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Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

"As with shipwreck survivors, hostages and others in dire circumstances, duress fosters familiarity, sometimes love"            

- John L. Parker Jr. in Once a Runner 

Despite living an hour away from the Grand Canyon it took friends and teammates coming down from the Pacific Northwest for me to finally drop down into the Canyon in all of its grandeur.

Even as late as the night before the run I had considered only running down to the river and back and hitching a ride back with another group from Flagstaff planning to do about 20 miles.  I needed some hill work because most of the mountains in the area had been covered in snow, but I also wasn't sure my body was ready for such a rigorous feat even if it was a low-key run among friends.  My knee, feet, and hands were still recovering from the nasty spill I took at around mile 36 or 37 of the Black Canyon 100K and I didn't want to flare anything up.

The photos of people slipping and sliding on snow and ice down from the South Rim that surfaced on Facebook a couple of days before also created some anxiety.  After not having to use them all winter, I dug my Yak Tracks out of storage and attached them to my Nathan hydration pack in case I needed them.

Sunrise from South Kaibab

The 3:00 am wake-up call to meet at Sean Meissner's house wasn't something I particularly enjoyed, but once we started descending the icy trails with our headlamps lighting the way, watching the sun peak over the Eastern horizon I couldn't resist the allure of what lay ahead.

Some of us gathered together to take pictures. Photo by Jennifer Love
The first stretch down the South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River was like nothing I had ever before experienced.  I was hooked and wanted to see what was around the next bend.

The crisp, cool water snow melt provided a much needed reprieve from the heat of the Canyon.
I decided to finally break out my GoPro and see if I could capture some of the route.  Fortunately the Canyon is so majestic even my Blair Witch twitch filming picked up a few decent shots.

Sean Meissner and Willie McBride were both kind enough to tug me down the first few miles and Gary Robbins and Garrett Smith let me join them from the lodge down below (mile 7) up to the North Rim where we were able to eat some snow and refill with water.  Along the way I realized that I must be Canadian.  As Gary and I continually knocked elbows and then proceeded to apologize and then apologize for apologizing so much it felt like we were kindred spirits - the antithesis of the "Unapologetic American."

Snow crusted North Rim

The Nathan Vapor Cloud with a 70 oz bladder in the back, and 2 x 20 oz bottles up front has plenty of storage & worked great to carry all I needed.

The first half wasn't too difficult because I had been fueling regularly all morning with First Endurance EFS Drink, First Endurance Ultragen, Trail Butter, Kind bars, Larabars, and Roasted Almonds, but eventually the long descents and heat took their toll on me.  The gravity of what we had bitten off quickly settled in as we descended back down from the North Rim.

Cooling off in the trickle of water as we descended from the snowy North Rim. Photo by Garrett Smith
Pretty spent after about 50K on the legs and no sleep.  Photo by Garrett Smith
By the time I got back down to the Canyon floor I was pretty wiped out.  We regrouped at Phantom Ranch where I refilled my 70 oz bladder with ice cold lemonade and refilled my front bottles with water.  We waited for everyone else to come in, fill up, and then we hiked out together up the Bright Angel Trail.  Jennifer Love, Jeff Bogges, and Jeff Fisher were good company on the climb back out, until Jennifer absolutely crushed us on the final ascent.

Jeff Fisher, a much more experienced GoPro master created a video of the entire weekend experience.  Hopefully, between the pics and videos you'll get a sense of what we experienced.

The time in the Grand Canyon with friends - old and new - was well worth the time and effort, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it thoroughly kicked my butt.  I spent most of the next week actively recovering (stretching, foam rolling, swimming, massaging, and cycling) because I was so sore I couldn't run even if I wanted to.

This is a must do for anyone looking to experience extremes in natural beauty, but not something that should be taken lightly.  There are very few people capable of running the whole thing and even if I could, I don't know that I'd want to.  I enjoyed taking my time, getting to know the people in our eclectic group, taking pictures, and dipping in the water as often as possible.  

If you do decide to do it, I suggest going early in the Spring or late in the Fall on a weekday to avoid large crowds of people and oppressive heat.  The Canyon gets about as hot as it does in Phoenix so early Spring or late Fall is about the only time that it is safe to even attempt the 46 mile double crossing.  And even if you don't think you can do it all in one day, there are plenty of shorter hikes and also options to camp down below so that you can break it into a couple of more manageable days.  With a place like the Grand Canyon, there really is no reason to try and rush the experience!

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