Last weekend (June 4-7 ...I took too long finishing this up) was the weekend of The Last Big Run, and I had the extreme privilege to join Meghan Arbogast, Rob Cain and John Price on a Rim to Rim to Rim double crossing of the Grand Canyon, a 47 mile jaunt with 11,000+ feet of climbing with elevations up t0 8400' on a day that topped out at 112 degrees. It was every sort of training you could ever want for Western States with majestic scenery all around.
Most people start from the South Rim, but we had our base camp in a cute little cabin on the North Rim. We hit the trail head just before 5:30 and made our way down the North Kaibab to Phantom Ranch, enjoying pre-dawn cool temps and shade from the canyon walls.
From there it is UP, UP, UP to the South Rim with the last four miles to the top a long steep march. Fortunately, we only got caught behind one mule train for a short while so the day contained only a small section of wading through mule piss. Once you get above Indian Gardens, the tourists hit the trail en masse so there is plenty of entertainment on the climb. Seriously, why would anybody be on the trail in a strapless dress and ballet flats?? Hopefully to make us laugh, because we did. Plenty of other interesting people out for a little hike as well.
The nice thing about going N to S is that we were able to stop for lunch at the half way point on tourist-y South Rim, whereas the North Rim offers nothing more than a parking lot at the trail head. So we had a nice stop for lunch, where I had the best tasting grilled cheese sandwich ever along with some fries and a big rootbeer to wash it down.
When we started back down, I couldn't believe how good I felt. As we started running down the steep trail, I could feel my full belly, but my legs felt great and there was no stiffness at all from sitting around for 45 minutes to eat. Meghan wanted to add a side trip out to Plateau Point to make the run an even 50 miles and I told her for sure I was going because I wanted 50 miles, too. And then, in a matter of minutes, things all went haywire.
We had just passed the three mile house about thirty minutes into our descent and I just started to feel extreme fatigue. The noon day sun was beating down on us and I was just melting. The effort to run went up exponentially, even though everything was still all downhill. We got to Indian Gardens and the thermometer read 112 degrees, which is about 40 degrees warmer than any temps we've seen in Salem this dismal spring.
I knew there was a LONG way to go before we were done for the day, so I ended up bailing on the trip to plateau point, but Meghan was rock solid and set on getting in the extra miles, so we all lazed at Indian Gardens while Meghan alone ventured out to the point. We spent the time at Indian Gardens tending to a guy suffering from heat and offering him all kinds of ultra-type advice on fueling, nutrition and salt as well as giving some of our supplies to help perk him up.
Meghan got back and was ready to keep on rolling. I was OK for a couple of miles and then just started losing it again. Every time Meghan would walk, I would be so thankful. I gave an inward groan every time we had to start running, but I managed to keep up until we got to Phantom Ranch. There I just slumped onto the counter waiting to order my lemonade. I was starting to worry about getting out of the canyon before dark!
We sat for a while and I pounded my ice cold "lemmy" and then chugged a liter of ice water (ah, ice! so much nicer than drinking warm water!). I made myself eat a double bag of M&M's and a bag of pretzels, I took three S-caps and then went and totally submerged myself in the Bright Angel Creek. I came out totally revived and ready to roll!
Meghan later told me: "I didn't want to say anything at the time, but you looked really bad at Phantom Ranch."
We ran most of the seven miles up to Cottonwood camp with two stops to jump in the creek. After Cottonwood is the steepest stuff of the day, almost all hiking to the top. But this is the most gorgeous part of the canyon with huge rock walls towering overhead in a deep red color (much darker than the South side). Plus the temps were starting to fall and the walls provided lots of shade.
We got to the Supai tunnel and ran into a pair of rim to rim hikers, one of whom was suffering badly. We offered what we could but we were anxious to get going. I definitely gained a spring in my step knowing we had only two miles to the top!
With a whoop we arrived at our starting point just under 14 hours after starting and with plenty of daylight to spare!
The next day, I awoke with sore calves but everything else was feeling pretty good. We continued our weekend adventure in Zion, NP with another two and a half hours of running/hiking which included tackling the crazy climb to Angel's Rest - that steep little spine of jagged rock in the picture.
We thought that was the end of our excitement, but a blown tire on the way back to the airport kept us on our toes. We had a mad scramble to make our flight, but everything ended on a happy note.
The whole weekend was amazing with phenomenal scenery as the backdrop for some awesome running!