My Grand Adventure – 2011 Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim
For years, I would often read other blogs, youtube videos and other things on the internet and dream about taking on the canyon. A great documentary by Ken Burns called ‘The West’ states in the opening sequence that the landscape of The West both beckons and repels. This historical insight is not just true for Spanish and Mexicans, American pioneers and missionaries, it is also true to this day for me.
The West has often beckoned me to run Pike’s Peak, San Juan Mountains, Jemez Mountains, Leadville, Sawtooth Mountains and others. During these excursions, the West has also repelled me on numerous occasions though I might add proudly that it did not repel me at Lake City last year. Instead through altitude acclimatization and careful preparation, the West embraced me with all of her beauty.
A few days before my birthday, my Dad who lives in Pennsylvania announced that his gift to me was himself and that he would be making the drive to Poteau. So I asked him if he were interested in going with me to the Grand Canyon. After all, he’s already driving half way across the country, why not go the whole way and back within a week’s time. It would be his own double crossing in the car. He readily accepted and so off we went.
We camped at Mather Campground after a pleasant though long drive and got everything ready for a Saturday morning attempt. Two items were of great concern upon our arrival. First was the heat. At the entrance, a sign read that the previous day (May 6) temperature in the inner canyon was 96 degrees. I knew it would be warmer but not that much warmer! Temps at the rims were in the low 70s for highs and upper 20’s for a low. That’s a huge contrast that may be hard to adjust for. The second unplanned crisis concerned the time change. I had not anticipated a two hour time change. This was important because I had anticipated a 3 am started and the sun would come up at 5:30 am. Now I would have start later, suffer more of the heat, and then get back to Poteau later on Sunday.
As it turns out, both these problems resolved themselves as I laid in my tent, tossing and turning at 2:00 am (Arizona Time). Why not just go now? I was not sleeping anyway and I could beat the heat of the day. So I awoke my Dad and he drove me to the South Kaibab Trailhead. He wished me well and off I went at 2:30 in the morning. I was a little nervous about this but as it turned out, those three hours were the best of the entire run! I glided effortlessly down the South Rim. On occasion eyes would reflect in my headlamp (Wal Mart brand 70 Lumens worked great, don’t spend money on the name brand junk). At first I worried about these eyes until I realized they were mule deer who were not afraid at all of crazy skinny runners with headlamps at 2:30 in the morning.
Tired and groggy at 2:30 am to start the run.
I was shocked when I arrived at the first big milestone – Phantom Ranch. This is a cabin complex at the 7.4 mile mark where guests can stay the night and mules bring in supplies. I was surprised because I had arrived so fast and felt like it was effortless. It was still before 4:00 am and so not a creature was stirring except for the mules. I ran right on through Phantom Ranch and continued on the North Kaibab Trail. I continued to cruise along and I would later find out that I was now going gradually uphill with a river that fed into the Colorado. I felt so strong, I had not even noticed the uphill.
Things were going great. Light began to appear amidst the starry night around 4:45 and by 5:15, I could but away the headlamp. It was also around this time that I took a wrong turn toward a scenic loop called Ribbon Falls. I wasted 15 or 20 minutes looking for the trail because I did not know that I was supposed to be heading toward Cottonwood Campground. I was beginning to worry that I may not get to complete my dream run. There were no signs directing people to the North Rim which should be corrected. Then out of nowhere appeared the first soul I had seen since beginning my run over three hours prior. What great timing because this trail angel man pointed me in the right direction.
Past Cottonwood Campground and the private residence, I was now only 5 miles from the North Rim! This was easy. It did not take long for the North Rim to begin to chew me up and spit me out. Without any altitude acclimitization the 7000 – 8500 feet began to have me wheezing and congested and my head was pounding. I thought this may have been the most scenic part of the course. I have a great picture of a deer with a huge waterfall in the background coming right out of the canyon wall. It was a very difficult climb but I arrived at the top in just over five hours tired but ready for the return trip.
Deer a;nd huge waterfall.
Bridge on the way up the North Rim.
Tunnel about a mile from the top of the North Rim.
I soon began to search for Phantom Ranch that would mark only 7 miles left. This was a mistake because I was still miles away. How was it so easy going up the side of the river in the darkness?! My legs were screaming to stop running downhill. As it turned out, the 13 miles from North Rim to Phantom is almost entirely downhill. Phantom seemed like it would never appear around each canyon that the river had carved through it. But regardless, the scenery was breathtaking.
By the time I did arrive at Phantom, I was really beginning to suffer. The heat was climbing and I was very tired. I got a little reprieve by jumping in the Colorado River and cooling off before beginning my final ascent of the South Rim.
And so like the West does so often, the South Rim began to repel me. I struggled and as each successive mile past, my pace became slower and slower. As I ascended the altitude and heat began to team up to induce terrible suffering. I seemed okay until the last three miles. Maybe it’s just because I knew I was close to the top but I was really suffering and just trying to get to the top. By this time there are hundred of day hiker tourists. Their numbers increased as I got closer to the top. I tried not to cause alarm or distress by my appearance and so I would smile and wish them each a good day.
At this point, the South Rim did not just chew me up and spit me out. It chewed me up, regurgitated me and fed me to her children. At last though, the South Rim allowed me to ease over her crest and there was my Dad waiting. I sure must have looked a wreck after 10 hours and 20 minutes of running, then hiking and then crawling. We took a few pictures and off we went. Now I am writing this as we drive through Arizona on our way to some unknown motel in New Mexico. I am still trying to get my body back into some semblance of fluid and electrolyte balance and it may take a few beers later tonight to accomplish that task.
The West may have repelled me this time but it will beckon once more in some future adventure and as the memory of this pain fades, I’m sure I will gullibly and arrogantly answer the call. But for now, even though, it was tough, my Grand Adventure is neither a dream nor a goal, it is a proud accomplishment.