When 3 friends, Dianette, Alex and Ruben, asked if I wanted to run from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim and then back to the North Rim, a total of 42 miles with over 10,000 feet of ascent and descent, how could I refuse?
Our adventure started on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon a little after 1 in the morning (not sure who picked that awesome start time). Temperatures were in the 20′s, and wow it was cold! We started the 6,000 ft, 7 mile descent on the North Kaibab Trail. We decided to walk most of the descent as it was quite steep and visibility was only fair with our headlamps. Initially there were large puddles of mule piss we were trying to avoid, which soon switched to big drop-offs on one side the trail. The skies were gorgeous and the Canyon walls glowed in the moonlight. I was surprised at the number of other hikers/runners we saw on the trail during the wee hours of the morning. I guess there are a lot of other crazies out there!
We were moving along pretty well, but once it was about 3 in the morning all I could think of was how much I wanted to go to sleep, or just to lay down on the side of the trail and look up at the stars. I plodded on, but I don’t feel like I was moving very fast at all. This was the hardest part of the journey for me, I knew once the sun came up it would be fine, but the fatigue in the dark was overpowering.
We conquered the 6,000 ft descent and after reaching Cottonwood Campground the trail flattened out for about another 7 miles to Phantom Ranch. It was still dark, but because the trail was a little flatter we were able to run parts of this section. We arrived at Phantom Ranch just as the sun was coming up. Campers were starting to get up and start on hikes of their own. We refueled with water and lots and lots of snacks.
Just after Phantom Ranch there is a trail junction to take either the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail up to the South Rim. We chose to take the South Kaibab Trail, which is a steeper climb, but a shorter trail so it would take a few miles off the total distance.
It was just over 7 miles and 4,000 ft of climb to the South Rim, and Dianette and I took off. We powered up the climb, passing by lots of people coming in the opposite direction. We did get some funny looks when people found out we had come from the North Rim as the sun had just come up.
It was a great feeling to arrive at the South Rim. It was a delusional thought, but it felt like the hardest part of the day was over. Dianette and I took our time refueling, and enjoying the views. Our legs started to tighten up, so we started the journey back across the Canyon. We ran into the guys, Alex and Ruben, still making there way up as we descended. We ran most of the 7 miles back down to Phantom Ranch. It was a steep descent and there were points that it felt like my quads were about to explode, and I questioned how they were going to take me up the 6,000 ft climb to the North Rim. I got distracted by the colors of the Canyon starting to pop in the sunlight, the view was incredible.
Back down at Phantom Ranch the temperatures started to rise, but I doubt that it got much hotter than 80 degrees. We did spot a sign that said something to the effect of “Tired, sore, feet,…stick them in the river.” Yes please! Sticking my feet in the freezing cold water of the Colorado River felt amazing. The water seemed to revive my whole body. Next we made a stop at Phantom Ranch and stepped into the famous little store at the base of the Grand Canyon. I bought a lemonade, and that lemonade was the best thing I had tasted in a while. The combination of the cold river water and the lemonade made it feel like the day was just starting.
Dianette and I ran the next 7 miles back to the Cottonwood Campgound. The trail was relatively flat and passed through the canyons, next to Bright Angel Creek. We arrived at Cottonwood again, which marked 7 miles to the finish. Our goal was to finish during the daylight and we were right on track. We powered up that 6,000 ft climb, motivated by the finish in our grasp. The altitude (rising above 8,000 ft) did not seem to bother me, and before we knew it we were done! It felt great.
We knew the guys were a ways behind us so we drove to the North Rim Lodge and had a bite to eat. We then made our way back to the trail head to wait for the guys. Temperatures started to drop quickly as the sun went down, and soon enough we were fighting hypothermia with emergency blankets. I don’t think I have ever been that cold, and we both felt like we were losing our minds. I started to worry about our safety, but we knew we couldn’t leave the guys as they would be hurting as well. Six hours later Alex and Ruben came stumbling up the hill. There was no talking allowed as we drove the 20 miles back to the hotel…not exactly how we anticipated finishing the day.
The next day after we had thawed out and hypothermia was just a distant memory, we reflected on the amazing adventure we had completed the previous day. There was even talk of next time…but not after a quick recovery trip to Vegas. Highly recommended!