Well, thanks to some great friends and a Veteran organization I was afforded the opportunity to Arizona to run the Grand Canyon (GC), Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R). R2R2R has been on the bucket list of places to run for some time now and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to go.
Heading into the run I have been having some issues with injuries and some stressful issues have resurfaced. I wasn’t sure how this would affect the outcome, but I was excited and nervous at the same time. I decided that I would need to just take it easy, run my pace and just have fun to be successful.
Arriving at the canyon I went out for a shakeout run the day before running the canyon. It did not take long to feel the altitude change from 597′ around Nashville to about 6,804′ at the South Rim GC Villiage. Just a short run up a small incline at a 9 min. pace allowed me to feel that metallic taste, warning me that this climate will take a bit to adjust to.
While I was adjusting to the dry air and the altitude difference I was taken in by the views. I wasn’t sure what was taking my breath more: the views or the exertion. It was at that point I found part of my mantra for the rest of the trip, “If you want views that take your breath away, you need to do something that takes your breath away”.
I spent the day meeting other runners, going through gear, nutrition and planning routes, (one route). We spent some time reconning the starting and end points of the trailhead. Looking down at them I was a bit intimidated. This run was going to take quite a bit of work both physically and mentally. I quickly realized that I was going to need more nutrition than I had brought. The amount of water, gear and food that was needed was by far one of the largest amounts I have carried on any previous run.
The day started around 2am and by 3:15 we were heading out to the trailhead. We had decided to take the South Kaibab trail going down into the Canyon. we left our vehicles about a mile from the start. It was a great warm up. The descent started right away at the start. For some, the darkness made the descent a bit tougher as the exposed edge was just feet to inches away. I think it was nice having only my headlamp for light as we went down. With that, I was able to just focus on my feet and the next step without much thought to the edge.
Soon the sun slowly woke up and began to encase the tips of the canyon in it’s glow. We spent the next 2.5 hours or so heading down to the Colorado River. In those first hours we dropped around 5,000′. Watching that sun creep around the corners of the canyon was awesome! I’m already considering doing it again.
Reaching the river we crossed the bridge and began the route to the Phantom Ranch (PhR). Arriving at the ranch the borders and campers were lining up for breakfast as we made our first water stop. Water was going to be a big issue in this run and I made sure to top everything I had off. After a brief stop, we started heading north up the Kaibab trail. That early morning run through the Canyon’s bottom was amazing.
Following this trail, we ran slow trying to conserve energy for the climbs that were ahead. As the day wore on the trail started to fill with hikers and a few other runners. Most were shocked at our idea of going R2R2R in just one day. I thought it was interesting that for many people they had never imagined this was an option. After several hours I ran into a Ranger that wanted to make sure I had enough water. The water at Roaring Springs was shut off along with most of the water on the north side. There was plenty of water at the spring, it just needed to be filtered. I took a chance with the water I had and after a brief respite and a snack, I started the climb up.
I should add that the whole 14 miles up to the N. K. trailhead was uphill. It was a gradual ascent towards the top with the majority or the steepness of the climb starting at Roaring Springs. The Climb was no small feat. While climbing you still had to be wary of the exposure of the edge and the conditions of the trail. As the climb increased and the switchbacks began there was also a strange need for breaks. About 2 miles from the top I was running low on water. I knew I needed to keep my mouth wet and get some nutrition in. As the trail would have it and fortunately for me, the water was fixed at a spring at 1.7 miles from the top.
At Supai, 1.7 from the top I was blessed to drink and fill up on water. It was such a relief as I was starting to have some issues with the climb. The next 1.7 miles seemed to take almost 2 hours to climb out. While on the climb I was also blessed to hang out with a couple other runners that also had a military background. It was almost a natural thing to check on each other for the rest of the trip. With each of us going our own pace we found ourselves leapfrogging along, at times we found the one that felt stronger in the moment encouraging those of us going slower. This situation flip-flopped for almost the rest of the run.
I think the beauty in this matchup was that we all had strengths that the other runners did not. Speaking for myself it created a situation that allowed for us to band together and find ways to overcome the issues that arose along the trail. I believe this is one of the many things that makes Soldiers and Veterans so great, their ability to band together in abnormal situations. It can also be one of our greatest issues as well, as we are not trained to be an individual, rather a productive member of a cohesive team.
After what seemed like taking a break in what shade could be found, I made it to the top. The altitude change went from around 2,000′ to some reports of over 9,000′, I was having a hard time keeping my heart rate low enough and I was struggling. I was in rough shape, yet I knew that with water and some food I would be good to go.
