The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. -John Wesley Powell
R2R2R Adventure Cast:
Note: Hiking the Grand Canyon is dangerous in the summer heat and should not be attempted without training and experience hiking all day through 100+ degree heat.
Karl: The planner of the epic R2R2R adventure. Karl finished the Boston Marathon with a 2:50 time during a record heat of 100+ degrees in his college years, became known as the “run for the hoses” He has a goal to re-qualify for Boston and run it again. He is an experienced hiker and backpacker that has done numerous adventures all over the Grand Canyon and the one that introduced Colleen to the Grand Canyon.
Colleen: Ultrarunner Mountain Goat, completed R2R2R 16 times from summer to winter blizzards, The Grand Canyon is Colleen’s stomping and training grounds. The week before the rim adventure, Colleen went up and down Mt. Whitney twice to prepare for her upcoming 72 hour ultra-marathon race in Silverton.
Randall: Mountain eater and Ultrarunner that likes to do everything especially with a lot of vert, altitude, and elevation gain which explains why he ended up doing The Cactus to Clouds hike over 14 times and gets excited every time going up the San Jacintos even though he summited San Jacinto Peak so many times that he lost count.
Christina: All around adventurer that is prepared for everything except a sewing kit when a hiker asked Christina for one, Christina does everything from rock climbing to backpacking trips in the High Sierras and opts to ride a bike everywhere instead of driving.
All smiles standing up top Robert’s rock
The warm up: The Grandview Trail and the Cave of the Domes
Steep and Technical side Adventure warm up? I’m in. Colleen suggested we all meet up in the Grandview Trail to do a warm up hike before R2R2R. The warm up was a 3.5 mile 2,800+ feet descent down to Horseshoe Mesa and explore the Cave of the Domes down below then hike back up. This was an excellent side trip that I really enjoyed with lots of views of the canyons down below, while it was hot and humid outside, the temperature of the caves on the cliff side was the opposite, it felt like I was inside a fridge.
Cave of the Domes in the Grandview Trail
Adventure begins! The South Rim
After packing all our gear, we headed down South Kaibab Rim Trail to drop off Karl and Christina in the trail head, Colleen and I drove to one of the parking lots down the South Rim about a mile and a half way where we would make our starting point. This should give us time to do some trail running down the South Rim. My quads were a little sore from the warm up in the Grandview Trail, but once I started running, the soreness quickly disappeared.
The morning view of the steep and technical South Kaibab Trail.
The South Kaibab is a steep and technical trail roughly 7 miles with 5,000 feet of descent. There is no water access on this 7 mile stretch in comparison to the Bright Angel Rim Trail where water access is available. The trail is fully exposed in the sun with no shade at all, but the benefits of having a 360 degree view all around makes it a much scenic descent down or a long ascent up. We started off on at an easy run pace, as Colleen was able to give me a tour of the pinnacles and landmarks of the South Rim, time flew by fast on this section and soon we caught up with Karl and Christina.
“I’m not doing that,” says Christina while Karl is all for it doing the Colleen Pose. O’Neill Butte in the background.
We passed through a group of mule riders on the way up back to South Rim and thought we were insane for doing a rim crossing at this time of the year. On a side note, the mule riders have the right of away at all times in the trails, so it was important for us to stop and let them pass through.
Mule Riders on their way up South Kaibab Trail
It was starting to warm up at this point, with just a running vest, our gear was light and minimal; we needed to move fast and went on ahead of Karl and Christina running the rest of the way to Phantom Ranch. The long black rope across the Colorado River from a distance was starting to take form of a bridge and soon we were crossing the bridge over the Colorado River.
The view of the black bridge and the Colorado River as we descended down the South Rim.
This was the hottest part of the day at this point; Colleen suggested cooling off on one of the tributaries near Phantom Ranch. It was a life saver from the 100+ degree heat, the water on the stream was ice cold and my body temperature quickly dropped. A quick stop at Phantom Ranch for Coffee and Ice cold Lemonade was a much needed break from all the downhill running. Phantom Ranch was like an oasis and the best spot to place a restaurant, being located deep inside the rim, mules have to carry all the food and supplies in order to feed and serve hikers that made it at this point. Karl and Christina soon came in just minutes before us.
What heat? taking a much needed break to cool off in the triple digit summer heat.
Karl has been looking forward to get a taste of the Phantom Ranch coffee all morning and was planning on staying a little longer at Phantom Ranch. We went on ahead towards the next section and hottest part of the canyon, the 7.5 mile “heat zone” towards Cottonwood Campground.
Colleen and Karl pose for a picture in Phantom Ranch along with the excessive heat warning sign.
Running Inside a Heat Oven up the North Rim
After soaking our clothes and hat on the water fountain to get some early relief from the triple digit temperature, We headed towards Cottonwood Campground. Just as what Colleen mentioned earlier, once entering the Box Canyon the temperature rose even higher. The heat in the Grand Canyon is like no other, it felt like it was slowly draining away my energy and the best way to beat it is to enjoy it. Colleen suggested we run to Cottonwood Campground while cooling off on the streams, the faster we get to Cottonwood Campground, the more relief we get from the heat. It would take less than 2 hours if we ran this section and so we did.
