Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim October 2011

A group of six of us headed down to Grand Canyon for a double crossing on October 22nd. In the caravan were Shad, Shane (down from Portland), Casey Flanagan, Matt Koppenheffer, Brett Dawson, and Mike from Seattle. There were three double crossing virgins on this trip (Casey, Matt, and Mike), Brett-3rd, Shane-2nd, Shad-7th.

Regathering at the 1.5 mile marker

We took the South Kaibab to North Kaibab and back route for this trip making a 42 mile out and back. We started around 6:15 am to avoid needed a headlamp from the start. It was a bit chilly when we began, but it warmed up fast once below the rim. The decent down S. Kaibab went pretty steady and we enjoyed the sunrise lighting up the colors of Grand Canyon.

Train of SMUTs

After enjoying the bridge over the Colorado we refilled at Phantom Ranch and headed uphill.

Casey on the Suspension Bridge

Snacking at Phantom Ranch
I was utterly astonished at the number of people coming down from the North Rim. We guessed that literally bus loads of people were herded over and completing a single crossing to the South Rim. Since I started going to Grand Canyon a few years ago the number of runners has increased steadily. However, this was way beyond anything I had ever seen.
In a way it was nice to see a large number of people getting out and enjoying nature; however, there were quite a few people that looked to be struggling. Additionally, at the North Rim there were several people attempting a double crossing that didn’t think they could make it back. As the popularity of running in Grand Canyon grows I think we may see more of this. People read about it in Runner’s World or some other magazine and think it would be neat to try not realizing it is a very difficult run and there are not aid stations to drop at.

Ahh….done ranting. Back to the adventure.

And Up…….
North Rim

It warmed up quite a bit as we descended back down. A couple of us had to slow it up a bit but Shane was thrilled to be running in warm weather again. Besides being long as hell the decent back to Phantom Ranch went smoothly and we ended up getting there in great time.

For the first time I finally remembered to bring a few bucks to buy some of the famous lemonade at Phantom Ranch. It was pretty darn good, but Shane and I also noticed they had Tecate also on the menu. We figured how often is it that you get to enjoy a beer in the middle of an adventure run in one of the Natural Wonders of the World and said ef it. I must admit it was one of the tastiest beers I’ve ever had.

We spent quite a bit of time hanging out and talking, and some rehydrating, and we started getting antsy to get going. We had pretty much all agreed it was a free for all on the way back up the South Rim. It is tough to stay together on that climb. Shane and I ended up heading up together, except for him outkicking me at the end.

Despite the beer and antics this ended up being my best time for a double crossing at just over 11 hours. Everyone did extremely well and everyone finished in under 13 hours which is great for a first time.

Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim 11/6/2010

Grand Canyon 11/6/2010

Photo album available here

Shane, Brad, and I headed down to the Grand Canyon for a rim2rim2rim adventure on Saturday. This would be my fifth double crossing but the first for both Brad and Shane. Being able to share this experience with them made this extra special for me. 

The sign basically says you’re going to die if you go to the river and back in a day

We started about 4:30 am and descended the South Kaibab Trail via headlamp. This trail is pretty steep and it may have been a good thing we weren’t taking our eyes off of it site seeing. We got to Phantom Ranch just as the Sun began to come up and the guys got their first views of their surroundings.

