Grand Canyon R2R2R 2010


R2R2R = Rim to Rim to Rim, a 46-mile jaunt through the Big Ditch.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

I had to be in Las Vegas for the bike show, so Tommy agreed to fly out from New Hampshire and meet me. He also invited his friend Nick and we were a threesome.

We stayed in Williams, about an hour shy of the park. Something-- we're not sure what-- in our room had a foul smell that attached itself to all our gear. At first I accused Tom, but it might have been a sewer backup?

We got up at 4 (Tom and Nick pointed out that it was already 8 in their time zone) and headed for the park. When we got there, we found the road signs terribly inadequate, and the map we were given at the entrance wasn't really any better. We eventually figured out where to park to catch the shuttle to the east loop and the South Kaibab trailhead where we got off with about 30 other people. So much for solitude. But hey, it's a big canyon, right?

We left the rim right at 6:30.

Because this hike is an "inverted mountain" where you start at the top, hit the bottom at midday, and then walk back up to finish, it's only fitting that this trip report starts with a "summit shot" of Nick, Tommy, and myself.

Cameras out, everyone!


South Kaibab trailhead
And it was all downhill from there ;-)
Warning sign Photo by Tommy
The South Kaibab trail gets right to business with lots of switchbacks to get you down the first major cliffband. Instead of discussing all the different geologic strata here, I'll recommend that you read about that elsewhere. Just before this outing, I read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time. Switchbacks

The incredible light of sunrise, high desert, and big canyon was already doing its thing.

Morning light in the canyon

In the first few minutes of brisk walking we had left most of the shuttle crowd behind, but the shuttle had been running since 5:15, so there were still more hikers ahead.

No worries. We were in cruise mode because there was so much to see. Of course, our cruise is fairly quick. By 7am, we had already dropped over 1000'.

Sun is up

At 7:45 we got our first view of the river. Really, there is a river down there. Click for a bigger version.

First view of the river

If it looks like a long way down to the river, this is the view back up to the south rim from where we had come. Also a long way.

Somewhere in here we started realizing just how BIG this canyon is. The size of the canyon became a discussion: You simply can't grasp the size, nor the beauty, by staying on the rim.

South rim

We crossed the Tonto Platform, a broad shelf (~1/2 mile wide) that runs along the canyon, at about 8:15. We had walked 4.4 miles and dropped almost 3000'. Now we were finally looking into the 'inner canyon'.

Approaching inner canyon

A little farther along the trail, we could see the River Trail, the section of trail that joins the bottom of our South Kaibab descent with our planned climb of the Bright Angel trail. In this zoomed shot you can see a string of mules-- more on %#* mules later.

Mule train
We were pretty excited when we finally saw the hikers' bridge across the river. Bridge
At 9, we got to cross that bridge while a boating party drifted past on the calm green waters. No, the Colorado is not red and muddy any longer. Read what High Country News says about Glen Canyon Dam. Crossing the bridge

From the bridge, you have to walk downstream a bit to the Bright Angel campground which sits at the bottom of the North Kaibab trail. At the campground, there is a toilet and also drinking water. At about 9:30, we used the facilities, tanked up, and started up hill toward Phantom Ranch. We discussed the etymology for the ranch's name, but never did quite figure it out. But here's one of the buildings.

Phantom Ranch

The morning's descent down the South Kaibab had been all about wide, open vistas. Now we were walking up the North Kaibab, which follows a narrow canyon carved by Bright Angel creek.

For the first few miles there is little elevation gain. It was mostly in the shade, so we were cruising. But stopping a lot for pictures. We felt that this side of the canyon was more impressive, more canyon-like if you will.

Bright Angle Creek

There was also an impressive amount of engineering and trail work to put this all in. Your taxes at work.

Bright Angle Creek

Eventually the canyon opens up, also letting the sun in. And the heat. We stopped occasionally to soak our hats, and took a nice break in a shady side canyon to numb our sore feet in the cold water.

Then the canyon split and the climbing began in earnest. The little white ribbon on the right is Roaring Springs. It was 1:45 and we still had another 3000' to climb.

Roaring Springs

As we continued up the climb, the cliffs closed in and got much taller. It became very difficult to anticipate just where in the hell the trail was going to go. But it was fun trying.

Once past the biggest cliffs, the trail crosses the canyon. This is looking back from where we have come, but also showing how much higher the rim still is. Shade on the North Kaibab

By now we were getting pretty tired. I knew the Supai tunnel was 2 miles from the trailhead, so was looking for it. The folks in the picture are just below the tunnel (yes, there are people in this picture, but it's big country).

Just below Supai Tunnel

I figured that after the tunnel, it would be a cruise to the top. After all, it was forested, so couldn't be that steep, right?

Well, the angle of the trail eased, but now we were on tread used by mules. Thanks to the erosive feet of the mules, the trail here was absolutely trashed. It was a constant step-over from one pit in the trail to the next. The soil was ground to powder, and it stunk of mule shit. Chokingly. Note the big, stinky pee spot in the picture. The trail itself was awful, and it made me angry. As I explained to one fellow, it was the prettiest unkempt barnyard I had ever hiked in. My sweaty shirt accumulated the dust, turning slightly green. Oh good- now I'm wearing mule shit.

