Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Grand Canyon Adventure

My trip to the Grand Canyon, was a fairly spontaneous one. I had never been to Grand Canyon National Park before and was totally stupefied when I first saw it: the Grand Canyon is a vast, immense, bewildering, mind-blowing, behemoth of nature. It's sheer enormity is dizzying and it is Grand in every way.

In the past few years, as I built up my distance and started running longer and farther than I ever have...the idea of running across the Grand Canyon just got stuck in my mind. I thought this would be a super-cool way to see and enjoy the Grand Canyon. As I met more people in the Ultra running community, the consensus was that the Grand Canyon was indeed an incredible place for a run. I heard all about how tough and challenging and beautiful it was and I knew I had to do it. A great big run from rim to rim to rim: R2R2R!!

My run started in the wee hours of the day, when Keith dropped me off in the darkness of the South Kaibab trail head at 5:40 in the morning. I've never been so excited to run off into the darkness by the light of my headlamp(s)! I was giddy. Running new trails in new places is just exciting stuff, if you are me. The descent into the canyon was a whole lot of fun. The trail was wide, steep and strewn with boulders and erosion bars. There was an awareness of a deep, dark abyss out there somewhere nearby in the darkness. The morning was clear and cool and the stars were still out, but it didn't take long for daylight to make an appearance. It's hard to run in the Grand Canyon if you're a first-time visitor like me, because every corner and every view stops you dead in your tracks.


First glimpse of the Colorado River

Sunrise on the Grand Canyon
In my stupefied state of wide-eyed-amazement, it took me a couple of hours to reach the river. I was moving slow and I wasn't in a hurry. I came across my first mule-train of the day at the bottom of the canyon. It was cool to see them go through a small tunnel and cross the bridge over the Colorado, but it was less fun to follow them through the dust and dirt (and shit and piss...) the short distance to Phantom Ranch. I filled up my water and hit the trail, excited to get the day going.

I was rubber-necking at everything in sight! I am fascinated with the desert landscape, because it is so unfamiliar and new to me. Running amongst cacti and the spiky leaved Yucca is just plain cool. I was amazed with how much water is in the Grand Canyon. The trail climbs the Bright Angel Canyon towards the North Rim and I was surprised to find it alive and flowing with water.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the fall foliage. The colors were still changing and the leaves hadn't dropped yet, making for a beautiful day.

At Cottonwood Campground, while stashing a drop bag - I was passed by some other runners. I hurried to catch up to them and by the time I reached Roaring Springs, there was actually 2 groups of runners who had all hit the springs at the same time. A virtual rush-hour of runners. I chatted them all up while we re-filled our water and learned they were all Arizona runners. My white Canadian legs gave me away in their company! This stretch was going to be the longest without access to water and being super cautious, I topped up my 3L bladder.

On this section of the trail, the trail is incredibly engineered to carve and climb up through the cliff side. The trail is really quite wide, so you can comfortable run without imminent fear of death! I tagged the North Rim and visited briefly with the ladies I had been climbing off and on with before making a quick turn around. I introduced myself to Jody Chase, who was waiting for friends Honey and Liz. On this day, Jody was the speedy one of the group and had arrived 23 minutes ahead of the rest of us!

The North Rim is 1000 feet higher than the South Rim and is largely forested with Pinyon Pine and Juniper, so the views are limited. On the descent, I had fun letting my legs run and cruised back down to Roaring Springs in no time. Jody caught me on the way and we visited for a bit and took some pictures, before she flew by.

Jody, rocking the descent

I managed to drink my entire 3L of water, so I refilled again at Roaring Springs and continued on my way. I half-heartily tagged on with Jody, but the woman was flying and I was playing tourist. I settled into my own pace, taking in the scenery and even stopped to jump in the creek and cool down. The temperatures were perfect, clear and cool in the morning and topping out at about 75F in the day.

I just enjoyed the rest of my afternoon cruising easily and stopping frequently. I hit Phantom Ranch and made a quick pit-stop for a treat: a lemonade and a King sized Snickers bar. Yum.

I crossed the Colorado and just slowed down and took it all in: the fading light, the river, the canyon were all just so beautiful. The Bright Angel trail was a nice change of scenery and follows the river for a kilometer or so, before the climbing begins.

I was pleasantly surprised at this section of trail and I even managed to run a lot of this section. I was feeling strong and enjoying the climb. As the sun went down, it cast a soft red glow on all of the high places within the canyon. The sunlight line just slowly receded on the rocks, until it disappeared entirely. I hit Indian Garden Campground for sunset and it got real dark, real quick.

