So after last month’s grinding crawl across the canyon, where I swore I’d never do it again, Kam and I did it again. R2R2R is dead, long live R2R2R? It was better this time. Not a lot better, but better enough where I don’t think I swear anything off this time. Progress!
This time I thought we’d try it with actual sleep in advance, so I got a hotel in Tusayan and we tucked into bed the night before around 9 pm with alarm set for 3 am in hopes of a 4 am start. Didn’t sleep at all, like, maybe 15 min. Kept Kam up with all my nonsense. So alarm went off and I glared at it, snoozed, glared some more, glared, snoozed, thought about spending the day wandering around the rim, and so on until about 3:30 am. Then I sighed, rolled out of bed, and grumped toward the shower. In for a penny…
My only aspirations this time were (a) to try to eat better and not bonk and (b) to otherwise be less miserable than last time. Serious goals.
Down the South Kaibab / 4:46 to 6:46 (2:00)
As always, I felt a lot better once we parked and started the chilly walk to the rim. I love the start of it, being outside, the cold night air, the sight of our breath preceding us down the road. The full moon was gorgeous and you could see the vast expanse of the canyon lit up in lunar light from the trailhead. As a bonus, there were at least two groups ahead of us, so their headlights bobbed down the trail below us and made it all a little less lonely.
A bit of slippy-sliding on a light scattering of ice (all the way down below Cedar Ridge) and we were off. Our time from the trailhead to Phantom last time was around 2:20. I was hoping for under 2 hours this time, just fast enough as we went north to give us time to take it easier on the way back. As it turned out, we arrived at the Phantom cantina at 2:01, so on track so far.
On the way down, I’d picked up a dropped Ziploc bag of chips just above Ooh Ahh Point and then caught up to the couple who’d dropped them at Cedar. The guy took them back, told us he was from LA, and that they were hoping to do a 12 hour RT despite the fact that they’d never done it before and were having trouble finding the next section of trail. I wished them luck, thinking they must be fast runners — a lot of people take the descent down slowly at night and then rock the run up to the north rim and back, so his time was plausible. Ish.
Around the same time, we passed two girls / ladies / women in down jackets who were aiming for nothing more than “getting as far as we can before noon, then turning around” which seemed like a nice, mellow goal. That would give them a solid seven hours of trail and a reasonable return time.
Right after that we dropped both couples / groups and skipped on down toward Skeleton point.
Up the North Kaibab / 7:00 to 12:01 (5:05 / 7:15)
At Phantom, we took advantage of the facilities, watered up, and got moving again. I think everyone who sets great times in the GC must be a lot less regular than I am (you know, in addition to being faster, younger and in better shape). I look forward to every bathroom with perhaps a little too much anticipation. TMI? Well, welcome to the Grand Canyon.
Shortly later, we were in the dreaded Box (a long, narrow and far from my favorite part of the Canyon, especially on the way back), but I was trying to be a bit more positive and just focus on the hike. Body felt okay. Bridges fell away 1-2-3-4 and then we got to bridge five, which is my psychological end to the Box. Kam was leading and we kept a good pace, getting to Cottonwood in just under two hours, which was right on schedule (FYI: the water was off).
We got more water at the Pump House and started the climb up the North Rim at around 9:50, giving us 2:25 to get the top by 12:15 and beat Kam’s best time — which was 7:25, set on a day when I cracked and we shuttled back to the south rim. My personal best is 6:50, set on another day when I bonked at the Bridge in the Redwall and ended up with a miraculous ride back to the south rim. Today’s goal was to set a good R2R time, not bonk and actually bet back the other other side in reasonable shape.
To not-bonk, I was avoiding all Gus, all chews, and eating only electrolytes (in my water) and more whole-foods like the sweet potato cookies and pesto pasta Kam had made. Given that we topped out just after twelve, set Kam’s new PR, and both felt “fine” (ish), things were working well so far. My stomach hadn’t turned south and I was still drinking, so all signs were good.
Down the North Kaibab / 12:15 to 4:35 (4:20 / 11:49)
We enjoyed about 10 seconds in the snow at the north rim, then headed back down to Coconino Lookout to eat and relax a bit someplace warmer. This was when I (as usual) felt bad for slowing Kam down. I set a good pace until this point, but she could clearly have jogged back down to Phantom and there was no way my tendons / back were going to take that. So she gamely skipped down the trail, kindly slowing down and enjoying the view (and taking pictures of her little stuffed frog for hew nephew).
