My goal has been to complete a trek across the Grand Canyon. I’ve hiked to the bottom twice and figured going across it would be one of the greatest hikes one can do. A month before embarking on the trek, I reached out to a few friends to gauge their interest in doing a Rim to Rim hike in a single day. Two said yes, and one of them was able to get his friend to join as well. So there we had it. A four-man Grand Canyon hiking crew to tackle the 24-mile adventure.
Before I did that, right around the time I got my cancer-free diagnosis, I told my dad that doing R2R would be a good barometer test to see how I am. Well, it was a good test, that’s for sure.
Hiking Rim to Rim Across the Grand Canyon
Getting to the North side – Rim to Rim hike
While the Grand Canyon is one of the most visited National Parks in the country, nearly all of those visitors go to the South Rim. The North Rim, an extra four hours away, barely gets anyone. While it’s a pain to get there, the north side is beautiful and has its own ecosystem, as there are hardly any man-made structures over there.
Eddie and I drove up early Saturday morning and arrived at the Grand Canyon around 12:30 pm. We had to be on the shuttle by 1:30, which would take us around to the north side. This shuttle costs $90, which is pretty steep, but when you consider that the other option would be doing rim to rim to rim, I’ll gladly pay the money.
Thomas and Beau, who were driving from Denver, were already at the campsite when we arrived at 6:15 pm on Saturday night. For a day where we sat in a car for nearly 8 hours, Eddie and I were absolutely exhausted. The “shuttle” is just a big van which is less comfortable than an airplane.
After getting situated, catching up, and eating dinner, we built a fire to warm us up. The low for the evening would reach the low 30s – it’s still plenty winter on the north side as the campsites had patches of snow.
Thomas introduced us to what will now become a camping tradition. Candied apples. The TL;DR edition is, to burn the crap out of the apple skin, cut it off, roll the skinless apples in cinnamon sugar, and then heat it again to make it caramelized. It’s absolutely fantastic and a great way to wrap up a carb-filled evening before we embark on a near-marathon day.
I tried to sleep in my hammock, but after an hour or two, I scurried into Beau’s van as I was freezing. Even with a 15-degree bag, having no insulation on the bottom of the hammock allowed cold air to flow upward. No bueno! Once I got into the van, I slept somewhat well. By 5 am, we were up and prepping for the hike.
We all took a quick detour to Bright Angel Point to watch the sunrise. This was a spot-on decision, as we witnessed a stunning sunrise.
After we downed some more breakfast and made any final arrangements, we headed to the trailhead and began the vertical trek across the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim hike in one day
The first six miles or so saw a rapid change in scenery. Starting in ponderosa pines, we quickly went down from the top and into the other random trees/bushes/shrubbery. (As you can tell, I’m not exactly a savant regarding this sort of thing.) We took a break at Manzanita Campground after about two hours of downhill pounding. To hike the Grand Canyon in without killing our bodies, we would need our breaks.
After Manzanita, we quickly topped off our water at Cottonwood Campground, as that’s the last drinkable water until Phantom Ranch. The next 7+ miles were both flat and never-ending. Eddie and I hiked this portion together and did so at a blistering pace, yet the trail kept winding with Bright Angel Creek beside us. It never seemed to end. That’s Grand Canyon hiking for ya! It didn’t help that the canyon walls messed with my watch’s GPS. Instead of showing 14 miles once we reached Phantom, it said 22 or so.
Once we arrived at the bottom, after 5 hours and 11 minutes on the trail, we chilled, ate, and drank until Thomas and Beau caught us. Then, we did more of that while they joined us. After about 45 minutes, we walked a bit down the trail to Bright Angel Creek to soak our feet in the chilly cold creek. This was sorely needed as we were sore as hell, no pun intended!
In all, we were down at the bottom for an hour-twenty. Then, we began the uphill climb out of the Grand Canyon to complete hiking rim to rim.
