Monday, October 13, 2008

Rim to Rim - Part II

Where did I leave off? Oh, yes ... the River. I was just starting across the Black Suspension bridge heading south across the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (hence forth referred as "The Canyon"). This is where the hike really begins; the previous 14 miles being little more than prologue. From here, I knew I had a 1600' climb out of the inner-canyon up onto the Tonto Plateau; then a hellish 1200' climb from the Tonto Plateau to Skeleton Point; followed by a relatively easy 1100' climb to Cedar Ridge; and finishing up with a slow 1000' slog to the rim - exiting 7260' above sea-level. Oh boy!

By this time, I was about 500' above the river, nearly directly above the suspension bridge. If you look closely, you can see river boats on the beach. Somewhere along here, I got passed by a youngish looking women. She kept looking back at her family further down the trail, put pressed on without them. My strategy for this climb was to keep my HR between 135 and 141, so I resisted the urge to chase her. Besides, I still had over 4000' to climb and I was sure she'd burn out in no time. She was going way to fast.

Looking west down the river. The main part of the Canyon is made up of an inner canyon and the main part of the canyon you see in all those pictures taken from the rim. The walls of the inner canyon are about 1000' high. Pretty cool.

As the sun continues to rise, the deep reds of the lower part of the canyon come through.

The last little bit of the inner canyon, just before reaching the Tonto Plateau. I had convinced one of the guys in the hiking party to go with me up South Kaibab. Most people don't try to get out this way, and have know idea what their missing. I gave him a 10 minute head start and caught him just before this point.

The Tonto Plateau. This is relatively flat area that runs for miles along the River. The building in the back ground is a toilet.

Another shot of the Tonto Plateau, looking North-West. 

Same place looking North-East

Looking back down the trail coming off the Tonto Plateau. It looks peaceful doesn't it? Just wait until you go around the corner.

The Steps! I'm sure this section of the trail has a real name. I call it THE STEPS FROM HELL. My hiking partner is pictured above. This whole section is series of switch backs with an average gradient greater than 20% - it's STEEP, very STEEP. Not only is it steep, but the National Park Service has installed a log across the trail every two or three feet to make sure you pick up your feet and really work your quads (they claim it's all about erosion control - but I know better).

Now we're getting on up the hill

The inner canyon seems so far away.

Finally! I reach the top of the steps and I'm still smiling. That would soon change. The wind is picking up and is blowing  constantly at 20 to 30 MPH.

I finally got to Skeleton Point. This spot is at 5220'. It's 3000' off the river and 2000' below the South Rim; only 3 miles to go (ha ha). This is about as far as the day-hikers go.

The River is down there somewhere

Just a cool shot on the way up to Cedar Ridge

I took the two pictures above just below Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles from the top). This is the spot where short trees start showing up and the scenery transitions from desert to forest.

Ahh, the South Rim ... only 1500' feet to go. The temperature is dropping as I continue to climb and wind is blowing harder. 38F and 30MPH+ winds and I'm still wearing my sleeveless technical top and shorts, but I'm way too focused to think about stopping to put on a warmer top. The altitude is starting to wear on me also. I'm not exactly slowing down, but my HR is pegged at 141 and I keep backing off as it climbs up to the 144, 145 range. That young women that passed me 2 hours earlier is still ahead of me. I get within 200 or 300 feet and sheet scoots along, leaving me in the dust.

Don't remember the name of this butte. You can see the South Kaibab trail running along the east side. My hiking partner is down there somewhere.

This is the last time I had the energy to get out my camera. Besides, it's very close to the top, only 500' or so under the rim. The colors in the Canyon really pop out though. I was freezing at this point. Goose bumps ran up and down my arms, but I was closing in on the girl. Just before the last set of switch backs leading up to the Rim, I caught up with her. I told that she'd beaten my sorry butt this far and there was no way she should let me beat her to the top. She smiled and took off (again).

I got to the top (7,260'), stopped my watch (9:34:40) and tore into my pack and pulled out my long sleeve top, my thermal top and gloves. It wasn't enough. I couldn't  get warm and just walked around trying to keep my blood flowing while waiting for my friend to pop out of the Canyon. 

