us a lot faster than I had expected, but thanks to training for the North Face 50 miler, I felt about as ready as I was going to be for this epic run!

Stephen and I headed to Arizona on October 4th and made our way north on Friday morning. We stopped by my old stomping grounds in Flagstaff for lunch, and then continued on to the Grand Canyon. By about 3:30, nobody had checked in at the campground, so we went to the Bright Angel Lodge to get a look at the Canyon and the trails that we'd be running the following day.

First look at the Canyon
Obligatory Grand Canyon shot

Eventually, most of the group trickled in, and we all settled down for dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge. After dinner, we headed back to the camp to make final preparations for the next morning. I laid out the multitude of random snacks that I had brought along for the trail and decided on a random assortment of goodies - my own personal trail run aid station (about 2400 calories in all):
  • Nuun
  • Clif Bloks
  • roasted potatoes
  • graham crackers
  • potato chips
  • beef jerky
  • Mars Bar
  • sesame cookies (the Middle Eastern kind)
  • peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (thanks, mom!)
  • Hot Tamales 
  • extra Honey Stinger chews
I packed my Nathan pack with all my food, water, chapstick, mini Body Glide and sunscreen, my iPod Shuffle and my new iPhone 5 (I was totally nervous about bringing it, but I knew the camera would be 100 times better than my point and shoot, and that the battery would last a lot longer!). I laid out my sunglasses, hat, arm warmers, gloves, buff and Garmin, along with my favorite shorts, top, socks and shoes, and then we attempted to get some sleep in the back of the rental car (which fortunately had been upgraded to a small SUV). Unfortunately, we didn't sleep much - I think we were facing slightly downhill, and we neglected to crack a window. Anxiety about the next day's 2:40am wake up call probably didn't help either!

The four of us who would be attempting the full Rim2Rim2Rim stumbled around in the dark at 2:45 in the morning, making last minute preparations, and then it was off to the trailhead. Stephen was kind enough to get up with us and drive us to the trailhead so we wouldn't have to add extra miles onto our already lengthy journey!

 The plan was to head down the South Kaibab - the steeper option with no water stops. We take the North Kaibab from Phantom Ranch up to the North Rim and back down to Phantom Ranch (which has plenty of water stops from spring to fall, but which shuts down in mid-October for the freezing winter months). On the way back up to the South Rim, we opted for the longer, more gradual Bright Angel Trail, which also has several water stops. I used some of the Grand Canyon maps to put together this handy little map for all of us:

Once at the South Kaibab trailhead, things started to get real. It was cold, but not the 30 degree temps we had been expecting. It was also incredibly windy! The wind was howling through the canyon and through the trees on the rim, so Stephen took a quick picture and decided to get going before we got too cold. Start time, 3:37am.

Ready to run at the North Kaibab trailhead
I'll admit, I was nervous as we headed from the trailhead to the edge of the rim and into the canyon. It was windy, the dust was flying everywhere, and besides whatever our headlamps shined on, it was pitch black. Once we got a little further down the trail, the canyon walls helped to block some of the wind and dust. I found that I was keeping pretty much in step with Kenny, so I followed him down into the depths of the Canyon, stopping here and there to take photos of the blackness (in hopes that something would turn out). At one point, the ground drops off on both sides of the trail, leaving just a ridge to cross. I took a quick picture, and then hurried across to a "safer" spot. I swear someone came up behind me when I was taking the photo, but when I looked back after crossing, I was all alone. After that, I was a lot more conscious of staying near Kenny!

The trail dropped off to nothing on either side. And I think there's a pair of eyes over there...
Every so often, I took time to turn off my headlamp and look around. It's so quiet and peaceful down there in the dark - until your eyes adjust, the only thing you can see is the stars, a sliver of moon, and the light at the North Rim Lodge. As your eyes get used to the light, the whiteness of the trail starts to become visible, and the canyon walls look black against the starry sky. The only thing that kept me from standing there for too long was knowing that Kenny was moving farther down the trail - I knew that Rachel and Enrique were behind, but I wanted to make progress in the cool of the night, so I kept going, occasionally shoving graham crackers and sesame cookies in my mouth as I ran.