The view of the scenic Box Canyon.
It was just like an inside of an oven, well a scenic Grand Canyon oven. It was hot that I want to get to Cottonwood Campground as soon as possible, but the jaw dropping scenic views on every turn with a soothing stream that I want to take my time getting to Cottonwood Campground, I could not make up my mind. A hellish heat and a heavenly scenery such a paradox.
A rare sign inside Box Canyon, a lone cactus blooming in the middle of the summer heat from the words of Karl “Something so angry, is so beautiful!”
Every stream encounter, we stopped and cooled off, it felt great as our body temperature would drop. A few of minutes later, our soaked clothes would be dry and it was hot again. We soon reached a tough section where Colleen calls it “Arsehole” hill, Karl also calls it that and after running through that hill, I called it that.
So this it what it feels like to be baptized in the Grand Canyon, cooling off in one of the many streams along the way to Cottonwood Campground.
About 2 hours later, we finally made it to Cottonwood Campground and quickly passed through since our goal was filling our water and taking a break about a mile away in the Pumphouse. Eventually, we got to the Pumphouse where the water in the fountain was chilling cold, the water felt really good as we headed towards the beginning of the steep climb up the North Rim. At the same time, Colleen decided to change into flip flops and started running on them.
Colleen cooling off in the freezing water of the Pumphouse.
Colleen kicked up the pace up the steep North Rim as we passed through hikers that had that mystified look seeing Colleen hiking and running on flip flops. At this point, I was trying to keep up with Colleen’s pace and keeping my mind of the pain by gazing on the layers of rock formations and the shift from desert to alpine vegetation. Eventually after going through a series of steep never ending switchbacks, we finally made it up the North Rim where Colleen’s flip flop hiking was the talk of every hiker on the North Rim trail head. A couple from Pennsylvania offered us a ride to the North Rim Lodge and we quickly accepted.
Socks and Flipflop? It works just fine, just ask Colleen.
Civilization, Fancy Dinner, and R2R2R
We thanked the couple from Pennsylvania that dropped us off the North Rim Lodge, it was a much different scene compared to the Grand Canyon Village in the South Rim. There were tourists in the North Rim as well, but it had a much more peaceful and relaxing setting. Earlier that day, Karl sent us the reservation paper just in case we were able to make it to the North Rim first and see if we were able check in the lodge. After waiting in-line, Colleen was able to the keys to the cabin and we were able to get cleaned up to do more exploring on the trails up the North Rim. There were many trails to explore including the Trancept Trail or a short trail leading up to Bright Angel Point where the view was so amazing and was high enough to see the whole Grand Canyon all the way to the South Rim. At this viewpoint, I was able to see how big this Rim to Rim hike was.
The view of the Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Point
Colleen who has done the R2R2R hike over 16 times, knows the inside and outs and how hot it gets inside the canyons was getting a little worried, but a text from Karl and Christina saying they made safely up the North Rim was a relief. The heat down the canyons was a brutal one, Karl and Christina worked as a team and stayed in a group including opting to both walk from the North Rim all the way to the lodge when there was only one spot when they tried to hitch a ride to the lodge.
All smiles, the heat and steep climb up the North Rim can’t stop Karl and Christina.
We met up with Karl and Christina at the cabin, they are in high spirits and we all shared our stories as we headed down the lodge to watch the sunset. It was a sight to see when every tourist around you was off their phones watching silently and just staring at the sun setting in the Grand Canyon with that glowing awe in their faces.
The North Rim Lodge with the picturesque view of the Grand Canyon.
Karl had everything planned out including reserving a fancy dinner at the lodge. A Fancy dinner, sleeping comfortably, and the R2R2R adventure, all those does not add up, the amount of planning that Karl did to pull this off was simply extraordinary and I wanted to learn more and tried to pick out his brain at the adventuring planning realm. After dinner, we were able to sleep in and prepare for the last part of our R2R2R adventure which was heading back down the North Rim and back up to the South Rim.
Fancy Steak, Lamb, Pasta Dinner, wine, and R2R2R, say what???
Side adventure to Ribbon Falls and Chocolate Cakes
I woke up that morning with Karl on the phone confirming our dinner at Phantom Ranch making sure everything was all planned out, we all had a good sleep and woke up refreshed ready for more adventures. Karl and Christina went on ahead of us to get a head start going down the North Rim while we headed down to the North Rim store to refill our packs and eat breakfast. The North Rim Lodge is about 1.5 miles away from the trail of the North Rim, as soon as we got to the trail head, we started flying down the North Rim recklessly, but safely using trekking poles. The rim was very active early that morning with all sorts of activities going on such as mule rides and the conservationist working on the trails. The best way to describe going down the North Rim was its like I am looking at this master piece of a painting as I headed down.