With this trip, I met a group of runners called the Rock Hoppers. Some of their supporters were at the top making sandwiches and getting Cokes for them. It was truly like coming into an Aid Station and I am very grateful to the lady that brought me a coke and made me a peanut butter and honey sandwich. After filling up with water I now had a group of three Veterans returning through the canyon. After all, how else were we going to get back? Sometimes the best option is the toughest one!
Heading down into the canyon back the way we came for the next 14 miles was great. We stopped to check on hikers/runners that was coming up or that we pasted flying down. We encouraged everyone that the top was within grasp and pointed out where water was. Having filled up our packs we even gave some of our water and nutrition out to other hikers struggling to get to the top.
Soon we reached the canyon floor and then set off on the next eight miles towards Phantom Ranch. This stretch was fairly lonely as most people that I came across were camping for the night. It became a race against the sun. I watched the sun set casting weird shadows in the various canyons. I tried to get to Phantom Ranch before I lost the light, but soon I was moving in the darkness.
I had taken two headlamps with me and I’m glad I did. My Petzl’s battery didn’t last as advertised, so I resorted to my back up Black Diamond for the reminder of the night. Thanks Joe, it’s the light you gave me at camp. I power hiked into Phantom and waited for a a friend while I set about getting water, taking care of the feet and eating.
I had heard about the lemonade here at the ranch, but I smelled coffee. Later on we learned that the ranch was open and we could have gotten some refreshments, but with faulty information we thought it was only for those in the bunkhouse. I remember that I didn’t want to leave and I had sat long enough to where my legs didn’t want to go anymore.
Three of us took off from the ranch and I was in a fowl mood for the next few miles. My friends asked me if I wanted to pass and I said no I just need to get used to moving again and find a better mood. So with food and Tailwind I got into a grove for the hike back up to the rim.
We crossed the Colorado river on the Silver bridge in the darkness. I really couldn’t see much but the next few steps. Apparently he trip across can be a bit frightening for some. The whole trail had been dusty, it was the desert after all. However, on this side of the river the dust was horrible. I called it moon dust and it was everywhere. Your feet sunk an inch or two with each step.
I can’t really describe how much I disliked this part. I was breathing dust, dust was in my eyes and it filled up my shoes. I used a buff and covered my face the best I could and just went on, grumbling inside. When we started the climb on the other side and the terrain started to change I started to get in a better headspace.
The next 9 miles up the side of the canyon went by like a blur. Our group of 3 split up and then we would all catch back up over and over. I practiced not using a light at all for several parts of the trail and it worked well. I stayed focused on getting nutrition in, salt and worked on fixing my upset stomach with ginger. It all seemed to work as these hours are typically the hardest for me.
No hallucinations for me this night! I kept going up alone again, but very hopeful and pleased with how things were turning out. Soon I arrived at Indian Springs. My group linked up again and we tried encouraging another couple who were covering a couple benches trying to control their stomachs.
Filling up on water I listened to one of my friends tell his story about running across a couple of mountain lions a while back on the trails. Usually I’m the one that runs into the interesting wildlife. So far today I had only come across one snake and that was it. There wasn’t even the normal bugs that I’m used to battling at night.
We started back up the trail looking for the next water point. This part around the spring was full of creek crossings, trees and overgrowth. The trail soon left all that behind as we kept going up, now hitting switchback after switchback. It seemed every time the trail looked like it would open up or that we would summit a plateau it was just an elusive illusion.
Soon our lights were going out and I shut mine off completely just in case I would need it later. The moon was out now and it helped to see the trail. It was about here that to noticed two pairs of green eyes watching me from above. I was taking no chances after hearing my friends story about cats alongside the trail. I charged up that slope towards the eyes before they had a chance to decide what they were going to do. It ended up being two deer. It was a good laugh.
I’m not sure how much longer it took me. I arrived at the top with a little bit of a shock as I was still expecting another switchback. I think it was just after 2am, just about the time I had gotten up the day before for this trip. We ran into two ladies that where here that were wait for the Rockhoppers and they made us go sit in their cabin and eat for a while. They keep saying we must be cold, but after all that exposure I really didn’t realize the temperature at the top.
This adventure was probably one of the hardest I’ve been on. It was also one of the best I’ve been on. I have to thank my friends Rob and CJ for making it possible to go with. Also to Project Echelon for their help with the travel and for use of the GoPro. I would also like to thank the two Veterans that I ran with, you guys gave me a mission. I’m very grateful for them being there.
This was an adventure I needed for many reasons. I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I believe it’s all part of a commitment I made to share my story and openness to finally accept friends into my life again. Stay tuned for more pictures and possibly a short video documentary.
Thank you all for reading!