Posted by: cadavidson | April 10, 2013

R2R2R Report

I was fortunate enough to meet a friend of my sister’s at her wedding last June. Keith and her met in Spain, of all places, while studying abroad. Keith mentioned he’d been looking to plan a Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim (South rim to North rim, then back to the South rim) in the near future. Those plans came to reality April 6, 2013.

I was only a little apprehensive about joining for this adventure. I’ve had the Zane Grey 50 on my race calendar since well before the beginning of the year. I’ve set lofty goals for myself at Zane Grey this year; my goal is to take off about 90 minutes and run close to 10:00 hours. So, I didn’t want to fry myself and not be at 100%. But, the thought of taking a shot to improve upon my previous 12 hour time was too good to pass up and if I had any idea who I’d be running with, I wouldn’t have hesitated one bit… some great guys!

I departed Phoenix about 4:00PM Friday April 5th after wrapping up some last minute work. I was hoping for an uneventful drive, and I got an uneventful drive. A few years back on our way up to the Grand Canyon for a hike, we saw several dozen deer and Elk along highways 180and 64. The huge animals were only a few feet from the roadway. Scary to think of hitting one of those big boys!

I arrived at Grand Canyon National Park and breezed through the park entrance, avoiding the $25 entry fee by arriving after the entrance fee was unmanned. I parked, and would spend the night, at the Visitor Center parking lot. The shuttle bus station at the Visitor Center was the our rally point for departure the next morning at 4:25AM just in time for the 4:30AM shuttle that would take us to our run’s starting point, the South Kaibab Trail head.

I set my usual flurry of alarms for 3:40, 3:45, and 3:50. I’m always afraid I’ll miss one… or two of them. I slept pretty well in the bed of the truck. Millions of stars – beautiful!

I awoke, assembled all of my gear and departed for the Visitor Center restroom. I figured I still had plenty of time before everyone arrived. I could see the shuttle bus station with it’s many benches and billboards from my truck. By the time I walked to the restroom and back out towards the shuttle bus area, there were already over a dozen running-apparel clad fit looking ultrarunners assembled. It was a pretty cool site. Just thinking about how we were all going to run from the South Rim, to the North Rim, and back – and be back before the sun went down. Many people, myself included, have done this as a multi-day backpacking adventure, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I still say there’s something to be said for just hanging out in the Grand Canyon. But, the other side of me says – why spend three days doing this when you can get it done in less than 12 hours?

Our group consisted of runners from Southern California, Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona – pretty cool!

We started down the trail at 4:45AM. In my previous to R2R2R trips (one successful and one unsuccessful), I’ve descended the Bright Angel Trail. This time, we were going down the steeper and shorter South Kaibab. I was a little apprehensive about this. I was wrong – it seems like the trail had some work done. It was super smooth, very few big step downs, almost no rocks trying to twist you ankles this way and that… In fact, I would argue that South Kaibab is more runnable, at least downhill, than Bright Angel! We made it to Cedar Ridge in about 17 minutes. That was pretty cool. Many folks hike to Cedar Ridge to view the fish fossils, that’s right fish fossils, for a day hike. We just descended that same day hike in 17 minutes. Just after Cedar Ridge, everyone started to realize how HOT we were, literally! I think we all had donned at least a long sleeve running shirt to start since the temperatures at the Rim were in the low 40’s.  The temperature really starts to climb almost immediately after stepping onto the first switchback. We reached the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch area in just about 70 minutes.

Keith and I on South Kaibab. Photo by Elan Leiber.

Keith and I running down South Kaibab. Photo by Elan Lieber.

Some people took time to fill up bottles and hydration packs here. I skipped as I knew water was on at Cottonwood and was reportedly on at Roaring Springs (Bruce Aiken’s former residence). The miles from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood are the most runnable of the entire trail – in both directions. I had settled into a group with Chris Price , Elan Lieber, Keith Yanov, and Dominic Grossman. These guys, as was the rest of the crew were super cool to run with.  So cool  in fact, that Chris Price is sort of a big deal. He had just won the Angeles Crest 100 by over an hour. I wouldn’t have even known unless I’d been told my someone else. I love triathletes, after all triathlon is what got me into this endurance running and racing craziness 15 years ago, but there is something really cool about the attitude of ultrarunners (not to be confused with the attitudes of normal”runners”). It’s not about competition or results, even though those are important, it’s about running WITH people and enjoying the great outdoors.

At Roaring Springs - aka The former Bruce Aiken estate

At Roaring Springs – aka The former Bruce Aiken estate with Chris and Lewis. Photo by Elan Lieber.

