Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Running the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R)

day before- we are good - lets just look from up top
The last big effort of the year.... topping of my 50th with R2R2R  48 miles down the grand canyon across up and back down and back across and up again.   1 day!  I'll give the story now and at the end- my advice on gear, what we would do differently etc

Our group of 6 was only 4 due to an scary illness in Heidi so they could not make the trip (boo).

We drove SD to GC Friday- 8ish hours and were at the SK (South Kaibob) trail head by 4pm and this was both of our first look at the GC.  My gut dropped...it was so stunningly beautiful and hard to fathom we would someone get to the bottom and across and back.  It was a bit like, nevermind, lets just sleep in and do a day hike.

perspecitve on the climbing
SK trailhead has no parking and no cars allowed, although we bypassed the Buses Only to check out the trail head, as did 20 other cars.  The proper parking is 1/2 mile down the road.    From there we went to check out BA (Bright Angel) trail head where we planned to come out. This has lots of parking, hotels, food establishments etc.  If you plan to exit the trail at BA I would highly recommend staying at the trail head so you can finish and get home.  But these book up fast...   Any spot at the BA trail head would work well http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/bright-angel/

We stayed at the Yavapai lodge which worked well for us.  Family room and we had a king and bunks so Jen could stay with us. http://www.visitgrandcanyon.com/yavapai-lodge  2 miles from BA and 4 miles from SK.  We took a taxi to and from without issue.
ready to roll at 4am

Once we finished totally freaking out admiring the view we headed to check in.  My pack was packed and ready to go meanwhile John went shopping the previous night and was still trying out his options.   Much like an Ironman we were laying out and pacing gear and Jen arrived.  Let the party begin, We packed, laughed and all had a bit of nervous energy.  We downed Melatonin around 7 and Jen and I knocked back a glass of wine for good measure.  Lights out by 8.
what are we doing today

The 3am Ironman alarm went off and it was go time!  We brought lots of food so we fueled up on protein pancakes (cold) with nut butter and coffee.   3:40 met Jason out front and called the taxi and he was there within 5 min.  NOTE: cash only.  Temp was 46 and comfortable.

4:00 at SK trail head and off we went-  we have a 20 min stop about 2 min in due to sunglass loss down the slope but John found them.  On we went.

SK descent is steep, pitch dark and technical.   Headlamp a must and Jen and John had hand held flashlight which I recommend too.  Jens was great- super light and a  strap. Nathan Zephyr. Mind you I am not a trail runner and am a terrible descender so my goal was safety first and stay on my feet.  This is why I will never be an Ultra runner- my skills suck and before you say " you can still learn" , please cut me some slack, I am 50 and was a swimmer for good reason - can you say uncoordinated.   Every time I work on my trial descending skills I end up face down and bleeding....

We hit Phantom Ranch around 6:45 and the sun was coming up.  We ditched our jackets (behind a rock). We descended in Tech T.s , shorts, compression socks, ear warmer, trucker hat and gloves.  As the sun came up and were were on the GC floor it is breathtaking and the most amazing sight I have ever seen. It still brings tears to my eyes.  Stunning!

I also realized my legs were killing me not fresh and it was going to be a long day.  We jogged the next 8 miles across, South to North is a gradual up hill and while John and Jen were doing great I was already struggling- my periformis was throbbing and my legs were plain tired,   Jen and I managed to keep a steady conversation from the beginning and it was fantastically fun!  I HIGHLY recommend bringing someone who can chat for hours upon hours and laugh alll day long.

And now the 5 miles up the NR (north rim) steep and slow but again stunning.  Every time you look around it is breathtaking. It was surrel. I was hurting a lot- hot spots on feet (despite band aids and body glide) were sore.   We met a great group from Alabama who was on the same R3 route and hiked together for a bit. Good stories about their journey and some good smack talk about LSU vs Alabama.  I had imagined there would be no one else around but you see people off and on all day, except in the pitch dark when you would LOVE to see someone.
OMG we are only 1/2 way

At the top of NR I was considering calling it a day.  My periformis  was sore and I was the weak link, holding up Jen and John. They convinced me to keep going, we would hike/walk and they were okay with the pedestrian pace. I was ready to hitchhike back, find a bar and call it a day.  But then it occurred to me that I would have  get to come back and to the full R3 another time, so I was in. NR was cold and we tried to get in and out and not really think that we were only 1/2 way LOL.  7 1/2 hours to NR.  Every stop is about filling bladder- I DO NOT recommend the camelback with the disc opening.  Sure it works great in your kitchen sink, but try it 20 + miles in, at a fawcet that blasts water at firehose pressure and while it is attached to your pack.  NOT so easy any more.  I'd like products to be tested when the person is fatigued, at altitude and wonky than we can say things like "seamless" "easy"

