Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, AZ, USA

HIKING DISTANCE: 45 Miles
VERTICAL: +10,000′ / -10,400′
TIME: 16 Hours 54 Minutes

The classic Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim trek in the Grand Canyon has been on my life list for a couple years. Given the potential temperature extremes, the only feasible seasons are Spring and Fall. I’ve been stir crazy this winter, so I set my sights on the earliest reasonable date considering both the conditions and my schedule. And this morning, finally, at 630a I found myself at the South Kaibab Trailhead amidst a fickle mix of snow, sleet, and rain. The North Rim isn’t open to vehicle traffic until mid-May, so I wasn’t sure exactly what the conditions would be like up there, but snow was only just beginning to accumulate on the South Rim, so I had high hopes. Though I was off to a rough start with weather, the forecast was projected to be mostly overcast with patches of sun. And after about a half hour, the precipitation stopped. From then on, the weather was nearly perfect. No precip, not too hot, not too cold.

I wanted to see as much of the canyon as possible, so I opted for the piecemeal circuit rather than the out-and-back: South Kaibab to the North Kaibab, then back down the North Kaibab and out the Bright Angel to my car. Despite my ambitious goal – completing the trek in under 24 hours – I took tons of “Beauty Breaks” during which I captured over a hundred photos. I’m not out for records; I just wanna push myself. And take pretty pictures.

I cruised down the South Kaibab Trail and was on my up to the North Rim by 9a. I figured I’d be the only one on the North Kaibab Trail beyond Cottonwood Campground, but I saw a dozen or so other hikers, mostly day hikers likely staying overnight in the canyon. Still, I was surprised to see folks intermittently all the way to the top. I was surprised and excited to find that there was NO SNOW on the North Rim. And furthermore, that the water was on! I stopped for lunch and about a 20-minute break before turning around to make my way back to the car.

On the way down, I decided to take the short 0.25 mile detour to Ribbon Falls, which I could see from the trail as I headed up. I skipped it, because I could see other hikers enjoying the falls. On the way back, I had the whole place to myself. I was both surprised and grateful.

The last bit of twilight faded as I approached the Colorado. I donned my headlamp and pressed on. It was a long, painful climb up the Bright Angel Trail. The day had finally caught up to me. I was pushing hard – grimacing with each labored step – and totally loving it. It makes sense to me that a lot of folks wouldn’t understand why I get so stoked on this stuff. Those aren’t the kind of conditions that many people would thrive in, but I was in my element.

It wasn’t an ideal day. I’ve basically been hibernating this winter; I’m certainly not in hiking shape. My knee started acting up before I reached the Colorado River on my first descent this morning. Climbing up the North Kaibab was easier on my knee, so I didn’t take Aleve until I was ready to descend the North Rim. On my way up, both of my calf muscles started locking up. Guess I hadn’t been drinking enough water, so I started a 15 minute hydration timer to remind myself to drink more regularly. The chafing didn’t start until about halfway down from the North Rim. With over 15 miles to go, I started subtly waddling down the trail. For all my planning, I’d neglected to bring Gold Bond. Rook move. And as if the above-listed ailments weren’t enough, I noticed at the start of the Bright Angel Trail that I had a blister under each of my respective big toes. I was uncomfortable as I began the final 10-mile stretch.

Just keep walking. Just keep walking. 

I was on pace to beat 18 hours pretty easily, and maybe even finish sub-17. I met a guy at the shuttle stop this morning who was training for his Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim next week. He’d already done it a couple times and wanted to finish in under 20 hours. He asked my goal: “Sub-17?” I told him, mine was 24, but that I could probably do it in under 20. He teased me, implying my goal wasn’t lofty enough. I guess he was right, because I topped out after 16 hours 54 minutes. How did he know??!

I was so out of it as I stumbled beyond the lodges and toward the parking lot that I walked right by an elk, like within 6 feet, and didn’t even notice until I’d passed her. Gah, the wildlife is so habituated in our National Parks. At least she didn’t freak out.

I made it back to my car before the moon rose. I’m hurting, and satisfied. So satisfied. That was fun. I’ve read other accounts where folks refer to this trek as The Death March. I didn’t think so, though I can see why others might.