North Kaibab Trail parallels Bright Angel Creek
The canyon is narrow here due to the hard schist rock
We kept a pretty good pace the first 5 miles after leaving Phantom Ranch due to the gradual grade of the trail. There are no steep climbs on this section but we soon left the inner gorge and the scale of Grand Canyon left us all in awe.
We stopped often and took pictures to take in the experience
Grand Canyon is far from the desolate landscape often depicted in photos
Looking back to where we started just a few hours before
Before we knew it we had arrived at the ranger residence before the big climb up the North Rim. The trail steepens quite a bit after the ranger residence and we were switching between running the flatter sections and hiking the steep inclines.
I swear it's not what it looks like
Colors changing in valley below the trail
Lookout just below North Rim
After the never ending climb we were all feeling good and in good spirits at the half way point.
North Rim
We saw four other runners on the North Rim doing their own double crossings. As we descending back down the trail I was blown away by how many were out there. Seems every time I do this run more and more runners are out there.
Brad on the descent
Typical view about half way between rim and residence
Bridge crossing Bright Angel Canyon on North Kaibab Trail
This bridge made for a great photo opportunity
Shane and Brad at the ranger residence
We flew down the trail back to the rangers’ residence. What had taken us about two hours on the way up only took about 50 minutes on the way down. For me, the stretch from the back to Phantom Ranch is the crux of the day. The toll of miles of downhill pounding really take their toll despite the moderate grade of the trail. I started having some stomach problems and had to rest a few times to let it settle.
One of four bridges that cross Bright Angel Creek in inner gorge
By some miracle we made it back to Phantom Ranch and we were all happy the descent was over. All we had to do now was climb 5000′ in 7 miles to the finish.
Black Bridge crosses the Colorado River
Looking down at Bright Angel Campground from South Kaibab Trail

Going up the South Kaibab Trail can most accurately be described as a slog. Only a handful of flattish sections justify the energy expenditure of running. The trail is steep and relentless. However, we chatted it up and we treated to the expansive views of Grand Canyon that we missed earlier.

The round trip was about 43 miles including the 1/2 mile from the parking lot to the trailhead with +/- 11,000 ft of elevation change. We made it car to car in about 12 hours. This was a pretty good time considering all the breaks and photos we took. Our actual moving time was probably closer to 10 hours. Both Shane and Brad were awesome partners on this run. If anything, I was the whinny baby and held them up. It was special to share an experience that it so dear to me. It was a perfect day. The weather couldn’t have been better and everything seemed to go our way.
Typical view heading up S. Kaibab Trail

Post Script,
On the way home Shane and I stopped for a burger and a beer to celebrate and fill our hungry bellies. In a show of endurance that pales the double crossing, Shane put down a 1/2 pound bacon cheeseburger and onion rings and promptly ordered another and crushed the second burger without flinching. Very impressive indeed sir. I also have to give a shout out to Brad’s show of endurance by putting up with mine and Shane’s ridiculous banter all day. In a word, it was SMUTty and Brad took it like a champ.

Grand Canyon part 3

Everything has been going reasonably well lately.  I’m doing well in all my classes and everything is going well with work.  My running training has been going particularly well.  So far this year I’ve knocked off over two and a half hours from my 50k best time.  More recently I’ve been doing longer runs on the weekends as well as speed work during the week.

Despite all this, I’ve felt a little down lately.  It’s not that anything bad has happened or that I’m really depressed.  I’d say malaise more accurately describes my attitude.  Stress about what to do with working out my schedule with work and school may have something to do with this sentiment; however, I think more than anything I have been craving adventure.  I’ve had the feeling of the world enclosing around me like the walls of that trash compactor  in the Death Star from Star Wars.  After my friend Bruce and I postponed a hike we had planned for Saturday, I called a local ultra runner, Casey, about coming along on his Grand Canyon rim-rim-rim run.  Since he was going alone he was glad for the company.  

Friday afternoon we drove over to Williams Arizona which is about an hour outside of the park.  When we arrived there was a fair amount of snow and it was freezing outside.  This was a little worrysome to say the least.  The South Rim was another 1000 feet higher in elevation and, therefore, about 5 degrees colder, Oi Vey.  Moreover, when we got to the North Rim the weather could be even worse.  We kept positive about the run but realized there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to do it.  

