Grand Canyon from the South Kaibab, photo By Amy D.
The Grand Canyon "Rim to Rim to Rim" is one of the premier and ultra runs/hikes, and something Iíve been dreaming of doing for several years now. So when my buddy Chris proposed the idea I couldnít say no. Planning went in motion and soon our group had grown to a dozen people; runners, hikers, climbers, and cyclist from all over the Colorado Front Range. The date was set, May 12th, 2007, with half of us shooting for the "Rim to Rim to Rim", the other half for the "Rim to River to Rim". On Thursday May 10th 2 carloads took off at the crack of dawn, myself and 3 others were going to wait until the evening, as we needed to get some work done.
At 630p I met Chris F(mitzflip), Joy, and Kari in Genesee, we loaded up my Forester and were on the road by 7p. We made the long haul to Moab, where we camped just outside Arches for the night. The morning greated with a lovely sunrise, then we spent the rest of the morning touring Arches before heading to the "Big Ditch". Our car arrived at the Mather Campground at 2p Arizona time, finding the others already holding beers and relaxing after they spent the morning wandering the Rim. They gave us the bad news, "temps were over 100 today at Phantom Ranch". Not a good sign, though we remained optimistic that we could endure the heat. After gorging ourselves and arranging some gear it was off to bed. The Rim2Rim2Rim group(Myself, Chris G, Chris F, Charles, Michael, Joy, and Kari) was planning to get up at 230a with a planned departure from the Bright Angel Trailhead of 330a. The Rim2River2Rim group(Andy, Jim, Todd, Amy, Seth, and Sara) was planning on waiting until first light to take off, so around 5a.
We started off from the Bright Angel TH at 330a, in high spirits, chatting the whole way. The jog to South Kaibab was a nice warm-up in the cool morning air, a mellow 5miles alongside a big black abyss. We headed down South Kaibab into the darkness at 430a, the trail dropped abruptly next to us into the canyon below. We started out slow, as the darkness limited visibility, but the sun soon lit up the morning sky, allowing us to cruise down the trail to the river below. The warm twilight bathed the colorful canyon walls, this was by far the most beautiful part of the run. After numerous picture stops, a bathroom break, and passing two mule trains the 7 of us crossed the mighty Colorado River just after 6am. The water was a brilliant green color, and the first glimpses of sunlight where beginning to reflect off the upper canyon onto its surface. The entire group reached Phantom Ranch by 630a(water stop), feeling great and loving the hike/run. Joy, Chris F, and I took off ahead up , a narrow section of Bright Angel Canyon that slowly climbs up to Cottonwood Campground. The rolling terrain of "The Box" was very scenic and great for running. By 8a the entire group had gathered at the Cottonwood campground, after this the trail begins to climb much more rapidly. The temperature had been mild all morning(50-70s), giving us hope for the afternoon passage through the inner canyon.
I took a break to chat with the others, wash my feet, and change socks at the Supai Tunnel. At this point I was still feeling good, but had a long way to go. Chris G, Charles, and Michael continued up, while Kari had opted to turn around. I continued my jog down the hot dry switchbacks. At some point between the Supai Tunnel and Roaring Springs I strained an abdominal muscle, which soon turned into a permanent cramp that I would harbor for the remainder of the day. I slowed down, mixing walking and jogging much more frequently, finally reaching the faucet just above the Cottonwood Campground. The temperature was now pushing 100F, and the heat was taking its toll. Joy and I drenched ourselves in the pump houseís icy water, took some salt caps, and tried to eat some food. By this point most food didn't taste very good, so it was a struggle to get something past the perma-cottonmouth I had developed. I tried to jog down to Cottonwood, but the combination of the heat and the ab strain were hurting me pretty bad.
Chris F arrived around 330p, and found me hunched over on a bench trying to calm my stomach. We grabbed some ice water and started walking down toward the river, at that moment I knew my stomach just needed to be evacuated. I pulled over to the side and out came all the lemonade, water, and crackers from 20min ago. I instantly felt better, but knew I needed to rehydrate. Chris and I went and laid in the river while we ate and drank, knowing the climb out was going to be brutal. We left Phantom Ranch at 4pm headed for the Bright Angel trail and the homestretch, 9miles of climbing in relentless heat.
While Chris F and I struggled up Bright Angel, the other 4 were having their own problems back in "The Box". All were dealing with fatigue and heat exhaustion to some degree, but Charles had started hallucinating and emptying the contents of his stomach all over the canyon. The others did their best to keep him wet and cool, but the temps just werenít cooperating. When they reached Phantom Ranch they opted to wait for the sun to set, hoping for cooler temperatures. Meanwhile on the South Rim the Rim2River2Rim group was back in civilization(5pm) after suffering through the hot climb up Bright Angel. Joy would return only an hour or two after them, as she handled the heat very well and made good time out of the canyon(South Rim around 7pm).
Chris and I slowly trudged uphill, the heat had really zapped our energy(still mid 90s), but we were still moving along. The hike to Indian Gardens was slow, taking nearly 3h to cover 4.5 miles. Our mouths had long ago dried up so we sat at the Indian Gardenís faucet and tried to force a granola bar down with lots of water. Chrisís stomach was not feeling great, so we laid on the benches at Indian Garden until 730p. We had hoped that with the departure of the sun the temperature would start to drop, but it still hung in the high 80s. While we laid on the benches the top did not get any closer, so we pushed on, but Chrisís stomach only got worse, preventing him from keeping anything down. We took it slow uphill, resting as needed, lying down as needed. By now darkness had fully set in and we were back to headlamps. As we plodded along we passed numerous deer, they seemed to understand the world of hurt we were going through, staring and pitying our every step. We finally reached the 3mile resthouse, where I refilled my water. While I was able to keep down minimal food and plain water, Chris was still struggling to hold anything in. Nothing tasted good to us anymore. By this point I was tired, but was well past my illness and low point at Phantom Ranch.
The sun lit up the sky at 530a the next morning and I could sleep no more, I needed food and drink, something to replace the massive deficit I had built up the previous day. Chris and I downed some noodle soup and drank 1L of water each. The others began to wake up and we swapped war stories, filling the others in on our late night adventures in the canyon. Toddís photo of the rattlesnake v squirrel matchup, Charles hallucinating and sleeping in the creek with frogs, the hurling trio(myself, Chris F, and Charles), the night nearly spent at Indian Gardens, and the irony of us laughing at the signs warning of extreme heat. After a shower we made our way over to the Bright Angel lodge to stuff as much food as humanly possible into our empty stomachs. In the end it took between us between 15-22h to finish the Rim2Rim2Rim, temps maxed out at 113F around 1-2p, and the return crossing took over 6h longer than the initial crossing. Things had not proceeded as planned and for the first time ever I had been brought to the true limits of my energy. Not only had we learned how far we could push ourselves, but we learned what good friends we had. Through all the pain, heat, and suffering no one had been left behind, we had pushed, supported, and cared for the person next to us as if we'd known them our whole lives. I can say without hesitation that I would put my life in the hands of any of those people, I don't think there is a better way to put it. Planning has already begun for a return trip, hopefully not on the hottest day of the year(May 12th was the hottest to date for 2007).