The Climb – Hiking rim to rim
From the river to Indian Gardens flew by as Thomas, Beau, and I made great time hiking the Grand Canyon. Eddie somehow got behind us and ended up taking his time. Part of the way up, you have to conquer the ‘Devils Corkscrew,’ the first of many switchbacks on the way up. This is a relatively tricky part as it’s fully exposed to the sun, but we luckily had some cloud cover over us as we made our way up. While I thought this was the worst part of the Rim to Rim hike, I was wrong.
The Final Push to the Top – Hike the Grand Canyon
Once we got to Indian Gardens, I literally laid down on the ground and put my feet up to get the blood to circulate better. While down there, I decided I wanted to push myself and see how fast I could finish the last 4.5 miles. At 8:30 overall, I left for the top with the goal of being done at the 10-hour mark. This meant I had to walk the entire way at a 3 mph clip. Setting this as a lofty goal would be an understatement.
Eddie hadn’t yet reached Indian Gardens, and Thomas and Beau were chilling on a bench. I bade them goodbye and marched on.
Ever since I’ve been given a clean bill of health, I’ve wanted to push myself to the max. This was that chance. Am I in the best shape? Nah. But I’ve been doing my best to get there, and when it comes to putting my mind to something, this is the sort of thing I enjoy challenging myself with.
So there I went, flying up the first 1.5 miles right at the 3mph clip that I needed to maintain. I passed countless people who had no idea I had already crushed 20 miles yet, insanely, still had more to go. As I climbed higher and higher, the air slowly began to thin, and my legs started to burn more and more.
At the 3-mile house, I quickly topped off my water as the 1.5-mile house’s water was off. After that 30-minute mark, I needed two more of those in succession.
The next 1.5 miles were even harder. My left hamstring grew tighter and tighter as I bounded up the switchbacks leading to the promised land and the end of my Rim to Rim hike. As we inched higher, my lungs began to wonder why the air wasn’t producing as much oxygen as it used to. My pace slowed as I made my way to the next benchmark. When I made it, I was 10 minutes behind schedule. That section had taken me 40 minutes, and I knew I couldn’t do the last 1.5 miles in 20 minutes.
At this point, I pushed back my goal to 10:15.
This last section was absolutely brutal. Everything hurt just enough to make it annoying, yet the biggest factor was simply fatigue and the altitude. As you near the top, you’re getting close to 7,000 feet which is considerably less air than I’m used to down in Phoenix.
The entire time up, I never sat down (outside of Indian Gardens) as I thought I wouldn’t get up. So there I was, hunched over in the middle of the trail, sucking air, with only my hiking poles keeping me upright more than a few times on the final push uphill. The top, which is always painfully visible, never seemed to get closer even though I was progressing towards it.
Yet, just like at the start of the day, I finally arrived back at the top. 10 hours. 30 minutes. (Give or take…my watch died on the way up.)
The final 1.5 miles took me about 50 minutes, showing how my pace slowed.
The Top of the Grand Canyon
Once I arrived, I was zonked. As the crew was halfway down the canyon, I found the nearest bench and collapsed.
I had nothing left. I had given it all to the Grand Canyon and the Rim to Rim trek.
We had started at 6:50 am, and at 5:20 pm, I was looking out across one of the wonders of the world – seeing what I had just accomplished. It was truly mesmerizing. As I waited for the rest of the group, I blew a few people’s minds as they asked me how far I went down, and I pointed across and said, “north rim, this morning.” I’m usually pretty humble, but I didn’t mind being braggadocious here.
About 40 minutes after I finished, Thomas and Beau staggered up. About 15 minutes after that, Eddie appeared. They all looked and felt exactly as I had looked and felt when I crossed the threshold earlier. We all hugged at the top and gave congratulations as we all accomplished something great that day. Few hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. Even fewer go down to the bottom. Even fewer do down and up. And even fewer hike across the canyon in a single day.
Looking at the photo below, while hurting, we all enjoyed the experience and comradery and are already planning round two of hiking rim to rim.
Just kidding. That’s just me.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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