Rim to Rim to Shuttle - Journey across the Grand Canyon via Kaibab Trail

Some things you just do.  You don't think about them.  You don't plan in detail.  You don't obsess over the facts, you just do.

Because if you pause, your fear will take over and you will not do.  You will just tremble and shake.  You won't even have the energy to start.

This is the internal dialog within myself regarding my epic adventure spurred by an invite to join Shawn's celebratory birthday trail run to attempt the infamous Rim2Rim2Rim.  (video at the end if you don't like to read)

Hikers will take 3-6 days sometimes to attempt this craziness.  But ultra-runners?  Yeah, insane individuals who only pack the necessities and say to themselves or to their running party;  "why not do R2R2R all in one shot?"

Hell, even doing R2R is crazy to the majority of hikers.  But back to me...  It's my blog so this is my story. 

I'm afraid of heights.  Seriously.  I have a natural aversion to the horrific idea of falling.  So horrific it can become a paralyzing fear.  I'm no daredevil.  But I've found a passion in my life which makes me challenge my greatest fear more than I would like.

I had been to the Grand Canyon once before.  To look from above.  The day I visited was one of those rare days where the canyon was filled with clouds.  A once in a lifetime view that I was fortunate to see with my eyes.  Rangers who work the park for years and years never see what I saw that day.

But what I didn't see was the canyon floor.   I didn't know that day, that it was to my benefit not to have the memory of the crazy dizzying height of the canyon's edge some 1 mile above the Colorado River below. 

So it was good we started in the dark.  Despite the darkness, I knew in my heart what lay just inches from each step.  Dizzying heights, which would kill me if I made a mistake.

...and my fears aren't misplaced.   People damned near die attempting the R2R2R or even the R2R.  Hell, people die just from hiking into the canyon's floor annually.  
...an average of 12 people die there annually, according to park statistics. Much of the time this is attributed to medical issues, fatal falls, drowning, and heat exposure. Using data from Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myer’s encyclopedic account of canyon fatalities, “Over the Edge,” more people have died because of heat exposure and the environment in May, June, July and August. -source link: 7 of the most deadliest hikes in America-
At the back of the car, we do a gear check because this is serious.  Our packs are full of calories.  Collectively we have over 8,000 calories.   We're each carrying 10+ pounds in Salomon 12 set packs.  Known for their light weight and miraculous carrying capacity.

We have to be careful and we have to be thorough.  This is serious.  Unlike a normal planned sponsored run, we have to be self sufficient.   And that's what makes this journey even more serious. 

We have rain gear.  Hiking Poles.  Moderate cool / cold gear.  Gloves.  Water filter.  I have two jackets, a medical kit, emergency blanket, the ability to make fire, and signaling items.

Check, check, and check.  We make one quick observation of the temperature, which is quite, ...warm. 

A park security worker, is kind enough to drive us over to our start, as we park at where we "planned" to return up the south rim via the Bright Angel Trail (the easiest of the two southern descent trails).

Moments later we're running down South Kaibab Trail from the top of the Grand Canyon from the Kaibab Rim Trail at 2 am.  We're carrying speed as if we're on a mission.

About half way down I'm sure the stirring in my stomach and impromptu bathroom stop isn't just from the pre-run fueling, but a result of knowing the reason my light doesn't reflect off anything when I look into the canyon is because the floor is so far down.

It's pitch fucking black looking into the canyon.  Yet the top of the walls are outlined by the partial moon illuminating the night sky.

Oh so beautiful in a scary ass creepy you gonna fall your skinny ass off the canyon walls kinda way.  

We're careful on our decent, but we know time is precious.  It is also HOT!  We're loosing water via sweat like crazy.  We planned on a mid 40's morning but it is more like 60 degrees and it gets hotter the further we descend.  But we have to get to water at the valley floor, some 7 miles out. 

I'm excited, but nervous.

We make excellent time on our descent despite the darkness.  We got to see the flowers that only open at night.  Another item many tourist will never see.

