I have a reputation among my friends of being game for anything. So, it was no surprise that Lauren asked me to be her buddy on a Grand Canyon running excursion. Her husband and his friend had the goal to run Rim to Rim to Rim or R2R2R. That is running down the South Rim of the canyon up the North Rim of the canyon and back in one day. That’s 40+ miles and over 10,000 ft of elevation to climb.
Lauren wanted to do Rim to Rim and stay on the other side. That seemed reasonable to me. So, I said “sure, count me in.” When we landed on a late April date, we found that Rim to Rim was not an option. The North Rim is not open. We decided to run down half way and back.
Just like when I signed up for Mt. Washington Road Race, I lamented the lack of training opportunities in Chicago. We have no hills, no elevation. No nothing. For Mt. Washington, I did a lot of incline running on the treadmill. To prepare for this, I ran (as usual) and walked a lot of stairs in my apartment building — but nowhere near enough.
Lauren had a knee injury, so she wasn’t running much. I started a new job and was concerned about getting vacation days. Truth be told, I crammed to get the right gear and relied on my general fitness level.
Russ and Paul were super prepared and had everything they needed and more. Those three arrived a night ahead of me and scouted everything out and spoke to the park rangers. Lauren scoped out a 17 mile hike. On Friday, she hiked to the 3 mile house on Bright Angel and back to check the time. We decided to head down the South Kaibab trail (~7 miles), on the river trail (~1.7 miles) and back up Bright Angel (~9 miles).
The guys ran into some issues with the trail on the North Rim. They’re doing construction, so the trail is closed from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. They decided to leave at 11:00 PM and hike/run all night. We decided to take a shuttle to S. Kaibab at 6:05 AM.
We met some folks on the shuttle with a lot of experience in the canyon. They gave us some last minute tips. We checked out the map and headed to the trailhead. The beginning of the hike was chilly and windy. The trail is steep and has ruts from the mules. I can’t imagine going down at night (but the guys reported that it was “awesome.”) We planned to hike down and do some running on the flat and up to mind Lauren’s knee. The views down S. Kaibob are off the hook. We stopped within the first mile for some pics.
There is no water on S. Kaibab but there are rest rooms. Score! We hiked down to the first stop and took off our outer layer as the morning was already heating up. We shared a PB&J, drank water, put on sunblock and Body Glide and headed for the river.
Before we knew it, we could see the Colorado River. The path winds but we made it down the trail in less than three hours (with stops). We were tempted to jump in but went for dipping our Buffs in the river and putting them on under our hats.
We fueled up, filled our water and headed to Bright Angel. We decided to run some and chatted the entire time. Lauren and I are very compatible in pace, temperament and chattiness. We met lots of people along the way and shared stories, electrolytes and Run Gum with our new friends. [Get $5 off your first order of Run Gum here.]
There are 3 rest rooms and 2 water stops on the way up. With 3 miles to go, we saw Paul who turned back at Big Cottonwood (17 miles across to the North Rim) because he was not going to make the 8AM cut off for the construction. He had covered 32 miles by the time we saw him. We got several check ins from Russ who was a few hours behind us completing the R2R2R.
In the last stretch, we met two Geology students. They explained a lot of what we were looking at and what we’d seen. When we got to the last point at 1.5 miles to go, we were both sad that our adventure was almost over. We took more pics and savored the views.
I would love to come back and try Rim to Rim or maybe even push myself to camp out in the Canyon. That would involve combatting some fears and pushing myself. The key to success for us was being prepared, realistic and reasonably cautious. Russ and Paul’s planning helped me and Lauren a ton. Also, Lauren being a nutritionist with a ton of endurance sports experience saved me from underfueling or under/overhydrating. My father-in-law told me that he hiked down S. Kaibab in summer when he was 12 with no water. He was so dehydrated that he had to take the mule train back up. He said “We’ve learned a lot since then!” True, very true!
Russ finished R2R2R in about 15 hours with stops. We cleaned up and went for dinner and got to hear about his and Paul’s amazing adventures. While Russ will be back for more hiking and camping with Lauren and the kids, he’s checked R2R2R off of his bucket list.
Sunday morning, I ran some and met everyone on the south of the Canyon. We checked out the Geology Museum and looked around some more. Lauren and I took a scenic run for a few miles, too. Before I knew it, it was time to go.
If you love to hike and want a challenge, put hiking the Grand Canyon on your bucket list. You won’t be disappointed!
What’s on your bucket list?!
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