Run fast ... fall down

Run fast ... fall down

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rim to Rim to Rim

There are a few weeks in early spring and late fall where the temperatures and trail conditions in the grand canyon are optimized to allow for a pretty epic experience. This year marks my third double crossing from the South Rim to the North and back, and as always, had a great time enjoying this amazing place.



Through some generosity granted by my family and friends, I was given the weekend off and put together simple travel and camping plans for April 19-21, 2013. I flew to Flagstaff, AZ and joined Dave Gibson in driving up to the South Rim. Jeff Valliere, John Prater, and Dan Mottinger graciously allowed me to camp amongst their tents at Mather campground.

Dave and his crew set a starting time at 3AM on Saturday to ensure plenty of time to get back to the S. Rim before dark. This was a little earlier than I initially wanted to start, but would rather join the group at the start than run alone all day. I got all the trail beta from my campmates since they all ran the day before, and then I dressed for the start and went to bed. I didn't sleep very well, my feet were frozen, and didn't want to make too much noise so slithered out of my tent at 2AM. I ate a huge lump of banana bread, put on my shoes and was ready to go. We shuttled over to the South Kaibab Trailhead and began our descent at 2:48AM (we were actually early, go figure). My feet were still frozen from the night (19 F at the start), but quickly warmed up literally as we dropped down off the rim. I guess I should have better prepared for the night running, but only brought a small flashlight and a cheap headlamp as a backup. I run a lot at night but usually don't need a flashlight as the moon or light pollution from Boulder reflects off of snow and illuminates my routes rather well. This was not the case for this morning in the canyon. It was amazingly dark, no moon, and of course no light pollution. My flashlight battery lasted about 20-30 mins and then flickered off. Out of laziness, I haven't changed the battery since last year's leadville. When it died, I then stopped to get my headlamp out of my pack and really realized how dark it was out there. The group continued on ahead and I had to work to catch back up on a weak little light. Once I caught back up, things were better as everyone else's lights helped to collectively illuminate the trail and I made it a point to hang in a group until the sun rose (which was still a few hours away).

South Kaibab Trail descent in the dark

We continued dropping all the way down to the Colorado river and crossed over the sturdy black bridge. The trail continues to the Phantom Ranch camp and then we took the North Kaibab trail to the North Rim (this side of the National Park is still usually closed for winter in April). At Phantom Ranch, we sat down for a while to regroup, refill water at the spigot, and I somehow laid down in a cactus. After 20 minutes or so, our small group continued onward north. I was counting calories and trying to put down 200/hr with 20 oz of water. Here is a layout of what food I squished in my pack.

Layout of food I planned to eat (2400 cals) - Notice the roll of accidentally
vegan (east coast) Girl Scout Thin Mints in foil wrapper.
About halfway between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood Camp, the sky began lighting up. This was definitely welcome as we were now a good 10 miles into the run (although my garmin watch said 12 miles, pretty much worthless in the canyon as signals were bouncing off the canyon walls, it alarmed me of several sub 5 minute miles). Once light struck the canyon walls, our little group split up and I spent most of the rest of the day running/hiking alone.

Sunrise reflecting off the canyon walls.

I spent about 15 minutes enjoying the facilities at cottonwood camp, reorganizing my food/pack, refilling my water, and pushed on. I continued up up up watching the altimeter tick all the way to 8000 ft while I hiked. The canyon was warming up and I could feel that the N. Rim was much cooler. I ended up cresting the top at 6h10m into the run and spent 5 mins at the rim catching back up on calories. I ran out of water here (2 L filled up last at Cottonwood) but knew it would be okay because it was all downhill back to the residence spigot. As I dropped off the N. Rim, I began seeing other runners. There were many many groups out there and it was fun chatting with people as passing by. I saw Anton Krupicka at about 20 mins down from the rim. He was running up the trail, while most everyone else (me included) hike the canyon climbs. I saw many other familiar faces from Boulder out there and was thinking that someday this will probably be illegal. It's becoming such a classic in the ultrarunning world. I guess my pictures don't really show it, but in reference to the two other times I've completed this (2006, 2007) there were so many more people, thus likely increasing the number of rescues.

Looking down the North Kaibab Trail on the side of the cliff.

Looking North up toward the North Rim. Roaring Springs waterfall on the right.
I made it back to the box canyon spigot and indulged in water as I was starting to encounter the oh-so-familiar stomach discomfort. I refilled my pack, poured EFS powder in it, tasted to make sure it'd go down and aimed to run most of the way back to Phantom Ranch. Joe Grant, and friends were hanging out at Cottonwood camp, so I chatted with them for a few minutes, and refilled my water again. The thin mints seemed to sooth my stomach issues and I was still keeping up well on my caloric plan.

About 3 hours after seeing Anton, he came flying by me again in the middle of Box Canyon in the bridges section. I tried to keep up but only held on for a hundred feet or so, he was really moving. Hikers were cheering us on and it was cool to pretend (even if for only a minute) that I was keeping up with him. They didn't have to know that I likely started 4 hours earlier!

Cactus field

Finally I made it back to Phantom Ranch and went in the store to purchase a few extra snacks. I wasn't sure I had enough food left, but it turns out I would have been fine. The line was really long and no one else was in a hurry in the store, so it took a solid 15 minutes for my purchase. I packed back up and hoped 2L was enough water to make it back up the 5000 ft climb to the starting/ending point. I made the decision only at this point that I'd go back up the S. Kaibab Trail rather than Bright Angel (which is a few miles longer). If I did it again, I'd be sure to drink a ton before leaving Phantom with my pack full. 2L should be plenty but not if I was already still thirsty (as was the case) and given that I just downed a pack of pretzels from the store.

I decided to quit paying attention to the time (as I wasn't breaking any records other than my own), and switched my watch over to altimeter mode to view my progress in climbing from 2200 ft (colorado river) to 7000 ft. This is a serious grunt. I promised myself a break at 4800 ft (halfway mark), so I dug out my headphones and listened to some music to try to make this climb go by faster. There were so many hikers that listening to music probably wasn't a good idea so it didn't last long before I gave up on it. My stomach was quite irritated but I feel like I'm learning it a little more now. I have to balance a few different things in terms of needing enough water to help digest any food, and needing more when it's upset, but taking it in really slowly.

The South Kaibab trail dropping the final 1000 feet to the river in less than a mile.
Near the top, I made fun of the famous sign warning hikers to not try to hike all the way to the river and back. (But in all actuality, I really felt like that).


After a ridiculously long day, I reach the starting point 12h45m after starting! I grabbed the park service shuttle back to the campsite and had a great time.

Splits: (Strava data) - GPS way over estimated the distance and battery died at 11h30m
7M Phantom Ranch 1h41m (20 min break)
12M Cottonwood Camp 3h48m (15 min break)
21M N Rim 6h10m (5 min break)
30M Cottonwood Camp 7h51m
35M Phantom Ranch 8h30m
42M S Rim 12h45m