On the way to Coconino, we passed the girl from the 12-hour RT group (clearly not going to make 12 hours ) looking a bit grumpy; the two ladies from Colorado who had dropped their packs somewhere and were heading to the top despite missing their turn-round by a bit, which was great; and then the guy from the 12 hour group looking slightly sullen. Somewhere in there was a good story. I assumed the women would pass us on the run down, and hoped the other couple would make it back without too much more drama (in my head there was lots of drama – “You said 12 hours!!!” and so on).
After our brake in the sun, I did my achy-breaky shuffle down the the Pump House (happily discovering I’d brought Tylenol instead of salt pills. Hurray!). Kam took pix (thank you) and we were heading back toward Phantom in no time. While I was definitely feeling pain in my back and tendons (I’d tweaked my left hamstring tendon on the ice on the way down the South Kaibab), we made good time and even the box was tolerable. Kam sang half Christmas Carols. The bridges fell away 5-4-3-2-1 and we were at the Phantom bathroom. 😉
BTW, looking at the time on this section, we can definitely do this faster and make up major time if I can just be less old and broken.
Up the South Kaibab / 4:46 to 8:47 (4:01 / 16:01)
A little food, including some pasta, and we took off for the climb out. So far, I felt tired (sleepy as much as physically tired, as I hadn’t slept in two days, and the failing light was like a sleeping pill) and our pace was, as usual, fine up toward the Tip Off point on the Tonto. We passed a group of three nice people on the way up (two men, one woman, all making good, consistent time).
And then just below the Tip Off, in exactly the same place as last time, my stomach turned, I bonked and bent over my poles while Kam tried to point out some Sheep to me that I, frankly, didn’t give a damn about. Crap. I was bonked again. I had hoped we’d do around 3 hours to 3:30 on the ascent and break 16 hours. We had three hours left (after I tried to recover a bit in the heinous and paperless bathrooms at the Tonto), but I wasn’t sure things were going to go well. I slowed to a crawl. Kam said nice things. I cursed my freaking bonk-prone body. The moon rose. It was quite lovely. I hated it. Well, kinda. It really was pretty.
The triple passed us just after Skeleton Point as I heaved and drooled, trying to get sugar in my body. I tried a 5-Hour Energy, and trudged after them. We passed them at the Cedar Ridge bathrooms. They passed us again on the final switchbacks. It was fun having companions in the dark. And below us, we saw other headlights that I think was probably the ladies, but not sure.
On the final traverse from Ooh Ahh Point to the final switchbacks to the rim (a) I somehow managed to kind of double-bonk, so even walking in a straight line was hard and (b) we kept finding gloves and buffs and gear on the trail far in excess of normal carelessness. Was someone hypothermic and tearing off their clothing? I half expected someone to charge naked out of the trees and demand a toll. Yeah, I was definitely losing it.
At the trailhead, we congratulated the trio and picked up two strangers who had apparently finished late and missed the last shuttle. At least they weren’t naked. We seven of us then walked and talked down the road to the parking lot about a mile away. We gave the couple (from Kansas) a ride back to the Bright Angel parking lot, then returned to Tusayan to find that everything was freaking closed. Except McDonald’s, of course. The worst McDonald’s on Earth.
Oh, despite all the (my) whining, this was our fastest R2R2R. Can easily do sub-15-hours if I can, you know, not crack open like Humpty Dumpty on the final climb.
No idea what to do here. I consumed no Gus or chews, and my stomach was WAY better most of the way (a big win), and didn’t bonk on the North Rim (win 2), but the bonk up SK was just as bad as last time (well, close). I ate solid foods consistently, high in carbs (though not sure of exact count / hour), drank plenty, had electrolytes, etc. So…just have to keep working on it.
Kam was, of course, fine despite not drinking any water that last 14 miles. Not sure she’s human. To the ladies and the 12-hour couple, I hope you made it back reasonably early and got to enjoy the last of the cold french fries and greasy chicken. Happy Thanksgiving.
Kam’s photos are here.