after running from the north rim of the grand canyon to the colorado river and back three years ago, doing the whole thing (north rim to south rim and back or reverse) has been on my bucket list. this year i finally found the time and some people to join me on that adventure, and very fittingly, we did it on may 21st, the day the world was supposed to end (which disappointingly did not happen, but we still have high hopes for october 21st). on the final climb to south rim, it actually would have been very convenient to be lifted to the heavens, but unfortunately we had to do all the climbing ourselves.
after looking at the trails and the weather the day before we got there (picture ), everything looked fine, and we decided to start at sunrise, so that we wouldn't have to do the descent with headlamps. our idea was to use the bright angel trail from and to the south rim (less steep and water midway, as opposed to the south kaibab trail), and the north kaibab trail at the north rim (there is no other option anyway). when we arrived at the bright angel trailhead, we were greeted by the most spectacular sunset when we arrived at the rim at 5am , and after the obligatory photo , we started running at 5.15am. getting to indian garden was surprisingly quick and easy, and this was our first short break to eat and drink. looking back up to the south rim, it was already lit by bright sunshine and the moon was hovering above it . the thought of having go back up there later today did not seem too bad at that point in time, since we were still feeling pretty good.
after that, there's quite a steep descent down devil's corkscrew , followed by a shorter not-so-steep section. after that, we quickly got to the colorado river for the first time . this is where it got a bit tougher; getting to phantom ranch was easy, but the way from there to cottonwood took as longer than expected, as it's all a slight uphill and it already getting a bit warm. cottonwood was the last place where we stopped together , two of our group were turning back from there, while three planned to go all the way to the north rim.
shortly after cottonwood (after the pumphouse residence) the trail starts climbing, and we walked most of the steeper part up to the supai tunnel and eventually to an overlook not too far from the north rim . from this overlook, you can see most of the trail you've just climbed in this side canyon of a side canyon of the actual main canyon. from the overlook it's only another mile to the north rim trailhead, where we arrived just at noon, after 6:45 of travel time and about 5:00 of moving time (we had way too many stops along the way).
another group of runners who did the south-to-north run and finished at the north rim had a group of people waiting for them who had brought a nice selection of drinks for the finishers . they were kind enough to offer us some drinks, so we had nice cool drinks at our halfway point, before descending into the canyon again. thanks!
the second downhill was quite a bit tougher than the first one, but since we had been saving our legs on the uphill, we were able to run all of it, which saved us quite a bit of time. the part between supai tunnel and roaring springs is probably the prettiest and most spectacular part of the trail, first descending in the red supai rock, then crossing over to the other side , and then snaking along a pretty steep part of the canyon.
after getting down to the bottom of bright angel canyon, we realized that it was already pretty hot, and the plan was to get to phantom ranch as fast as possible. we packed some water at the pumphouse residence and then made the strategic mistake of not briefly stopping and refilling at cottonwood. the part from the residence to phantom ranch is about 9 miles, and we were tired, and it was hot. we moved very slowly and eventually ran out of water. luckily, we made it back to phantom ranch at 3.40pm, just before the cantina closed, and got a nice big lemonade.
the part from phantom ranch to the start of the climb, along the colorado river , showed us how tired we were already, and at that point the group fell apart for good, with everybody going at their own pace to make it back up to the south rim. the climb up devil's corkscrew wasn't too bad, and the not-so-steep sections before and right after indian garden were the last opportunity to run a little.
from indian garden, the way back is nicely structured into 1.5 mile sections between the resthouses, so there always is something to get to that's not too far away. i tried to not stop at all, but eventually ran out of calories and had to stop for a final gel (had enough for quite a while) and some water between the rim and the first resthouse.
when i got to the rim, the sun was just setting, creating a very beautiful scenery for that last couple of switchbacks up . i got to the trailhead at 7.45pm, after a total travel time of 14:25 and a total moving time of 10:48, very exhausted and very happy to be done . this is definitely not something i'll be doing again anytime soon, but the feeling of accomplishment was pretty great, especially the next day sitting on the south rim, looking over to the north side, and thinking:
we ran there yesterday. and back!
lessons for next time? not all that many. take better care of the feet, eat more calories, drink water at each and every water source, spend less time sitting around. if you're planning to do this, feel free to get in touch. some things to keep in mind: conserve energy, eat, drink, eat, drink, and take it easy on the downhills to make sure that your quads are still in working condition after two major descents. if you're interested in the GPS track, it is available at garmin connect, but since quite a bit of the run is in very narrow canyons, the quality of the track is pretty bad in those parts. it's still fun to look at in google earth, though, in particular with 3d terrain. my GPS went completely crazy because of reception problem and reported 400 miles (600km) in the end, which probably is not quite accurate. from other reports it seems that the route we took is 47 miles (76km) long. after doing this, my idea of maybe doing a 100 mile race one day does not look all that appealing anymore...
and just in case you're looking for some other reports about running rim-to-rim-to-rim, here are some of the reports i found interesting and helpful to get an idea of how it's like: