When I was asked to go to the Grand Canyon to run Rim2rim2rim, I had no idea what I was getting into. I tried to Google it, and it seemed like Google didn’t even know what I was getting into. I ended up finding a few videos on YouTube. Then there were the park maps that urges people to not try to hike from rim to river. And rim to rim should never be considered. The National Parks website does a great job of scaring people with the dangers of attempting a Rim2rim.
We decided to run the Grand Canyon on June 4, 2019. Apparently, it was just past the best time to run it. The truth is that you can run it any time of the year. The north rim closes at the end of October. It reopens in the spring. So, if you decide to run it, you’re going to have to run rim2rim2rim. There are no amenities available during the winter.
We stayed at a hotel in Williams, AZ. We packed our stuff the night before and got to be around 9 or 9:30pm. We woke up at 1am and were out on the road by 2. It took about an hour to get to the south rim. Please note, we did not stay at the closest hotel. There are lodges inside the Grand Canyon National Park. And there are many commercial chain hotels just outside the south rim. We did not do our homework on where to stay.
When we got to the park, we stopped at the visitor center to use the bathroom. One of our guys had to pack a few more things before we headed out. We got a ride to the South Kaibob trail head. We were out on the trail by 3:45am. This was later than we wanted to but it wasn’t too bad. It was still dark and we were all wearing layers. It was somewhat cold but within 10 minutes, we had all stopped to shed our top layers.
The first 7 miles are all downhill. The trail is wide and easy to follow. You do have to pay attention to foot placement. The sunrise in the canyon is amazing. It’s easy to get caught up in running and paying attention to the trail. But take time to stop and take in the surroundings. I don’t think anyone has a problem with stopping and enjoying the view. Take lots of pictures!
At around the 7 mile mark, you’ll hit the Colorado River. You’ll go through a small tunnel and the cross the river on a bridge. This is the lowest elevation on the whole trail. From here, the trail will steadily go up in elevation for the next 7 miles. It’s very gradual. Not bad at all. It’s mostly all runnable. There is a water spot as soon as you cross the river. Fill up! This will take you through Bright Angel Campground, the first one you’ll come across. Please note, that you do not need a permit for a rim2rim run (you would if you were planning on camping). It was still early in the morning when we came through this part. It was nice and cool down in the canyon.
Another 5(ish) miles down the trail, you’ll come to Cottonwood Campground. This is another water spot. You’ll need to fill up again. Always fill up because you never know if there will be water at the next stop. For the past several miles, you’ve been basically following a tributary to the Colorado River. Another mile or two past the campground you cross the tributary river. This is where the serious climbing starts. There is also another water source to fill up at. This is the Pump House Ranger Station.
The next 7 miles are all uphill. And it’s a serious grade. There are several “false summits.” This will happen about 3 or 4 times. You’ll get to a point where you think you’re near the top because you don’t see any higher ground. This is where the trail will turn and go higher. There’s is one water stop that’s 1.7 miles from the top of the North Rim (Supai Tunnel). The water pipe feeding this source was broken when we came through. We were not able to get any water. Another hiker coming down from North Rim was generous enough to give my friend some of his water. We were out of water at this point and still over a mile left. That last mile was pretty rough for me. My quads felt like they were ripping off my leg.
We made it to the North Rim in just over 9 hours. It was hot but it was slightly cooler than it usually is at that time of year. I believe the temperature was around 102° F. From what I gather, the temperature in the canyon is typically over 106° F. Coming from the east coast and never having been in AZ, I was not used to the temperature. When attempting a rim2rim, the best thing to do is drink water. Drink water and keep refilling. It’s very easy to feel like you might not need as much but staying on top of your hydration is the most important thing one can do. We scheduled snack breaks every hour. That was one thing we did not want to get behind on, due to the length of time we would be out there. FYI: a helicopter rescue out of the canyon will run about $20,000. If you opt for a burro rescue, that’ll run about $500. Other than walking the entire trail, those are your only ways out. There’s no bail out point.
With all that being said, this was one of the hardest physical activities I’ve ever done in my life. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Plans for the next trip to the Grand Canyon are already in the works.