We pass places with names of Cedar Point, Ooh aah Point (common reaction, but it's dark and I can't see shit beyond a few feet in front of me on the ground),  Skeleton Point (didn't want to see anything here), and through a freaking cave with bats!

As we cross the first of many bridges across the mighty Colorado River after leaving Phantom Ranch, the sun begins its rise in the eastern sky.  Casting a fascinating glow across the rims that now surround us.

We're resourceful and refill our water rations often and drink plenty from the Colorado itself.  Another thing many visitors to the canyon will never experience.

The beauty of the canyon walls is simply indescribable.
adjective: indescribable
too unusual, extreme, or indefinite to be adequately described.
To try would be an injustice to what our eyes beheld as the sun rose above the rim to expose nature in its rawness.

I found myself many times paralyzed not in fear but in sheer awe.  Having to run at a great clip just to make pace and catch up to Shawn.

The few people who venture down South Kaibab or Bright Angel to Phantom Ranch, don't venture beyond on the canyon floor across the 7-10 miles before the accent up the North Kaibab Trail.  So we have become a part of an even rarer group.  Especially to see this part of canyon at the time we are here.

Most hikers begin their journey around 4 if they are early.  Most common time to start is 5 to 5:30 at the rim edges.

In fact we only see four other souls for hours.  It isn't until around 7 am when we begin to see others who have set out to trek or hike into the canyon floor to camp at either Phantom Ranch or Cottonwood where we chat with a couple of others as we fill up water reserves.  We only come across one other group of five who have set out to do the extreme of attempting the R2R2R sometime later beyond a mystical tunnel.

Despite it's splendor, with heat comes danger.   And we know it.  The canyon floor is HOT!  It's not even 8 am and we know we are in for an extremely warm day.  We make it to the north side climb before 9, but the temperature is already in the low 80s.

Fortunately we're both experienced and we know how to take care of ourselves and our bodies.  The heat is having impacts on muscle fatigue, but we know how to fight back.  We take frequent breaks where we can to shield us from the blistering heat of the sun.  See the north trail is totally exposed.

We hope the growing clouds in the morning sky will move south and shield us.  But we also know the growing clouds could mean thunderstorms later which is equally bad.

The north trail has extreme drops.  Constant switch backs.  Several sections where the earth has decided to reclaim territory and declare, pass at your own risk.  I'm able to overcome my fear by focusing solely on the task at hand.  One foot in front of the other.  What is going on to the side of the trail, mere inches from my foot is of no concern to me (is what I tell myself).

Besides, no need to worry about falling as long as I don't fall.  Plus, the fall wont kill me.  Bouncing off the cliff wall a time or two will do some serious harm long before the solid thud at the conclusion.  Right?

Also, the sheer beauty of the environment is so alluring  it is easy to push aside those fears when they attempt to take over and seize me up.

Observe the trail running along the canyon wall to the right.  That's the North Kaibab Trail wrapping around to the right and descending into the canyon floor, where we came.

We keep hearing about a tunnel, which will indicate the next watering hole.   I lie to myself and my eyes play along and focus on a distant rock that appears to be a tunnel!  I know it ain't no damned tunnel, but damned it's hot and we need to keep moving.  Keep climbing!  Oh Baby!, I exclaim.

I'm talking aloud, and I'm walking / running with my dark dog.  I'm at that place where ultra-runners go.  Tuning out the extremes.  Communicating with my body, yet ignoring the protest to stop the extreme climbing!

My legs are talking to me.  They aren't in bad shape, but they know something is going on and they don't like it.  I ignore them and push forward.

Shawn shows his hiking and climbing strength as he charges forward, making ease of the lower 2/3s of the North Kaibab Trail until we reach the watering hole beyond the tunnel we kept hearing about for what seemed like days.

It's here Shawn is done.  I'm done.  Our spirits are high.  But I'm also stubborn and now want this over and in full ultra mode.

The ascent up the north rim is relentless.  It's never ending, until it does.  But before it ends, we're greeted with a beautiful fair adieu at Coconino Observation Point.

