It is always daunting to consider doing a hike in Grand Canyon. Everyday visitors decide to hike a section in the Canyon. It could be going down the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh-Aah Point or Cedar Ridge, and maybe down to Skeleton Point. The other option is Bright Angel Trail, located behind the Bright Angel Lodge in the main village area on the South Rim. Then what starts to really push the limit is hiking down to the Colorado River, the river that carved Grand Canyon. There is the option to camp a night at the bottom of the Canyon at Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch. Yet getting a permit to stay a night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon has to be made in a year’s advance. So hikers will attempt to hike down to the river and back up within a day’s time. It may feel easy going down into the Canyon, but once a hiker or runner heads back up the rim, that is another story. Expect hiking back up to the rim to be 2-3 times longer. Next, there is the option to do a Rim-to-Rim hike. This choice I highly recommend, but only for people that are advanced hikers and fit hiking beyond 20 miles. This can be a multi-day hike, but only few dare to complete the hike within a day’s time.
For me hiking takes too much time, so I run in the Canyon wherever I decide to explore. Running to the river has become a breeze for me as a runner, its just a good long run for me on a weekly basis. I love sitting in the river halfway in my run, to cool off and enjoy the views from the bottom of a beautiful, natural-created canyon. This season so far, I have completed 16 descents into the canyon within three months. But a goal I try to accomplish every few years here at the Grand Canyon, is one that I find truly daunting. I have to really mentally-prepare myself for this journey through the Canyon. Once I first did the journey a few years ago, it truly changed my perspective on the Canyon. This canyon is very powerful and one has to really understand, it can overtake them at any moment. So this journey I completed twice is called the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run. A double crossing of the Canyon. It is traveling from one rim of the Canyon, to the other side, and coming back. It is a total of 42-miles or more, depending on the trails taken. It is a constant non-stop running adventure that is very challenging, breath-taking (obviously), and life-changing.
My journey started on May 11th at 2:05am in the morning. I will recount my thought-process as I made my way through the Canyon that day going from the South Rim to the North Rim. Sit back and read a runner’s mind as he attempts a Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim run:
Its time to go. I barely got sleep. The roommates just went to bed after socializing at the campfire for hours. I know its time to get up, take a quick shower, and complete packing my running pack. Am I ready to do this again? I have been going down into the canyon as much as I can during the past two months being back at the park. Thinking back to what I have completed so far. Rim to River and back up…multiple times. Clear Creek Trail…check. Ribbon Falls….check. Rim to Rim to Rim…I survived back in 2013 when I did it. You are more prepared this time. Let’s do this.
The moon is very bright tonight. The bike ride to the South Kaibab Trail is a little chilly at this hour. The Canyon is very well lit tonight also. Please don’t stare at the North Rim. I feel a little uneasy that I am deciding to do this again.This is not the time to bail. Maybe I’ll just run to Roaring Springs today. That is about 16-17 miles into the canyon. Plenty of water to play in. No. Stop it. Stop thinking about how long it will take. 42-miles is long but you can do it. Just divide the run into sections in your head. Right now just focus getting to the river in 90 minutes or less. Do not look at the time as well.Then focus on getting to the Cottonwood Campground for water.
Made it to the trail. The goal was to start at 2am. Starting five minutes late won’t hurt too much. Lock the bike and quickly reorganize my pack. Alright I have about a liter of water. One Gatorade. Electrolyte tablets. Two Cliff bars. Two beef jerky bars. The plan, again, is to get to the bottom of the canyon in 90 minutes or less, run straight through Phantom Ranch, stopping either at Cottonwood Campground or Manzanita Rest Stop to get more water. Water stations above Roaring Springs on the North Rim are temporarily off.
Don’t look at your phone. Don’t look at your time. That will only freak you out more. Get across to the North Rim in five hours or less. Focus on the music playing. Use the rock layers as markers to know how far up to the rim you need to travel. Expect some puddles between each step going through the Supai Group and Hermit Shale. That is okay. What if this is the one time I finally trip along the trail and break a leg? John stop it! Own this run. Push your boundaries. Push your limits. You know this will hurt. It will hurt. Other runners that have done Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim were hurting. Pssh! Probably not Jim Walmsley. Hehe. This is what you love to do John. Do it.
For the next three hours I did not look at my phone screen to see the time. I knew it would affect my mood to get across. The temperature outside was perfect. It rained the day before so the inner canyon should feel cool and comfortable for a long run. I made it down to the Colorado River safely and refreshed. The entire Inner Gorge was pitch black, so I was happy to have a headlamp with me. I came across one hiker going through ‘The Box.’ He got my heart pumping when we ran into each other around a corner. I quickly said, “Sorry!” and ran past him. Running through ‘The Box’ in the canyon is the one portion I dread the most. It feels like I am going in circles because it goes left and right numerous times. The canyon walls are high with limited visibility to see what is above. I count the bridges in this section which helps determine when I’m getting close to exiting that one area of the canyon. There are four bridges in total to cross in ‘The Box’ then Bright Angel Canyon comes next. In Bright Angel Canyon, there is access to Ribbon Falls, Cottonwood Campground, and the Manzanita rest stop.