I had seen the headlamps of other hikers making their way up the trail, and at one point I could hear the river. Close to the bottom, I caught back up with Kenny. We ran into some hikers sleeping alongside the trail, and another couple trying to make the trek up before the heat of the day. They asked how long we'd been going, and I told them an hour and a half. "You look like you're going at a pretty good clip," said the guy. I didn't have the heart to tell them that we'd run 6 miles at that point. They had a long way to go!

Shortly after, we crossed the river and then ran alongside it toward Phantom Ranch. As I was making my way down the sandy path, all of a sudden, there were a bunch of other runners on my tail. I picked up the pace as we headed into Phantom Ranch. I chatted with the other runners, some from New York, some from Southern California, as we all refilled our packs with water. I stopped at the bathroom, and then ran back and forth, confused about where the continuation of the trail was. Once I finally got on my way, I headed into Bright Angel Canyon, a long slot canyon that connects the North and South Rims.

Heading along the Bright Angel Creek all by my lonesome
The trail runs along the side of the Bright Angel Creek, crossing the creek on several occasions. It was here that it started to get lighter and lighter. I wasn't sure where everyone else was - because I didn't see anyone, I kind of assumed that they had all continued ahead of me when I was in the bathroom. I'm not sure what made me think that  - I wasn't in the bathroom for that long - but I imagine it was just because I was tired and a bit daunted by the 40ish miles ahead of me. I forged ahead through the canyon, doing my best to keep running, though the slight upward tick of the trail reduced me to walking on several occasions. As the trail opened up to a wider canyon, the sun started to come over the top of the rim, and then I finally saw Kenny ahead of me!

I pushed to catch up to him, and we stuck together for a bit, pushing each other through exhaustion (I really recommend getting more than 2-3 hours of sleep before an undertaking like this!) to keep moving up the trail. Sections of the trail were getting steeper as we passed Ribbon Falls and made our way into Cottonwood Camp. I refilled here and had some food. It was also somewhere around here that Rachel and Andy (a friend of hers who started later and blasted his way down the trail) passed us by. Two of the guys I met at Phantom Ranch passed near here too. I was feeling so tired and defeated...I knew I just had to keep pushing. I also knew that I would see my friend Rebecca somewhere near here - I found out on Facebook that she was planning a Rim to Rim on the same day, so I was looking forward to seeing a friendly face on the trail!

The sun made for some gorgeous views!
I power hiked most of the way from Cottonwood Camp to the Pump House, where I saw Rachel and Andy again. I also saw Rebecca and her husband taking a break along with tons of other hikers who were making their way down from the North Rim. I stopped and chatted for a few minutes, and would have loved to stay longer, but I wanted to stay as close to Rachel and Andy as possible, so I wished them well and headed on my way.

Me and Rebecca at the Pump House
I could see Rachel and Andy running up the trail ahead of me, which was totally demoralizing because I was doing everything I could just to keep hiking at a decent pace. Fortunately, there were lots of hikers coming down the trail at this point, so we all offered each other some encouragement. I definitely needed it!
There's Rachel and Andy waaay up there!
And there I am, waaay down there!
Rachel and Andy disappeared around a corner, and so I kept pushing up what seemed like a neverending slog. The views heading up the North Rim are spectacular, though, so that definitely helped. There's a beautiful view of Roaring Springs, across the canyon, and some of the trails and switchbacks overlook stunning drops of more than 1000 feet. Lots of this section was runnable, but it was getting hot in the sun!

Looking back down the trail and a long drop!
As I headed up on particularly gnarly section, I was greeted by a guy in a straw cowboy hat and combat boots, carrying a walking stick with strips of colorful fabric tied to the top (think Steven Tyler's microphone stand with the scarves). As we passed each other, he's like "FIST BUMP!" and puts up his fist. I return the bump, and he says "YOU CAN DOOO EEEEET!" I was totally tickled by the whole encounter, and it gave me some much needed energy to make my way up the next set of switchbacks.

Looking up toward the switchbacks and the North Rim
At this point, I was expecting to see Rachel and Andy come running back down toward me at any second. The people hiking down looked less and less like they should be undertaking something of this nature, so I knew we had to be close to the top. After a stop at the bee-covered water fountain at the Supai Tunnel, I came around a corner and much to my surprise, I see Rachel, Andy, and the two guys from SoCal sitting in the shade against a rock. I was so determined to narrow the gap between us that I actually caught up to them. Such a nice surprise!!! Phil and Ryan (the guys from SoCal have names! who knew?) gave me Honey Badger status - they had seen me on the trail far below as they were ascending - and I told them how relieved I was to see all of them. After a few minutes' rest, we continued up the trail toward the treeline.