While I was waiting, I walked over to talk to the girl. She turned out to be much younger than I thought. She was wearing an Arizona State University (ASU) sweat shirt, so I asked her if she went there. No she said - I'm 13. I'd been out muscled up my favorite trail in the Canyon by a 13 year old. Nice kid. It was her first time to the Canyon and she had descended down Bright Angel Trail earlier on Saturday with her mom, aunt and sister  ... but had left them far behind on the climb out. Not too shabby. The kid has a future in endurance sports.

My friend came out 20 minutes behind me, so we had the girl take a picture of us, before we found the shuttle bus to take us over to the main lodge at the Bright Angel trail head. It'd be two hours before the other two guys in our party got out via Bright Angel - once again, the oldest guy got out first (good thing I wasn't officially hiking with the girl - she whooped me, but good).

Another great day at the Grand Canyon. Cold and windy, but a fabulous day for a 21 mile hike. 6000 feet down, 5000 feet up, 21 miles across. I averaged 104 BPM on the way down and 137 BPM on the way up. I never bonked, but I could feel the altitude wearing on me near the end. We flat-landers have trouble doing that much aerobic exercise above 6000'.

If you've never hiked the Canyon, you really have to try it at least once. It's a lot like marathoning, you never do it twice. You either do one crossing and never do it again; or you do it as often as you can. For me, that's once every other year or so. And like the marathon, it's never the same.

On a closing note, I'm always amazed at how small this planet is. While I was at the bottom of the Canyon heading for the river, I ran into a fellow runner I know heading in the other direction. Couldn't resists the opportunity for a photo.

I start my 5th week of "the come back" in the morning. I need to be in Tempe, AZ at 7:30AM for meetings, so I'll need to be on the road by 5:00AM ... don't know if I'll be moving very fast, but I will be moving.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rim to Rim - Part 1

It will probably be best to make this a two part post since most of you are more interested in the pictures than anything else.

Despite the gloom and doom of my last post, I made it across the Grand Canyon today (go team go). The weather reports predicting 60 MPH gusts and sustained winds of 4 5MPH with snow and rain showers turned out to be greatly exaggerated. It was cold, the weather service got that part right. The temperature was 38F at 5:20 AM when we headed down into the Canyon from the North Rim, but the wind wasn't near 60MPH. Yes, there were trees scattered all over the trail for the first couple of miles and the wind speed was probably close to 30 with gust up to 40, but it wasn't raining nor was it snowing and although the morning was partly cloudy, the sky was clear blue by 10 AM. All in all, nice hiking weather right up to the last couple of miles on the South Rim (but more about that later)

Those of you who follow this blog, already know that the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona holds a certain mystic for me (as it does for nearly everyone that has ever walked across it). I never get tired of hiking in the Canyon. The light is never same, the weather can vary dramatically from hour to hour and there is always something new to catch my attention. I just love the place.

The hike I did on Saturday was fairly standard. South on the North Kaibab trail from the Rim to the Colorado River; across the river on the Black suspension bridge and climb a climb out of the Canyon using the South Kaibab trail from the river to the South rim

The trail from the North Rim drops from 8,000ft to 4,100ft in 7 miles at Cottonwood Camp ground and then continues along Bright Angle Creek for another 7 miles, descending 1,700ft to the Colorado river at 2,400ft. The South Kaibab trail isn't as gentle. It climbs up off the river and continues none stop from 2,400 ft to 7,000 ft in another 7 miles. 21 miles in all. Along the way the scenery is spectacular.

Unfortunately, I'm never on the North Kaibab above Cottonwood Camp Ground when the light is really good, so most of my pictures of his area are taken with poor light. More correctly, I don't have a camera that is able to capture the startling effects that the soft predawn light has on the side canyon through which the North Kaibab trail descends. Keep in mind that I always start down in the dark using a head lamp and the shear size of the canyon slowly takes shape as the sky slowly brightens. But this part of the canyon doesn't get any direct light until 10AM. By that time, I'm well on my way to the river. Consequently, the photos on the North Side of the River are never as nice as the photos on the south. None-the-less, on to the photos.

A couple of shots I took from the North Rim on Friday afternoon. Not many people see the Canyon from this angle. It's hard to get to the north rim so most tourists only go to the South Side. In the second picture, you can see the San Francisco Peaks in the back ground. The highest peak is 12,000ft.