We woke up at 2:30 a.m. and were on the road by 3:00 a.m.  We saw three huge elk along the roadside and luckily they decided to not dart in front of us because Casey didn’t see them until I pointed and said “holy shit”.  The weather really started looking bad as we entered the park.  Later we both admitted we would have turned around and went home right there if either of us were alone.  The wind was whipping snow flurries across the road and we were shocked by the cold as we got out.  All our gear was ready so all we had to do was grab our packs and get going.  This was a good thing because I was freezing my but off and may have bailed if I had time to think about it.

With our headlamps and flashlights illuminating the trail in front of us we descended below the rim about 4:10 a.m.  Things started looking good for us almost immediately because we were protected from the wind below the canyon rim and we warmed quickly as we jogged.  The snow on the trail didn’t effect our footing at all.  However, we took it easy.  Hitting an icy spot and spilling over the edge would have ruined the day pretty quickly.  Before I knew it we were pulling into Indian Gardens 4.5 miles into the run.  We filled our bottles and set off again still in the dark.  I was in front and set a moderate pace taking advantage of smoother parts of the trail and slowed on more technical parts.  Casey said we were making good time.  Now I didn’t know Casey all that well.  I’ve met him a few times and we seemed to like each other well enough; however, I hadn’t exposed any of my idiosyncrasies to him.  I figured this was as good of a time as any and said we need to keep a good pace so Gollum (yes Gollum from Lord of the Rings) doesn’t get us.  I think he pretended not to hear me because there was dead silence after that.  

About thirty minutes after leaving Indian Gardens I turned off my headlamp.  Although the Sun wasn’t up I could see well enough to not trip and fall flat on my face.  We got to Phantom Ranch a little after 6:30.  The camp was lively as people  were lining up for breakfast.  We got our normal strange looks as we filled our bottles with water and powery substances and sucked on energy gels.  I guess my orange tie-dyed spandex gaiters didn’t help us either.  

The next couple of hours were pleasant.  We chatted, enjoyed the scenery, listened to the rush of Bright Angel Creek, and kept moving.  I was feeling great and knew I had plenty of fluid because I was urinating pretty often.  We filled up yet again at a water stop about 7 miles past Phantom Ranch and prepared ourselves for the death march up the North Rim.  We noticed the snow line was pretty low on the north side of the canyon and we were pretty sure we were going to encounter significant amounts of snow.  Indeed, we started seeing snow along and on the trail just after Roaring Springs which is still about 2500 feet below the North Rim.  We couldn’t really do anything else than keep going and turn around if things got too ridiculous.  The dusting of snow on the canyon walls was absolutely beautiful.  I decided last minute not to take my camera but I regretted this decision.  It would have been worth carrying the camera 48 miles just to get a few pictures up on the North Rim….sorry.

While we did encounter quite a bit of snow, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared.  I led the way and de-virginized the fresh snow on the trail.  (I’m pretty sure I heard it say daddy.)  The snow was about 8 inches deep in the worst areas but only a couple most everywhere.  This probably slowed us a bit and it seemed like forever before we finally reached the North Rim, our turn around point.  We didn’t stay long because we were getting cold not moving.  There was no water available anyway so there wasn’t much reason to linger.

As we descended the North Rim the footing was better than I had expected.  I picked up the pace a bit and my gangster theme music, that Eminem 8-mile song, played in my head.  Yes, I felt pretty tough.  As my gangsterosity passed, I only know a few lines of the song, we passed another group of crazy people marching up the North Rim on their own double traverse.  I stopped long enough to say hello and find out this group of six was from Tuscon.  Continuing on the snow was much slushier than it had been on the way up.  This made for some serious puddle stomping.  Pretty fun for a runner living in the Mohave Desert.  It got pretty slick in a few places and the drop off only a couple of feet away suddenly jumped to the forefront of my mind.

Soon enough the snow faded away.  I was feeling really good but Casey was having some foot problems.  This slowed him up a bit, but this was fine by me because it gave me an excuse to stop and enjoy the scenery.  The snow on the canyon walls was just so beautiful.  It was is the StayPuff Marshmellow Man exploded into a fine mist of marshmellow bliss all over the canyon walls.  Again I apologize for not having photos to share.  

