Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grand Canyon - beauty and the beast R2R2R

My Rim to Rim to Rim adventure run through the Grand Canyon:

What inspires an individual, what drives them to find their limit; their breaking point. Personally I'm still not sure that I've found mine; but pretty close.

It's Saturday mid afternoon in October, the weather is wonderful here in the Grand Canyon. Seasonally its turning cooler and you can sense it in the air, it’s a dry cool air, clean and invigorating. We had just arrived here from Orange County, CA, 500 or so miles away and had just checked into the lodge. The local hotel had a sports bar and it was decided that a beer and college football would take our minds off the upcoming run. Upon arriving at the bar, due to lack of hotel participation, we opened it ourselves....hmm must be a slow day in October, seemed unusual. It was decided that a good meal of pasta would be our carbo load dinner after the USC game and promptly hustled to the nearby local Italian restaurant. After a traditional spaghetti and meatballs meal we headed off to get some sleep with full stomachs and a lot on our minds.

One of the best ways to get good sleep before an important event is to set multiple alarms, this way you don’t have to worry about starting the day missing your wake up call.
And so it began…….bzzz! Somehow the sound of the alarm doesn’t startle me; I might have been ready for it and was up immediately; at 5:00am.

We were out the door at 5:25am and headed for the Canyon. At 5:25am it’s still dark as we drive, hitting the entrance to the canyon before 6:00; no one is working the booths so there is no entrance fee to the park…..the day is turning out great so far. Our goal is to arrive in Bright Angel resort and take the shuttle to South Kaibab Trailhead, as we arrive and park we are surrounded by deer, they have taken advantage of the quiet morning to visit the resort themselves. Within minutes the shuttle arrives and we are off to the trailhead. The shuttle is filled with hikers, some fresh, some seasoned and they are all surprised and wish us well when they hear about our plans to run the R2R2R.

As we depart from the shuttle I have a warming sense of excitement as we meet more members of our group. There’s plenty of experience here, almost overwhelming as we take pictures to launch us on our way; its 6:30 now and the sun has risen; presented us with our first real look at the Canyons below.

I’m not going to try to find a word for it, none will really do, it just takes your breath away; and I am blessed to be able to run through it.
As we begin down the trail and are again wished well by a group of hikers, themselves starting the journey down the canyon. I am overwhelmed by the visual beauty, everything from the silhouettes of landscape to the color of the soil and richness in textures, it makes my running seem effortless and before I know it we have almost covered half the distance down the Kaibab Trail. The trail is riddled with water breaks which staircase continually down the trail, its difficult at times to settle in a comfortable pace but we don’t care; its amazing out here.
We meet up with two more of our group, they started a few minutes before us and after a brief greeting with continue on with them.

The Black Bridge is just below us and its now defined as we run closer, down and through the stone tunnel which opens to entrance of the suspension bridge at the bottom of the canyon. As we begin to exit the bridge, Jennifer, one of the two runners that we caught up to slips and slides partially down an embankment. Luckily she’s not in danger but it’s an immediate reminder of where we really are; it sharpens me. We continue on to our first stop, the main campground called Phantom Ranch, this is our water stop and from here we will continue up to the North Rim. We fill our bottles eat some calories and start out; we’ve run about 7miles.

At 14.5 miles we’ve run through box canyon and needled through shear wall canyons which spill out to a broader opening and Cottonwood camping grounds….our next source of piped in water. Cottonwood is a fairly primitive campground with a ranger hut and campsites for backpackers wanting to tent camp, it’s a little more rugged and the terrain is rougher, but like all campgrounds down here it would still be an amazing experience. We fill our bottles and start out once more.

16 miles – we find ourselves at the Bruce Aikens House, he’s a well known canyon painter and Ranger for the park system. As we fill our bottles for a moment I wonder just who could live out here for so long. I’m feeling a little tired now but I’m still very driven and continue with a smile toward the North Rim; there is only one more water stop left and we don’t plan on turning down Roaring Springs to get it, at this time of year the water is shut off on the North Rim on Oct 15; just missed it. So we prepare to be without water for the remainder of this Northward run, at least until we return back to the Aikens house in Roaring Springs Canyon.

We are alone now, at this point the remainder of our group have reached their planned limits and have turned around to trek back up the South Rim; so we continue on. The run toward the north is now gaining texture once again as the canyons begin to close in forcing the trail to stream along the cliff sides and rise upward toward the rim. We pass by Conservation Corps teens working the trail a few miles below the rim; I’m impressed by the work they put in; it’s a long hike up after working, trust me I know now. The Trail to the north is no much different than the south side, they have also installed water breaks here, we are fatigued and drive on toward the top.
21.5 miles, half way…

The run back down was exhilarating and its downhill all the way to Aikens, Cottonwood then Phantom Ranch Campground. We stopped and talked with Aikens son who is a Park Ranger also, after some interesting conversation we filled our bottles, soaked our hats and hit the trail once more toward the lower campgrounds.

31 miles; we’ve reached Phantom Ranch at dusk. There are a few of our group resting and eating here. A runner that I briefly met on the way up had fell ill with sinus issues and now had a fever. Its sobering when you are on the bottom of a deep valley with minimal ways to get out. Though the restaurant wasn’t open we were able to get him some ice and a lemonade along with a caffeine pill which seemed to help and get him on his feet; and so we were off again after filling our bottles and turning on our headlamps.

The darkness had arrived and our headlamps were now the only things allowing us to get out. Our footsteps, the pitch blackness split by only our headlamp beam and the drive to complete this adventure pushed us all to our limits. I had recently had some problems with water intake and knew my calories weren’t sufficient but like the sign says “Going down you have a choice, to go up….you don’t have a choice.” Bright angel bridge and the three water stops were all that was left of this adventure and I fought to reach every one of them, as the air got cooler with altitude so seemed the water and I indulged by soaking my head and cooling my neck and arms at every water stop; if nothing else it woke me up.

I was depleted with no calorie intake, I had burnt though all reserves and after a few miles I was reserved to 15 minutes of run/hiking followed by 5 minutes of laying flat in the cool sand; searching for energy.
Gazing out into a star filled sky I could have just stayed there; I love the outdoors and this was just amazing, but completing this run was the only thing on my mind; aside from a shower and cold Dr.Pepper.

At 10:50 we arrived in darkness, the cool rim greeted us with a breeze that seemed to flow through my whole body and releasing me from the struggles that I had just gone through, I was excited again, happy, proud but exhausted. Simply Amazing. I’ve never had a Dr.Pepper that tasted so good.
To view all my Grand Canyon Pics go to my Snapfish acct.
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