Mule damage

But we soldiered through that, eventually hitting the North Kaibab trailhead at 4pm. But only to remember that it was still another 3/4 miles to the campground. And still uphill.

North Kaibab trailhead
On the plus side, from our campsite the store with beer was less than 100 yards away.
Beer me!Photo by Nick

We did our best to recover from our effort.

Here I give Tommy our backpacker's equivalent of one of those hot-rock massages. Yes, there is boiling water in the pan.

It was actually quite comfortable, even in the shade. I'm wearing my parka because my body is tweaked from the exertion.

It wasn't a very cold night (I would have preferred colder) so we were very comfortable sleeping under the stars. We were really tired; too bad everyone else in the campground wasn't ready to go to sleep at 8pm.


Photo by Nick

The next morning we were up at 4 and on our feet by 5:15. Along the top of the rim, the moon was bright enough to walk without head torches. But the mule-trail demanded we use lights to prevent injury or excessive exposure to mule shit.

Happily, as we dropped below the Supai tunnel it was getting light and we were finally off the mule-destroyed trail (are you getting the feeling I don't like the mules?).

Then we were back to the exhilarating exposure with the trail on the edge of the red-rock cliffs.


Our info predicted a high today of 96°. But it seemed like that might be off. At 7am, in the shade and still several thousand feet above the bottom of the canyon, we were already down to shorts and t-shirts.

Hmmmm... this might not be good.

Meanwhile, my feet hurt from a bad blister, distracting me from drinking as much as I should have been.

North Kaibab
As with yesterday on our climb, we stopped a lot for photos. The cliffs were spectacular when illuminated by the rising sun. Sunrise
About 8:30 we could finally see our objective for the day, the South Rim. Say, that IS a long ways! View to the NW
I promised Mme. Tully that I would take a picture of a hiker in thongs. She said she was used to it and didn't need shoes. In privacy after she departed, we thought that altough her feet looked pretty tough, we would worry about infection from getting mule shit in any open blisters or wounds. Thongs

Uh oh. About to get sunny! Get out the big hats.

Hope you've been drinking enough, because if not... well, it's too late now!

Leaving the shade

At 10:45 we hit the bottom of the canyon and after a brief search found a spot for a nice lunch in the shade.

And then it was out into the broiler of the River Trail, the connector from the Bright Angel campground and the Bright Angel trail about a mile down river.

Here Nick crosses the downstream bridge. The upstream bridge is visible on the right. He's acting celebratory because he thinks he's got the hike in the bag. Crossing the Colorado River

The River Trail, and the Bright Angel trail, are again subject to heavy mule usage. Nuff said.

As we sweltered along in the smelly sand-dune of a trail, the boats on the sandbar looked better and better.

Boats on the beach
Well, it might be sunny and hot and all, but this shouldn't be that bad. The rim doesn't look that far away. Bright sun on the Bright Angel trail
But then we hit the switchbacks and the work started. Remember, at this point we've already walked almost 20 miles (today) and we still have 4000' to climb. And the temperature was somewhere between the upper 90s and low 100s. Switchbacks
The Bright Angel trail continued the parade of beautiful scenery. But in the hot sun, we were starting to plod. Somewhere in here I noticed how wet and shiny my arms were. I was losing water faster than I could take it in. I started wishing that instead of focusing on walking to avoid pressure on my blister earlier, I had focused on drinking more. Cliffs

This is looking back down the trail after walking for almost 9 hours.

The green spot in the middle of the canyon is Indian Gardens, five miles and 3000' from the rim. In retrospect, I should have hung out in the shade for a while and tried to get in some more water. But when we got there, it was super crowded almost like a circus (this was Saturday, after all). We even saw a couple with a baby, head uncovered in a snugli-type carrier, heading down the trail (we're all dads with kids- and had each wished we had said something afterwards). It was all madness, so we didn't stop....

And so the heat got me. The last few weeks I've been hiking in snow. My body was not ready for this.

Indian Gardens

My rate of ascent dropped from about 1300-1500' per hour to closer to 700. I was cramping. Feeling a bit dizzy.

From above, Tom and Nick could see me and Tom noted that I had taken my ski pole off my pack for balance. I was watching my altimeter and hoping it was wrong (it wasn't). But despite my heat exhaustion I still was taking in what the canyon offered, including stopping for photos. Note the switchbacks up the gully-- I certainly was noticing them.

Upper switchbacks
I was suffering, but still passing others on the climb out. When I finally got to the top at about 4:30, Tom and Nick had been waiting for about 40 minutes. They had been able to watch my slow progress as I plodded up the last 400'. And I'm pretty sure they were laughing. Nearing the top

Later that evening, as I lay on the bed trying not to cramp (and Tom and Nick trying not to laugh when I occasionally screamed), I reflected on our amazing outing. Would I do it again? You bet. But maybe take the time to try out one of the more isolated trails (but those trails do not allow one to go Rim to Rim).

The next morning we did the tourist thing from the rim, knowing that this view down the Bright Angel trail and up the North Kaibab simply didn't do the canyon justice. For those willing to put in the work, it really is a Grand place.

Tom's Dropbox photo gallery

Nick's Dropbox photo gallery

John's Dropbox photo gallery

View to the NW

Mr. Natural Home | 2010 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski