Everything has been going reasonably well lately. I’m doing well in all my classes and everything is going well with work. My running training has been going particularly well. So far this year I’ve knocked off over two and a half hours from my 50k best time. More recently I’ve been doing longer runs on the weekends as well as speed work during the week.
Despite all this, I’ve felt a little down lately. It’s not that anything bad has happened or that I’m really depressed. I’d say malaise more accurately describes my attitude. Stress about what to do with working out my schedule with work and school may have something to do with this sentiment; however, I think more than anything I have been craving adventure. I’ve had the feeling of the world enclosing around me like the walls of that trash compactor in the Death Star from Star Wars. After my friend Bruce and I postponed a hike we had planned for Saturday, I called a local ultra runner, Casey, about coming along on his Grand Canyon rim-rim-rim run. Since he was going alone he was glad for the company.
Friday afternoon we drove over to Williams Arizona which is about an hour outside of the park. When we arrived there was a fair amount of snow and it was freezing outside. This was a little worrysome to say the least. The South Rim was another 1000 feet higher in elevation and, therefore, about 5 degrees colder, Oi Vey. Moreover, when we got to the North Rim the weather could be even worse. We kept positive about the run but realized there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to do it.
We woke up at 2:30 a.m. and were on the road by 3:00 a.m. We saw three huge elk along the roadside and luckily they decided to not dart in front of us because Casey didn’t see them until I pointed and said “holy shit”. The weather really started looking bad as we entered the park. Later we both admitted we would have turned around and went home right there if either of us were alone. The wind was whipping snow flurries across the road and we were shocked by the cold as we got out. All our gear was ready so all we had to do was grab our packs and get going. This was a good thing because I was freezing my but off and may have bailed if I had time to think about it.
With our headlamps and flashlights illuminating the trail in front of us we descended below the rim about 4:10 a.m. Things started looking good for us almost immediately because we were protected from the wind below the canyon rim and we warmed quickly as we jogged. The snow on the trail didn’t effect our footing at all. However, we took it easy. Hitting an icy spot and spilling over the edge would have ruined the day pretty quickly. Before I knew it we were pulling into Indian Gardens 4.5 miles into the run. We filled our bottles and set off again still in the dark. I was in front and set a moderate pace taking advantage of smoother parts of the trail and slowed on more technical parts. Casey said we were making good time. Now I didn’t know Casey all that well. I’ve met him a few times and we seemed to like each other well enough; however, I hadn’t exposed any of my idiosyncrasies to him. I figured this was as good of a time as any and said we need to keep a good pace so Gollum (yes Gollum from Lord of the Rings) doesn’t get us. I think he pretended not to hear me because there was dead silence after that.
About thirty minutes after leaving Indian Gardens I turned off my headlamp. Although the Sun wasn’t up I could see well enough to not trip and fall flat on my face. We got to Phantom Ranch a little after 6:30. The camp was lively as people were lining up for breakfast. We got our normal strange looks as we filled our bottles with water and powery substances and sucked on energy gels. I guess my orange tie-dyed spandex gaiters didn’t help us either.
The next couple of hours were pleasant. We chatted, enjoyed the scenery, listened to the rush of Bright Angel Creek, and kept moving. I was feeling great and knew I had plenty of fluid because I was urinating pretty often. We filled up yet again at a water stop about 7 miles past Phantom Ranch and prepared ourselves for the death march up the North Rim. We noticed the snow line was pretty low on the north side of the canyon and we were pretty sure we were going to encounter significant amounts of snow. Indeed, we started seeing snow along and on the trail just after Roaring Springs which is still about 2500 feet below the North Rim. We couldn’t really do anything else than keep going and turn around if things got too ridiculous. The dusting of snow on the canyon walls was absolutely beautiful. I decided last minute not to take my camera but I regretted this decision. It would have been worth carrying the camera 48 miles just to get a few pictures up on the North Rim….sorry.
While we did encounter quite a bit of snow, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared. I led the way and de-virginized the fresh snow on the trail. (I’m pretty sure I heard it say daddy.) The snow was about 8 inches deep in the worst areas but only a couple most everywhere. This probably slowed us a bit and it seemed like forever before we finally reached the North Rim, our turn around point. We didn’t stay long because we were getting cold not moving. There was no water available anyway so there wasn’t much reason to linger.
