Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Double Crossed!

Over the last couple of weeks I've been a little mopey since I had a last minute invite to join a Grand Canyon river trip with the Cincinnati and New England Canyoneering clubs and felt like I had to decline it, which initiated a severe case of Fomo.  But of course the fall weather in Utah has been stellar, which means there's been a plethora of opportunities to get outside and dull the insidious effects of Fomo, and I also was looking forward to the opportunity to join Chris Adams on what apparently is one of the hallowed rites of passage of ultra running: the Grand Canyon double cross, aka Rim To Rim To Rim (note the caps; that makes it more impressive), aka - if you are really in the club - the r2r2r.

It's pretty straightforward:  start on one side of the GC, run down to the river, run up the other side, ring the bell on top, and go back.    There are a couple of options on the south side of the canyon, so depending on what is chosen the route varies between 42 and 50 miles, with about 11k of vertical.  Straightforward indeed, other than the fact that for some of us (me) it's almost 50% further than the longest run ever!  And the National Park website doesn't really seem to encourage it:  "Under no circumstances should you attempt to hike from the north rim to the river and back in one day! Do not hike during the hottest part of the day."
Maybe they meant "don't do it before also going up to the south rim before going back"?

Because the North Rim is 200 miles closer to SLC than the South Rim, we elected to start there, and it worked out well that the "North Rim is closed" (despite being at the end of a state highway) so we didn't have to worry about getting rousted out of bed by an over-enthusiastic ranger uptight that we were illegally camping (not really 'camping", per se; more simply "sleeping") at the North Rim trailhead on Friday night.  But we were rousted out of bed by a ginormous RV full of fired-up hikers doing a one-way cross who wanted to get an early start to catch a football game that evening.  Ah well, we had to get going anyway.

Heading down the trail pre-dawn
Chris led the way down the 6500' descent at a relaxed clip that we hoped would not be a prequel quad-crusher for the next big descent off the south rim, and after passing all the hikers we easily found ourselves at the transition where the North Kaibab trail becomes a really gentle grade that's very runnable.  With the right incentive you could really fly down this section, but with over 35 miles to go we kept it pretty restrained.
I'm sorta posing here; we were going the opposite direction; the south rim is far in the distance
I have been to Phantom Ranch a bunch of times on river trips and it's a nice place, but what I didn't realize is that just up the creek from the ranch is an gorge that is as beautiful as any in the Grand Canyon
But then again, this is the "Inner Gorge" of the river corridor, so I should have guessed that the creek would be doing the same thing.

Soon enough we began seeing the fresh-looking Phantom Ranch day hikers, easily identified by their plumage of khaki-colored REI clothes, leather boots, floppy hats, trekking poles, the ten essentials, and recently-showered smell and knew we were getting close to the river.   We also saw some other r2r2r runners, also easily identified via their skinny calves and distinctive markings of puffy shoes, gaudy gaiters, tiny packs and not-so fresh scents.  One of these runners looked familiar, and I asked in passing: "Is that Matt?"  to which the reply was "no, but I saw you at the Wasatch backcountry Alliance meeting the other night!"  Really?  what's your name?  "John Rich."  Oh, are you Grace's brother?  "No, but we went to high school together!"   A lot of connections made in a very short time.  And we bumped into Nate, whom we had met at the Vacquero Loco race in August; apparently it's a pretty small community of folks who do this stuff.  

Shortly after Phantom we hit the river, which Chris had never seen:  
And we were happy to see the daily mule train right at the bottom crossing the bridge, which meant that we wouldn't get dusted/whizzed on by the mules on the trail.
and we began our march up towards the rim.  The South Kaibab trail is a bit more direct and therefore steeper than the nearby Bright Angel trail, and it also seems to have more built in steps made of logs/rocks that can be a bit awkward to descend nicely, so we decided to go up that trail
Coupla cool guys

After a couple of hours of upward marching we found ourselves on the rim, with many of our fellow adventurers

To get a bit of a different perspective we decided to do a loop by going down the Bright Angel trail, but the thought of shuffling along the rim on a paved path didn't sound very appealing so we took the shuttle bus the few miles over to the Bright Angel trailhead.  It worked out fine, but certainly takes a bit away from the "style" of the outing:
Chris given'er super hard on the shuttle bus

Busting Chris selfie-ing on the rim with our fellow adventurers

and back downward into the depths we went.  

Bright Angel is a slightly "nicer" descent, but it's still wide, dusty, crowded, and full of mule poo, but at least the width allowed us to zip past all the hikers who expected us to stop and answer the questions of where we were headed and what we were doing.  We did notice that when it got narrow the uphill hikers were tired enough that they were happy to relinquish their typical uphill right away and let us by.  

It didn't take us long to get back down to the river where we had a pleasant mile or two heading back upstream to the Phantom Area.  We did encounter another mule train, which is hard to get past:
These mules are screwing up my Strava!  

And then we were back at Phantom for a quick refuel for the longgg grind back up to the north rim trailhead.  Every mile past Phantom was adding on to the TD world record distance ever run, but I was pleased to find that my legs and body still felt pretty good, so as we hit the meat of the climb I decided to start given'er a bit and was happy to still have good power there.  
The light started to get nice and the shadows long as the day waned, and I had to keep reminding myself to look around every once in a while to take it all in rather than simply stare at the ground (though there are plenty of places on that section of trail where too much ogling-while-moving could be a bit disastrous).  And after grinding up what seemed like far more switchbacks going up than we had danced down hours before I stumbled onto the paved lot of the trailhead, with Chris not far behind.  

The weekend continued with a fun quick blast down the Pine Creek slot in Zion on Sunday, where Chris pointed out that the neoprene of our wetsuits and the cold water we were swimming through created good recovery compression and icing!  

So while I didn't get to float the Grand Canyon and embark on all sorts of adventures that await down there, getting Double Crossed was a great alternative.  Thanks again to Chris for driving and being a great pard for a fun outing.  

some important stats that as a blawging ultrarunner I apparently am compelled to share:
Distance: Pretty far, but not too far
Time:  a while, but not too long
Gear:  shoes, clothes, little pack
Food:  me - coupla bagels, gorp, zucchini bread.  Chris - a bunch of weird energy food-like products. 
Calories: plenty expended, plenty consumed
Hydration:  mostly water-based  

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