Ultra-endurance athlete, outdoor-adventure blogger and social media expert based in San Diego, California.

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Grand Canyon R2R2R

Posted by Unknown Thursday, November 11, 2010

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After one of the top 5 most challenging days I’ve ever had on the trail, I’m proud to report that my buddies and I successfully completed the elusive Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim run last weekend. It was no walk in the park, so read on to hear about the punishment and glory:

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Planning for this adventure took weeks of collaboration for our group as a whole, so a special thanks goes out to everyone involved. For those who read our reports with plans to take on this challenge, please be sure to do your homework and eliminate as much risk as possible. For the rest of you, the Grand Canyon is an amazing destination you must experience in your lifetime. It can be thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated without running across it twice in a day. :)

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Down:  South Rim via Bright Angel to North Kaibab trail

Our group of 4 began the adventure via the Bright Angel trail (6860’) at 5 a.m. on Saturday. Descending the switchbacks under the guide of our headlamps, the trail was steep and the steps were unevenly spaced out, requiring an awkward half-step between each stride to time them right. Let the punishment begin!

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We refreshed the water in our hydration packs at Indian Gardens campground (3800’) and continued on our way. As the sky began to illuminate, we gained a ridge that looked over the steep switchbacks we would tackle next, but a mule train was slowly making its way down. We lost a good 20-30 minutes waiting until it was safe to pass in the canyon below.

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We hit the Colorado River (2400’) next, but wasted little time there knowing the mule train was not far behind. Running parallel with the river and across the suspension bridge to the north side was a definite highlight of the day.

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Up:  North Kaibab trail to North Rim

We refilled water at Phantom Ranch (mile 9.6) and set off on the North Kaibab trail with quivering quads from the last 2.5 hours of downhill running. The false flats on this next section slowly sucked the life out of my legs as we gradually gained elevation.

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Then the trail really began to climb at the pumphouse (mile 17) before Roaring Spring, where we topped off our water. This was our last water source for the climb to the North Rim and the descent back to the pumphouse.

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This is when the day started to get hard for me. As we continued to climb steadily, I felt more and more ill. Unfortunately, I was battling severe nausea while the scenery was at its most beautiful.

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I tried to take pictures to keep my mind occupied as I slowly march up the never-ending switchbacks, but I just couldn’t help feeling terrible. The only term I could use to describe that moment was “brutiful.”

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Our group split up as Dax and Jess attacked the switchbacks and my quads began to cramp. Mike hung back with me. It felt like forever and I was a mess by the time Dax and Jess were heading back down the trail. They looked in good spirits and Dax hooked me up with a ginger chew to help my nausea. That would be the last time we’d see them until the parking lot at the Bright Angel trail head hours later.

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When I reached the North Rim I felt defeated. I was ready to puke at any second and both quads, hip flexors and feet were simultaneously cramping. The idea of having the second half of the day in front of me was almost too much for my mental state to process. I wanted to quit, especially when a backpacker, who had just finished his hike, offered me a ride back to the South Rim.

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Being the true friend and teammate that he is, Mike was strong when I was weak. He helped me rationalize my thoughts and within minutes, we dropped back into the canyon together, ready for more punishment!

Down:  North Rim via North Kaibab trail to Bright Angel trail

As soon as we started descending, my legs started to feel better and the elevation loss helped my stomach begin to feel better, too. I was stoked! We decided to turn up the intensity to try and get back some of the lost time. We cruised into the pumphouse (mile 29) feeling really good, refilled our water and set off again.

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This time we were focused on getting to the canteen at Phantom Ranch, where we planned to buy drinks and food as a nice reward. Getting there was tough but runnable, and we did our best running the majority of it and adding in walk breaks where necessary. We enjoyed lemonade and a Snickers bar from Phantom Ranch, then filled our water and hit the trail again.

Up:  Bright Angel trail to South Rim

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After crossing the suspension bridge over the river again, we calculated we could make it to Indian Gardens by sunset. So we ran the flats along the river and in the bottom canyon section until I got hit by a random bout of nausea (probably the lemonade) and puked at mile 42. Luckily, as soon as I vomited I felt like a million bucks, so we hit the steep switchback single track climb to Indian Gardens racing the sunset.

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Mike randomly got cell phone reception at Indian Gardens and called his wife, who was waiting for us at the top, to update her on our progress and book our dinner reservations. So with headlamps on, we set off on the final climb to glory!

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Switchback by switchback, rest house to rest house, we slowly pushed through the final 4.8 miles and gained over 3000’ to the Bright Angel trail head parking lot, where Dax and Jess emerged from the warmth of their rental car to greet us. The 4 of us shed our packs at the car and entered the lodge for dinner to celebrate our accomplishment. What a day!

Garmin data: 50.3 miles in 15 hours, 17 minutes with ~11,000’ gain (lost satellite twice so these numbers are estimates).

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Those who have been following my career know that I completely stopped running for 3 months after an injury in February. It’s been 15 months since the last time I had to dig this deep to accomplish a goal. So while the effects and affects of this effort are still being realized, I can’t help but smile knowing I left it all out there and finished off my 2010 season on the right note.

Thanks for joining me on another adventure!

Special thanks to SkinFit, Camelbak and Clif.

Here are trip reports from Dax and Jess

10 comments

  1. Jess Says:
  2. Well done, sir. Brutiful, indeed. Puke & rally!

     
  3. Dax Says:
  4. It was great sharing the trail with you, Toby. The pictures are awesome.

     
  5. Wow, the trail is amazing. Thanks for describing the experience so well, all of it, keeping it real and more memorable. Well done Toby!

     
  6. Anonymous Says:
  7. Fantastic! Sorry you felt lousy but you still got it done. This brought back memories as I hiked the Bright Angel trail many years ago. I haven't been up to the North Rim though. It is cool to see what that part looks like.

    Len

     
  8. Love the pictures with the report - felt like I was there, but without the pain!!

     
  9. Ryan Denner Says:
  10. Congrats buddy, on this, and getting past the hurdles of the year that is 2010.

    Awesome RR. I can totally relate knowing that you had to dig really deep, mentally & physically, as I had to in RAAM. I thought recovery was just going to be "sleep a lot" like it was last year, but it took a while for, like you said, the effects and affects to be realized.

    Congrats man. People like you keep me going with the injury and getting back to health. Rock on!

    ps- beers soon!

     
  11. Ryan Weeger Says:
  12. Just now reading this, way to push through, cant comprehend what that must be like but that is bad-ass.

     
  13. jameson Says:
  14. soooo rad.... especially after the injury you dealt with year... so motivating.

    it's on my bucket list. i may have to beg you to come out and be my guide.

     
  15. Grand Canyon is really great..Wish I can trail this far...Love your pics..

     
  16. GZ Says:
  17. I am curious as why you chose Bright Angel over the South Kaibab route?

    Epic stuff here. Great shots and congrats.