Weather you are a big-time day hiker, trail runner, Ultramarathoner or a little bit of each there are some things that are on everyone’s bucket list. One of these things would be something called Rim to Rim to Rim which is where you go from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other and back in one push, a trip of anywhere between 45 and 50 miles and around 10,000 ft of elevation gain and loss. A few months ago, adventure buddy Andrew was able to reserve a campsite at the Grand Canyon for early May so the stage was set. We were able to also get our buddy Angelo to go (which turned out to be critical) after much pleading and a lot of peer pressure!
So the next few months were spent trying to train for this thing which in my case did not go well, everything started off super in December with a strong 50k but 2 weeks later I severely sprained my hamstring during a too soon after the race 20 mile run (it was new years and for some stupid reason I wanted to run 20.19 miles to start 2019) I basically did not run much in January and could only run light miles after that. I got in some good hikes and used the LA Marathon in late March as the only big training run leading up to the epic journey. 3 weeks out from our trip I re aggravated my hamstring during a trail run at Mt. Wilson so I had my doubts if I could even do this, but I was going to go regardless as I have never been to the Grand Canyon. But enough about how under trained I was and on to the trip!
We headed out in Andrews truck on Wednesday morning from the San Gabriel Valley in California and just 8 short hours later pulled up at Mather’s Campground in the Grand Canyon Village, we quickly setup camp and then drove out to the south rim to check this place out. Speaking of driving Andrew is one of the last fools that prefers a stick shift truck, Angelo decided that he was go to do the Rim to River loop instead of the whole R2R2R which meant he could drive us to the trailhead and pick us up as the campground was about 2.5 miles from each trailhead. Luckily Angelo drove a stick shift before, 30 years ago…..so Andrew gave Angelo a quick refresher class and we lurched our way to the South Kaibab overlook.
We got our first look at the Canyon, anyone who has been there will all tell you the same thing and I will too. There are no words that can describe the immenseness and beauty of this place, it truly is overwhelming and trying to capture it on camera felt like a joke. But we took pictures anyways and then drove over to the Bright Angel Trail head where we would be coming out at. We hiked down to the first tunnel and then headed back to the campsite for burgers and to make sure our packs were ready. One other thing I should note was the weather report called for 80% chance of rain and we were at 7,000 ft so that rain would be cold so Andrew and I packed our Gore-Tex shells but beyond that we geared up like trail runners with only hydration packs and trekking poles. I did purchase a larger one for this trip so I had some extra clothes also but like an idiot did not put them in any waterproof bags but how bad would it get anyways?
We went to sleep around 9pm with a 3:30am wake up call, I didn’t set my alarm correctly, so it was 3:45 when we got up and quickly prepped for the trip and Angelo drove us out to the South Kaibab trailhead. Our plan was to hike down the South Kaibab trail, up and down the North Kaibab trail and finally up the Bright Angel trail. We finally hit the trail at 4:30am telling Angelo that if all went well, we would be back at 8 or 9pm which would be a 16-hour trip. We made out way down the South Kaibab trail and soon enough it was light enough to put the headlamps away. Again, words cannot describe the views of the canyon, it was truly incredible. We got into a good pace, running a little but due to all the wood log steps on this trail you had to stop a lot so you couldn’t get a good running flow going. It’s 7 miles down to the first stop which is Phantom Ranch, soon enough we were already down near the Colorado river. It was here where we ran into one of the famous Mule trains heading up the trail. As we waited for them to pass one of the Mules started to go up the river trail instead of the South Kaibab so the pack leader had to jump off of his Mule to go get the one going the wrong way, he handed me the rope to his Mule (name Chuck) and I got to hold him in place so I yelled at Andrew to get a pic of me and the Mule! Bonus points for sure!
Soon after that we made it to the first bridge called the Black Bridge and crossed over. I’m not a big fan of heights so I didn’t look down, haha. We got to the Ranch at 6:30am where we filled our water bottles and ate a snack. It would be 28 miles before we would return here, the plan was to power hike all the way to the North Rim and run the whole way back down to the Ranch. We met a couple of other guys doing the same and we all started our way our together. The next section is called the black canyon and follows the Bright Angel creek, so it is relatively flat so the 2 guys we met took off running but we stayed with our fast hike pace. It was here where it started to rain, lightly at first but then it got steadier, so we put on our rain gear. My shirt was already wet, but it was not cold so on we went. After what seemed like forever, we made it to Cottonwood campground with is about 14 miles into our journey. By now it was raining hard and starting to get cold, we ate another snack and went on our way.
