Here’s a good one if you’re a fan of the long day– start at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, run nine-plus miles down to the Colorado River and ascend some 14 miles up the other side to the North Rim, and then come back.
What’s it all about? Well, it depends on your perspective. A seasoned mountain runner might say it’s no big deal, that it’s really just two big hills. True, I suppose. At its most basic level that may be an accurate description, but that’s really a bit oversimplified. Put in a different, slightly more sensational tone, it’s running a double traverse of the Grand Canyon, which to the uninitiated might sound downright crazy.
Well to Christy and me, the Rim to Rim to Rim, or R2R2R as it’s written, falls somewhere in between those two descriptions. It’s not quite crazy because, depending on how you go, it’s between 40 and 50 miles in length and nowadays that qualifies as a typical “long day” for some. But it’s also much more than just “two big hills” because there’s nothing hilly about gaining 11-12 thousand vertical feet in a day, and when combined with the mileage and hazard potential of the desert environment, it needs to be taken a bit more seriously.
Which is a good segue to our day.
A few months back, while putting together a fall climbing/road trip to Joshua Tree, CA and Red Rocks NV, Christy and I thought it might be fun to break up the drive by stopping at the Grand Canyon and running the R2R2R on the way. Just a casual scoot across and back. Easy, right?
Although we’re used to taking on sizable challenges here and there, we showed up particularly flat-footed for this one. Our somewhat cavalier attitude towards running it– that we could just do it off-the-couch, after spending our fall exclusively running flat miles– resulted in a little bit of suffering out there. To be completely honest, it was really tough.
Excuses aside, and we came up with quite a few by the time it was all over, the R2R2R is a really big day– it took us 14 hours to complete the 47 mile course. And even though there were never plans to go fast, our assumption that we could finish feeling good and in a reasonable time, having done no real specific training, was a little short-sighted. As nightfall approached on the return trip up Bright Angel, and we were out of food and bonking with more than a few miles to go, well, without going into the details of the conversations, I’ll just say our enthusiasm for the goal had worn thin. You can read between the lines there if you like.
As a testimony to the day though, even after our flailing finish, it only took a few hours before talk of returning next year for redemption began. It’s interesting how the mind works.
For the curious readers out there, check out Andrew Skurka’s website for helpful info on some of the logistical considerations. And if the R2R2R sounds like more of an undertaking than you like, consider the one-way Rim to Rim as an alternative. Either way, the one-way or round-trip is well worth the effort. Apart from the obvious selling point of seeing the Grand Canyon in this fashion, it might be the most official, unofficial ultra-distance event out there. I can’t think of another trail/course that is so revered and participated, yet has no associated event or organizer. Much like a mountaineer’s to-do list of classic peaks, if you ask anyone who has been running trails for a while about the R2R or R2R2R, if they haven’t already run it, they’ll likely be hoping to someday.
Cue the photos.
Next year, sub 12! Who’s in?
Man…THIS is cool. I’m not a long distance runner, but seeing the park like this looks fantastic. I’m in for the “sub 12”. That’s one way, right?!
Ahhhh, nothing like a lazy river trip.
Christy must have redone her ‘do… the shrimps are lookin’ good:) congrats, you crazy kids! nicely done!
Awesome run, and fun pictures. #1 sure looks like a looooong way down.
Aside from the fact that you’re in the Grand Canyon (!) that trail itself looks really great. I love rocky trails like that along canyons, i.e. Moab, Fruita.
Some day. Spring or fall. With a water filter and a good partner.
Nice Call Fry! I did, in fact, “redo” the shrimps during the run. Was feeling very good about the move, funny that you picked up on that. Only a true Pacer/BFF would know that jedi secret!
Joel- You can do the one way so long as you don’t let us into the car you shuttled to the North Rim, even if we beg. We both admitted a willingness to call it good after the one-way, if it was possible.
KP- if we had three weeks and a permit(and everything else), you’re right, it would have been much more fun to float and drink beer for 3 weeks.
Jen- Let’s talk. After going through the pics we can’t wait to get back.
Amazing. I did this trip in the spring and that north rim was closed – as the kiosk was still buried in snow. Your shots are incredible and brought back excellent memories of that wonderful place and run.
This is something I’ve been wanting to do since going one way across the park a few summers ago. It takes like 5 hrs to DRIVE from rim-to-rim, so running back is probably the easier way to do it, anyways! If you guys go back and do this in 2011, keep me in mind!
mtnrunner2- the trail is really well established, though it’s kind of tough at times with all the log steps in the steeper parts.
George- Thanks. Next time we go South Kaibab and take it more seriously(faster). I can’t believe I read Dave Mackey did it in 6:59- that’s nuts.
Jake- Sure. It’s definitely hard to make the one-way practical w/o support. Ricky Gates told us he had a backpack dropped off at the N. Rim and camped after running the South-to-North, and then walked(backpacked) back to South Rim the next day(he missed the unofficial 3:08 one-way record by a couple of minutes).
And we met some people from Flagstaff who did the one-way in two groups and in opposite direction, driving each others cars home so there’s no shuttle needed. Not a bad idea if you can coordinate it.
Great trip. I have to say I’ve always been partial to a good Kaibab. The best one I can remember was in Glasgow after about 4 hours in the famous Horseshoe Bar.
Very interested in this as I was on the river again in mid October. NPS has discouraged organized ultra races here but there are many who would like to stage something. The Canyon ALWAYS surprises people with its size and the vert. which is must more than, say, the Grand Traverse. Any interest from you two and Jen in a Salmon River adventure next summer? Tim M. would be up for it. Hugs. Rod
Rod- Good to hear from you. It’s an impressive place for sure and no wonder you’ve spent so much time there. As for interest in the Salmon? Definitely.
We did R2R (north to south) a couple of years ago and paid a driver (that ran shuttles for river crews) to drive my car round for us. Split between four of us it was only $20 each more than the goddamn awful bus. For anyone wanting to do just one way that is what I would recommend. Aint nothing like seeing your car parked at the trailhead when you need it most. Another recommendation – the martinis at the South kaibab lodge were out of this world and very critical to recovery.
Oh and…it took us 6 hours one way so surely you (the fleet of foot) can do it sub 12 🙂
Awesome pics as always Ted. At least you could go “off the couch” and actually pull that one off. Amazing run and glad you are already thinking of a return visit! Enjoyed that previous Fruita footage, too.
Sure sounds like a lot of interest out there. Maybe we should organize more of a group outing next time.
I’m down like James Brown! Good luck at JFK!