Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Grand Adventure - Running Rim to Rim

"Oh shoot, I forgot my Garmin".

We were thirty minutes into an 8-hour drive from LA to the Grand Canyon. Oh well. I guess this one would be run naked. It's not like the lap times would be meaningful. And the elevation chart can easily be found online. I had my shoes, my borrowed camelbak, my fuel, my rain gear. And the expectation of a grand adventure, helped by the forecast of thunderstorms on run day.

I'd been planning this run for over a year, since last year's trek was cancelled by the government shutdown. I was going with a large group of Mountain Goats, but everyone had different plans. Some were doing Rim to Rim to Rim. Some were doing Rim to Rim, and back the next day. Most were just going across once, and at a slower pace. I fell in with two goat buddies who run at about my pace; Julia and Keith - both Boston qualifiers and ultra veterans. We changed up our plan in the last few days and decided to go North to South, meaning we would catch a ride to the other side early in the AM instead of needing one after the run. And we would go straight to our hotel after finishing. And the elevation profile is a little easier. With the forecast of afternoon rain, it turned out to be a great plan.

J and I arrived Friday afternoon and had a few hours to relax, so we headed to the rim for our first view of the big ditch. HO. LEE. COW.


It is one amazing sight, that's for sure. We got lucky with the weather and got some good photos with cool clouds. But after about a half hour, it gets boring. Later, we met up with the Goat group for dinner, and finalized logistics, and then hit our 1940's era "lodge" for a good night's rest.

We were up at 5:15, and out the door by 5:45 for our 4 hour drive to the North Rim. Another goat volunteered to drive there, where he would go down a few miles, and wait for his friends and hike back up with them, and then give rides back that evening. Worked great for us! The drive was beautiful too, as we saw the sunrise and lots of beautiful red rock formations. Also there was a large forest with Autumn colors mixed in with the pines that was breathtaking.

We arrived at 10AM, and the three of us were soon ready to head down the trail. Not a Garmin between us.

From the trail head there, you can't see the canyon, but about 30 seconds later, there it is. Wow. Down we went. It was cool and partly cloudy. Mostly cloudy really. Perfect running weather. Maybe 50 degrees. I was giddy and wanted to run fast. I was literally skipping down the trail over all the little bumps. Since we were going to stick together, I had to wait up for the others every so often. Of course the views were astounding.

Plus the view changed quite a bit. Over the course of the day there were many different types of topography. So it never got boring.
All of these were from the first 5 mile descent. After that it started to rain and we didn't get any more pictures. But there were plenty of great views. The whole trail was just amazing.
Going down was fun and easy. Sometimes the trail was too technical to run, so we had to walk on and off through some rocky parts. But mostly we cruised along. We ran into some of our Goat friends who had started early in the AM on the other side, and were going both ways.  We would stop and chat for a minute. We also saw some hikers and everyone was friendly and said Hi. Spirits were good.

And then the weather started to turn. At first there were just occasional showers and wind. We got a little wet. It was OK. Then at about Cottonwood the wind really picked up and was blowing sand in my eyes. It was brutal for about ten minutes - I was shielding my eyes with my hand and stopping when it gusted really hard. I thought this was the beginning of the storms that were predicted to roll in about 2-4PM. But it let up after a bit and we kept going.

The whole trail was single track, so we would need to announce ourselves to pass hikers. One woman saw us coming and said "Joggers coming through". We cracked up and that became a punchline the rest of the day.

Julia was falling back a little, and told Keith and I to just go ahead. So we rolled for about an hour without stopping down Bright Angel Canyon. This was less steep and went along the river through a tight canyon. Fantastic stuff. It felt good to get some "real running" in. We got to Phantom Ranch about 3 hours after we started. 15 miles in and feeling good. We stopped there to wait for J, and I took advantage of a real flushing toilet. I had eaten a CLIF bar during the run, and my tummy wasn't real happy about it. But after the pit stop, it was just fine.

After we regrouped, we cruised to the Colorado River. The rain was getting steady now so we were pretty wet. We would hear thunder and see lightning flashes occasionally, but it never got too bad. And the temp was in the high 60's so it wasn't too cold. Or too hot either! Pretty damn good actually. We heard it was 100 the day before in the canyon.

The river crossing was fun on a "kind of" scary pedestrian bridge. The river was flowing fast and very muddy due to the storm. Here is a stock photo to show the bridge.
 Grand Canyon 96
And here is the river on our crossing.

 We got to hike/jog a little ways along the river before heading up. Looking up, it seemed utterly ridiculous that we would hike out of this thing. It made no sense to consider the whole climb, so we just focused on keeping moving, one step at a time, and eventually it added up to 4,300 feet. And that was the easy trail!

This chart approximately shows our trek, except we went from right to left. I felt kind of bad for the people going the other way...


The last 7 or 8 miles going up took over 3 hours. There was no running. There was no jogging. Well, maybe a few steps here and there. But we hiked hard. There was very little stopping and resting - maybe three times in three hours. We passed a lot of hikers and only got passed once, near the top. It was relentless climbing. And it was steady rain most of the time. We were soaked through. I was getting pretty chilly when we took a brief stop and I added a jacket (which only kept the rain out briefly). I started to worry about hypothermia. But once we got climbing again, the exertion warmed me enough that it got better.

The muscles were sore now; Butt, quads, calves, and my PF started complaining again. No blister or chafing problems at all though. The trail was mainly puddles and stream. We crossed maybe a dozen little streams but none were more than 2 inches deep. The water coming off the red rocks and dirt made the puddles all look like tomato soup. And we saw lots of chocolate waterfalls a la Willy Wonka. Or maybe I was hungry.

A couple times we heard rocks coming off the cliff. And one three-foot boulder rolled down to within about ten feet of me! Nature is fun!

The rain and mist meant we didn't get the long views on the way up, but it was still amazing climbing up the canyons. We would look down, amazed at the heights we had just climbed. I tried not to look up, because it seemed like there was always 1,000 feet of sheer cliff above me. But the relentless moving eventually conquered it all.

As we got into the last 1/2 mile, I got a little finish line adrenaline and pushed the pace ahead of my companions. It seemed like forever, but finally we saw civilization and the finish. 23.4 miles, Six hours and 55 minutes, and we were done. I just went across the whole fricking Grand Canyon, bitches! Holy crap!

It was about 5PM, getting chilly, still raining, and now we all started shivering uncontrollably. We headed to the nearby Bright Angel Lodge to get inside, found some other hikers/runners to chat with, and toweled off and got a little warmer. Then we took a shuttle bus the last mile to our lodge where we could take the best hot shower ever.

So, this trip was perfect! So much beauty and adventure. No injuries or problems. The rain wasn't great, but I think I prefer that to high heat any day! And the first 15 miles were fantastic fun. I'd recommend the Rim to Rim to anyone. Can't say I'm eager to do R2R2R however. That seems crazy.

Now it is 3 days later. My muscles REALLY hurt for a while, but I think I'm recovering today. I think I'll go for a run tonight. 10K race coming up on Saturday...

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