Now the trail started to climb, a couple of miles later we made it to Manzanita rest stop where the water was on even though the sign at the ranch said it wasn’t. On we went, passing by the roaring springs which was very impressive, also the canyon here were absolutely incredible with the shear walls going up thousands of feet both above and below us. Now we approached the famous cliff section where the trail basically was cut into the canyon wall. Me being afraid of heights made this the 2nd scariest part of this trip. The trail is only about 4ft wide and it was really raining hard creating waterfalls you had to walk through so everything in my pack got drenched which made all of my extra clothes useless. It was here where we started to see other folks coming down and all of them said it was very dangerous and snowing at the top. We kept going and made it to the last bridge and the final climb to the top. It was here were we ran into one of the guys we met earlier who told us he turned around at the Supai Tunnel due to the cold. He was having trouble with his jacket and we tried to zip it up for him but our fingers were too frozen so we wished him well and continued up. By now it was freezing cold rain and we were starting to suffer. We made it to the Supai tunnel and shortly after the rain turned to snow and then the snow turned to heavy snow. The trail was getting pretty slippery and neither of us brought traction devices. About a mile and a half past the tunnel we reluctantly made the decision to turn around knowing we were pretty close to the top but the cold was dangerous and we still had 24 miles to go.
Turning around proved to be a smart decision, by the time we got back to the bridge the rain finally let up and our spirts lifted as both of us were really suffering with the cold and probably the lack of food as it was too wet and cold to stop to eat. Andrew got some good pics in the cliff section (I suck at taking pictures) and we were having fun again, soon enough we were back at Cottonwood.
By now the sun was out and we even put our jackets away as we started the long slog back to the Ranch. I put on my headphones for this part and really has a good time rocking out and enjoying the canyon. Our planned run back down turned into a hike though as the cold, rain and snow on the way up really took a toll on our energy. After what seemed like forever, we made it back to the Ranch around 4:30pm and got ready for the long climb out. We were both starting to tire out at this point as we had already gone 36 miles and had 10 to go.
Now we started our way up the Bright Angel trail and got the what was the most terrifying part of the trip. The Silver Bridge. This bridge is made out of metal grates where you can see the river below. I stared straight ahead and just wanted to make it over, but Andrew thought it would be fun to stop in the middle to take a picture, what a jerk! I did manage to get some video of the crossing and when I looked at it later it was even worse that I thought, If I would have looked down I might have had a panic attack.
By this point we just wanted to be done so of course the Bright Angel Trail starts out with 2 miles of flat going along the river. Boo we want to climb out of this place! Not much to say about the rest, we made it to Indian Garden right when it got dark both literally and figuratively. The climb to the 3 mile and 1.5 mile rest houses were just miserable, I could barley move at this point and my right knee was hurting. We noticed another headlamp catching up to us and it was the other guy we met some 16 hours ago, we were wondering what happened to him and was glad he made it. We started to hear yelling from the top, so we knew we were almost there. Finally, we made it to the tunnel we hike to the day before and I swear I about cried with joy. The only thing better than that was hearing Angelo calling our names! We yelled back and after what seemed to be forever I saw his headlamp and I know we made it! He was waiting with 2 cokes which had the be the most delicious thing I ever drank in my life. It was 11pm, 18.5 hours after we started, 2 hours after we said we would be back. We were worried that we would have to walk the 2.5 miles back to camp since the last tram was at 10pm and we did not know if Angelo would be there but he was.
When we got back to camp Angelo said the tent got flooded during the rainstorm but luckily Andrew brought cots, so our sleeping bags only got a little damp. We made us some cup of noodles and told us about his hike which sounded a lot more relaxed that ours, he even got to drink a couple of beers at the River that bastard, hahaha! I did a quick sponge batch and went straight to bed. My knee at this point was swollen stiff and hurting bad so I did not get much sleep and hoped I could at least limp it out in the morning. Friday morning was painful, the three of us limped around packing a bunch of muddy and wet camping gear back into the truck and then made it to the general store to buy some souvenirs, they had rim to rim to rim shirts so of course Andrew and I bought those and I got my mandatory magnets. After breakfast we hit the road and made it back to town around 5pm.
That was by far the most epic hike I have ever done and most likely will never top (I hope!). 18.5 hours, 46 miles of awesomeness. I made some gear mistakes, If I had dry bags for my gear, traction devices and a maybe some rain pants things would have been a lot more comfortable and safer. I would have also brought a spare headlamp, even though mine did not give out, it would have sucked if it did and the little flashlight I brought as backup would have been pretty useless. Always plan for the worst and hope you do not need to use any of it is the lesson I learned.
And my hamstring that I was so worried about? It did not cause me any issues and in fact as I write this feels totally fine, the human body is a crazy machine for sure. Now time to take a week or so off before getting ready for the next adventure (because you know there ALWAYS is a next one!).