This year was a little different, and also the most fun (I'll say they've ALL been amazing!). Instead of just 2 or 3 of us (or 9 one time), we had nearly 50 people join us overall - from all over the United States (might have been a Canadian or two as well). Yes, FIFTY - from long-time friends to old and new Facebook and Twitter acquaintances - very cool the way it turned out! Oh, and another yes, the Rangers would probably NOT be happy hearing of any large groups doing this (I chatted with one Ranger the night before (holding back a bit of our group info) and he was quizzing me like no tomorrow - and appeared to be "okay" with my answers for the "medium sized" group doing R2R2R) - kinda fudged on the number going - oopsies.)
Having said that, in the back of your mind (heck, even the front) you always think "if there's 50 people doing a crazy long adventure, there's gonna be a couple that bonk, and likely bonk HARD." Maybe we got lucky, maybe it was overkill, but my cohort & I organized the info & Facebook R2R2R/R2River2R Group (feel free to join it! More pics, discussions, etc.), and made darn sure we educated everyone looking to go, and set expectations: This is no 5k or 10k stroll in the park with aid stations. It's a tough, long, grueling descent and climb if you're not prepared (well, it often IS even when you ARE prepared.)
(<--Me, Gerd Nunner (his 35th R2R2R!!!), Skip, and Steven the evening before)
Off to the Trail: Approx 60% of the group did Rim to Rim to Rim (a few started from S. Kaibab), and the remaining 40% did Rim to Phantom Ranch and back. (S. Kaibab to Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel).
We were just a few minutes late for our 3:30 a.m. trail departure (I was driving my buddy's Prius - it JUST wouldn't stop so we could get out! Kidding!) so we quickly tightened the laces, snugged-up the packs and headed down Bright Angel right about 3:45 a.m. Our group consisted of 2 guys & 3 gals, my buddy Jim had ROCKED a Rim to Rim one July (B.A. to N.K. in under 5 hrs -left me in the dust!), and of the 3 rockstar ladies, one was a friend who completed R2R2R with our group of 9 about two years ago. All 3 had done serious multi-day adventure races in N. and S. America.
Even before we started, our group agreed we'd go at a very comfortable pace, take pictures, not destroy ourselves, and just have a great time. No need to race it or try to set any records. Saying that, we took our sweet time on the way over to the N. Rim. It started to get light right about the time we reached Indian Garden (~4.5 mi), we topped off the camelbacks and continued down the trail to Devil's Corkscrew. Pretty uneventful through there as well - easy pace, yo-yo'd back and forth with a few of the other groups. Even got to put a few names to the faces from FB and Twitter while out on the trail - how cool is that?!
Made it to the River Trail shortly after that (technically it's the "River Trail" for roughly a mile until you reach the Silver Bridge over the Colorado River). A few more pics and some big hopes on the water situation.... There had been breaks on the N side and we were told the water was on but we ~may~ have to treat it with chemicals if there's further issues. Good news - it was on just (~200 meters) on the other side of the Silver Bridge at Bright Angel Campground. Filled up again, took more photos, and headed North. Reached Phantom (a whole 5 minutes later), and headed towards Cottonwood C.G ~6-ish miles away (Water was on there too).
From Cottonwood we just cruised along and enjoyed the scenery while looknig forward to reaching our last water source (Supai Tunnel and N. Kaibab Trailhead were still off) at the pump-house Residence. This is where artist Bruce Aiken lived for a long time maintaining the water system -for 30+ years!). We mixed a little easy running with the hiking and got there with everyone feeling great. Again, topped off the fluids, ate some more food, and got pumped up for the ~5.5 mile climb to the top of the N. Rim.
While we were "moving" the entire first half, we made good time. While taking pictures and enjoying ourselves the first half, we didn't make real good time (LOL!) - and it was perfect that way. :-) The climb up the North was long and challenging as usual, but since we were all hydrated and fed, we had no issues - just picture breaks! Finally reached the North Rim, and only had to cover a few patches of snow that weren't more than 20'-30' in length. With dry shoes, and great attitudes we all reached the trailhead together in a time of 9 hrs and 30 min. Yep, not real fast on this day, but we planned it that way. So even if we took the same amt of time going back it would be 19 hours.
From there we ate/drank for a few minutes and headed back down. Time was about 9 hrs, 40 min. First couple miles just hiked the steeper descent to let our legs be friends again. After the Supai Tunnel (~1.7 down), we started to run again. Not a single one of us had blisters or issues we had to worry about at that point so we ran the next 3 miles back to the Pumphouse, watered up real quick and kept on moving. Made real good time to Cottonwood for more water and a quick bite/Gu/Powerbar/Fritos and hit the trail again - arriving at Phantom Ranch in no time. We ran almost every step just past the Supai Tunnel down to Phantom Ranch. Met up with two other friends who hiked down S.K. Trl to the intersection leading to the Black Bridge to S. Kaibab. At that point we decided with a sandy walk along the river and two big 'ol climbs we were done running. Yay!! Fine by me! I felt great at this point and wanted to feel at least "okay" for the climb out.
The section along the River was great - catching up with my buddies, and we were still all smiles. Next up: Devil's Corkscrew - the climb below Indian Garden. We were all a bit tired at this point (we had covered almost 40 miles!) but still doing well - everyone made it up that climb making great time. Another mile or so to Indian Garden and we were on the home stretch (mileage-wise, not time-wise LOL!). Got to Indian Garden just as it was getting dark. More H2O, some food and the gang got pumped up for the last 4.5 miles. Even caught up with another couple buddies there - they also climbed out with us - fun to able to finish with 9 after ~48 miles of effort! And yes, we were all getting pretty tired at this point. Time to suck it up and keep movin' though!
Long story even longer? No! Nothing but gutting it out those last few miles - keeping eachother motivated and getting out with smiles. D*mn tired ones, but relieved and feeling pretty happy about what we'd just completed.
Til next time! (or my next long outing or whatever!)
Til next time! (or my next long outing or whatever!)