As I approached the area close to the trail going towards Ribbon Falls, light was beginning to increase around me. I knew sunrise was going to be around 5:30am so that kind of helped me assume how I was doing on time. I was afraid to look at my phone to check the exact time. I did not stop entirely to rest at this point, my legs felt strong. I had some water left, just enough to make it to the Cottonwood Campground. I could see the cottonwood trees from a distance. Quickly rinsed myself as I got to a water station at the campground. I looked towards the South Rim, the rim looked very small at this point. Looking above me towards the North Rim, the top looked super close to me. I continued running up the North Kaibab Trail, to stop again at the Manzanita Rest Stop. I decided to completely fill up my hydration pack at that stop and to look at my time. There was enough light in the canyon to turn off my headlamp at the time.
Yes! That didn’t take long to get to Manzanita. This has to be a short rest stop. Quickly feel the pack with water. Now it is all uphill from here. Take your time. Take baby steps. Take a few photos if you have the time. Definitely one on top to show I actually made it to the top.
Doing fine at this point with pace. About another three miles or so to the top. Roaring Springs looked very beautiful. Flowing at a high velocity. Maybe I’ll come back to the North Rim sometime later this summer to play in Roaring Springs. Okay there is some switch backs up ahead. Take it easy now.
Theres the Supai Bridge. About another thirty minutes or so to the top. Legs are a little wobbly now. Where’s the rock slide that happened a few weeks ago? Be nice to see how big of a rockfall it was. Maybe it was caused from the last snowstorm that passed through.
I don’t remember it taking this long getting up the North Rim. I’m still in the Supai Group at this point. Hopefully the Hermit Shale is up ahead soon. Smells so good out here. Smell of wet forest trees is refreshing. There’s the Supai Tunnel!
I’m most likely at 7000 feet in elevation right now. I would be on the rim right now back at the South Rim. Why did there have to be uplift on the North Rim? Think positive…wheres the rim?!?! Don’t think of the Coconino Sandstone being 500 feet thick…stop with the thinking! Change the song…get some Eminem going at this point…mom’s spaghetti…I want food.
I am very close to the top. My legs are hurting at this point. Just take it easy at this point. You made it up in five hours. A new personal record. Its quite chilly up here. Remember to only rest for a few minutes then back to the South Rim. Maybe stop at Phantom Ranch for some lemonade and maybe a quick dip in the river. Yet if I continue up the South Kaibab Trail I can maybe break 10 hours. From the North Rim to Phantom Ranch, the distance is about 14 miles. Could make it down in two hours or so. I have a lot of water still.
I made it!
In total that day, running Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim at the Grand Canyon took me 11 hours and 3 minutes. My goal was to make it under 10 hours, but it was a major improvement from my first double-crossing at the canyon. Running to the North Rim took five hours and five minutes. Running back to the South Rim afterwards took roughly five hours and fifty-eight minutes. Running back to the South Rim was very smooth, until I approached Phantom Ranch. Coming up the South Kaibab Trail, my legs immediately started to cramp up. Getting up the first two miles of the South Kaibab Trail, was a mix of jogging and hiking. Immediately I snapped out of it once I approached the Tonto Platform of the canyon. Getting up the remainder of the trail took a toll on me emotionally. Knowing I made this far and that I am capable of going the distance, across a landscape that is rugged, provoking, and remarkable.
The thought of giving up never came to mind, until a coworker of mine asked me after the run. Giving up on that run to me, means not completing the full 42-mile journey. There were a few moments that I thought of ending the run short. Coming to a complete stop and turning back early is not a good feeling of accomplishment. Believing it will be a good run helps ease my discomforts and negativity. Its a journey to remind myself to be alive and feel emotions that provoke the pain in my legs, progress in my life, and endurance through endeavors. The trails go up and down, around corners to reveal beautiful land forms in the canyon stimulating my excitement. The dry heat tests my mentality to continue going forward – not stopping. The distance going through the canyon reminds me to show appreciation for an area that can be very unforgiving. I love this canyon. Its a sacred home for me. Take a journey into the Grand Canyon to pursue adventures that become memorable and to enjoy one of nature’s greatest creations.
Here is a video of my crossing from North Rim heading back to the South Rim, two weeks after my Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim adventure. The video shows most of the North Kaibab trail including Roaring Springs, Ribbon Falls, and the Colorado River. Enjoy!
Attempting a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim takes a lot of preparation. It is for advanced hikers and runners, so please plan smartly for the hike and have the proper gear and information on the canyon.
For information on Grand Canyon geology, check out this link: Grand Canyon Geologic Formations
For information on trails at the Grand Canyon, check out this link: Grand Canyon Day Hiking