Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
The first time I stood on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I laughed. I laughed at the insanity of the grandiose plan I had hatched over the past six months, the plan I had to run across the Grand Canyon. The logistics of organizing such a trip are difficult enough that I had almost forgotten about the running portion. Securing lodging in the park on a prime fall weekend and finding someone to deliver my vehicle from one rim to the other was a significant accomplishment in itself. As I stood above the abyss, the final destination barely visible but seemingly winking at me on the far horizon, the enormity and the insanity of the plan finally sunk in. Crossing the ‘big ditch’ would require me to cover 24 miles with a total elevation gain and loss of 11,200 feet in some of the harshest and rugged terrain in the southwest. My laughter was an attempt to disguise the anxious thoughts now coursing through my mind. Had I trained enough? What if I hadn’t packed sufficient food and water, or the weather turned bad, as was forecast? What if I simply couldn’t run anymore and my legs ceased to function? But as I watched the shuttle driver take my car away, I knew there was no option but to follow my plan through to the end.
Luckily I was not the only one who had signed up for my insane and grandiose plan. Shivering alongside me in the freezing wind was my husband Chad, and friends Will and Shawn Hays. So as the sun rose, we launched into the abyss. During the first five miles the North Kaibab trail drops like a stone, falling 3,600 feet. In the excitement of setting off (and going down) taking this section fast would be tempting. But locking up my quads and jarring my knees would result in a suffer fest for the remainder of the day. So I took it easy at first.
As the grade leveled out I opened the throttle and joined the others as they flew down the trail towards Phantom Ranch. The scenery and terrain was both varied and spectacular. The trail took us down steep switchbacks, across ledges cut out of towering red rock walls, beneath cottonwood stands on the canyon floor and finally followed the rowdy Bright Angel Creek through a narrow canyon to its confluence with the Colorado River.
We kept up a good pace and covered the 14 miles to Phantom Ranch in less than three hours. As expected it was much warmer at the bottom of the canyon, and we were further encouraged as the bad weather forecast had not materialized. Phantom Ranch is a busy spot with hikers, backpackers, mules and rangers taking advantage of the various facilities and available drinking water. We quickly refueled before trotting off towards the Colorado River and the Silver suspension bridge. We spent a few minutes gazing in awe at the power of the river flowing beneath our feet before continuing on the Bright Angel trail, beginning what we thought was the major climb of the day. But after running up several hundred feet, I was aghast to see the trail descend once again to the river. Although not a significant descent it was nevertheless demoralizing, having persuaded myself that we were reaching the final stages of the run.
Running beside the massive Colorado River having crossed via the Silver Bridge
But sure enough the climb began. I crawled slowly up a rocky and steep section of switchbacks appropriately named the Devil’s Corkscrew. The sun beat down from a cloudless sky and despite the slow pace I worked up a sweat for the first time. After another thousand feet of climbing, the trail became run able again following the floor of a riparian valley to the Indian Gardens. Here we encountered our only mule train of the day which required us to scramble up on to a rock to keep our feet from being crushed.
Last ditch effort up the final switchbacks. Our starting point is beyond the horizon in the background
Departing Indian Gardens, our second and final fueling stop, the mile marker read 19. My tank was almost empty and running becoming more difficult. The final four miles were the most challenging of the day. The trail kicked upwards several notches. Switchbacks endlessly reached towards the sky. The added obstacle of a large number of people, between which we had to weave, resulted in a speed hike. But for the last 100 yards I dug deep and managed a feeble attempt at running that popped me up and onto the South Rim. It was about 6 and a half hours after we dropped in from the North Rim. My insane and grandiose plan was completed with no adverse affects other than extremely sore and tired legs. In sum it was a blast. As we discussed our epic and fun adventure over medicinal martinis in the cocktail lounge of the El Tovar Hotel, I laughed again. This time my laugh was for real.