Grand Canyon “rim2rim2rim” Adventure: Part II
Part II of this series will focus on what to expect and how to prepare for running or hiking the Grand Canyon. With these pictures and a 14 minute music slideshow (coming in Part III), I hope to give you a sense of what’s in store should you embark on this or a similar adventure. These are the things I would want to know in advance (some of which I did know and some I wish I had known).
What To Expect
- Unstable footing
- Strong ankles will serve you well! The majority of trails require you to focus on your footing. There are patches, even a few miles, that are run-able for the average road runner. Most are filled with logs, rocks, steps, and uneven surfaces.
- Extreme temperature and elevation changes
- Wearing removable, lightweight layers is critical to your comfort and safety. Mid-May and October are the best times of year to attempt a “rim2rim2rim”. The top rims are at 7000′ and 8000′ and can be freezing when you start. By the time you reach the river at the bottom it can be 90-100 degrees. Those sensitive to high altitude should be careful.
- Painful quads
- No matter how much you train, the 14 miles downhill means you are constantly breaking with your legs, especially on challenging terrain where you’re even more careful. No matter how good you feel at the halfway point, your quads will scream on the way up. The next day going back down your quads will throw a temper tantrum (but will ease up after awhile).
- Very little sweat
- Do not use sweating as a gauge of your effort. The air is so dry that sweat evaporates instantly. I liked this as I never felt clammy. But you must drink at regular intervals regardless!
- Constant need for calories
- This may be the only time in your life when you want condensed, high calorie food that you can eat in a just a few bites. Your body has a constant need for fuel and it is critical that you don’t hold back on calories. You have to stay ahead of your body’s demand so your digestive system remains active. (Recommendations on fuel below).
- An ounce feels like a pound
- There is a balance between emergency preparation and carrying extra weight. The first day we both carried fanny packs full of emergency supplies (lists below). The second day we ditched those packs and many supplies to save weight.
- Yucky tasting water
- When you switch from the bottled water in your pack to water provided on the trails, it’s noticeable. Accept it and drink it anyway.
- Tons of mule poop
- You get used to seeing these iridescent green blobs everywhere but you never get used to the smell. Navigating these obstacles was not much fun. We spoke with many old-timers who believe the park service needs to address this issue as it really is a pain in the ass:):)
- A mile is not what you think
- The average hiker going from the river to one of the rims travels up at 1 mile per HOUR. (Remember, “average” in this arena is a person in pretty good condition). If you’re a road runner, your brain will have trouble accepting this reality- trust me and prepare yourself mentally. Never say, “Only 4 more miles…no problem.” Nothing will humble you more.
Here’s a view of several trails. A picture is truly worth a thousand words in this case. (But nowhere close to being there).
I researched the route options prior to our trip and I feel we made the right choice. We began on the North Rim on North Kaibab (pronounced “Kigh-bab”) Trail all the way to Phantom Ranch. Then took Bright Angel Trail all the way to the South Rim. On the second day we took South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and then back up the North Kaibab Trail to finish on the North Rim.
- North Kaibab Trail (14.2 miles to river)
- Gorgeous!!!! Absolutely breathtaking color and beauty. Water available for us at Roaring Springs and Cottonwood Campground. Nice flatter patch for running after reaching Cottonwood Campground with fewer obstacles. Enjoy going down because the thick sand isn’t obvious until you head up.
- Phantom Ranch (at the bottom of the Canyon)
- 14 miles from North Rim. We expected something closer to a convenience store with a mini lodge attached to it. Coke machine, snacks, keepsakes, etc. NOPE. This resembles boy scout camp. A little cabin-like building with lemonade (mighty good too!). A cold bagel with a tablespoon of PB & J was the best grub available. It was actually refreshing to know corporations haven’t taken over the depths of our canyons YET. Maybe they don’t like the smell of mule poop- lol:). Good place to rest in shade and have lunch.
- Bright Angel Trail (7.8 miles to river)
- You have 2 choices to head up to the South Rim: Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails. Bright Angel Trail is more popular even though it’s longer. It is less steep than South Kaibab and has water along the route. It is relentless with its endless switchbacks (zig zag trails). You will swear you’re on an endless treadmill that never rewards progress. The last 4.5 miles of Bright Angel feels like 50 and not as many stunning views.
- South Kaibab Trail (6.3 miles to river)
- The 2nd day we took a risk to explore South Kaibab Trail down to the bottom (instead of Bright Angel). I’m sure glad we did! It is as grand as it gets! It was our favorite part of the whole adventure! It is steeper so I’m glad we didn’t go up this trail. Hues of terracotta and plum envelop you as the sun rises over the rim. Like stepping into a painting. Take plenty of water with you because there is none on this trail.
- Ribbon Falls (optional detour off North Kaibab Trail)
- We wanted to take this detour but decided against it to conserve energy. It’s a 3-5 mile detour off North Kaibab and can get very hot.
If you want to stay on either rim, reserve 9 months to a year in advance. You are competing with many bus tours who visit the park. Make dinner reservations then as well if you want to eat in the main dining rooms.