Soon enough we were back at the water stop at the Pumphouse Residence.  Literally this is a little house once owned by a park worker and artist named by Bruce Aiken.  When he lived there his children would sometimes bring lemonaid to hikers passing by.  Growing up IN the Grand Canyon? unbelievable.  

By this time the ibuprofin Casey took was kicking in and our pace picked up significantly.  Amazingly, I had almost no soreness and was plenty well hydrated (By this time I had urinated about 11 times, pretty annoying).  The walls of the canyon gradually narrowed and we soon dropped below the Great Unconformity (distinct line where sandstone meets granite and metamorphic rock that represents 1.2 billion years missing from the geological record).  I pointed out my favorite rock.  It is at the end of one of the six foot bridges on the North Kaibab Trail.  It’s actually a slab of rock that rises about 30 feet and is 20 feet wide.  The verticle banding of this gniess (pronounced nice) rock is just amazing and we stopped briefly to admire it.  

We didn’t waste too much time back at Phantom Ranch.  I sort of wanted to stop in the store for a beer but I figured this probably wouldn’t have been the best idea since we still had 10 miles and a 5000 foot climb up the Bright Angel Trail.  Throughout the day I had been eating 1 gel pack about every 45 minutes.  This seemed to be working well because my energy was up and I felt good.  As we prepared to set out from Phantom Ranch I realized my calculations were incorrect.  More accurately I didn’t calculate the number of gels I needed I just grabbed a handful and threw them in my pack.  I wasn’t worried about it.  I planned on saving it for Indian Gardens and hoped my energy held up.

We jogged for a bit to the foot bridge over the Colorado River and on the trail parallel to it.  Once we started up the canyon, however, we sort of zoned out and powered up the trail.  We passed several hikers and reached Indian Gardens about 1h 40 min after leaving Phantom Ranch.  At this point we only had about 4.5 miles to go.  I downed my last gel I had been saving.  Casey offered me more but, of course, my pride wouldn’t allow it.  After 12 hours of eating nothing but powdered sports drink and gels I didn’t really feel like another one anyway.  Plus I still felt pretty good and knew I could suck it up for the final climb out.

I glanced my eyes off the trail long enough at the Three Mile Rest Stop to spot a mountain goat grazing.  This was pretty cool to see and the tourists freaked out when I pointed it out to them.  I don’t remember much of the rest of the trip.  My blood sugar level was probably pretty low.  Guess it could have had something to do with getting up at 2:30 am and running across Grand Canyon and back.  

A few yards below the end we ran (figuratively) across a guy who was planning on doing the double crossing the following day.  We relayed the water stops and where there was no water and assured him the snow wasn’t a problem.  We reached the trailhead 13 hours and 26 minutes after we started.  This was about an hour faster than my previous time.  It felt great ending in daylight and I was dumbfounded by how good I felt.  After my previous two double crossings I was pretty wrecked.  Guess all those extra miles and speed work lately are helping afterall.  We ate and got back to Vegas about 11pm.  I enjoyed one of my friend Shane’s homebrews when I got home which thouroughly put me to sleep.

Grand Canyon Doule Crossing

Despite being active in the outdoors for the past couple of years here in Las Vegas, I had not yet been to the Grand Canyon. This was pretty ridiculous because this great natural wonder of the world is only a five hour drive away.

