Rim-to-Rim-(RnR)-to-Rim, September 2011

Update: In 2012 we went back and did R2R2R as a day hike. Here are some stats from that hike.

Greg and I had been discussing this adventure for a while. Once we mentioned it to Matt he immediately got excited about it and even picked a data right away. He then also recruited Jim. This hike is typically done in one of the following variations:

  1. Multi-day overnight backpacking trip
  2. Day hikes rim to rim with a night on the opposing rim
  3. Out and back within 24 hours
  4. Running, the most extreme version, with the current record right now at 6h 59min

We chose a variation of 2) by adding a RnR (Rest and Recuperation) day at the North Rim

If you’d like to skip the long winded prose jump right to the pictures.

Day 1: Sept. 15, 2011
  • Fly out from San Diego to Phoenix
  • Picked up from airport by Greg
  • Lunch at Chinese place
  • Meet up with Matt at Greg’s house and head out to Tusayan around noon
  • Arrive in Tusayan, settle into Best Western and meet Jim and Judy
  • Dinner at the Motel’s restaurant. The food was quite good actually
  • Bedtime came early since we were looking for an early start in the morning
Day 2: Sept. 16, 2011
  • Alarm goes off at 3:30 am. Transfer luggage to Judy’s car so she can take it to the North Rim for us, leave for Grand Canyon village at 4 am
  • 5 am catch first bus from Grand Canyon village to the South Kaibab trailhead.
  • 5:35 hit the trail after a quick restroom stop and studying the signs strongly discouraging anyone from hiking down and up the canyon in one day…
  • Hike in first light with head lights on. Reach Cedar Point just in time to witness the sunrise.
  • Continue down to Colorado River without any breaks other than for some photo opportunities.
  • Not too far above the river we encounter the only mule train we will see during our time in the canyon.
  • 8:28 reach the suspension bridge at the Colorado river. We took some time here to take pictures on and off the bridge and slowly worked our way over to the beach where we settled in for a break. In addition to some food we cooled our feet and knees in the river for a while.
  • At 9:46 we start hiking again after topping off our water supplies. The approx. 6.5 miles to Cottonwood campground mostly led us through a narrow canyon that provided plenty of shade. We only gained about 1400 ft elevation on this stretch and took a little 15min break along the way.
  • At Cottonwood campground we took a 20 min break (12:40 to 13:00) to fill up water, have a snack, etc.
  • The trail is getting steeper now and we each fall into our own individual hiking rhythm. At the turn off to Roaring Springs (~2.2 miles from Cottonwood) we meet up. At this point we realize that we may not be able to make it up to the trail head in time to meet Judy. We had given her an estimated arrival time of 16:30, i.e., we budgeted 11h for the hike. We decide to continue hiking at our own speeds and did not schedule another group stop before the trail head.
  • I left the turn off at 14:06 after about 14 min break and entered the most spectacular section of the trail leading us through Roaring Springs Canyon. There are large sections of trail that are blasted into the canyon walls resulting in a “shelf-trail” with some serious drop-offs. It was not easy to predict where the trail would lead since it often looked like it should dead end. The sheer walls simply looked like they could only be overcome with some serious technical climbing.
  • Once the trail had climbed passed the vertical walls of the canyon it entered a forested area. This was just as well since it started to rain as a thunderstorm moved over us. I happened to be under some large trees that provided shelter from the rain when it started and so I waited for 10min to let the worst pass. When the rain stopped I continued for a while until I waited out another shower for some 5min under some trees.
  • With the rain and clouds the temperatures dropped, but where still comfortable for hiking. Somewhere along this last stretch the hike became somewhat of a grind. This was in part due to my dropping energy levels and the deterioration of the trail which had become quite muddy. I considered stopping for some food, but none of what I had left appealed to me so I just continued. I got a second wind when I realized that I might be able to complete the hike in 11h. A nice round number and motivating goal to aim for.
  • 16:33 arrival at the trail head of the North Kaibab trail. I had made it in just a hair under 11h
  • Judy was right there offering me food and drink, but I was not ready to take anything, I just needed to rest a little. So we chatted while standing next to the car until it started to rain again at which point we moved into the car. Right about that time Matt emerged from the trail head.
  • We all settled in the car and waited for Jim & Greg. By this time I realized that I had overlooked an important detail in the preparation: I did not have a dry shirt waiting for me and I started to really get cold despite wearing my goretex shell and sitting in the car. When I actually started to shiver I decided to just take the shirt off and only wear the goretex jacket. That helped and I started to warm up a little. While we continued waiting the rain turned into hail and we felt for our fellow hikers who were still on the trail. Once they arrived we headed straight for the Kaibab Lodge some 25min north of the trailhead where we were going to stay.
  • After a hot shower we had a big dinner at the lodge’s restaurant. The focus was on protein to start recovery.
  • We went to bed early again, but this time it was because we were tired and not because we planned to get up early.
  • Kaibab Trail (South to North Rim) Stats:
    Distance hiked: ~21 miles
    Time on trail: 11h (incl. ~2.5h in breaks)
    Elevation gain: ~5800ft
Day 3: Sept. 17, 2011
  • R-n-R (Rest and Recuperation) day.
  • After sleeping in until 7am we slowly – gingerly testing our sore muscles and joints – made our way over to the restaurant of the Lodge. After breakfast, when we discussed our plan for the day, Jim announced that he had decided not to hike back and that he would join Judy.
  • We drove to the North Rim Lodge and got orientated. We also took the short walk over to Bright Angel Point. This is a very short walk on a paved path, but we were moving rather slowly unsure how much our knees and muscles could take. The views of Bright Angel Canyon, which we had hiked up the day before, were spectacular.