That treeline is a long, long way away, let me tell you. That last mile was rough, but we finally made it in among the beautiful pine trees and aspens and up over the ridge to the North Rim. We all stopped and refilled our water, made a pit stop, refueled, took some pictures and celebrated our halfway success. We met another runner who was moving at a much faster pace and sent him on his way before we noticed that the mule train was getting ready to leave. You really don't want to get stuck behind a mule train! Just as we headed out, Kenny came up the rim. We said a quick hello and then snuck onto the trail just before the mules. A few minutes later, we saw Enrique on his way up to the top. We took a quick picture and went on our way down the trail.

Made it to the North Rim! We met the guy on the left at the top - he was insanely fast!
 I was really proud of us on this section - we ran almost all of it, with limited stops for photographs, until the Pump House, which is about 5.5 miles. We took turns pulling the group down the trail and said hi to lots of hikers on the way down. Many of those same hikers we'd also seen on the way up, so we got some pretty great reactions when they realized what we were doing! The four of us had a great time, chatting and laughing our way into the canyon - it was so nice to have some more company, and we discussed later that we all pushed harder than we might have if we hadn't all met. I think we all would have turned into complete messes, but running with new friends helped us keep our sh*t together, even on the really hard parts!

Making our way down the trail.
 At the Pump House, we rested for a few minutes, and I said to Rachel, "Just a few more miles and we'll have done our farthest run ever!" We had covered just over 28 miles. Ryan pipes up and says, "This is already my longest run ever!" At that, we put our packs back on and headed off to the next stop at Cottonwood Campground.
Taking a break in the shade

Staying hydrated!
The next 1.4 miles were rough! It was HOT in the canyon and the fully exposed rolling hills were not exactly fun. We did find a spot to rest in the shade for a bit, but otherwise we pretty much ran the whole way to Cottonwood. Here we refilled our water, ate some beef jerky, and prepared ourselves for the 7ish miles back to Phantom Ranch. Whereas we had been pretty talkative on the way down from the North Rim, this section got a little quiet. We took turns pulling the group and walking in the back, the sun taking its toll on each of us at some point. We found a good spot to get down to the river and wet our buffs, hats, and hair, allowing us to stay cool for a while longer. The only thing that kept us going was knowing that we'd make it to Phantom Ranch in time for some of their famous lemonade!

Favorite pic of the trip - it was hot, but it was still beautiful!
Running back through the slot canyon was tough. It's downhill, but not by much, and it's pretty hot down there after the sun has been beating down all day. Not to mention, the turns all start to look the same, so after a couple of miles it starts to get old.

The sun was intense!
It was here that we ran into Mari, who was on her way to the North Rim. Mari and Malik got a late start because their flight had been delayed, but we were surprised to see them crossing so late in the day. Mari said she had plenty of water, but she didn't have a headlamp, so I gave her mine, knowing that I at least had my little wind-up flashlight. We took a couple of pictures and sent Mari on her way. A few minutes later, we ran into Malik. He had a light but was running low on water, so we gave him some Gatorade, knowing that we'd soon be at Phantom Ranch. We took turns pulling the group, but I mostly hung back for the rest of this section. Eventually, the high canyon walls started to open up, and it was obvious that Phantom Ranch really WAS just around the corner, so I picked it up and made my way into the camp.

Me, Mari, and Rachel - SF girls run the Canyon!
Enjoying some ice cold Lemonade at Phantom Ranch
I met the group at the store where we got some delicious Lemmy Lemonade and sat outside to enjoy some snacks before heading back across the river. We pulled ourselves together and jogged out of the camp, stopping to say hi to the mules and to take a few pictures of the river. We crossed the bridge to go up the Bright Angel Trail, and then wound our way along the river's edge until we finally made a left turn back in toward the South Rim. As we made our way up, we saw a lot of the people we'd passed on the way up to the North Rim. There was a whole group of Indian guys making the North to South trip, that we'd seen earlier in the day. Some of them probably took as long to cross the canyon as we did to go both ways - poor guys!!!

