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.



Chad in the AZ Desert said...

Great post, Phil! And great job beating all of those youngsters to the top.

olga said...

Phil, I am so glad I came visit just in time to find this wonderful story/report! I am going to try R2R2R (what most likely end up being South-down-back due to injury) and will use your guidence for a push! Thanks, beautiful photos too! I was that tourist back 12 years ago who stopped with 2 small kids at Sceleton Point:)

Deene said...

on my next travel past the big crack i'll have to stop and take a hike. nice photos!

J~Mom said...

I love how your inner competitor comes out even while hiking!! Great job and thanks for the pictures!

Thomas said...

Those photos are just mind blowing!

Love2Run said...

You make us peeps very, very envious of your excellent adventure. Beautiful pictures!

Ewen said...

I'm very jealous Phil. The amount of elevation lost/gained in the crossing is amazing. I hope your recovery from the effort is not of marathon proportions.

Great photos too!

Ted said...

You should become a National Geographic photographer or a Travel photographer for Conde Nast !!!! GREAT pictures. I am in AWE !!!

Anne said...

After reading so many Grand Canyon hiking reports that make it sound like a walk in the park, it's nice to read one that sounds a little more realistic -- or maybe it's because we're both not so young anymore, unlike the other authors. Anyway, great great photos and a wonderful writeup. I was dizzy with vertigo just looking at some of those pictures -- including the steps from hell.

Josh said...

Truly amazing photos. I think you've convinced me that I need to make that trek.