We ran low 9:00 minute miles through this gradual climb from Phantom Ranch to the Cottonwood Campground. Even though the trail is tame here, it does still climb from 2500 feet to 45oo feet in only 6.5 miles. I, along with a couple others, filled our hydration packs here at Cottonwood. We’d had reports that water was ON at the Bruce Aiken water stop, but I was a little apprehensive. We’d had a cold winter with a lot of snow in the high country, but we’d also had a warm spring. The water gets turned off here to protect against frozen pipe bursts. The nice pace we’d settles into along the stretch between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood became more run, then power hike, run, then power hike after Cottonwood. It’s often said that the real climb of the North Rim starts at Cottonwood. Since Cottonwood is at 45oo feet and the North Rim tops out at just over 8000 feet, it’s a 35oo foot climb in 8 miles from Cottonwood to the North Rim. That’s a big climb, that’s rather unrelenting. It’s usually quite hot, even in the spring and fall months.

Climbing, climbing, climbing, the north rim. Photo by Chris Price

Climbing, climbing, climbing, the north rim. Photo by Chris Price

North Kaibab Trail. Photo by Chris Price.

North Kaibab Trail. Photo by Chris Price.

We topped out on the North Rim at right about 5 hours. Since the North Rim was still closed, it usually doesn’t open until May due to the large amount of snow received, we had the rim all to ourselves. I thought that was pretty cool. Normally, the North Kaibab trail head parking lot is full of cars from backpackers and day hikers. Not today, we had the trail head and parking lot to ourselves. We sprawled out for a good 30 minutes here. I’d decided to go light on food. I had plenty, but limited my calories to those from gel, Accelerade, and Clif Bars. I thought I’d be happy with this until Lewis brought out dried apricots, Chris pulled open a bag of jerky, and Dan unwrapped a giant ciabatta sandwich. I was thrilled when everyone  shared their goodies. I felt bad that all I could offer was a Clif Bar or a salt tablet – no takers.

5 hours after starting we're on the north rim.

5 hours after starting we’re on the north rim. Eating! Photo by Cory Davidson.

Keith arrived at the rim and we decided to all descend. I wanted to get a little bit of a headstart because I’m such a slow downhill runner. I probably got a good 5 minute head start, but within probably 10 minutes Chris flew by, then Elan Lieber. When I applauded Elan for his downhill running speed he reminded me that he had young legs. I think this was the first time I ever had the slightest thought of being older than someone while running.  I chuckled… I was amazed how quickly Chris and Elan went by. I really tried to push the downhill, after all it should be free speed and I knew my pace would slow drastically once I hit the Bright Angel trail and the trail would start to tilt upwards.

Most of the crew found the southward stretch from Roaring Springs back to Phantom Ranch to be the worst of the entire trip, the only exception was Keith. His most displiked part of the trip was arriving at the group’s rallying points, whether it was the north rim or Phantom Ranch, getting settled for a little break, then the group deciding – “well, let’s get going!” Chris and Elan had arrived at Phantom Ranch first. I think they were clipping off some really fast miles in this stretch of gradual downhill. Dan passed me about half way into the 6.5 mile stretch between Cottonwood and Phantom Ranch. I tried to keep him in-site and to key off of his pace, but he was too strong. The first half of this 6.5 miles is very hot. Seems like it doesn’t matter what time of year…. it’s always hot. I managed to run this entire stretch, though slower than I ran it in the opposite uphill direction only a couple of hours earlier. The downhill and the 30 miles already in my legs were starting to take their toll. I felt it important to run this stretch because it was the last really runnable stretch we’d encounter. No matter how many times I’ve hiked and run through the area north of Phantom Ranch called “The Box”, I never seem to recall how long it is. Bright Angel Creek is walled in here, hence the name “The Box” so the trail is only visible until the next turn in the canyon. Turn after turn…. always thinking and hoping it’s the last turn and that the “Phantom Ranch .3 miles” sign will be awaiting.

Lewis Taylor descending North Kaibab. Photo by Keith Yanov.

Dan descending North Kaibab. Photo by Keith Yanov.

My watch read 34.8 miles when I arrived at Phantom Ranch. Just when I rolled in, Chris ducked his head out of the Canteen and alerted me that he and Elan were inside. The Phantom Ranch lemonade is rather famous. I still don’t know if it actually tastes any better than other lemonade, but every time I drink it my body is in a relatively trashed state, and it hits the spot! No difference this time. I downed two lemonades and a King Size Snickers bar – calories! One by one the rest of our group rolled in Chris, Elan, Dom, Lewis, Keith, Dan, and myself. To Keith’s dismay, and relatively quickly after his arrival, we departed. I don’t think we stayed at the Canteen long enough. We should’ve hung there for a while longer…

The group stopped at the Bright Angel campground to refill bottles and hydration packs. The temp was starting to heat up. It was probably only low 80s, but it felt warm. I’ve done so many backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon during the months of June and July, that I’ve come to appreciate slightly cooler temps. I was surprised how runnable the bottom half of the Bright Angel trail was, all the way through Pipe Creek and up to Indian Garden (often confused with Indian Gardens). I think I struggled more in this stretch that anywhere else. I even started doubting if I wanted to put myself through this again in three weeks at the Zane Grey 50. It’s often said that you don’t want to be caught on the Devil’s Corkscrew in the heat of the day. We were caught. The Devil’s Corkscrew is the first big set up switch backs on the Bright Angel trail. The trail ascends here from Pipe Creek up to almost the Tonto Plateau in several very steep switchbacks.