And down we went, it felt "good" to be going down vs up and we continued our chatter of any and all topics . The views never quit, just when you think I've seen it all you see it from a different perspective and ooh and ah all over again.  And when I was really hurting all the time at this point I would look around and lose my breath. At the bottom it was foot triage time- 4 blisters and hot spots, This was the first of 4 triage moments for me.  R3 I used 11 band aids, duct tape, body glide and then just suffered.

Jogging back was not happening for me- between the periformis and the feet it was power walking and Jen was okay with that. We merrily chatted our way across the GC.  In what seemed an eternity we finally made to back to Phantom Ranch.  There is a Cantina there cooking up food and at this point you would pay $100 or $1000for anything that was not in your pack, but they are closed 5-8pm for campers only.  We were too slow to get real food... although we did not plan on it anyway.

Sunset, headlamps on and the climb out.  I have to say I was miserable due  to my feet, the pace was slow but it was just painful.  Thank you Jen for the conversation and fun!  John had run across and waiting and hour for us as he did not want us to ascend alone.  Thank you honey! He wanted a nap mid run and he got one.  And up we went, and up and up and up. 20 min in Jen and I saw a Mountain Lion- no joke and for sure.  It was on the ridge and when our headlamps shone on his eyes he bolted.  That was terrifying...

The never ending trail takes you down to the river first which is really confusing and caused near screaming and a lot of consternation debate amongst us and finally back up and up and up.  Everyone says the climb out is never ending.  You think you get it but it really is never never never ending.  You keep thinking one more switch back. We climbed in t's most of the time and maybe the last hour in longsleeve.   John was a bit ahead and makes a turn and says we are out!  no way, it become unreal - are we done really?  Relief and happiness and 34 degrees.  WOWZA!!!

No medal, no announcer, no finish line- just the pure satisfaction that we did it! 18 hours which was our worse case scenario.  I did not plan to walk so much but so be it.  We finished and I have ZERO desire to go back.  One and done is good for me.
best fuel option!!!

Notes/thoughts/comments

  • Only crazy ass M'fers would do this more than once or even once, but well we fit that bill.
  • plan for the worst- we planned for 18 hours and hoped for faster but no avail - we had enough for 18-22 hours
  • walking/hiking you burn less calories so we consumed less
  • don't descend with 3liters of water- you only need 1/2 L for the descent and keep your pack light as possible on the way down
  • you only need 2L option due to frequency of water- for this time of year. If it was 100 degrees you need more
    the pack I used 
  • go with 2L bladder and collapsible bottles as back up (in case some water is turned off)
  • mix your calories as you get tired of the same food - my favorite for the day was the nut butter- not too sweet and dense in calories
  • we "saved" the gels and those were not what we wanted to consume on the hike out- but alas only option
  • caffeine pills saved us
  • I would reverse the run and go down BA - 2 miles longer and less steep an thus "easier" to descend in the dark.  Coming up is brutal anyway - I'd rather just get it done, mind you I have not done that so maybe the steepness is just not worth it.  The downfall of this is finishing at SK there is NOTHING so you are waiting in the cold for a taxi and it took 20 min at 10pm
  • Go in April/May- similar temps to what we had BUT you have 3+ more hours of daylight so you are not ascending totally in the dark.   
  • Training- I felt woefully under trained or maybe just fatigued from a long season. I'd do at least 4, 5+ hour trail runs on technical terrain up and down with your pack loaded up- the extra weight changes your gait and adds to the load
  • Duh- wear your proposed shoes AND socks on those runs-  due to Ironman I was not able to do that and I paid for it.
  • Hiking poles- Jen brought a pair and we did not expect to use them but we did and LOVED them- we each took one- easy to run with and use when hiking 
  • Wear shorts with pockets for easy accessible food/pills etc.  Have a hydration pack with pockets you can access without taking your pack off
  • More weighted stair sessions-  5 or 6, 2+ hour sessions with a weighted pack.
  • Bring food in case you are not up for the pizza /beer option.  We were freezing, tired and just wanted to get clean and warm.  I had made enchiladas and brought some wine/cider. We cleaned up and had a picnic in our room.    
Love you honey- never again 
OMG we made it
Just like anything - there are A LOT of opinions...this is mine.