A shot of the North Kaibab Trail head from Friday afternoon. It was seriously dark when we left on Saturday.

The wind in the Canyon was nasty on the way down, but that didn't diminish the grandeur of the place. The picture above is the trail along the canyon wall about 2000 feet below the rim. Notice the shear drop next to the trail. This was the first photo I took after the sky brightened enough.

This is the first view of the South Rim looking through the top of Bright Angle Canyon. It's a long way up from here and we'll still need to descend 2000ft to get to the river.

Cool rock formations on the way to the river.

Mule Deer

More cool stuff

The entrance into Phantom Ranch

Yours truly at Phantom Ranch. By this time, the temperature was in the mid 50's and I shed all my cold weather gear.

Exiting Phantom Ranch, heading to the Colorado River.

The Black Suspension Bridge over the Colorado River

The River, note the white water rafting boats on the small beach.

A view from underneith the bridge

Onto South Kaibab. 14 miles behind me and the real hike is just beginning.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Hi all ... heading up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a few minutes. I plan to stay at the lodge at the North Rim tonight and hike across the canyon (North to South) on Saturday. Going down North Kaibab to Phantom Ranch and heading up south Rim along South Kaibab. However, the weather forecast for Saturday keeps getting worse.

For those of you who have never been across the canyon, the total traverse is roughly 21 miles. The Colorado river is 6,000 feet below the North Rim and 5,000 feet below the South Rim. The North Kaibab trail is fairly protect with the exception of a 4 or 5 mile section after Cottonwood camp. South Kaibab is totally exposed all the way up. The reason I mention this is the weather report. It will be a little breezy.

Saturday: A 30 percent chance of snow showers, mainly after 11am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 38. Windy, with a southwest wind 29 to 32 mph increasing to between 37 and 40 mph. Winds could gust as high as 60 mph. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

PHANTOM RANCH (by the Colorado River)
Saturday Night: A 10 percent chance of showers before 11pm. Partly cloudy, with a low around 32. West southwest wind 17 to 20 mph decreasing to between 7 and 10 mph. Winds could gust as high as 30 mph.

Saturday: A 30 percent chance of snow showers, mainly after 11am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 45. Windy, with a southwest wind 22 to 25 mph increasing to between 37 and 40 mph. Winds could gust as high as 60 mph. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

Not exactly a stroll in the park.

More later. Cheers

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Stand Down

I have voted. I mailed my completed ballot to the Arizona Secretary of State's office this evening, so there is no need to continue with this election cycle in the USA. I have spoken. I realize half of you think me an idiot and the other half realize my genius based on my selection; nonetheless, I have so spoken; so let's get on with solving the bigger issue and stop the madness. Now that the election is settled, we can get back to discussing running.

So far so good this week. Had a great 7 miler on Tuesday and an 8 to 9 miler scheduled on Thursday. On Tuesday I was cruising along at 5:30 AM on mile 5, minding my own business and running by the local high school when what do I spot, but a gaggle of runners exiting the HS parking lot 200 meters in front of me. They turned and commenced running the same direction as I; thereby setting up the perfect situation for a chase.

OK, I know I'm supposed to be running at a nice, clean aerobic pace, but how many times do you get the opportunity to chase down a High School cross country team out on their morning long run?

I had closed 50 meters of the gap when they turned and started running up an easy grade the extends nearly a mile north of the school. Perfect ... nothing like catching a dozen or so runners going up hill. I don't have a clue what my pace was since it was still dark, but my HR was up over 150 and I was closing the gap fast. As I came up behind the group, I realized it was the girl's team. Not wanting to spook them and sensing that an old fart creeping up behind a bunch of teenage girls at 5:30 in the morning was a bit creepy, even if said old fart was running with his black lab, I crossed to the opposite side of the road as I cruised by the group.

Now what? I'm running up hill way too fast and I've got a dozen girls running behind me. Obvious answer: accelerate. I managed to get to the top of the hill and turn west to continue my run before I gave myself permission to look over my shoulder to make sure they weren't following. Fortunately, they weren't and I could slow down and get my HR back in the 135 to 140 range. Bonehead move ... but lots of fun.

