Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

A few years ago, I went with my mom to see the Grand Canyon. We went on a chilly January day and looked down at it from the South Rim, spent half an hour walking around and then left. I knew then that I’d be back to explore it, not just look at it from the edge.

During our van trip, Callum and I had big Grand Canyon plans, we were going to spend a week camping at the rim and exploring below the rim. Then there was a snow storm and the 50 miles of road leading to the Grand Canyon were closed. We waited two weeks for the road to open but eventually we had to go to Texas so I could run the Lone Star 100.

When we got back to Toronto in April, I told my Phoenix friends (Krystin and Karl) about wanting to run the Grand Canyon from rim to rim to rim (about 50 miles and 12,000 ft, of climbing). Krystin quickly said that she and Karl would run it with us, whenever we wanted to go to Phoenix. A week later we booked plane tickets to Phoenix for late September.

During the summer, Krystin got a stress fracture, Callum had a foot injury and I think Karl had some sort of injury as well. We decided that we would pull back and do rim to rim this trip and then do R3 another time when everyone could be properly trained.

On Wednesday, Callum and I woke up at 3:30am to get to the airport for our 6:15am flight to Philadelphia. When we got to the airport, we found out that the flight had been pushed back so we could have slept until 5am! The rest the travel was long but uneventful (1 hour plane to Philadelphia, 2 hour layover, 5 hour flight to Phoenix). Krystin and Karl picked us up from the airport and we were off!!

Krystin and Karl surprised us with Rim to Rim buffs and Grand Canyon shirts (they’re the best!). After a couple last minute errands, we started our drive north. We got to the Canyon around 6:30pm (pacific time so we’d been up for 18 hours!). We went to go watch the sunset over the Canyon, ate a quick dinner at the canteen and then went back to our room to organize for the next morning.

We went to bed around 9:30 but when the alarm went off at 3:30am for our 4am departure, I was surprisingly awake. We ate oatmeal, put on too many clothes and then headed out in the pitch dark to the Canyon. We stayed 1.5km from the Bright Angel Trailhead so we walked over and it was go time.

We stopped a couple times for various things in the first hour and thankfully we took a minute to turn off our headlamps and look at the stars because they were incredible. We couldn’t see anything but the person ahead of us and the giant black abyss to our side for most of the first hour and a half. We descended for what felt like forever! It’s also not smooth sailing because of the stairs that have been built into the trail so it screws up your cadence.

Around 5:45am it started to get bright enough that we could turn off our headlamps. It was great to finally be able to see what’s around and get to see the Canyon from inside.

After a lot of descending, we got to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch. I was so excited to see the Colorado River, I have wanted to cross that bridge to Phantom Ranch for a long, long time. We stopped for a while and took pictures on the bridge before filling up our water at Phantom Ranch. We were almost half way now and everyone was super excited about how beautiful the Canyon was.

From Phantom Ranch, there a long stretch where you’re running on fairly flat ground beside a river. It’s beautiful and lush! It’s also long and your watch doesn’t work so we never really knew how much farther anything was. We took a snack break on a bridge and just sat there for a while taking in being in the Canyon. Our plan was always to take our time and enjoy it especially since we were only going one direction.

We made really great time for the first 30ish km. Krystin had only run a couple times in the previous 3 months because of her stress fracture so by 30km, we decided to hike the rest. Not too long after that you start going up and up and up. We knew it would eventually get tough but I didn’t know the toughest part would be not knowing how far we were from anything. The Canyon has a way of making a mile seem like forever.

We knew we needed to get to Supai Tunnel and we would be just under 2 miles from the North Rim. The problem was getting to the tunnel! We asked every hiker we saw how far we were from the North Rim and for over two hours, every single person told us that we were 3 miles away. Krystin really was hurting, we were in the direct sunlight and it felt like we had been climbing for forever. This was definitely the toughest part of the day.

Eventually we got to Supai Tunnel and filled up our water and started the final stretch. When I’m this close to the end, I’m fairly good at blocking everything out and just hiking as fast as possible. So that’s what I did, I just went for it and then I would wait a few minutes until I could see Callum and I’d take off again. When I got close to the top, I stopped waiting and just out 100% of my focus on getting out of the Canyon. It was such a relief to make it to the North Kaibab trailhead! When everyone got there, it was an amazing moment, we had done it! It wasn’t speedy but it was a great day in the Canyon.

We still had to get to the North Rim Lodge to catch the shuttle 1.5 hours later. Thankfully an older couple came over to talk to us about our run and volunteered to drive us the 2 miles to the lodge.

If there’s one take away I have from this whole experience, it is how amazing it is to go on an adventure like this when everyone is just excited to be there. No matter how hard the run got, we just kept talking about how amazing the Canyon is and it is!

The entire run was 40-44km (we’re not really sure) and about 6,000 ft. of climbing but I’d say it’s harder than any 50k race I’ve ever done. I think I’ll be back eventually to do R2R2R but for now, I’m just happy I got to spend an entire day in the Canyon and a pretty incredible 3 days in Arizona!

Happy running!

7 thoughts on “Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

  1. Krystin October 22, 2017 / 3:49 pm

    Aaaahhh! I love it (excluding the part where I am a total weenie)! R3, 2019(?!), here we come!

    • KatherineRunsUltras October 22, 2017 / 4:09 pm

      You weren’t a weenie, you couldn’t train for it because your foot was broken! Haha yes 2019 R3!! Maybe AZ visit 2018 too!!

  2. Dwight Rabe October 22, 2017 / 4:00 pm

    Katherine, really cool post!! And mass props to you all. How did you get from the north rim back to your car?

    • KatherineRunsUltras October 22, 2017 / 4:10 pm

      Thanks Dwight!! We took the transcanyon shuttle, it took 4+ hours but thankfully made a couple stops for snacks!

  3. runeatralph October 23, 2017 / 9:00 am

    Those are some seriously amazing pics. I’ve never been, mainly because I didn’t want to go without my wife. We need to get there one of these days while I’m still young enough to hike a bunch of it.

  4. Canuck Carl December 7, 2018 / 3:56 am

    Loved reading this Katherine. It seems like a lifetime ago but when I was 26 in 1985 I hiked the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado and back out again. I took my time and spent a night at the Indian Garden Campground.

    Now that I am running I would love to return. There is a stage race that is 6 days and over 200 kilometers, but it is so expensive. Nice to know that the rim to rim is quite doable in one day.

    Hope Krystin’s stress fracture injury wasn’t aggravated by run. It would have been an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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