From Phantom Ranch to the North Rim is somewhere in the realm of 13.5 miles. The ascent is gradual at first, rolling along the river until Cottonwood camp. On our way here Jen decided to drop back a bit and relax her pace. The plan was set that we’d head up to the top, catch her on the way down, and she’d turn and head back with us. While I hated leaving her alone, I was already surprised at how challenging the day was panning out to be, so I thought that this might be the least of all evils for her.
Despite being told the water at Cottonwood wasn’t turned on, we were pleasantly surprised that it was. We also needed it. Looking at the sign, there was another 7 miles to the top. “It’s probably a couple hours of climb” I told Dave. A couple hours would have been a great day, as it turns out. Somewhere in the realm of 3 hours later, as we continued to hike straight up, Dave and I found ourselves delirious, hungry, thirsty, and wondering where the heck the top was. “You still have an hour to go” a couple of guys told us as they were on their way down. Are they joking? WTF? How is this possible? Begin temper tantrum #1 of the day. The altitude was getting to me and I threw my pack down and told Dave I wasn’t going on. He looked at me somewhat blankly, then just kept walking up the trail (thanks a lot, haha). After a couple minutes I got bored and picked myself back up and trudged the rest of the way.
The North Rim was largely anti climatic. The great views had all been seen on the way up, and now it was time to sit and recharge. Dave was now basically out of water and food, and I was just physically tired to the point that I turned on my cell in hopes to have a signal to send out pathetic texts. Luckily, the “I might die” messages did not go through as there was no signal, haha. A good point of having the BeBop backpack with me – while a bit big for most outings – it carried more than enough food, so I was able to help Dave there. We went through my pizza and a couple mojo bars, I filled my bladder with snow (which was too dirty for Dave’s tastes…) and we headed back down. Talk about night and day – the way down was wayyy more enjoyable. We were able to make up a lot of time and enjoy things like a neat little waterfall that allowed us to cool off to get some more water. Two hours later we were back at Cottonwood, shaking our heads at how impossible it seemed a few hours ago. Now it was time to get back to Phantom Ranch, hopefully collecting Jen along the way. What we didn’t account for at this point was how truly hot it had become.
Luckily, Dave and I run extremely well together. We are very good about picking up on when the other is falling back a little, and stepping up to take the lead and help them push. We know that when asked “do you want to lead for a minute?” it means “I need you to set the pace, I’ll follow.” This is what we did for the 6 miles back to Phantom Ranch. We’d run hard, then stop under the shade of the rocks when we could find it to replenish salt, water and food. It was a tough section and took longer than both of us anticipated. There were a few moments of this:
but a lot more moments of this:
As we came across people we’d always ask if they had seen Jen. We were trying to gauge where she was and hoping that she was holding up in the heat as well. A couple miles later we saw a note from her. On our way out, we had used rocks and the dirt to give her directions at a trail crossing in case she wasn’t sure where to go. Now on our way in, I was so happy to see that she wrote “JK PR” in rocks on the ground. She was headed to Phantom Ranch. Awesome. A little while later I saw her up ahead and we all helped each other push in to Phantom Ranch. As much as I was ready to walk in that last 1/2 mile or so, we didn’t have time for that. Phantom Ranch was only open until 4, and Dave and I were counting on food and drinks there to boost our spirits. We made it with about 5 minutes to spare, and proceeded to buy one (sometimes 2) of everything they sold. And then we sat and ate. And ate. And drank. And ate.
At this point we had a big decision to make. And by we, I mean me. Jen and Dave were willing to do whatever I thought was best. Do we go up the Bright Angel Trail – the 10 mile “not so steep (but still pretty steep)” section, or do we do the 7 mile super steep South Kaibab trail, and hope we make it in time to catch the shuttle to our car. At this point we were all in decent spirits, but our legs were pretty evenly shot. I decided that hiking is hiking, and it’s faster to hike 7 miles than 10. It was just after 4:30 so we had at least a couple hours until sunset. The last shuttle runs until an hour after that – no problem.
Famous last words.
We started up the ascent, and sure enough, it was steep. This picture here shows the trails down below.
I was leading the way and, all things considered, was feeling pretty good. I kept track of time and was making sure we stopped to eat and enjoy our last views of the canyon as the sun was setting. We even were all in decent enough spirits to stop and take some pictures.
After a couple hours, it started to wear on us though. We kept “thinking we saw the top,” only to find that it was another false summit. Around this time we also convinced ourselves that Dave’s GPS was no longer functioning properly. There’s no way we have only gone that far – we must really only have like 2 miles left. I turned another switchback and saw a sign up ahead. Sweet. That must be the one that will tell me I’m almost there.
Wait, what? (Insert temper tantrum #2, luckily this one was in private)
The sign read that we had only gone 3.8 miles. We still had 3.5 to go. I checked my watch – 2 hours. I glanced at the sun – definitely within minutes of what I’d call a “sunset.” Uh oh. I knew I needed to make a decision, and make it quickly. I assessed the condition of the group. While everyone was still moving, I was making better time. Missing the shuttle wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I knew that ultimately we’d all be better off if we got it. So, I yelled down to Dave the bad news, and told him I was going to take off to try to get the shuttle. I told him if I wasn’t at the top when he got there, to wait and I’d bring the car back. And then I proceeded to gather ever ounce of strength I had left to crush this climb in one hour. Luckily, there was a handful of others also making their way to the top. I treated it like a race and picked them off one by one. As I neared the last group of switchbacks it was dark, cold and windy. I pulled my buff over my face because there was no time to let any of that slow me down. I caught a baby bobcat in my headlamp and told it not to eat my friends, or I’d hunt it down and it would be sorry (seriously, it listened). I could feel the top getting close, and then finally, I was there. I hurried over to the shuttle stop, and wasn’t there for more than a minute before a bus pulled up. Thank god. “When’s the last shuttle come through here?” I asked. “8 pm” he said. I checked my watch. It was 7:55. Whew.
I hurried and got back to the trailhead after just about an hour with our car and I was so happy to see 2 headlamps waiting for me. I was even happier to see that the headlamps were being worn by Jen and Dave, two alive and well human beings, happy and smiling. I ended up completing the 47.5 mile R2R2R in 14:47. For anyone looking to do this: DO IT. Prepare. Bring friends. Don’t rush. Enjoy it. Be there for the sunrise, and the sunset. Talk to people along the way. Remember that it’s not a race. Have fun. And most important, carry lots of water.
The next part is a whirlwind – getting back to Claire’s, reliving the day, getting up and driving to vegas, the Hoover Dam, VEGAS, etc. Sunday was spent relaxing by the pool at the MGM Grand. Dave even convinced me to get going and do a swim workout. In case you have never done a swim workout at noon in a Vegas pool, I would recommend going sans swim cap. My TYR bikini said “I’m here to party”
but my cap drew some heckling, haha
So, there you go. That was my Rim2Rim2Rim.