On Friday afternoon my friend Brett and I set out for my biggest single day adventure yet. Before I go any further let me give a little background first. Last December my friend Ron told me that Brett and a guy named Jim made a double crossing of the Grand Canyon in one day. I was flabbergasted when I learned that this involved 11,000ft of elevation gain and loss over 42 miles and it took the duo 14hr 30min. I barely believed this was possible except for the fact that both Brett and Jim are very stand up guys and would never lie about such a feat. Despite my disbelief let’s just say the seed was planted. This completely changed my view of what a person could accomplish. In many ways this led to me doing the ultra-marathon last may which was 33miles and 5000ft of elevation gain. I was in such agony after the race that I wrote off the idea of the Grand Canyon double crossing. Over the summer I did many adventures and I felt myself getting stronger especially going downhill which contrary to popular opinion is not the easy part. Going downhill is much more strenuous on your joints than going uphill, however, one does expend much more energy going uphill. We have been training for a hike up Telescope Peak in Death Valley (next weekend) which goes from Badwater (Below Sealevel) to Telescope Peak (about 11,000ft). Brett has been planning a repeat of his double crossing and asked if I was interested a few weeks ago. Like I said I didn’t think I could do it but I’ve felt so strong hiking lately I agreed telling him “what the hell, let’s do it”. So back to the story.

As I was saying we left Las Vegas Friday afternoon and drove to Williams, Arizona about four hours away and an hour from the Grand Canyon. We sorted our gear in the hotel my gear included: trail running shoes, sock liners, socks, running shorts, technical shirt, lightweight coat, fanny pack, two 1/2 liter bottles, four Clif Bars, two gel shots, a headlamp, and some Gatorade powder. We woke up Saturday morning at 4am and were on the road by 4:15. I felt the nervous excitement one feels before a big adventure driving out in the darkness. An hour later we entered the park and Brett told me to pull over and cut the lights in this pullout. This was the first time I saw the Grand Canyon. Although it was still dark I could see the silhouette of the canyon in the moonlight. My first impression was that this place is larger and more magical than I imagined. Across the canyon on the North Rim we saw fires that we learned were prescribed fires set by the Park Service. We parked and soon jogged a half mile to the South Kaibab trail head by headlamp.

At 5:35am we dropped into the canyon at a slow jog (only 42 miles to go). The South Kaibab trail is pretty beat up in places from mule traffic and the going was rather treacherous by headlamp. After about a half hour we were treated to a serene sunrise. The sky was blood red in the early dawn light from the smoke of the fires. With the faint early morning light and the moonlight we no longer needed our headlamps and soon thereafter the sky brightened. We warmed up quickly and I ditched my jacket behind some rocks so I didn’t have to carry it the whole day because the key to completing the adventure was traveling light. Brett and I joked around that we were heading to Modor and he was Frodo and I was Samwise (Lord of the Rings reference to those who live under a rock). Brett who was a tour guide to the Grand Canyon in a former life filled me with historical and geological information on the canyon which passed time merrily. We cruised at a fairly slow pace so save ourselves for the rest of the day but we still made it across the Colorado River to Phantom Ranch in 1hr 45 min, about seven miles (only 35 to go).

We drank some water and headed up the North Kaibab trail which follows Bright Angel Creek for several miles. This was one of my favorite parts of the day. The trail sloped up gently enough to keep a good jogging pace and it isn’t often you get to follow a river hiking in the desert. This section is also quite narrow so the canyon walls rose straight up hundreds of feet. We bypassed stopping for water at Cottonwood Camp (Please Note) and jogged another mile to the Artist’s Camp (only 28miles to go) to refuel at 10:05 am. By chance when we were getting water our friend Bruce met up with us (Bruce was doing the double crossing in two days and planned to stay with us Saturday night). From here we the trail got steeper and we jogged when we could and walked the steeper parts. I kept focusing on keeping a steady pace and the scenery rather than how far we had to go to prevent going into depression or madness. We saw several other crazy people (ultra-runners doing the double crossing like us) on the way to the North Rim which by some miracle we finally reached at 12:15 (only 21 miles to go). Bruce left us a stash of Gatorade and Clif bars in his truck so we could travel lighter. Even though we had gone 21 miles and gained 6000′ and descended 5000′ I felt pretty good. I could feel my muscles getting tired but not too painful. Additionally, reaching the North Rim marked a huge mental milestone; from here on out each step brought us closer to finishing rather than further away.
We kept a pretty slow pace down the trail to avoid killing our joints and making the rest of the hike unbearable. We reached the Artist’s house in a respectable 1hr 20min (only 14 miles to go). We took a quick drink but didn’t fill our bottles because we expected to stop for water at Cottonwood Camp only 1 mile away. However, it wasn’t until we turned the spigot at Cottonwood Camp that we learned water at the camp was off. We had no water and had six miles to Phantom Ranch during the hottest part of the day. Luckily we met this incredibly generous man that took pity on our plight and gave us a liter of water. We were only filling our bottles half full each at each station for a total of 1/2 liter between stops so this worked out perfectly. We thanked the man profusely and continued on. The same section I thought was so magically serene a few hours before I despised on the way down. These six miles seemed to go on forever and I hurt more with nearly every step and it took all my will to stay right behind Brett who was setting the pace at the time. We both were tired but kept up our banter although more infrequent. I remember breaking the silence of a long silence stretch by saying “it’s a long way Mr. Frodo but I won’t leave you, never”. (yes another dorky Lord of the Rings reference and yes I know the quote may not be 100″)

