Friday, May 25, 2012

The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

Last weekend Craig, Dave and Helen, Liza, Neil and I went on a "bucket list" adventure to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The plan was hatched several months ago (when I was a student!) by Dave with the intent of running rim to rim to rim on the long weekend in May. What a great way to celebrate the Masters degree! I had not paid too much attention to the details but did hear the occasional comment that the car was booked, the hotel was booked and the flights were booked. I was a little nervous with my lack of appropriate training over the last few months. Some commented that immersion training would be good for me! I had enough experience to know that given the heat, altitude and the distance it was going to be a real test of endurance.  Between us all we had plenty of ultra running experience. This was Liza's longest outing and upon meeting up in the hotel lobby at 4:45 am that morning she did announce that she cursed the day she met us crazy people! More of that to come!
Helen dropped us off at the Bright Angel Trail head on the South Rim just before the sunrise at 5:19 am.
I'm ready to go!
Neil is also ready to go!
Liza and Craig ready to go!
Dave is ready to go!
Sunrise in the Grand Canyon - Beautiful!

Clear blue sky and the bright sun on the rocks.
Many different layers of did they get there? Why are some flat? Others steep? Fortunately for us Liza is a geologist so we had our questions answered along the way plus considerable insight into the formation of this natural wonder of the World!

Once we were off there were several stops to marvel at the beauty surrounding us. The temperature increased dramatically within minutes of descending and the extra layers of clothing came off rapidly.

The Bright Angel Trail can be seen well into the distance. It was quite steep with plenty of switch backs. The South Rim where we started is at 6819 feet. We descended into the Canyon floor to 2567 feet within 7.4 miles.

Liza and Neil in the sunshine. By 8 am the heat felt like it was mid afternoon. The trail is visible where we are going below. The Bright Angel Trail is a historic Aboriginal trail used by people for millenia to access the inner canyon and the Colorado River.

The Colorado River starts in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and travels 1450 miles through 9 states including 2 in Mexico before emptying into the Gulf of California. We passed several fishermen who were coming or going from fishing in the river.

Another photo stop to capture the views. It's early morning and heating up.
The suspension bridge to cross the Colorado River - the Silver Bridge just before reaching Phantom Ranch.

Flowering Prickly Pear cactus. They bloom in the spring in many different colours.
The flowers always had a bee in them - it flew out as I took the photo.
Admiring the various cacti! It was hot - note the head gear that Craig, Neil and I wore. It really kept the sun off my neck and face. I found it very hot to run in this hat and switched between it and my sun visor when running. We came upon a Park Warden in this stretch and she warned us to drink lots as the predicted daytime temperatures were 115 degrees Fahrenheit! She also suggested if we saw a stream to get in it and soak ourselves down.
From the floor of the canyon at 2567 feet there is a moderate climb to Roaring Springs which is at an altitude of 4562 feet. After passing through Roaring Springs the trail starts to climb steeply heading towards the North Rim. It became apparent we were in for a very tough climb in the heat of the day. In 4.3 miles the trail climbs approximately 3800 feet to reach the North Rim Trail Head which is at a height of 8242 feet above sea level.  The last 1700 feet of elevation is climbed in 1.7 miles.  All elements considered, it was perhaps the most brutal climb any of us had attempted in the course of an outing - ever!

Craig and I working our way up.
Navajo Sandstone Cliffs.
So near but yet so far...we were still hours away from the top of the North Rim.
The altitude and heat was getting to us all but seemed to be hitting Craig the hardest on the climb to the North Rim.
The climb lasted for hours...I have never experienced such a long climb with no reprieve.
More rock and trail!
Neil checking in with me to make sure I'm OK!
Dave and Liza working it. It was near here where we had stopped for a break and Liza said "what is wrong with you people?" in an outburst that had us all questioning our sanity.
Craig and I in one of the several caves. It's hot in here!

Coconino Point - almost there!

Approaching the North Rim - It's been a 6 hour climb from the River to the North Rim. This is when Craig absolutely amazed me - he said I will be fine once I turn around and head back down!
 Arrived! - The North Rim. Craig announces he will be able to talk in 10 minutes. He was determined to set out again but I was on a mission to look for any transportation back to the South Rim.  There is a shuttle bus once a day back to the South Rim.  It takes 4.5 hrs and had long since gone so there was really only one option and that was to head back from whence we came! Liza tackled the blisters on her feet. I changed my socks to help with the hot spots on my feet. Amazingly there was a group of Neurologists that had completed their 29th annual South Rim to North Rim trek. Once they heard we were returning back to the South Rim they gave us their remaining energy foods such as Gels, Cliff Blocks and other yummy energy sources. They were concerned for us and now so was I! Watch for the snakes at night they shouted as we headed back down the trail. It had taken us 10 hours to get to this point and I knew the journey back in the dark would be slower with the additional challenges of night travel. 
Neil convincing me I can make the return journey. Reality - their was no other way back than by foot!

Dave and I descending.

