Friday, June 8, 2012

Grand Canyon Fun

After our stay in Flagstaff, we headed north for a short 70 mile drive to the Grand Canyon.  Immediately I realized my preconceptions of what the Grand Canyon was like was actually incorrect. I envisioned the rim of the canyon to be a treeless arid desert similar to Canyonlands National Park.  
Instead, we were pleasantly surprised with Ponderosa forests.  The Monday night we arrived we were also surprised to find that a national park annual pass is free to military (I am still technically active duty until mid July) and secondly that all the camping was full.  Luckily, there was free camping just a few miles outside the entrance and we avoided our first pay to camp situation. 
I did an hour of research that night on doing a run to the bottom of the canyon.  Pecking away on my phone and looking at the free map from the park that refuses to show trails details any further than a few miles down into the canyon (hiking to the Colorado river from the rim is absolutely not recommended.  

I managed to figure out that running down the South Kaibab trail then crossing the Colorado river via a bridge and then back on a different bridge (not sure why they have two bridges within a mile) and up Bright Angel trail would be the best run option.  This horseshoe shaped route is around 16 miles with around 4,800 feet of climbing (South Rim is 7,200ft and the river is at 2,400 feet). 
The Start

The end of May is reasonable time of year to run this route, but an early start is necessary.  I didn’t exactly get an early start, but it didn’t ruin the run either.  Maggie dropped me off at the road leading to the South Kaibab trail head, you have to take a shuttle to get the extra ¾ of a mile down the road, at about 9:15.  
Canyon Kitty

After taking a picture with a random house cat on the edge of the canyon rim I was off.  The trail down is wonderful.  The Grand Canyon was a unique run in many ways, one of which is that the trail is consistently either down or up, where mountain trail running most always has up and down on both the ascent and decent.  The trail was impressively built with great switchbacks, widths and consistent grade.  The views were, of course, outstanding and I was thankful for the relatively wide and smooth trail otherwise I might have fallen to my death gaping at the canyon. 

After numerous mule trains and a 4 or so miles, all the day hikers were gone leaving only a small splattering of permitted backpackers.  The canyon was relatively quiet and empty from miles 4 to 10. 
Down at the bottom of the canyon I could tell my legs had taken a beating in the hour straight of down hill running with zero breaks.  As I stared at the beautiful green water contrasting so well with the canyon walls, I decided since running rim to rim or rim to rim to rim was totally out of the question today, I would challenge myself by swimming across the Colorado river and back.  

Tell me the bridge doesn't look to be a huge upside down "V"... it isn't!
The bridge is FLAT

As I have kayaked/rafted the Colorado up stream in the Cataract Canyon (awesome 5 day trip!), West Water Canyon and Glenwood Canyon, I know the water is brutally cold, even when it is blazing hot in mid summer.  Stupid or not, I was determined to swim the Colorado.  I made my way safely up stream to avoid getting swept into the more rapid flowing water below the bridge, ignored the “no swimming” signs and stripped to just my running shorts.  Yeah, it was cold, half way across I experienced that numb, strange exhausted feeling that honestly scared me a bit.  I changed strokes, as I suck at swimming and pushed on.   On the other side of the river with no way to get back to the bridge due to the rock cliffs, I did aerobic exercise in the sun and nervously prepared to make my way back.  Needless to say, I made it across again, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant or easy. 
Refreshed and stupidly proud, I ran past the rafters and raft guides at the raft beach who were shaking their heads as they thought they were going to have to save me.  Down the canyon I went for the few miles until making my way up Bright Angel trail.  
Safe.... and cold despite how it looks.  

I was impressed by Bright Angel Canyon as it spans both sides of the Grand Canyon.  The creek running up the canyon is certainly a wonderful oasis for the hiker and runner making their way up in the hot sun. I found also that I was exhausted... from the swim.  Once a few miles up the trail the crowds were heavy, as drinking water and bathrooms are available numerous time up this route.  I filled my hand water bottle and enjoyed more Vitargo.  Vitargo goes down so well, I truly crave the stuff while I run, unlike other race fuel I’ve used in the past.  I had about 500 calories worth of Vitargo, which is two packets worth. 
Creek in Bright Angel Canyon

Passing all the hikers was both entertaining and at times frustrating.  Lots of tourists hike the canyon everyday with many of them foreigners, many of them totally lacking trail etiquette, and many of them are totally out of shape.   I also found in interesting that in general, Europeans had the most pleasant reaction to my running up the canyon.  One set of male and female middle aged Europeans gave me all sorts of complements and one guy said “respect... respect”.  Europeans sure do “respect” endurance athletics. 
Our Shower!
Future Star!

I made the top without walking, which was a temptation that last few miles, for a round trip in 2:39 minutes.  The following morning Maggie, intrigued by my experience, tackled the same loop, but hiked it.  I am so impressed she hiked this monster as 4,800ft vertical over 16 miles with temps at 100 degrees at the river is no joke.   
Maggie, the real star, after her 16 mile near 5K foot up and down romp in the heat!!

 We had a blast and I plan on doing a rim to rim to rim run in early October, want to join? 

Maggie's pic... check out her site for better stuff:
Another Maggie Pic


  1. Great report Jason! Man that is a classic loop and to swim the river means that much more. Gotta try that next time I am down. Glad you like Vitargo too. See you on the rebound through Boulder.

  2. Does the 2:39 include the swim? ;)

    Looks like you guys are having a great time. Keep me posted on RRR in October, am definitely interested. Whether I can really go or not is another matter.

  3. I'm planning a R2R2R run in October...Maybe we can coordinate? I won't be able to keep up for the entire route, but I'll hang on as long as I can.

  4. Thanks Dave! The swimming was fun and refreshing... but surprisingly tiring. We will for sure coordinate next time in Boulder. YES, loving the vitargo, I crave it now. Looking forward to the recovery stuff they are supposed to come out with soon.

    JV, I'll keep you in the loop for sure. Would be great to do this with a good crew.

    Kendrick, yes let's to R2R2R!

  5. I didn't expect that It was a cold lake there. I thought that it was quite warm by the way that it looks its surroundings.

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