Just across the river - you can see the two bridges we crossed -
the farther one in the morning and the closer one in the afternoon
We kept a great pace going up toward Indian Gardens, about 20 min/mile. Every time we went up to a new part of the plateau, we'd turn around and gawk at the amazing view - we took tons of pictures too, but they really don't do it any justice. Each view was better than the last, so we kept going, hoping that we'd get to the flat part of the plateau in time for the sunset. Unfortunately, the flat part never seemed to come, but the area leading to Indian Gardens was so beautiful - the stream and all the vegetation were amazing, especially after being in that hot, dry canyon all afternoon!

We came from the trail you see below, and still had to go all the way up to the rim above it!
As we arrived at Indian Gardens, we kept leapfrogging with this couple who looked pretty miserable. I'm assuming they either did Rim to River and back or North to South Rim, but it was clear that they'd been out there for quite some time. They weren't really walking together for a lot of it, and she was definitely kind of pissed off. At some point, when it was obvious that we'd be finishing in the dark, one of the guys asked them if they had headlamps. Shortly after that, the girl was overheard telling her guy "I'm never doing this stupid hike again!" She was pretty dang annoyed because she walked in the dark until it was absolutely impossible to see. Thankfully, we saw her with a headlamp later on!

We made one last stop at Indian Gardens and then made our way toward the final major ascent. I ate the other half of my Mars bar and refilled my hydration pack and we were on our way. The dark was really setting in, and after we started climbing, we pulled out the lights. We formed a little line - Phil, Rachel, me and Ryan - so I'd have a decent light to see by. My little wind-up light didn't stay charged for long, so I needed some extra help from everyone else's headlamps. Speaking of headlamps, it was fun watching all the people up ahead of us and down below us as we made the neverending climb (about 5 miles).

We kept on pushing up that climb at a good pace - since it was cooler out, we didn't really need any water, so that saved us a lot of time. At one point, we all decided that we needed to take a few minutes to check out the stars - it was so clear out, and you could see the whole Milky Way. We all sat down on the side of the trail together and enjoyed the view. It was so cool to be able to see the lights at the North Rim! We were worried about how we were going to manage to stand back up, but we decided not to worry about it yet. As we sat and marveled at the sky, I saw a shadow move across the rock in front of us (it was probably a little mouse, but I swear it looked like a skunk!). I said, "Oh my God," and grabbed Rachel, who screamed bloody murder. Ryan and Phil jumped up and yelled, and Rachel and I were right with them, still screaming. The bright side was that we didn't have to worry about how we were going to stand up, but I think we scared the entire canyon. I'm hoping the intense laughter reassured everyone who may have thought that one of us had fallen over the edge! They gave me quite a bit of crap the rest of the way up, but I SWEAR I saw something!!! We spent the next bit of the trail apologizing to all the people around us.

Bright Angel Trailhead - South Rim!
After that point, we knew we were close to the top. We stopped very briefly for some more water, but we mostly just kept our heads down and kept moving as best we could. it was frustrating being able to see the lights at the top, but feeling like we weren't getting any closer. I wanted to throw my stupid flashlight off the side of the canyon (and I'm sure everyone else did too, thanks to the annoying sound it made to wind the dumb thing). Finally we came around a corner to see the trail sign, so we regrouped there, and I called Stephen on the walkie talkie. We took pictures with the sign, and then decided it would be a good idea to run the last little bit, not realizing how far it still was.

We managed to slog our way up the last incline to the top, still running! Stephen and Joyce were waiting with beer and high fives for all of us. We were almost in shock to be done, not to mention excited, exhausted, overwhelmed, hungry, and in desperate need of a shower!

High five - we did it!!!
Photo by Joyce Pedersen
We shared some stories and tried to drink a beer, but it was really just gross at that point. So we said goodbye to our new friends, packed into the car, and headed back to the campsite only to find that the showers were closed for the evening. No matter - we were so tired that we made do with the bathroom sink at the campsite and waited till the morning to get a real shower. We also got news that Enrique and Kenny had "biouvacked" at the North Rim, but weren't really sure what that meant. Turns out, they stayed in the Great Room at the Lodge with an amazing view of the canyon! They came back the next day, happy and well-rested. Stephen and I had some breakfast and headed back to Flagstaff for a stop at Beaver Street Brewery for a real meal and a well-deserved beer.

Beaver Street Brewery, Flagstaff!
I'm so thankful to Rachel and Enrique for planting the seed on this one - this is by far one of the coolest things I have ever done, and I hope to have many more similar adventures in the future!

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