I learned later that Indian Garden is at 3800' feet, 3060' feet below the rim. I still had 930 metres of climbing to go! The elevation from the Colorado River to the South Rim is over 1400 metres - that's a lot of elevation to gain at the end of a day.

I fired up the headlamps, put my head down and started climbing. It was so dark, I couldn't see the top of the rim. When my eyes finally adjusted, I looked up the mountain and saw a trail of other twinkling headlamps way up high on the mountain. It didn't take me long before I hit the first group of hikers. As I powered up the mountain, I must have passed at least 8 groups in various states of exhaustion. It was a great way to end the day, chasing people up the mountain. It was a fun game and it gave me a little extra momentum to climb up the final stretch of Bright Angel. It's a hell of a climb, it really is incredibly tough to finish the day with such a huge ascent.

All done! Top of the South Rim, Bright Angel Trail.

I was happy to finish strong, all though it certainly wasn't easy. It took me 14 hours exactly and I enjoyed every moment of my day! Keith was waiting for me in the warmth of Bright Angel Lodge, with a big hug and a bag full of warm clothes and munchies. Thanks, honey! We celebrated with pizza and beer to wrap up an incredible day, in a very special place. I am fully, totally smitten with the Grand Canyon. We rounded up the weekend with a day of playing Tourist on the South Rim. What a great adventure!

November is an incredible time to visit Grand Canyon National Park. The weather was great and we had the entire South Rim all to ourselves. The football field sized satellite parking lots were all empty and we were frequently the only ones at some of the viewpoints. For those of you who like to run really, really, really far....well, put the Grand Canyon on your list. The R2R2R run is a helluva' challenge, but a challenge made easy by the epic scenery. For me, it really was all pleasure: a spell-binding journey through a one-of-a-kind landscape.


Paige said...

Wow, very cool! You did that on your own?! Kudos! Great pictures, too. I wanna go see the Canyon now!

Danni said...

I wanna go!

Paul Charteris said...

What a simply beautiful run, it must have been magical running through the sunrise in the canyon. You have the best adventures.

Gretchen said...

Oh my God, you and your spontaneous running trips! Definitely looks awesome. We were thinking about you as we were on a little canyon running of our own in Zion. (Meghan gave us some updates via Keith. :))I was wishing you were with us, but it looks like you had one hell of an adventure. Next time maybe we'll all get together to run the same canyon? ;)

Meghan said...

Caption for about 3 of your photos,
"Hey! There's a big hole in the ground there! Do you see it, do you see it?"

I love Leslie-pointing-at-things photos! They are the best!

Thanks for the vicarious adventure through your blog. I haven't run R2R2R in 2 years(?) now, and it's been toooooooo long!


PS. I ditto Gretchen above, let's all go to the same location next time!

nourish-n-cherish said...

Wonderful pictures! I've always wondered how it would be to run in the Grand Canyon! Sure sounds like fun.

Leslie said...

Hi Paige!
Yup, it was a great run to do by my lonesome. I could go my own speed and stop wherever I wanted! It's a hard one to get lost on and there was lots of other peeps on the trail.

Yo Danni!
You NEED to go!

Hi Paul-
It was pretty magical. And YES, I do have the best adventures! :)

Hi Gretchen!
Too funny, we all were in pretty close proximity. Maybe you should hook up with Meghan and do that Marin/Point Reyes trip! Wait...
I want to do that one again...and spend more time in Point Reyes...
So many trails, so little time!

Hi Meghan,
Keith took that picture and MADE me point...just for you!! I was actually asking him to "Pull my thumb!" but he wouldn't....?!
It sounds like you've been having your own adventures and you don't need to live vicariously through mine. Hopefully, we will have some adventures in the New Year? Yes?

Hi Saumya-
Thanks and welcome!

kristen said...

wow. just wow.

great pictures too :)

Derrick said...

Great run Leslie. Looks just incredible. Thanks for sharing.

I've never really thought that it would be a run that I would be interested in doing, but after reading your account and seeing the photos it is on the must-do list now for sure.

Jill Homer said...

Awesome! Someday I'll take up running so I can do that. Great photos.

Unknown said...

I was thinking about visiting the grand canyon this November and your pictures have all but decided for me. They're beautiful! You're very lucky to have gotten those moments on "film".

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