It’s 2:30am; my alarm’s gone off although I’ve had no sleep because I’m super excited to be going on an adventure I’ve been dreaming of for years. Today I’m going to be running the famed Rim to Rim to Rim; an epic adventure in the Grand Canyon, Arizona. The Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) is a 48 mile trek with an elevation change of 22,000 feet, out of the 11,000 feet of ascending 7 miles of this is set on a calf burning 20-30% gradient. This is no regular run or hike and I’m not taking this challenge lightly; temperatures throughout the hike could be as low as 30f to a high of 100f (-1c to 38c). There’s also limited water along the route and extremely exposed switchbacks with sheer cliff drop offs which I didn’t fancy tripping over on the technical terrain or meet an excitable rattlesnake or other wild animal, all in this uniquely isolated location.
Of the 6 million people who visit the Grand Canyon only 1% venture below the rim, and only a fraction of those cross the full canyon to do the rim to rim, and an even smaller group turn back around and do it ALL again – R2R2R. After a quad busting descent try to visualise climbing up the Eiffel Tower in Paris 5.5 times, or the Empire State Building 3.6 times or going up Big Ben 17.5 times and now you’re only halfway having tackled 24 miles of technical & rugged single track. Starting at an elevation of 7,000 feet (2,133m) at the South Rim can already be a critical point for most as we don’t tend to live at such high elevations.
As the trek was going to be unsupported I’d set up my Spot tracker to enable loved ones at home to keep a mindful eye on my progress and made sure they were aware I would potentially be out of contact until I was well clear of the South Rim again. There was pretty much zero cell service in the canyon but I did manage to find enough service to send Dion a quick message from the North Rim, I guess we were back out of the canyon to start pinging again. I’d switched my phone to airplane mode throughout in any case to save battery for the multitudes of photos and video to be taken and I still managed to run the battery down to 5%! There were a lot of photos and videos taken, every corner I took I found myself whipping my phone out yet again.
My friend, Amanda and I had planned our trip for the 1st April and that’s no April Fools! We wanted to do it before the temperatures get too high but then you have the risk of ice and snow, particularly at the North Rim, and it was only a week prior that snow fell again! However temperatures had been rising quickly and we had only a couple of icy sections on the south rim (which Amanda managed to find and fall promptly onto her bum, twice!) and a small amount of snow on the north rim to navigate.
I’d been researching the National Parks website to figure out where the minimal water options were to refill so I carried 3.5L fluid capacity in my Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L (with added Pickle Juice shots x4), I refilled at every opportunity as it was a hot day. I topped up at Phantom Ranch (10 miles) and Manzanita (+8 miles) on the way to the North Rim and had to conserve water until we got back to Manzanita on the return (+11 miles return trip) which was a long, hard stretch with no water option, and again at Phantom Ranch (+8 miles), Indian Gardens (+5 miles) and on the 3 mile rest stop before hitting the South Rim again. I filtered my water in a Katadyn which worked really well to disperse water into my other vessels already filtered and ready to drink.
The entire canyon is simply stunning and I must have said the words ‘wow’, ‘awesome’ and ‘beautiful’ hundreds of times during the day, it was like my vocabulary had been reduced to 3 words as the impressiveness of it all just left me speechless. But nothing compares to reaching the ultimate bottom of the canyon where the mighty Colorado river flows through the canyon. The sight of bright turquoise water raging through the canyon walls with all its varying degrees of colours is a sight to behold and we couldn’t resist the small detour off the trail to sit on the sandy shore of Pipe Creek beach. As we left the beach we could see the Silver Kaibab Suspension bridge that we would cross to get across the 440ft wide river. We did the return crossing in the dark which added a totally different eerie feeling of hearing this mass of bubbling water rushing below us in the pitch darkness.
I was sweating outing massive quantities of salt, I sweat heavily even in the cold so with the heat in the canyon combined with the physical exertion my clothing and skin was clearly showing white salt marks. I savoured my shots of Pickle Juice which not only tasted great but also replaced lost electrolytes along with adding sports drink sachets (Active Root & Torq) to my smaller flask of water and salt tablets.
I had my own selection of food to keep my energy levels up, including a few treats like a donut (actually 2!) and a savoury pastry but had hoped to be able to treat myself at the Phantom Ranch canteen but we missed the limited opening times so I guess I’m going to have to go back to try the infamous lemonade! Even with the variety of food I’d brought along I was craving everything but what I had. Then a miracle occurred at about 6pm on our return journey about 2 miles out of Phantom Ranch. There, on a large rock beside the trail were 2 perfectly wrapped McDonalds cheeseburgers in a ziplock bag! At first I thought I was hallucinating but we have the photo and the rubbish to prove otherwise. Yes we ate them! And they tasted obscenely good. It’s a mystery as to how or why they were there, it must have been an unlucky forgetfulness from another hiker as it’s against the park rules to leave food out because of the wild animals. We will never know how or why they came to be, but they were certainly a great morale and energy boost.
No one can get you out of the canyon but yourself; there are no shortcuts, no cable cars and this can be soul crushing. But one foot in front of the other and through my own strength and determination I found something within me, something that surpasses the discomfort and the challenge and whilst it brings me to my knees it also makes me grow. In Amanda’s words this was the hardest thing she has ever done in her life!
Words can’t describe the feeling of the sheer natural beauty of the Grand Canyon, every corner you take opens up to more beauty. The vastness of the canyon is overwhelming, it’s a mile deep, 277 miles long and 18 miles wide totalling a whopping 1,904 square miles in total! The look of the canyon changes throughout the day as the sun moves and the light transforms one scene into another with the coloured stratified layers of rock towering high above you and the bright green of the raging Colorado river cuts through the canyon like a knife. Darkness brings its own beauty, with no light pollution certified as a ‘Dark Sky Park’ without your lights on we couldn’t see our hands 1 foot away from our face (luckily I lit the trails up with my Kogalla light!), but the night sky, what a sight! A cascade of luminous stars and planets spread above you with the moon shining so bright like a beacon to follow. If the vast expanse of the canyon didn’t already make you feel small then the night sky will, there’s no way to grasp the size of what you see. It is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World after all and I can see why.
My packing list:
*UD Fastpack 20L
*1L katadyn water filter
*500ml UD softflask
*Foil emergency blanket
*Mini first aid kit
*Pickle juice shots x 4
*Kogalla and Led Lenser lights
*UD waterproof jacket & trousers
*Active Root sachets x 3
*Torq sachet x 1
*Dog poop bags for rubbish
*ND:R Sunglasses & Hat
*Leggings with IAB shorts underneath
*Long Sleeve top with vest top over the top