Grand Canyon - Rim to River to Rim

Discussion in 'Front Page News' started by Barefoot TJ, Nov 29, 2012.

  1. Barefoot TJ

    Barefoot TJ
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    Grand Canyon - Rim to River to Rim
    By Rick Whitelaw

    Most people have heard of the Grand Canyon, many have seen it. Some people hike it and some crazy people run it. Ok, maybe not crazy since I’d like to be one of them. Let’s just say adventurous. Crossing the Grand Canyon has become a “bucket list” item. Most Ultra runners or aspiring Ultra runners will have done, or will do, a Rim to Rim to Rim. A double crossing. Those not quite up to that level should consider a single crossing and those not up to that level should try a rim to river or multi day trek, those not up to that level should consider a short out and back. The point is, the options are numerous and so many people go to the Grand Canyon and not even go beyond the rims. I encourage everyone to go to the Grand Canyon, take your pictures on the rim, and then hike down a little, or a lot. The place is incredible. I have been lucky enough to go three times this year. The place is addicting.

    My original plan was to do a Rim to Rim (South to North) with my son, and I wanted to try it barefoot. Plans changed a little with the main factor being unable to arrange a shuttle. I just couldn’t ask my wife to drop us off (1.5 hours), drive to the N. Rim (4 hours), wait who knows how long for us, and then drive 3.5 hours back to Flagstaff. Other factors included my son having a sore back, broken toe, little conditioning, and me not being fully recovered from a marathon two weeks earlier. So I decided a Rim to River and back would be a better option. Bright Angel down and South Kaibab up.

    We got out of Flagstaff pretty early and drove to the South Rim. My son slept the whole way (teenager), the drive seemed to take forever, I was pretty excited. I decided to split the difference between the two trail heads and parked at Mather Point. I was already chewing myself out for not getting an earlier start, the sun was already up and the forecast was for 90 degrees in the bottom of the canyon. The car was reading 29 degrees earlier and after the sunrise it warmed to 34. This was good because I didn’t want to pack extra clothing. We gathered our gear and headed out. I did pack sandals as backups.

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    Mather point overlook

    Our first stop was Mather Point overlook. It was beautiful with the morning sun highlighting the canyon walls. We made our way along the Rim trail going from overlook to overlook. As we made our way east we could see our goal, Phantom Ranch, way down at the bottom of the canyon. The Rim trail is all paved and was about 2.5 miles to the Bright Angel trailhead. We used up a lot of time looking at the overlooks and hiking slowly. My son did not want to run, he had heavy hiking boots on. Finally the trail head and dirt. We made our way down Bright Angel. The conditions were really good for being barefoot. Some rocky areas on the switchbacks, but with a slow pace I could find a smooth place for each step.

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    There were a lot of people hiking. We didn't have to worry too much about downhill traffic, only a few people passed us, but the uphill traffic was slowing us down quite a bit. We had to yield to people coming up from camping in the canyon and then listen to them say how crazy I was. At some point, my son was convinced that I was just barefoot for the attention. He was getting good at some of the comebacks, joking with people. Only one slightly negative comment from a female park ranger. “Barefoot huh?” Yes. “Well good luck.” In a sarcastic tone. I understood her skepticism, these rangers have to help hundreds of people every year that get into trouble.

    We continued on, down, down, down. Indian Garden about halfway down was beautiful, a green oasis in a desert canyon. The trail was a little rocky here, but not too bad. After Indian Garden the trail followed a creek ravine. This was my favorite part of the trail. Smooth rock with pockets of sand. I even ran a little. It didn’t last long; a series of exposed switch backs called the Devil’s Corkscrew was next. It was rocky and starting to get hot. I made it through those and the river came into view. We had to stop for 15 minutes. I couldn't keep my son out of the river (teenager).

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    I was getting a little worried about the heat, so I encouraged him to continue with the reminder of lunch at Phantom ranch waiting for us. We followed the river and discovered that we missed the trail. I spotted it about 100 yards above us. Go back or scramble up the scree to the trail? We scrambled and it was a little dangerous with the loose rocks.

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    When we got on the trail, guess who was there? The “friendly” park ranger. “Are you just trying to punish yourself?” She warned us that the upcoming sand was going to be hot. We got to the sand and it was fine. My feet were getting a little sensitive so the soft sand felt great. I passed another barefoot hiker. I said “I’m not the only one?” Then I noticed that she had every toe taped, her heels taped, and her boots on her pack. She was miserable with blisters.