The painting like view as we ran down the North Rim.
We were able to catch up with Karl and Christina about 3/4 of the way to Ribbon Falls. Colleen gave us a tour of the land marks and rocks names including Steve Harvey’s Rock. As we headed pass the Pumphouse and Cottonwood Campground, we strayed off for a side adventure towards Ribbon Falls.
The dropout views of the North Rim as we headed down to Ribbon Falls.
The temperatures was reaching over 100 at this point, we followed a stream and thick jungle like vegetation, the temperature began to slowly drop as we headed towards Ribbon Falls. It was another master piece of a view looking up the falls. Ribbon falls consist of two levels, the lower level which was a gentle waterfall flowing through a mossy wall and the upper level where it was rumbling and loud, we were able to get behind the waterfalls.
The lower section of Ribbon Falls.
It was hard to resist not to get soaked under the waterfalls, even Karl who wasn’t interested at first, joined in on the fun cooling off in the waterfalls. We stayed here for a while to snack and cool off to the point where I started shaking from the cold.
Karl and Colleen at the upper level of Ribbon Falls.
Karl and Christina went on ahead towards our next stop, Phantom Ranch. We soon followed afterwards, passing through my favorite section, Box Canyon. I was looking forward to going back here and being in between two 500 foot cliff walls with a stream on the right side of the trail, It was soothing to hear the stream and wind walking through this section. I was expecting a heat wave oven, but with such unpredictable weather in the Grand Canyon, it was cloudy and the temperature started to drop.
The view of Box Canyon on the way back to Phantom Ranch.
Karl and Christina was there waiting when we got to Phantom Ranch, we had a dinner of Vegetable Chili and Beef Stew. Colleen was telling me how hard the hike out the South Kaibab Rim was going to be and I ended up eating more Beef Stew than I would normally ate. I was full at this point and surprisingly, we were served chocolate cake for dessert! Chocolate Cake down in the rim and R2R2R, that is just too good to be true. We all had a slice and it was the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten. At this point of the hike, Karl and Christina was planning on staying on Phantom Ranch for the night while Colleen and I were heading out doing the hike up South Kaibab Trail at night.
Chocolate cake inside the Grand Canyon? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
The Climb up South Kaibab Rim
My legs were tired and I was full from a hearty dinner down at Phantom Ranch heading up towards the South Kaibab Rim, it was 2 miles shorter than the Bright Angel Rim, but that equates to more steepness on the climb up the Rim. We crossed the black bridge with the roaring Colorado River underneath us, our progress was measured on how little that bridge become as we catch our breath and take in the scenic views.
The roaring Colorado River as we went back up the South Kaibab Trail.
As the sun slowly set over the horizon and darkness came, the stars began to fill the night sky. It was an amazing sight to see it in the Grand Canyon, I couldn’t explain it, I keep gazing up the stars as I went up with a smile. Physically, I was hurting from the never ending switch back and the steep climb up the south rim, but it was contradictory to how I am feeling, I was happy and smiling as I went up, I did not want the climb to end. As we reach half way through the rim, Nature’s drums, thunder started making music all over the canyons followed by flashes of lightning bolts lighting up the sky like fireworks. The whole grand canyon illuminated for a split second, I was enjoying every second of the light show up in the sky. I felt blessed and fortunate to be able to experience this, its like the canyons was feeding me the energy to keep on going, the pain and soreness on my legs was non existent at this point.
Having way too much fun reenacting the vomiting sign as we headed up South Kaibab Trail during the night.
The steeper it get, the better I felt. I became energized, ecstatic, and couldn’t stop talking about how awesome it was, Colleen suggested I should run up the rest of the way and burn it off. As we made it up to the final stretch to reach the top South Rim marking the end of the R2R2R hike, the quote from author Jules Renald came into mind throughout this whole adventure which was “On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it” We were fortunate enough to experience a small piece of it in the Grand Canyon, not many get to experience this.
“On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it” – Jules Renald. The view from the North Rim all the way to the South Rim. Mt. Humphreys, the tallest peak in Arizona standing over 12,635 feet can be seen over the horizon.
The next day Karl and Christina made it out of the Grand Canyon and completed R2R2R by taking the longer south rim in the Bright Angel Trail.
The Grand Canyon Double Crossing Trip Breakdown:
Distance and elevation can be viewed here: http://www.rimtorim.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Rim-to-Rim-Map-2.jpg
- Warm up hike in the Grandview Trail
- South Rim via South Kaibab Trail to the North Rim.
- Spend the night at the North Rim Lodge and Dinner (reservation required)
Sunday (2 options)
- North Rim to Phantom Ranch for Dinner then up South Kaibab Trail
- North Rim to Phantom Ranch for Dinner and spend the night. (reservation required)
- Phantom Ranch to either the South Kaibab Trail (no water) or the Bright Angel Trail (water access)