John Brower: Grand Canyon R2R2R 2014
This was the third time I have been fortunate enough to make a go at the Canyon. I have tried to establish a tradition of a Man-cation every other April to the GFC, and this year I had several buddies make the trip with me.
We started our out-and-back on Friday morning at about 3am. Our route would take us down Bright Angel trail, up North Kaibab, returning the same way we came. My plan was to hit it, and try to go under ten hours.
When I started my watch and headed down the trail, I quickly realized I would be alone in my quest for sub-10. No one was following. I hit the river a bit slow, I guess due to my tentative downhill running stride.
Cursed! Nothing I can do living in Jackson, MS to improve that ever-important part of the game… I have nowhere to practice my nerve-impulse response time, nor to really exacerbate the quads.
I was still in the game though, and made my way through the box in a timely fashion, enjoying the sunrise as it painted the walls of the emerging north rim.
Soon the left turn at cottonwood was here, and it was time to climb. I recently purchased an incline trainer, and the benefits have really paid off; I was able to make good time up the climb, getting to the trailhead right at 5 hours. However, I kinda had a feeling that a return trip would take longer than 5 hours. I sat down for a few minutes, eating a bonk breaker and getting some fluids down the hatch. I had just enough fluid left to make it back to cottonwood, so off I went.
Following a quick descent, I was stopped in my tracks by some trail maintenance workers. They were repairing a washout on the trail, and the subsequent rock slide that had occurred. With the added break, I knew that 10 hours was a dream. I settled down, was patient, and thanked the workers for their hard work. Then I was back at it, steaming down the trail.
I passed up my buddies as they made their way up, giving a quick word of encouragement as I passed. I didn’t look at the clock, so I’m not sure when I crossed the Colorado, but seeing it in the light of the day was awesome!
The past few years the water level has been low, and the water has been brown …but not this time! It was as blue as the sky, up high, and raging full force! It was a wonderful sight to see, and a running companion as I made my way through the dunes to the devil’s staircase.
Up up up I went… bordering on dehydration, but confident I was gonna make it. I ran into one of my friends who had turned around early, and we hiked for about a mile together.
I soon found another gear, and hit it on up.
At the 9:15 mark, I found myself in no man’s land, in the sun, with low water left, and no food …but I still had a ways to go! I had to get my act together. I laid down in the shade on a rock on the side of the trail, and wrapped my mind around what I had to do: I had to get out, no matter that I was out of food and electrolytes, and had very little water left…this didn’t change the fact that there was still just one way out!
After devising a plan of action (uh, get up and get going), I was off …and amazingly I was given yet another gear …soon I flew by the 3 mile rest house, and then the one and a half mile rest house, then through the tunnel, and BOOM! Got ‘er done in just over 11 hours. 47 miles, 10:02 moving time, 11:05 total.
The next day brought a near-blizzard for my out n back down the south Kaibab trail. I was the only one out of our crew to venture down the ditch that day, and for good reason. The start saw high mph wind gusts coupled with white-out conditions; the only thing that convinced me this was not that bad of an idea were the other cars parked in the lot. Other crazies besides me!
I made my way gingerly down the slick trail, aware that I was going pretty slow, but not really caring. Once out of the elements, I was able to really see the canyon, and it was awesome! The sunlight letting through the holes in the clouds created patches of colors on the canyon below me. Really cool!
The lower into the canyon I got, the warmer and drier it became, and the faster I was able to move. Soon I found the motivation to commit to getting to the river, so off I went… until I rounded a turn and saw two mule trains just below. I made the heart-breaking decision to turn around just before the river.
On my way up, I really could tell the benefit that my incline trainer has done for me. I was able to move at a pretty fast clip! I was even toying with the idea of going even for both the decent and ascent. I put in some good work, but alas, I ran into the rear of a mule train that I had past closer to the top, and they weren’t budging. I kept my watch running as I walked behind the train. To add to the frustration, the last mule farted while I was walking behind it… boooooo!
I ended up walking the last .4 miles out, and finished in 3 hours…1:20 down and 1:40 out… 12 total miles, and despite the mules, an awesome ending to an incredible weekend of running.