Last week our crew drove over 3,000 miles from our basecamp in Olympia, heading down south. We went very far south to find some sun, visit a couple National Parks and, most important of all, run the Grand Canyon.
The fabled Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim is an epic trail most ultra trail runners dream of running once in their lives (#bucketlist #hatethatword). It’s been on my radar for many months now and this spring was the perfect time to attempt, experience and conquer this adventure.
Pretty much all my outdoor experiences in the USA have been in the Pacific Northwest. Since I immigrated to this country, I hiked mountains and ran close to water, experienced the beauty of Cascadia, surrounded by endless evergreen trees amidst snow covered peaks. This trip would be different, very, very different and I was incredibly excited for it. We were headed to the desolate, dry and seemingly barren southwest US.
The R2R2R route plunges from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon down the South Kaibab trail for about 7 miles until you reach the bottom of that great canyon and the Colorado River, which you cross via an epic suspension foot bridge. From there the North Kaibab trail leads you for over 14 miles, passing Phantom Ranch camp and eventually leading up and out of the canyon on to the North Rim. Well done, you’re halfway there (and livin’ on a prayer). Now turn around, bomb down the canyon again (don’t die of heat!) and run the North Kaibab in reverse until you hit the Colorado River again. Now you have two choices: Either climb back out on the steeper and shorter South Kaibab trail or take the more popular and gentler Bright Angel Trail for about 10+miles to the top.
All in all, this is, if you ask my Strava data: 53.5miles and 17,000ft of elevation gain and loss, which is a bit generous. The actual numbers are closer to 48miles. The North Rim tops out at over 8,000ft, while the river flows at 2,400ft. and the South Rim, your start and end point is at about 7,000ft.
The current FKT (Fastest Known Time) for this is 5h 55m 20s run (flown, really) by Jim Walmsley this last October. He is a true cowboy runner.
The best time of the year to attempt this is usually in the Spring or Fall (In the Summer months it just gets too hot in the canyons. Dangerously hot. Deadly hot. Really.) And in the Wintertime, the North Rim often has tons of snow and any water sources throughout the canyon are shut off. This leaves a pretty short window for anyone attempting a double-crossing of this incredible and breathtaking landscape. In the Fall, the daylight hours are shorter, thus our target to run this insanely gorgeous and strenuous run was early May.
Compared to our Northwest National Parks, the infrastructure at Grand Canyon National Park is mind-boggling. A huge village greets visitors from all over the world at the South Rim. The park boasts several lodges, a bank, restaurants and grocery stores, all accessed by bus services and a train station. Even outside the official park entrance, there are additional hotels and restaurants, including an IMAX theater telling the story of the Grand Canyon. All of this feels big, but still in the spirit of the National Park architecture and style. One could easily spend an entire week just there in the village, exploring the historical sites, the geological findings, and the architecture. You can rent bikes, go on mule rides, and explore the trails along the rim and through the forests around it. It is crazy, accessible and family-friendly.
Yes, it gets hot in the Summer, it’s in Arizona after all. And don’t forget Grand Canyon is the 2nd most visited park in our country. Almost at every turn, you’re reminded that almost 6 million people visit this stunning park every year – it’s busy, even during the week in off-season.
But, it’s worth it, so worth the visit. This park, incapsulating just tiny sliver of the giant scar in the ground, is one of the most unique places in the world. As much as we’ve seen countless images and movie clips of what the Grand Canyon looks like, seeing it in person is incredible. Standing on the rim and gazing with your own eyes at the magnificence, the beauty, the vastness of the Canyon is truly stunning and quite frankly, humbling.
Flagstaff, AZ is over 90 minutes south of the park entrance, and really, between Flagstaff and the Park there is a whole lot of nothing.
Las Vegas of all places is the closest big city, but is over 4.5 hrs to the West.
North somewhere is Salt Lake, and East, I don’t even know if there is anything after Flagstaff, no really.
Phoenix is almost 4 hours south and Los Angeles is a whole day driving West.
Driving through remote desert-like landscape can be mundane at times. Hot for sure, but also quite fascinating, especially if you never been down south before. From Olympia, the shortest route is over 21 hrs. according to Apple Maps. That translates to two really long days of almost endless driving or three days if you want to make it palatable. Yeah, you could fly, or take a train, but we drove and I found the experience eye-opening and exhilarating.
The road trip down south and back up deserve it’s own article. The things we saw, the stunning scenery we flew past. The culture, architecture, the billboards, the fast food, the hotels. There is so much to unpack and I’m still not done processing it all.
The R2R2R run, yes it’ll get it’s own story too. It was big, it was intense, and it was life-altering. And that is no hyperbole.
So, look at this as a first teaser in a multi-part series of articles about our first big adventure of 2017. And man, was it big, was it enormous and was it incredible.