The switchbacks of Devil's Corkscrew. Photo by Chris Price.

The switchbacks of Devil’s Corkscrew. Photo by Chris Price.

I knew from my many jaunts through this section, that once on top of Devil’s Corkscrew the trail flattens out into Indian Garden. I managed to run some of the stretch, but hiked much of it as well. Chris, Dan, Lewis, and Elan were already at Indian Garden when I arrived. We waited for Dom and Keith here. Chris, Lewis, and Dan decided they wanted to do the 3 miles round-trip out to Plateau Point and back. I elected to spend my time by starting on the switch backs of the Bright Angel trail and started off with Elan. I was pretty impressed that Dan, Lewis, ad Chris still had the desire to get in EXTRA miles at this point.

Elan and I headed up. I seem to always forget that the Bright Angel trail doesn’t start climbing the south rim in earnest until about 4 miles until the rim. Even past Indian Garden, the trail is runnable, though there was not too much running going on at this time. The first switchback is very noticeable. You walk and hike, walk and hike, until the trail is basically walled in – then you go UP! I don’t think there is a singles flat foot of trail from mile 4 to the top. Every step is uphill. From this point on I hiked. Past the 3 mile rest house and past the 1.5 mile rest house. It’s fun passing people along this stretch. Most have no idea that we’d just come from the south rim, all the way to north rim, and back. 40 miles by this point.

Past the 1.5 mile rest house, which we bypassed, Elan started to feel the pull of the rim. He felt good enough to get into a nice running pace here and ran a good chunk of the final 1.5 miles. I stayed in low-gear, power hiking mode. I managed to finish in a “running state” for the finish line photo.

Running the final steps. Photo by Elan Lieber.

Running the final steps. Photo by Elan Lieber.

My time was 11:10 minutes. Dom had his running time at 9:15 minutes or thereabouts, so we took our time for sure with rest breaks. None of us were looking to set any speed records on this trip, however I did want to go under 12 hours as this was my time from my previous successful R2R2R.

Elan and me just after finishing at Bright Angel trail head.

Elan and me just after finishing at Bright Angel trail head.

Thanks to everyone I had the opportunity to run with. It was a blast. Thanks also for snapping some nice photos. I’ve been in the depths of the Grand Canyon so many times, I often use this as an excuse to not take any new pictures.

Gear

As usual I wore my Hoka One One Stinson with double Smart Wool socks. They performed, as usual, outstanding! I did get a blister on the bottom of my right foot though, which is a first and is something I will need to watch out for at Zane Grey.

Hoka Dirty Dirty

Hoka Dirty Dirty

I used my Garmin 310XT. I had a lot of lot satellite signals on the return trip from the north rim to Phantom Ranch. I found it strange because I didn’t have any issues on the route from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim. So, the satellite issue only occurred on one direction of the out and back leg.

IMG_1142

I used my Deuter hydration pack. I’ve had this pack for a long time. It works nice. It’s nothing special, but it’s comfortable, holds water, and doesn’t bounce too much. I also started with a hand held Nathan bottle, however half way down the South Kaibab trail my bottle was half way empty and my shorts were fully wet – big time leaky bottle. This really affected my plan to drink Accelerade drink mix from my hand held bottle, and use the hydration pack for plain water. I ended up having drink mix only at our stops because of this. I will not be using that Nathan bottle again…

Deuter hydration pack.

Deuter hydration pack.

I started the day with a long sleeve technical shirt over my Zane Grey 50 2012 tech shirt. The long sleeve, as well as beanie, came off just after 20 minutes and stayed off for the remainder of the trip. I was nice though, to have the long sleeve for when I finished. It was cold at the south rim in the evening.

I started with a Smart Wool beanie and Petzl headlamp. The headlamp was turned off at about 5:30AM and came off permanently at the Bright Angel campground on the way down. The

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Responses

  1. This is a test comment.

  2. Great reportage of a great run. Way to go, Cory. – Neil

    • Thanks Uncle Neil! I’m so glad I’ve retained my one reader!

  3. Way to go Cory excellent time, good luck with ZG! – Brad

  4. Thanks for posting! Had a great time running with you, you fly uphill! See you in a couple weeks at ZG!


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