As we descended the North Rim the footing was better than I had expected. I picked up the pace a bit and my gangster theme music, that Eminem 8-mile song, played in my head. Yes, I felt pretty tough. As my gangsterosity passed, I only know a few lines of the song, we passed another group of crazy people marching up the North Rim on their own double traverse. I stopped long enough to say hello and find out this group of six was from Tuscon. Continuing on the snow was much slushier than it had been on the way up. This made for some serious puddle stomping. Pretty fun for a runner living in the Mohave Desert. It got pretty slick in a few places and the drop off only a couple of feet away suddenly jumped to the forefront of my mind.
Soon enough the snow faded away. I was feeling really good but Casey was having some foot problems. This slowed him up a bit, but this was fine by me because it gave me an excuse to stop and enjoy the scenery. The snow on the canyon walls was just so beautiful. It was is the StayPuff Marshmellow Man exploded into a fine mist of marshmellow bliss all over the canyon walls. Again I apologize for not having photos to share.
Soon enough we were back at the water stop at the Pumphouse Residence. Literally this is a little house once owned by a park worker and artist named by Bruce Aiken. When he lived there his children would sometimes bring lemonaid to hikers passing by. Growing up IN the Grand Canyon? unbelievable.
By this time the ibuprofin Casey took was kicking in and our pace picked up significantly. Amazingly, I had almost no soreness and was plenty well hydrated (By this time I had urinated about 11 times, pretty annoying). The walls of the canyon gradually narrowed and we soon dropped below the Great Unconformity (distinct line where sandstone meets granite and metamorphic rock that represents 1.2 billion years missing from the geological record). I pointed out my favorite rock. It is at the end of one of the six foot bridges on the North Kaibab Trail. It’s actually a slab of rock that rises about 30 feet and is 20 feet wide. The verticle banding of this gniess (pronounced nice) rock is just amazing and we stopped briefly to admire it.
We didn’t waste too much time back at Phantom Ranch. I sort of wanted to stop in the store for a beer but I figured this probably wouldn’t have been the best idea since we still had 10 miles and a 5000 foot climb up the Bright Angel Trail. Throughout the day I had been eating 1 gel pack about every 45 minutes. This seemed to be working well because my energy was up and I felt good. As we prepared to set out from Phantom Ranch I realized my calculations were incorrect. More accurately I didn’t calculate the number of gels I needed I just grabbed a handful and threw them in my pack. I wasn’t worried about it. I planned on saving it for Indian Gardens and hoped my energy held up.
We jogged for a bit to the foot bridge over the Colorado River and on the trail parallel to it. Once we started up the canyon, however, we sort of zoned out and powered up the trail. We passed several hikers and reached Indian Gardens about 1h 40 min after leaving Phantom Ranch. At this point we only had about 4.5 miles to go. I downed my last gel I had been saving. Casey offered me more but, of course, my pride wouldn’t allow it. After 12 hours of eating nothing but powdered sports drink and gels I didn’t really feel like another one anyway. Plus I still felt pretty good and knew I could suck it up for the final climb out.
I glanced my eyes off the trail long enough at the Three Mile Rest Stop to spot a mountain goat grazing. This was pretty cool to see and the tourists freaked out when I pointed it out to them. I don’t remember much of the rest of the trip. My blood sugar level was probably pretty low. Guess it could have had something to do with getting up at 2:30 am and running across Grand Canyon and back.
A few yards below the end we ran (figuratively) across a guy who was planning on doing the double crossing the following day. We relayed the water stops and where there was no water and assured him the snow wasn’t a problem. We reached the trailhead 13 hours and 26 minutes after we started. This was about an hour faster than my previous time. It felt great ending in daylight and I was dumbfounded by how good I felt. After my previous two double crossings I was pretty wrecked. Guess all those extra miles and speed work lately are helping afterall. We ate and got back to Vegas about 11pm. I enjoyed one of my friend Shane’s homebrews when I got home which thouroughly put me to sleep.