- North Rim Lodge
- We loved our cabins and even though we reserved months in advance, much of the lodge was booked. Bring ear plugs as walls are not soundproof!
- Main Dining Room: convenient and food was decent. Service wasn’t very good.
- Roughrider Saloon: so understaffed we had to leave.
- Deli in the Pines: pizza was great.
- El Tovar (declared the nicest hotel on the South Rim)
- Other options:
- South Rim: this rim is much more populated and commercial. Lodging options here.
- North Rim: the North Rim Lodge is your only choice. Much more secluded with less development.
- Phantom Ranch: we didn’t see inside the cabins but it’s rustic. Decent bathrooms. Books up way in advance.
- Camping: get a permit way in advance! A few campgrounds to choose from.
Recommended Supplies (based on wisdom gained from the experience)
- Endurance fluid pack- minimum 2 liters. We loved our Nathan Endurance Packs.
- Food: Our choice of fuels was ideal. The waffles were easy to pack in with our water bladders and high in calories. The PB and cracker packets were like gold during our journey. We did not pack lunches but knew we had enough food in case we couldn’t purchase anything along the way. Hard candy once in awhile eased our dry mouths.
- Honey Stinger waffles; Honey Stinger fruit chews; trail mix; peanut butter and cracker packets; hard candy or mints
- Trekking poles (even if you run): our biggest mistake was not having them!!! We did not see anyone else without them. Even the couple runners we saw had retractable poles. We could have reduced force on our lower bodies by 25%. That’s huge! (Good article about poles here.)
- First Aid: It’s a personal decision depending on how much weight you’re willing to carry and what scenarios you want to be prepared for. These are the items I think are critical “just in case” items assuming you are not trying to run “rim2rim2rim” in ONE day.
- Cash, credit card, drivers license
- Additional items we carried Day 1 but chose not to Day 2
Recommended Training for Hikers
- Build up to 15 mile walks with the amount of weight you plan on carrying. Hilly routes a plus!
- Follow up 5 -10 mile walks with hour long efforts on a stair climber at a gym.
- Walk up and down stadium stairs increasing time over training period. Alternate taking 2 steps at a time to build strength in quads and hips.
- Walking lunges and squats.
- Core workouts. Check out my ABsolutely Core Crazed series. A strong core helps fight off total body fatigue.
Recommended Training for Runners
- Bricks: build up to 10 – 15 mile runs followed by hour long sessions on the stair climber.
- Downhill repeats.
- Challenging levels on stair climber for increased endurance sessions.
- Practice running with retractable trekking poles.
- For longer runs, practice 1-2 miles running, .20 walking, resume running, and so on. Get legs used to starting and stopping.
- Cycling hills.
- Planning: Plan ahead! Make reservations 9 months to a year ahead if you want to stay on the rims. I highly recommend it!
- Purchasing: You can save a lot of money on supplies by purchasing on-line at places like Amazon, Backwoods and REI.
- Travel: We flew into Las Vegas International Airport and drove almost 5 hours to the North Rim. You can fly into Flagstaff, AZ, which is about 80 miles from the South Rim. There is a small Grand Canyon Airport with limited service if interested.
- Permits: You don’t need a permit for day hiking. If you plan on camping, you need to purchase a permit in advance because they sell out.
- Park Entrance Fees: You pay $25 per vehicle or $12 if entering on foot, bike or motorcycle and that is price is good for up to 7 days.
- Transporting Supplies: Assuming you don’t have a support vehicle willing to meet you at your destination, then you can either transport your supplies on your back or do what we did. From home, we shipped a large box of clothes, food and supplies to our hotel at the South Rim. To insure it arrived, we shipped it UPS 2nd Day Air. (Shipments can take longer than UPS indicates so be aware). It cost us about $60 for a 22 lb box. There were instructions on the box to hold for us until our arrival. Within the box was a prepaid UPS Ground shipping label and packing tape. That way we could put our dirty clothes and unwanted supplies in the same box and ship home. THIS WORKED GREAT! We had clothes for that evening and new running clothes and jackets for the 2nd days journey.
- Expense: It isn’t cheap to stay in the Grand Canyon. We paid anywhere from $180 to $250 per night. Camping would definitely be cheaper, however, after such an arduous journey, I swear we’d have paid double that for that bed:).
- Companionship: Be selective who you choose to partake in this journey with you. Best if you know each other well and are at similar fitness levels. Even with all the beauty around you, the physicality of this adventure can make you cranky at times. You will be grateful to have a supportive cast alongside you.
In my previous post, The Top 12 Notions I Wish I Knew at 20, I speak of spending money on experiences rather than things. I will never remember the new dress I bought last month or the jewelry I own that’s tarnishing, but I will remember this Grand Canyon adventure forever. Doing something physical you’ve never done before has many rewards.
Gratitude overwhelms you when immersed in one of our country’s most magical vistas. And the obvious reminder. The single greatest life lesson. If you just put one foot in front of the other you’ll eventually get there.
Part III of the series will be a 14 minute musical slideshow. A treasured keepsake sprinkled with quotes from many of our great spiritual thinkers.