I'm off to the Grand Canyon on Friday and plan to do a North to South traverse on Saturday. I'll try to sneak in one more post with more info before I leave. Hope all is going well with all of you.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

In for the long haul

13 miles ... that's not really all that far, is it ... just a 1/2 marathon, but this morning, it might as well have been a full 26.2 miles.

Being the good do bee that is me, I hydrated well on Saturday and got plenty of sleep + I laid out a course that let me circle back to my house after 7 miles to pick up more water. In addition to all the prep, the weather couldn't have been more pleasant; 67F at 5AM. It rained over night, so the air was clean and moist ... couldn't beat it with a stick.

My black lab and I left the house at 5:30AM and headed east towards the dull glow over of the McDowell Mtns. The first few miles were nice and slow and my HR barely got up over 130. I picked up the pace a little on mile 3 to get my HR to settle in around 135 on avg ... so far do good. Good times all the way through mile 7 when I got back to my house and dropped off the lab, picked up a water bottle and headed out for the last 6 miles.

By now, the sun was up over the horizon, but the temperature remained relatively cool. Mile 8 and 9 were OK, but I could start to feel the strain of the run in my hips along mile 10. My HR was raising up and reached 140 as I dehydrated and I had to pull back on my pace to keep my HR under control. Of course by now, I didn't feel much like accelerating anyway.

Somewhere along mile 8, I'd toyed with the idea of doing two 7 mile loops and finishing up the morning with a 14 miler. Any thought of extending this run beyond 13 quickly evaporated as I started mile 12. Holy crap, it was left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot time. My Garmin finally peeped once again and displayed, 12 miles - 11:08. I was slowing down, but good.

Mile 13: What can I say about mile 13 that hasn't been said a thousand times by nearly all of us. I'll leave the details to your imagination. At the end of mile 13, I found myself a 1/2 mile from my house, but I just stopped running. I couldn't will myself to run another step. But ... on the plus side, I got it done. I guess that counts for something.

SPLITS: 10:43, 10:38, 10:15, 10:23, 11:04 (quick bio break), 10:05, 10:43, 10:32, 10:21, 10:44, 10:37, 11:08, 11:18


MON: Rest
TUE: 7.0 miles, Aerobic: 10:09/mi; HR avg=134
WED: Rest
THR: 8.7 miles, Aerobic: 9:44/mi; HR avg=134
FRI: Rest
SAT: 6.0 miles, Recovery: 11:08/mi; HR avg=128
SUN: 13 miles, Long: 10:41/mi; HR avg=137

Total Mileage: 34.7

Saturday, October 04, 2008


So far, its been another solid week of base building with 21 miles through Saturday. The weather is finally starting to cool; by cool, I mean that the morning lows are now under 80F (27C). However as I found out this morning, even cooler temps won't make up for lack of hydration. I took off this morning at 6AM for a 6 mile recovery run, trying to keep my HR below 130. What a hoot.

After warming up for a mile, I settled in on a mild up hill on mile 2, starting out around 125 BPM; however, my HR was soon up and over 130. Run, run, run (133); shuffle, shuffle, shuffle (125); run, run, run (133); shuffle .... this pattern continued for the first 3 miles. There's something almost comical about trying to keep one's HR low; whereas running a tempo too fast, or running intervals too fast will wear you out, but fast ... slowing down when you're feeling great and barely breaking a sweat is something all together different.

On mile 4, I had to resist chasing down two other runners on a mile long climb. I'd gain 50 to 100 feet on them and then have to shuffle for a while so as not to exceed my max target. Never did catch them. Next week, I'll be sure to hydrate well and (with any luck), can push the pace a bit harder.

Sunday is my first outdoor 13 miler since 1/1/08. Should be fun. Weather is expected to be overcast with a chance of rain. Certainly beats 100F.

Week's Running through Saturday

MON: Rest
TUE: 7.0 miles, Aerobic: 10:09/mi; HR avg=134
WED: Rest
THR: 8.7 miles, Aerobic: 9:44/mi; HR avg=134
FRI: Rest
SAT: 6.0 miles, Recovery: 11:08/mi; HR avg=128
SUN: 13 miles, planned.