Twilight setting in. This was my low point of the journey - I felt nauseated. I had consumed plenty of water going up the climb but I think I was lacking in salt. Once I had a salt tablet and some salty food I felt much better. Phantom Ranch has a canteen that sells lemonade, chocolate bars and snacks. We stopped there on our first pass through and enjoyed a glass of their lemonade. On the routine trip we knew they were only open between 8 and 10 pm. At this point in the journey Liza was dealing with some nasty blisters. Neil, Dave and I went ahead to secure some lemonade from Phantom Ranch. As we got closer, Dave ran ahead to make sure he was there before closing time. Dave managed to get us all a fact maybe a few additional quaffs for himself. The refreshment of the lemonade was energizing! Who knew the power of ice cold lemonade!

A very large lizard spotted at the side of the trail.
Bats! - they were attracted to the bugs in our light beam from the head lamps on the return journey. There are 20 different species of bats in the canyon and I think we experienced them all. They would fly right in front of our face, grab the bugs in the light beam and then take off. Very freaky! This lasted for a few hours during the night while we were near the canyon walls on the return journey.
Rattle Snakes! We were warned by the Neurologists on the North Rim to watch for the snakes at night. We did not see any but did hear a rattling sound in the distance off the trails.
Scorpions. We saw several of these on the trail on the return journey in the dark. They are the most poisonous of North American Scorpions. Phantom Ranch guests are more likely to be bitten because the scorpions can squeeze into the cabins more easily than a zipped tent. To avoid the scorpions the best place to sleep is on top of a picnic table. Maybe that explains the guy passed out on the table at Phantom Ranch?

After leaving Phantom Ranch the reality of the climb up the South Rim started to creep in. Although not as high as the North Rim it was hard going as everyone was weary. We kept up a good hiking pace and took breaks at water stations. We were a very silent group for the majority of the journey. I think we were all so focused on the moment. At one point I asked Dave how things were feeling and he replied that it would be easier to tell me what wasn't hurting. Liza apologized to Craig in advance and said "I think I am going to hate you for a few days after this". As we climbed the air started to cool and I finally had to put another layer on. I found myself leaning a bit to the left which also happened to me the first year I did West Highland Way - I think it is electrolyte related. We were amazed by the blanket of stars filling the night sky and at a rest stop, sat down on rocks turned off our headlamps and gazed up at the night sky.  The Milky Way was clear high above as were many other  constellations.
All done! Waiting at the Bright Angel Lodge for a pick up from Helen. Our cell phones despite showing a signal did not go through. There was a local man who was curious to learn what we had done who allowed us to use his phone to call Helen back at the hotel for a ride. 50 miles in 22 hours including an inordinate number of stops for sustenance or picture taking! That is twice as long as any 50 miler to date but hey, its not about the time, its about the journey!   

As soon as we piled in the car everyone shut their eyes and were drifting off to sleep! I managed to stay awake and kept Helen company as she drove us back to the hotel. Neil kept hallucinationg that the journey was taking way longer than it had in the morning! We had a quick bath/shower and then a cup of noodles before going to bed at 5:30 am. I felt chilled and slept with my sweatshirt on with the hoodie over my head. 3 hours later, Neil and Craig were off to the buffet breakfast. I just wanted to sleep and stayed in bed until 1 pm. Liza, Craig, Neil and I had lunch at the hotel across the street. That night we sure lucked out - there was a solar eclipse at the Grand Canyon. How about that for timing! It was so much fun to be amongst the folks with the fancy and not so fancy telescopes. The light in the canyon dimmed to twilight and the temperature dropped significantly.

It was an annular eclipse where the moon covers the sun but leaves a border around the outer edge of the sun. The sun is not completely blocked by the moon.  Neil took this picture through a fancy telescope and is very proud of it!
Craig's hand - the not so fancy telescope reflecting the image onto the palm of his hand.
Reflections of the eclipse coming through the trees. Amazing!
The canyon became darker during the eclipse.
We left the following day to fly from Phoenix back to Vancouver. We had a nice drive with a lunch stop in Sedona, Arizona and a shop at REI in Phoenix. The air in Phoenix was so hot it was like the heat you feel when you open an oven door. When we arrived home Vancouver felt very fresh compared to the hot dry temperatures we experienced. It was a great journey - thanks team! We should be proud of that outing! What's next? V100 or part of it next weekend?


  1. All I can think about is ... so many great things about this run! Sunrise, downhill forever to the river, people all day and night, frogs, scorpions, that rash/sunburn on my legs, lemonade, and, oh yes, climbing foreverrrrrrrr up to the north rim. Glad to have been there with all of Team Dodgy - they're the best! And Carolyn you are one tough girl!

  2. Your determination to tackle the return journey was inspiring! You are one tough guy!

    Looking forward to participating in the 50km this weekend! It is one of my favorite events.


  3. Amazing pics! Can't believe some of the elevation climbing - holy smokers - hot too!
    love the 'creatures' on route - little different from the rain forests up here.