At last we reached Phantom Ranch at 4:o5 pm (Only 7 miles to go). Even though we were tiring quickly we made the 14 mile from the North Rim to Phantom Ranch in a respectable 3.5 hours. We chugged water and at Clif Bars before the final ascent to the South Rim, the crux of the whole day. I was so sore from running that I was looking forward to walking despite it being uphill. We filled our bottles and crossed the bridge back across the Colorado River for our slow ascent, the key word being slow. It was 4:35 and we had 3 hours to reach our tentative goal of 14 hours total. I kept the same strategy on focusing on just keeping moving rather than our progress, or lack of it, as I did on the North Rim. Mentally I was okay, however our joking and banter nearly stopped except for the occasional feign of humor at our plight. I was wearing down and my legs got a little wobbly. I had the feeling of being a little drunk where your mental capacity is fine but your body won’t quite do as it is told without total concentration. This is how the next couple hours passed. Around 6:30 we had to put our headlamps back on. I had no idea how far we had left and I tried not to think about it in fear by my already waining spirit being crushed. I retrieved my jacket I stashed and I new we were relatively close. We passed some people who descended canyon part way for the sunset which we saw and was beautiful but we couldn’t really savor. Depth perception is greatly diminished when traveling by headlamp so I was pretty much concentrating on my footsteps. Occasionally I’d stumble a little and have to stop and steady myself. I kept checking my watch wondering if we’d equal our 14hour time frame which would have been 7:35pm. I knew we were close as I checked; 7:17, 7:23, 7:28, 7:35 (damn we missed it) 7:41, 7:44. About 30 seconds after this last check a sweet sound pierced the silence. It was “hey is that you guys”, it was Bruce waiting for us. Seconds later I crested the rim at 7:45 with Bruce greeting me with a handshake and congratulations. We missed our goal but I was pretty excited about 14hrs 10min because this beat Brett’s two previous double crossings beating his best time by 20 minutes. I’m not saying I wasn’t hurting but I felt better than I expected and much better than after my ultra-marathon a few months back. We checked in and went to eat.
We got back and after a hot shower I crawled into bed. We all talked for a bit but the other guys were quickly out like a light. I was still wired from the day and thoughts raced through my head. I got up and grabbed a beer and laid in bed drinking it quietly in the darkness. This was when I finally relaxed a little and everything hit me. As I sipped my beer I was thinking of how I couldn’t believe I actually did it, how proud I was of myself.

The next morning I drove Bruce back to the trail head for his return trip across the canyon and when I got back to the hotel neither Brett or I felt like going back to sleep. We chilled in the room for a while talking then caught the hotel breakfast and heading home for Las Vegas arriving home around 11:30. Dropping Brett off we proved our insanity agreeing to make this an annual event.