01 December 2013

Trail Running in the Grand Canyon

Like many trail runners, running across the Grand Canyon is one of the bucket list biggies. Since last year, I had been hatching a plan to do a double crossing (40+ miles) sometime this fall. My buddy, Buzz, was all-in too. We set our sights on Thanksgiving week and made travel arrangements. Last month Buzz was still dealing with some lingering legs issues from the Moscow Mountain Madness 50k in Sept that kept him from getting in a solid long run training. So a couple weeks ago he made the smart decision to back out of the double crossing, but still planned to make the trip and do some shorter runs. I contemplated doing a solo attempt, but in the end decided to back out of that attempt too. The new plan was that Buzz and I would run a couple shorter runs together, then I'd tackle a bigger run on my own. We focused on the trails with easy access from the South Rim.

Map of the trails we ran on this trip. 

Day 1 - South Kaibab to Bright Angel (~16.5 miles)

These are the most-used trails. We ran down South Kaibab, but after a mile or so we pretty much had the trail to ourselves all the way down to the river. A 5,000' descent in about seven miles is enough to get your legs warmed up. The canyon had some rain (and snow) a few days before we got there, so the trails were in great shape. No dust, and only a few muddy spots.

We hit the river and headed west along the River Trail to hook up with the big ascent up Bright Angel. The 5,000' climb back up to the rim is relentless; by the end we weren't doing much running at all. Bright Angel was pretty crowded the final three miles or so. 

I could attempt to use words to explain the beauty and immensity of the Grand Canyon, but it would be fruitless. I could try to take pretty pictures too, but it wouldn't approach the reality.

"The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail." - John Wesley Powell

Up high on South Kaibab

Buzz descending South Kaibab

Buzz on South Kaibab switchbacks

Buzz descending South Kaibab

Bright Angel ascent

Bright Angel Ascent

Bright Angel snaking up the Grand Canyon walls

Day 2 - Rim Trail (~11 miles)

The Rim Trail is the easy, much-paved trail that runs along the South Rim near the Grand Canyon village and all the lodges. We weren't originally planning to run this trail. "It's too paved and touristy," we thought. But since my long run was planned for Day 3, we thought it might be a good idea to give my legs a little bit of a break from the big climbing.The full trail is probably 12 or 13 miles long, but we started just shy of the most eastern point. The couple miles around the village are crowded, but after that the trail was surprisingly quiet. This might have been the longest 11-mile run of my life; every view around every new corner brought us to a jaw-dropping stop.

View from the Rim Trail

Along the Rim Trail

Day 3 - Hermit to Tonto to Bright Angel (~25 miles)

Buzz dropped me off at the bus stop before the sun came up. It was about a 35-minute shuttle from the village to Hermit's Rest where I'd plunge down into the canyon on the less-used Hermit Trail. That morning, fog filled the Grand Canyon. The sunrise will be one of those memories etched into my mind forever. It was just me and two others on the shuttle, so the driver was gracious enough to stop several times for us when there was an open vista toward the east.

I dropped down Hermit Trail into the thick fog. There wasn't much running on the beginning of the descent. The trail is rocky and technical, and there are several rock slides that need to be scrambled around. After a long descent, I hooked up with Tonto Trail to begin making my way back east toward Bright Angel. The Tonto section is some of my favorite trail I've ever been on. I saw only a couple hikers during the first 20 miles before I met up with Bright Angel for the ascent out of the canyon.

Getting out of the canyon is no joke. I was feeling very strong up until less than a mile to go when I had an epic bonk. I shuffled my way up to the rim and to the beer waiting for me in the lodge.

This route is a strong contender to break my top-10 runs of all-time list.

Sunrise over a fog-filled canyon

Into the fog on Hermit Trail

Hermit Trail 

Hermit trail

Happy to be alive on Tonto Trail

Tonto Trail along a cliff

Tonto Trail above the Colorado River

Tonto Trail 

Keep running!