Twenty-four miles, three friends, 5k+ feet of elevation change, 102 degrees, and 9+ hours of trekking add up to a one grand adventure through one of the Wonders of the World.
This recent adventure far surpassed my first experience at the Grand Canyon which occurred when I was nine years old and consisted of a 15 minute "pit stop" during a four week road trip with my parents and older brother. Although muscles would have preferred another "short but sweet" type of stop, traversing the whole Grand Canyon was truly amazing, even if I was walking funny for several days after!
I have been on many successful, and some unsuccessful, outdoor adventures and I believe a key component to a successful adventure relies on good preparation. On paper, this adventure was well planned out, but in hindsight, my body would have appreciated more lunges and squats in my training plan. Although I was in good shape leading into this hike, my body struggled a bit with the 4+ hours of straight downhill followed by 4+ hours of straight uphill. Even if my quad and glutes had more training, it still would have been hard! In addition to being in the right type of physical shape, having the right type of gear is also essential. And, I believe that if if you look good, you feel good too!
Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes
Lululemon crew socks + an extra pair
New Balance running shorts
Under Armor Heat Gear T
Gap lightweight synthetic long sleeve T
Salomon running hydration vest (1.5L bladder + small bottle of electrolytes; water refilled 2x on the trail)
Small first aid kit + 50 SPF sunscreen
PYW logo hat
Garmin Fenix watch
Nutrition: Water, Nuun, PB&J, ClifBars, Snickers, peanut M&Ms, jelly beans, cheese sticks
My original packing list also included a headlamp but our later than expected morning departure meant I didn't have to bring it along. To take it's place, at the last second I brought an extra pair of socks just in case I developed any blisters on my sensitive feet. Luckily, I did not experience any blisters or hot spots, but I did make use of the second pair of socks after a quick dip in the stream mid-hike. An extra pair of socks is forever going to be on my list of "must haves" for any hike from now on!
Our morning started slightly off-plan due to our later than expected start time. We had pulled into our camp spot at Demotte Campground, about 30 mins from the North Rim trailhead, later than expected the night before which trickled into the later start the next morning. Luckily, it didn't seem to effect our trip AND we saved ourselves to nuisance of carrying a headlamp for 24 miles. Our road trip crew consisted of five people - three hikers and two spouses. As the hikers moseyed down the trail, the two spouses packed up the RV and started the 4 hour drive from the north rim to the south rim. Without this convivence, I would have been more resistant to tackling the Rim2Rim trek. It is certainly doable with careful shuttle planning, but the ease of getting dropped off and then having all the things (shower, food, Gatorade, and a camp chair) immediately at the end of the hike was essential for my physical and mental well-being.
Another benefit of a later than expected start time was the ability to truly enjoy the views of every part of the 24 mile hike. It also reduced the chance of spraining an ankle on the downhill because we weren't hiking in the dark. The majority of our morning was spent walking downhill at a casual pace followed by about 3 miles of gradual downhill running to
reach the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch. An extended lunch break allowed us to fill up water, eat some food, buy a sticker and lemonade at the food stand, people watch, and take a dip in the refreshing stream. After crossing the Colorado River, it was time to start 13 mile slog of straight uphill. Although the trail is never very steep, it all adds up! The endless step-ups, the 100+ temperatures, and blazing sun wore me out. With about 3 miles to go I was mentally and physically over it. After a snack and a pep talk from my friends, I was able to power through this phase and laughed when my friend said: "I think we're gonna make it" with 2 miles to go. Our drivers received a few of our text message updates and could predict where we were so they surprised us by meeting us 1.5 miles from the end! Their presence was a very welcoming and was beyond comforting to know that we were so close to the end. We eventually made it to Bright Angle Trailhead on the South Rim and to our home away from home (the RV!) with the best tasting pasta, cold Gatorade, and a refreshing shower all right there in the parking lot.
Statistics (per my Garmin Fenix)
26.25 miles (poor GPS tracking deep in the Canyon)
Avg speed: 3mph
Avg moving speed: 3.9 mph
8 hrs 49 mins of moving time; 10 hours total
Total decent: 6,017 ft
Total ascent: 4836 ft
Max temp: 95deg
For all the "don't hike down the Grand Canyon" advice on the internet, there seemed to be A LOT of people on the trail! It certainly wasn't as congested as a popular hike outside of Denver, but way more people than I expected. Even with all the "extra" people, only one hiker passed us all day, even with our fairly slow pace of 3mph (20 min/miles). On the small section that we ran instead of walked several hikers cheered us on as we passed.
Overall, I thought it was harder physically and mentally than I expected it to be. It's a long drive, takes a lot of preparation effort, and it's a LONG day. I'm happy I did it, but don't have any immediate plans to do it again.
What I Would Do Different
Our RV road trip not only involved the Rim2Rim hike, but it also involved mountain biking in Fruita and Cortez, stopping in Durango, and soaking in Pagosa Springs. The logistics of the RV rental and the driving route dictated the direction of our hike from the North Rim to South Rim. The first few miles of the North Kaibab trail are in a narrow canyon which limits the expansive views you get from the Bright Angel trailhead (or from what I read, the South Kaibab trailhead). The morning light on the shades of red rock of the Grand Canyon is magical, and I think geography of the southern trails lends itself to a better morning experience.
Even with spectacular views at every turn, it's a long day hiking rim to rim. Carrying enough calories (and eating them) is an essential part of the equation for success. Although I had enough calories, I didn't have enough calories of things I wanted to eat. Even though I have a major sweet tooth, it turns out I can't eat endless peanut butter bars and Snickers. I would have paid series $$ for a slice of pizza, some potato chips, or a few slices of bacon at any point during the last 10 miles of the hike.
Overall, the Rim2Rim hike was an amazing and spectacular experience; definitely better than the 15 minute "pit stop" visit I had when I was nine! After reading this, if you're inspired to do it yourself, start doing lunges now! Alternatively, you can ride a mule down and stay overnight at Phantom Ranch (maybe they have pizza!). Whatever route you go, start planning now!
Dr Jessica Klain PT, DPT, COMT, CSCS, OCS, CNPT
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT)
Certified Nutritional Physical Therapist (CNPT)
Certified Vestibular Specialist
Certified Concussion Specialist
Trigger Point Dry Needling Certified, Level 1&2
Certified Yoga Teacher
University of Florida, Doctorate in Physical Therapy (2009)
The Ohio State University, Bachelor of Science in Biology (2006)