Monday, April 26, 2010

Grand Canyon R2R2R

This past weekend I took part in what is on many ultra runners “Bucket list” of runs to do, The Grand Canyon R2R2R.

I went with James Barstad who organized the trip. James has done the R2R2R 3 times. He handled all the camping reservations and overall logistics. This made all the difference and took away a lot of the stress of doing a run like this for the 1st time. THANK YOU JAMES!!

There were 15 runners in all on the trip. Most carpooled up together, I elected to fly. The weather prior to the run was uncommonly cold and wet like the weather we have had in Sacramento. The South Rim where we were camping and starting from had been receiving intermittent snow. The day before I arrived the group had freezing temps in the teens and snow.

I arrived Friday around 5pm to temp’s in the 30’s with a light wind which made it colder, thank god for down jackets. James took me to scout the Bright Angel Trail where we would be finishing. This would give me a chance to see just how bad my “issues” with heights would be tested the following day. The picture in my previous post was taken at the TH. From there you can see down pretty well. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, regardless I was ready to give a go.

R2R2R or thereabouts

The plan was for a 5am start at the South Kaibab TH. We would then follow the trail to Phantom Ranch. From there we planned a side trip to Ribbon Falls, then on to the North Rim TH. The return trip would be up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim and done.

Due to recent injury, lack of running and the need for a vacation I decided I would only do Ribbon Falls, (30ish miles). Others were already doing this also.

The morning came quick and we headed out a little behind schedule at 5:40am. James’s sister and nephew drove us out so a car was not left at the TH.

I really like the South Kaibab Trail great views and great trail. Right from the start it was straight down. We stopped often to take pictures. So far no real height issues, but I did hug the sides a bit in a few spots.

Later after having gone up Bright Angel Trail I can say I like South Kaibab more than Bright Angel Trail. The views in my opinion are much better on South Kaibab. I could tell on the trip down I hadn’t run much, the legs and hips were stiff. My injury area was stiff, but no real pain.

On to Phantom Ranch with a short stop to top off water, etc. The temperatures were very cool. I had stripped my long sleeve off but could have left it on.

We continued onto the North Kaibab Trail. The going was good and we were all together talking and taking photos. I found out later what felt like a flat/rolling trail to Ribbon falls actually climbs 1000ft in 5.6 miles. It’s never flat on this run. The creek we followed up the canyon to the Falls was roaring the whole time.

Ribbon Falls

This place is magical, you see it from the main trail, but up close, WOW. Once inside the Falls enclave the temps drop 10degs and air becomes moist. I would highly recommend visiting this place if you come to the Grand Canyon.

After a lot of photos and video we headed back out. At this point we had been on the trail for approx 4.5hrs give or take.

On the return to Phantom Ranch I felt the best I had all day. I had some GI issues that finally cleared up at the Falls. The trail pulls you downhill, but no too much so your can run normally without effort.

I left my fellow runners telling them I would wait for them at Phantom Ranch. I ran a relaxed yet quick pace which felt good. I could tell my body was remembering what it felt like to run.


The group came back together soon after I arrived at Phantom Ranch. After a great siesta and the ubiquitous Phantom Ranch Lemonade (YUM) we headed out. The weather was still great, maybe 80 deg with a light wind. Sitting at Phantom Ranch I got a little cold.

The bridge crossing we did next was probably the first real heights issue I had so far. Your up high over a churning Colorado River on this swaying galvanized steel bridge where some of the grates move and are loose, nice.

After the bridge I began the ascent up Bright Angel Trail at my own pace. My plan was to run/hike my own pace to see what I had in me. As I had done all day I was taking a butt load of photos, the terrain just begs for it.

My Garmin later told me the told ascent was just under 10 miles, but the maps say its 7.7 miles from the river where I started recording.

From the bridge to Indian Garden I ran more than I thought I could. The erosion controls and switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail really start to bug you after a while. If you’ve done Mt. Whitney the 99 switchbacks are cake in comparison. I was wishing for an iPod a few times going up.

Near the top I could tell I was a bit off my water/salt, a cramp hit and slowed me for a bit, but I was able to shake it off eventually.

The Bright Angel Trail is very popular a few miles out from the top I was seeing a lot of people on trail. It was especially funny to see people at mile 2 using their cell phones on the trail. I even passed a guy playing a video game on his iPhone, so much for enjoying the great outdoors.

Once I was up top James’s family were waiting to ferry runners back to camp. With all the uphill I declined a ride so I could run some flat terrain to shake out the legs. Once back in camp the $2 shower was heaven.

Later when the R2R2R group returned they said the North Rim was awesome. Sounds like the R2R2R is on for 2011.

On the way home I had time to kill in Flagstaff.  I hung out in Flagstaff's historic downtown, my kind of place.  They have gear shops and lots of great food and drink places.  Check out my reward for the trip, that's right, a whole lot of cheese and bread:

and of course a margarita

Personal observations:

We got lucky with the weather, had it been normal temps, ouch much harder day. Make sure you have what you need.

If your going to do this try to go with someone who knows the trail or has done the R2R2R before. James’s info and planning made the trip a lot less stressful.

Treat the route as you would any big event, train for it. I didn’t do the whole thing, but it still hurt the next day. I heard people who did the whole route say it was harder than Miwok 100K.

This was a great trip, made even better by the great people I was able to hang out with. Make sure you have fun if you attempt a R2R2R. I want to do a R2R2R, but even 30+ miles in the Grand Canyon was an epic.

Here are some photos, I uploaded them backwards so go to the end to see them in chrono order:

Photos at Flickr



  1. Those pictures are great!! I love the bridge photos! Man it is so beautiful there. I need to take Vans there some day although he'll never leave with all the photography options! :-)

    The margarita looks darn good too!

  2. TM -

    Yeah I'm thinking you need to do this trip. The margi was good but the cheese just nailed it.


  3. That looks like a great run! I have only done a quick drive by of the GCanyon, I'd love to go down into some day. I like the pics of you in front of the dizzy signs.