Words fail me.  But words have failed me since the dawn sun of this lifetime experience.  It's here where we know our return across the canyon floor is not to occur today.  We've been stripped bare from the heat.  To attempt a return across the canyon floor would be stupid.

So we head up the final 2/3's of a mile to the North Rim's top.  Before you think the journey is over, no sooner than we get about 1/8th of a mile from the point, the heavens open up and we're in down pour with thunder and lightening.  This is the final nail in the coffin for me mentally.  If I thought I could make the return trip, I don't any more.

Cue rain clouds.  Five minutes to thunder.  10 to Lightening.  Ready to scare the heck out of the lil guy.  And yes those are mules with people descending on a tour as this storm comes in.

Hell there are sections of the North Kaibab Trail I didn't enjoy dry.  No way in HELL am I going back on it wet!  Hell to da nawl!  Fuck that!  I'm good.  I ain't got nothing to prove.  No need to being in the headlines "Skinny black dude falls to death at the Grand Canyon this weekend."

Nope!  Not doing it.  Not today.  

We accomplished something few people on the entire earth do.  Fewer than even visit the damned canyon.  Fewer than those who visit the canyon floor.  Rim to Rim via the Kaibab trail in one freaking day!

One one freaking day!

On top of all these fewer than feats, we're minorities too!  I'm better than good son.  I'm done. 

We're out!

Shuttle to the rescue!  Don't give a damned how much that shuttle costs, I'm going to be on it.  And if we couldn't make the shuttle back to the south rim, somebody in this byotch was going to drive us!  Promise that.  😆

At the top, kind hikers we meet on the climb (you can see them in the video) drove us three miles to the lodge where we secured a shuttle back to the southern rim.  We ate the best pizza you can ever eat in the world when you're hungry as hell!

The shuttle ride back was just as epic.  We got to see wild buffalo take over the road in protest to the humans who though we ran ish.  And we got to make new found friends from the beautiful state of California who spent a full three days in the canyon.  I see y'all!

We went.  We saw.  We got beat down by the elements.  We still had an adventure of a lifetime.  And we departed in good spirits, good health, and safely.

Will I go back?  Will I attempt to grab the rare R2R2R honor?  I don't know.  I have to grow more as a runner.  And plus, to succeed at R2R2R you have to have more than skill and experience on your side.  You have to have some luck and mother nature has to bless the journey to allow you to pass.

For my running peeps out there who may be considering such an adventure in one try, be prepared physically.  I had several flashbacks to my 100 miler and 100K runs.  Over 5K of vertical gain in 22 miles, with sections where you will climb a mile within a mile ain't no freaking joke.  The only place you have some reprieve from climbing is the valley floor.

And if you have to ask about the descent being easy...  Run downhill for seven miles and tell me how your quads feel first. 

For now, I'm so very grateful and thankful my eyes have seen what they have seen and I was invited to join in the adventure.  This was a trail experience of a life time.  Seems like a dream of another individual and I was taken on the ride through their eyes.  Simply an epic day.

Truly a blessing, including that shuttle.  Man can you imaging if we didn't secure a shuttle back?!?  This story would have a totally different twist!  LOL!

Y'all be good.  Remember, Do You, and take chances and risks from time to time.  Like my pinned tweet says "Reach beyond your fears, push past your limits."

Your dreams and goals should occasionally scare the shit out of you.   Not like a full shit.  But a slight OMG situation. Forget what I'm trying to say and enjoy the video. 

9/21/18 Update: We've decided we will return. Same weekend. Same challenge. We will return. We will seek the coveted R2R2R. We will come better prepared.  Better trained.  Wiser from this probationary initiation.  We bringing more water.  We bringing more people.  

We just pray the protector of the canyon grants us safe uneventful beautiful weather passage.

1 comment:

  1. I share your fear of heights. When I did R2R2R, I struggled on that open cliff face on the way up and on the way back down (I somehow forgot about it during the rest at the top of the north rim).

    I really enjoyed the read. Welcome to the club!


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