  • Next we went for a drive to the Cape Royal. Along the way we stopped at a couple of view points and had a big picnic lunch at the rest area along the way. I thought it would be a lunch like on the trail, but Judy surprised us with all kinds of good food and a lot of it. There were different, good cheeses, ham, salami, different kinds of bread, various fruit and homemade cookies. Another big recovery meal! When we were packing up there was plenty of food left and Judy encouraged us to take some of the food for the next day’s lunch. We had enough of our own food, but like Greg put it: “Forget about my food, I’m going to upgrade” and so we did.
  • At Cape Royal we took the short walk past Angles Window to the view point where we spent some time hanging out, enjoying the views. The North Rim has a very different feel to it than the South Rim. This is mostly due to the fact that it is much less busy than the South. I now can appreciate why everyone who had been on both sides of the canyon said they liked the North better.
  • The next stop was the Grand Canyon Lodge again where we had dinner reservations. But first we went straight for the sun deck where we were lucky enough to find some seats to enjoy wine/beer/margaritas respectively.
  • The dining room in the lodge is pretty impressive with the huge windows, high ceiling with big wooden beams and rough stone walls. Our table was at the window and we were able to witness the sunset. Great atmosphere from which the rather poor quality of the food could not distract (at least my dish was lacking taste and the presentation on the plate was reminiscent of a simple cafeteria).
  • Back in our cabin we arranged our hiking packs for the next day and again called it a night early.
Day 4: Sept. 18, 2011
  • Alarm went off at 4:30 am and we were heading towards the trail head at 5:00.
  • The temperatures at the North Rim were significantly lower than on the South Rim. The car thermometer was showing 36F and there was some frost on the windshield of the car when we left. Accordingly we started the hike with gloves
  • 5:33. We again started the hike with the head lights on. Our pace was rather slow since we wanted to ease into the downhill hiking without stressing our knees too much. We were just not sure how well they had recovered. Once we made it to Bright Angel Canyon though, we started to get back into our normal pace. We were all feeling surprisingly good considering the circumstances.
  • At Cottonwood campground we took a 15min break to have some snacks and I replaced the water in my water bladder since it somehow had started to taste funny.
  • About a mile past the campground we took a little detour to check out Ribbon Falls. The steep walls of this small canyon which kept the sun out combined with the spray from the falling water made this a very refreshing place and a welcome diversion from the sunny trail where we started to feel the mid-days heat. Looking at my GPS tracks it appears that this detour added maybe 25 min to our time on the trail. We approached the falls from the eastern side via a bridge over Bright Angel Creek. Rather than doubling back and using the bridge again on the way out we went for the direct route back to the trail which meant that we had to cross the rather wide creek. Once we found a spot that appeared suitable Matt “danced” his way across the rocks in no time showing off some impressive balance in the process. Greg opted for the support of his hiking poles, but also used the rocks. It all looked too precarious to me and so I took my shoes off and simply walked straight across using the poles for balance.
  • Back on the main trail we cruised down to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado river where we arrived around 11:40.
  • At this point we had build up a bit of an appetite and thought our feet deserved some rest. We found a spot at the Creek and had our (upgraded) lunch while cooling our feet in the cold water.
  • At about 12:40 we were done with lunch and topping of the water supply and ready to tackle Bright Angle trail.
  • After crossing the bridge over the Colorado the trail turns west and stays in the main canyon for a while. This “shelf trail” was sandy and made us go up and down more than we wanted to. It finally turns into Indian Garden Creek canyon and leads away from the river.
  • At around 13:20 we entered the narrow side canyon and immediately were hit by some very intense heat. Here we encountered the highest temperatures of the weekend with the air stagnant and the dark rocks radiating. We used any opportunity to soak our hats in the trickling creek only to have them dry in mere minutes.
  • This was also the busiest trail of the whole trip with traffic in either direction.
  • At 14:38 I reached Indian Garden. A pleasant oasis with big trees and benches in the shade around the water faucet. A perfect place to rest which we did for about 25min
  • Like on the ascent on the north side we each fell into our own speeds again and hiked by ourselves from here on. Matt took off first. Greg and I followed a few minutes after him.
  • After a short stretch in the sun the trail gets into the narrow portion of the trail and the bulk of the ascent was in cool shade. The top portion of the trial was quite congested since a popular activity for South Rim visitors is to walk down the trail a little bit. There is also a nice day hike (12miles) from the Rim to Plateau Point.
  • At 16:47 I reached the trail head where Jim was waiting with his camera ready to take pictures of us as we crossed the finish line
  • Matt and then Greg arrived a little while later and we all celebrated our accomplishment. Jim & Judy surprised us with very nice Rim-to-Rim pins!
  • After transferring bags between Judy’s car and our ride we changed into clean cloth and got on the road towards Phoenix. A long the way we stopped in Flagstaff for a quick visit of Bun Huggers for some big burgers and beer. The drive to Phoenix got long and Matt & I kept each other awake with some conversation while Greg snoozed in the back.
  • 22:30 arrival at Greg’s house
  • North Kaibab and Bright Angel Trail Stats:
    Distance hiked: ~24 miles
    Time on trail: 11h 15m (incl. ~1h 40m in breaks)
    Elevation gain: ~4400ft
Day 5: Sept. 19, 2011
  • 5:30, another early rise.
  • ~6:20 dropped off at the airport for the flight home
  • Another great adventure with good friends comes to an end and while we are still digesting the magnitude of this one we are already thinking about what to tackle next
(click on any picture to enlarge/start slide show)

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