Amy Hanlon's R2R2R Grand Canyon Adventure!
Last December I received an email from a running buddy of mine, Dennis Noskin: "Amy – With Christmas coming I am sure you’d want a great memorable gift from Santa. How about running the Grand Canyon on April 21st? It is called Rim to Rim to Rim. All you have to do is ask for it from Santa (your wives or significant other). Ask for a long weekend to do something truly spectacular. Basically, ask for the time off.
Last, I’m not asking for a firm commitment, yet. Just let me know if you are seriously interested or considering it. Also, If you have another crazy running friend who is up for a challenge, please forward and let me know (add to email list). Are you interested or considering it?”
At first I thought I was a hard no. I’d been to the Grand Canyon a few times and even hiked to the bottom and back from the South Rim about 10 years ago. But that email kept nagging at me. I had never been ACROSS the Canyon. Never been to the North Rim. And what DID I want for Christmas? Jewelry, shoes, electronics? No! Adventures! Yes! So I convinced 3 of my favorite people, MPF RNR teammate Mendy Gallo, her husband Chris and my boyfriend Eric to sign on. And Dennis convinced a few other adventurous souls to sign on as well, Claudia, Paul and Patrick.
The preparation. I won’t go into great detail…but for various reasons it wasn’t enough. I went into the trip knowing failure was a strong possibility. I was okay with it. My boyfriend Eric, while an accomplished marathoner, has atrial fibrillation and had never gone more than 32 miles at once before and only been on his feet 9 hours at once so he was venturing into the unknown. Both of us were unsure yet hopeful to meet our ultimate goal of crossing the Grand Canyon and back.
The hike. Amazing. Being in the canyon (on very little sleep with a side of jet lag) was just incredible. No wifi or cell service kept our 2 groups separated and Mendy & Chris took off from the start faster than I could keep up with if I had any hopes of going for the long haul. So Eric and I just meandered down the steep switchbacks of the South Kaibob, befriending other runners along the way. The views were spectacular all the while. When we first caught the glimpse of river it was absolutely breathtaking. The last time I had been to the Grand Canyon the river was chocolate brown and now it was an incredible emerald green that looked completely unreal.
The weather is the canyon is tricky. We experienced high 20s and low 30s at our start and finish but the temps soared into the 90s during the afternoon. Gear and capacity to store water is key – in April only a few of the campgrounds have their water turned on. I felt pretty good most of the day, the scenery, lizards hopping around my feet, and Eric’s companionship for the most part won out over exhaustion and my undertrained and slightly injured body. Crossing paths with Mendy and Chris and our other buddies from the East Coast also boosted my spirits. My stomach turned a little funky by the North Rim, my guess slight dehydration and altitude got to me and that rendered me unable to run for several hours. It would have been nice to take advantage of some of those downhill miles on our return. Hike we did! I did eventually feel better and we ran most of the bottom of the canyon, although the afternoon heat was brutal! Especially after the cold winter we had experienced in CT.
A generous young lady gave us her cup of ice cold lemonade from Phantom Ranch (which was closed by the time we arrived) was just what the doctor ordered. We met many new friends on the trail who really made our trek even more special. We had originally planned on ascending Bright Angel Trail (a little longer and a little friendlier) but realized we would probably hit the trailhead after the bus system would be able to transport us back to our car or hotel at the South Kaibob trailhead. So as the sun lowered in the sky we began to ascend back up the steep trail we had begun descending before sunrise. During our ascent my body grew very angry with me. My energy disappeared, my stomach betrayed me and it became a very slow slog up to the top. The final 6 miles took us 5 hours. I needed lots of breaks.
Eric was amazing. I was so proud of him…it ended up being 16 miles longer than he had ever completed in a day before and 9 hours longer on his feet. The sun set and I welcomed cooler temperatures as the view became my feet and the steep switchbacks before me. We encountered one baby rattlesnake and a few other hikers and finally after 18 hours, just under 48 miles we made it back to the South Kaibob trailhead. R2R2R complete!
I am happy to report that everyone in our group completed their journey as well and I am so proud of all of them!
Hard? Yes! Worth it? Yes! Should you do it? Absolutely!
A few thoughts:
- Bring at least 3L of water and refill to capacity every chance you can.
- Poles. Glad I had them
- Bring wide variety of food. In the heat I could not keep down the vegan bars I normally love. I only wanted GU’s and shot bloks.
- Even if you are warm from the start it was cool at night when we were finishing and in my case was moving much slower – and back on went my hat, gloves and jacket. I had an emergency blanket with me as well.
- Wished I wore short gaiters on my shoes – lots of dust and pebbles had to be emptied out a few times.
- The views are almost constant – don’t forget to enjoy them!