rim to rim to rim – running the grand canyon

saturday oct 28th was krissy’s birthday. for her birthday she wanted to run across the grand canyon… and back. since this sounded like one of the coolest things in the universe to do, i obliged.

ultra legend roch horton was fresh off the san diego 100 miler (where he placed 10th) so he didn’t run with us. instead he was nice enough to get up at 4:30am and dropped us off at the south kaibab trail head just before 6am sat morning. with temps in the low 40’s and headlamps blazing we headed down into the great hole.

we started before sunrise for two reasons; 1. we wanted to finish in the light (we estimated 10-12hrs). 2. we wanted to avoid getting stuck behind the mule trains we had heard so much about. well within 9 minutes we were behind two cowboys and about 6 mules. they were very nice to us and allowed us to pass pretty quickly after shutting off our lights. it was so incredible to see the sunrise over the side of the canyon as we were by then about 1500 feet deep. the sun pealed back the curtain to unvail this natural wonder.. i was in awe. – did i mention it was krissy’s birthday!

down down down about 5,000 feet we decended from the south rim via south kaibab trail we ran. after crossing the colorado river at the bottom of the canyon we ran into a horseback riding tour. their guide saw us coming, but as we found out he was determined to make us wait. so we waited for him to “check things” as his crew of tourists took photos of each other and i looked at my watch insesintly. to bring myself to a calm place i reminded myself that we were running at “birthday pace”, and we were not in any rush (i took 112 photos if that is any indication).

we did finally make it to phantom ranch in about 1:40 (7:40am). the ranch opens at 8am and has coffee, lemonade (that roch and catherine said we must try), candy bars and post cards (that are muled out of the great hole – pretty cool). from the phantom ranch it was up the kaibab trail and the beginning of the 14 mile ascent. the climb was a a gradual pitch along the river and really nice runnable trail. then, about 5 miles from the top of the north rim it gets much steeper.

it was probably around 80 degrees but didn’t feel hot as the nice breaze took the moisture from us before it got in our eyes. on our way up we stopped briefly to chat with dave mackey (team spyder) who was running out in front of the boulder crew and on a sub 9hr pace (yeah he’s fast!). the ascent was amazing and the views were enough to stop me in my tracks… and if you know me that takes a lot. i sang happy birthday to krissy every few hours or so as the two of us made pretty good time up to the north rim. we arrived in just over 5 hours.

at the top (mile 22) there was a failed attempt to re-tape krissy’s banged up knee for the descent she knew would hurt. so we took it a bit slower than normal on the way down. after all it was a 6,000 foot, 14 mile descent (my knees hurt just typing that). i didn’t realize until krissy mentioned this to someone afterwards, that this descent had to be the longest continuous descent she’d ever run… me too (obviously). not sure where else in the world you can find that kind of runnable terrain.

the north kaibab trail back to the phantom ranch (mile 35) seemed to be twice as long as the way out. at the ranch krissy and i enjoyed the fabulously sugary lemonade and wrote post cards to our moms that the mules would carry out for us. i also gave her the birthday card i’d been carrying the entire run. . she loved it.

with renewed energy we headed up the final climb. back up to the south rim via bright angel trail, probably around 5,000 feet straight up and 9 miles. krissy owned this climbed. i was running the climb, just in a “lower gear” than her. i had an australian guy say to me, “she’s losing you mate!”. i just looked up and said “yeah, that happens”. as we got closer to the top we ran into roch and catherine. they had hiked down to the river and timed it perfectly to see us finish and give krissy happy birthday wishes.

we slowed to chat when i looked at my watch.. we had only a few minutes left until we hit 11hrs total run time (the watch was on non stop from the first step of the run). “we have to beat 11hrs krissy!” we left roch running the uphill hard. krissy got about two switchbacks away from me and i didn’t think i’d make it. she then of course waited for me and we literally sprinted the last 1/4 mile finishing in 10:59:50!

if you consider yourself an ultra runner i think running a r2r2r is a must, maybe even a right of passage. our route was 44 miles, 10,218 feet of gain (by suunto) – it was probably the most incredible run i’ve ever done. having never been to the grand canyon and the fact that it was krissy’s birthday made it that much more special (see her blog)… and she said it was one of the best birthdays she’s ever had.

my gear:
shoes: montrail hardrock w/teko ecomerino wool socks & yankz laces
fuel: perpetuem, hammer gel, heed
pack: gregory stimulus w/one nathan handheld
electrolytes: nuun