Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
By: Ellen Parker
Location: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Mission: Rim to rim to rim (south/north/south)
Mileage: 44 miles.
Vertical: 10,710 ft gain/10,710 ft loss
Highest Point: North Rim 8,255 ft South Rim 7,262 ft.
On Friday, October 16, 2009 three incredible women and I embarked on a fast and furious weekend of adventure to celebrate a birthday and also to enjoy one passion we all have in common, distance running (on trail)! Krissy, Monica, Devon, and I flew to Flagstaff, Arizona, a lovely little desert town resting at 7,000 feet and drove 80 miles to the Grand Canyon. Getting to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is easy from the airport in Flagstaff. Follow signs to Route 66 northeast which turns into Highway 89 North. Follow signs to I-180 West and stay on this for about 65 miles to Highway 64 which dumps you into the entrance of the South Rim of the canyon.
The first epic of views that we got of this massive landscape was off of Desert View Drive close to the south entrance. Never having been before to this unimaginable canyon that spreads over 277 river miles, is up to 18 miles across in sections and is a vertical mile in depth, I was completely overwhelmed.
We stayed in the Grand Canyon Village at the Yavapai Lodge which is not directly on the rim but just a shuttle bus away from the canyon rim, or a .9 mile run if you’re up for it! A lot of the lodges do sit on the rim but book out far in advance. I would recommend the Bright Angel Lodge. For those who prefer to camp or don't want to spend the money on a lodge there are campgrounds. The biggest is the Mather Campground. There are general stores, a post office, banks, visitor centers, restaurants, and shuttle buses in the village to make things super simple and convenient.
Saturday morning we were up at 5:15 am, caffeinated, fed, laced up and were well on our way to the South Kaibab Trailhead. The temperature was much higher than we expected at the pre dawn hour and made our clothing choices easier. I wore shorts, a light t-shirt and a lightweight jacket to start. My shoe of choice for this run because it is trail but not too technical was the La Sportiva Fireblade. We didn’t need hats and also didn’t have to start with headlamps although we brought them for tail end of the run. We each brought about 10 hours of food eating about 200 calories per hour. We caught a shuttle bus from our lodge to the south kaibab trailhead. Our run began around 6:30am with the glow of the rising sun amongst the layers of earth, each depicting a window of geologic time, at our viewing disposal.
The Colorado River lies 7 miles and 4860 ft below the South Rim. As we were approaching the river, we bumped into 2 bighorn sheep. Their horns were big thus worthy of us waiting our turn for the trail. They moved off trail eventually and watched us pass on!
A great spot to readjust, eat, refill water, utilize the toilet or to ditch unwanted items for the return trip is at Phantom Ranch. This area has a little restaurant, campground, cabins and a ranger station too.
From Phantom Ranch the North Kaibab Trail ascends through the Bright Angel Canyon and along the Bright Angel Creek. As mid-morning came the air temperature started to rise. There was not a cloud in the sky!!
After about 10 miles the trail takes a left into the Roaring Springs Canyon. The canyon walls were massive. The picture above tries to depict the scale of these walls as the camera was at our feet!
The North Rim is about 14.2 miles from Phantom Ranch and is a 5850 ft climb. On the North Kaibab Trail there is water available at the Cottonwood Campground and at Roaring Springs. We assumed there would be water at the North Rim faucet as well. There had been a leak in a pipe so the water at the North Rim was turned off for the winter earlier than in typical years. I would recommend being aware of where water is available depending on the time of year. There are a lot of hikers and visitors on either rim of the canyon but don’t be dependent on them for a water refill. It gets HOT in the canyon.
The North Rim is 1000 feet higher than the South Rim at 8255 feet. The higher altitude affected each of us differently from swollen hands to upset stomach to super goofy but we had our fun on the North Rim and headed down quickly.
The afternoon sun was taking a toll on us (me) as we descended the Bright Angel Canyon so a perfectly refreshing break was to dunk our shirts and heads in the creek! We covered the descent soon enough and were back at Phantom Ranch to snack on some snickers bars and lemonade!
From Phantom Ranch we crossed the river via the Silver Bridge to access the Bright Angel Trail. The final climb meanders up the canyon for 8.8 miles and dumps you in the center the village. The Bright Angel Trail is the path for mules during high season. We were warned that we may be running through mule droppings but lucked out as the trail was clean!!
It was a great perspective to run along the south rim on Sunday morning for a recovery run and to know that someday we’d be back but not today!
This rim to rim to rim run was by far the best adventure I had in 2009. As a mountain runner it is a bit backwards to start a run with a 7 mile descent and end a run with a 9 mile climb. There are not many places in the world that you’ll get what you can get in a day out of a canyon of this magnitude and beauty. I feel stronger for having done it and can’t wait to go back and run it faster next time!
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