    We crossed the river on a suspension bridge (the hardest part of the hike, metal grate) and made our way to Phantom ranch. We found the Cantina and got our lunches. Just out the door, one of the workers followed me out and said “Are you barefoot?” “Busted”, my son exclaimed. “I didn't see your sign”, I lied. (I know, not a very good example in front of my son) No, she said, that was mainly for the campers, she was quite impressed that I had hiked down barefoot. We gobbled up half of our lunch and packed the rest and headed out. I was looking forward to the uphill section. Right before the bridge, we found our park ranger advising people not to hike the S. Kaibab trail because of no water sources. We show her that we were packing enough water and I told her that I hiked the trail the same time last year and had no problems. She finally lightened up and figured we were capable hikers and being barefoot was not just a stunt. So we chatted a bit about the beauty of the canyon and her having the best job in the world.

    We moved on, I knew our time was short and we had to set a good pace on the uphill. My feet got their second wind, the trail was great, there was shade on most of the trail from the low sun, and we cruised up. My son is amazing. I thought he would struggle on the uphill, but he was fine (teenager). Just a few scenery stops and we were nearing the top.

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    The last of the sunlight on the South Kaibab Trail

    It was just getting dark on the final switch backs and I had to hike by feel. Got to the top, we were done. The plan was to hike the 2 miles back to the car, but it was dark so we caught the shuttle. Another great hike accomplished.

    For more trail information and better pictures, Thea Gavin and Ahcuah, have some excellent write ups on their blogs. Their information really helped me prepare for this hike.

    A few notes:

    Mileage – around 19 Vertical change – nearly 10,000 feet Time – 11 hours

    Things that went right – Perfect weather, packed light, fueled, took electrolytes , and hydrated on a schedule, used trekking poles, slow pace, wore a cotton shirt (thanks Jason R.), pre-ordered a sack lunch, and being barefoot of course.

    Things to improve on – an earlier start, pack a headlamp, pack jersey gloves next time. Cell phone to call my worried wife at the end of the hike. A place to stay on the rim would have been nice.
     
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  2. bf in az

    bf in az
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    Great job. That's such a special place.
     
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  3. Ahcuah

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    Looks like mondo fun. Glad you did ok (they do discourage doing a down and up in the same day). I'm a bit surprised the rangers gave you any grief at all; none seemed to care when I did it.
     
  4. Bare Lee

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    Great you could share your adventure with your son (teenager). My whole world travel adventure started at the Grand Canyon back in 1985, so it will always be a special/sacred place. I hope to get back to it someday and do it barefoot like you, maybe with my kids when they've grown a bit (teenagers).
     
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  5. Tfox

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    Sorry I couldn't make it! We'll have to go again later. You are right that it is an addicting place. Once you do one part of the canyon you can't help but to think, "yeah, I could do more if I trained for it."
     
  6. barefootn

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    Nice story Rick thanks for sharing. My wife and I did Bright Angel 30 years ago. I wanted to run but she wouldn't let me.
    We hiked it, her toe nails truned black, but we had a great time.
     
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  7. Barefoot YOW

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    I guess I need to add this to my bucket list now. Beautiful location. Glad you were able to share it with your son. So is rim to rim and back a 2 day hike?
     
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  8. rickwhitelaw

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    It all depends on what your goals are. From a hiking standpoint, most hikers will take a pack and stay over night, or multiple nights, in one of the campgrounds. Another option is to hike across, make arrangements to stay on one of the rims and hike back the next day. I saw a lot of people setting up camp and having a good time at the Bright Angel campground near phantom ranch. I kind of felt like I was missing out on some of the fun being a day hiker. The downside of doing a R2R2R hike continuously is missing out on some of the scenery by hiking at night. I hope to do a R2R2R next May with a time goal of 18 hours, but if it takes longer, no big deal.

    Now from a running standpoint, the fastest times for a double crossing are under 7 hours. http://www.irunfar.com/2011/11/dakota-jones-break-grand-canyon-double-crossing-record.html
    This just boggles my mind. I couldn't even do a single in under 7. I am guessing that an average running time depending on conditioning would be around 12 - 14 hours, but who knows, even ultra runners can get into trouble with the heat and elevation change.

    I forgot to mention in my report that Vanessa wrote a great blog post about her R2R2R. http://vanessaruns.com/2012/05/13/grand-canyon-r2r2r-run-report/

    Thanks for the comments.
     
  9. Barefooting Bob

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    Going to hit the canyon in January, the family and I are in Phoenix at the end of January and one of our 'tourist spot' destinations will be the Grand Canyon. Can't wait, I am really looking forward to seeing it in all its glory.
     
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  10. Zetti

    Zetti
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    wow...just another reason to get over there!!!
    never been but need to go :barefoot:
    Thanks for sharing!!!
     
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  11. rickwhitelaw

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    Have fun Bob, I know a little snow on the Rim won't discourage you. There are quite a few trail options on the South Rim but definitely drop off the edge a bit.

    I hope you make arrangements to stay at least one night. A day trip from Phoenix and back won't give you any hiking time. Should be lots of options in Grand Canyon Village and in the town of Tusayan. http://www.tusayanhotels.com/
     
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  12. Barefooting Bob

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    Thanks Rick, I will check it out.
     
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