The Rockhoppers, An extraordinary Journey! Part 2

The Rockhoppers, An extraordinary Journey! Part 2

 North Rim to Cottonwood (6.8 miles 4200 foot descent)

– It was about 130p when we headed back down the North Kaibab  trail. Most of us alternated between hiking and running down to the Supai Tunnel rest stop (1.7 miles down).

– Ran into several Rockhoppers on this stretch as they were finishing their climb to the North Rim. First was Jean and Jessica. They both looked really fresh. They would wait for Rick, Louie and Brittney at the rest stops to make sure they were ok and then they would get ahead until the next rest stop.

 – Not too long after seeing Jean and Jessica we saw Rick, Louie and Brittney. Brittney looked a bit tired from the long climb up North Kaibab but she was very happy about getting close to completing R2R. I also believe it was the longest distance on foot she had ever covered.

– Next we ran into the Moores. Now before I describe my encounter with the Moores I need to provide a bit of background. During the most recent R2R2R preparation meeting we had I described the route to everyone. When I was describing the trail from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood, I made the comment that it was the flattest section on the route (especially compared to the other sections we would be doing). While I said it was the flattest section, I did not necessarily  mean it was McA flat (after all one did gain 1,500 feet over 7 miles). Well Jennifer thought I meant the trail was flat and boy did I ever hear about it! The first words out of her mouth were, “that @#$%$#@ trail was not @&^%@*& flat! I kept telling Derek that Chris said it was flat and we could run it but we had to hike most of it. It kept going up and up. I don’t knowing why you told us it was @#$#*$# flat!” There was A LOT more to her comments than just that. But I think you get the idea. It did teach me a valuable lesson about being a trail guide. If the information the guide provides (distances, elevation gain etc) does not match up with the reality then the guide better be ready to take the brunt of it. The whole thing was pretty funny.

– The Moores told us about their very long and extensive encounter with Mary Poppins. She asked them if someone had organized the trip and was charging us money (as in making a profit). She also asked about the experience level of the group. Apparently Jason’s Tejas 300 didn’t fully impress Mary Poppins so Derek gave her all the ultras everyone in the group had done and may have thrown in a few extra more for good measure.

– When we reached Supai Tunnel we saw Rich and Doise there. Doise had been having a rough go of it. She had been getting sick and was having to stop a lot. In fact she had to spend 30 minutes in the creek by the Pumphouse. To help Doise get to the top, Rich had been carrying Doise’s pack most of the way up North Kaibab. After Rich refueled and put on his pack, he asked us to hand him Doise’s pack. It was heavy! Doise was prepared to bivouacked a week in the Canyon. I had no idea what she had in there! It made Jason’s pack look small. Doise definitely won the “pack weight” to “body weight” ratio. Anyway we put Doise’s back on top of Rich’s pack and watch him start to climb the remaining 1,400 feet with easily over 30 lbs of pack weight. Remember these are not backpacks with solid support and hip belts. This is 30 plus lbs of weight hanging off Rich’s shoulders with little support. The thing is Rich had a great attitude about it and was very supportive of getting Doise to the top. Some call him Wimpy, others call him the Terminator or Mighty Mihalik, but after witnessing that all I can say is Rich is a BAD, BAD man‼

– But there is more to the Rich story. When the Moores got to the North Rim they had a lively discussion on a variety of topics (which will be expounded upon later). One of those topics was whether they were going to do R2R (Derek would pay someone to drive them back) or R2R2R. Derek was for R2R while Jennifer was for R2R2R since the whole R2R2R adventure was Derek’s idea and on his bucket list. While they were “discussing” it, they see Rich and Doise get to the top of the North Rim with Rich carrying both packs. They watch 60 year old Rich drop Doise’s pack, quickly refuel, and then immediately head back down the trail at a high rate of speed to catch up with Rick, Louie, Jean and Jessica. After watching this, Derek said, “I guess we are heading back down the trail”. Did I mention Rich is a BAD, BAD man?

– We also ran into Mary Poppins at Supai Tunnel and she was a lot more friendlier. She was even interested in Hokas. I think once she realized she knew what we were doing she relaxed. Additionally, the cloud cover seemed to ease her mind as well.

– The cloud cover was odd. It wasn’t a full block of the sun but a thin cloud cover where one could still see the sun shining through. But it definitely reduce the intensity of the sun.

– We got spread out a bit on North Kaibab. Edward was having a blast running down the trail and I wasn’t too terribly far behind. Jason followed me and he was followed by cliff wall huggers (Michelle and Tanya).

– About a mile after Supai tunnel I ran into this odd Japanese tourist. Reason I say tourist is he sure didn’t look like a hiker. He was wearing normal clothes (jeans etc), carrying no water (that I could see) and carrying a huge camera with a big telephoto lens. He stopped me and asked if I was with Edward and commented on how fast Edward was running. He then asked if I could take a photo of him with his camera. I said okay and he told me to stand still while he position himself in front of a rock. The problem was he was still very close to me and with his telephoto lens (that I had no idea how to adjust) all I could get was a close up of his nose. I took the pic.

– After taking a pic of his nose, he tried to engage in more small talk. I mumbled that I need to catch up with his Edward and took off. After about 30 seconds I look behind me and I see him stopping the Spleens and Michelle. I chuckled to myself and continued running.

– We rendezvoused at the Pumphouse, refueled and then ran the remaining 1.5 miles to Cottonwood. This was some very enjoyable running. Scenic trail that was slightly downhill. We still had the benefit of cloud cover so while it was hot, it wasn’t miserably oppressively hot.

– On the run down to Cottonwood we ran into one of the park rangers. She asked where we were headed and expecting a lecture I said South Rim. She said “ok have fun”. I think she was just checking campground permits.

– The interesting thing about the ranger is she was dressed like a terrorist. She had a bandanna covering the entire lower part of her face and was wearing sun glasses. The only exposed part of her was her forehead. I had no idea what she actually looked like. I’m sure this was to protect herself from the sun and dust. I asked her about it and she jokingly said she didn’t want all her fans recognizing her when she was up at the South Rim in normal clothes.

Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch (8 miles (with Falls detour) 1500 foot descent)

– I was excited about getting back to Cottonwood. My feet were dusty and sore and I was ready to soak them in the icy cool waters of Bright Angel Creek. Last time (on the way up) it was only Edward and I but this time the Spleens and Jason decided to join in the fun as well.

– At first we were just soaking our feet until Jason decided he wanted to soak his calves. So Jason got out into the middle of the creek to soak his calves. Michelle saw this and decided to soak up to her quads. Fortunately Michelle doesn’t have to find very deep water to stand in to soak her quads. Tanya observed this and wanted to soak her quads as well but she is taller than Michelle so she decided to sit in the icy cold creek. Well the guys couldn’t let the gals outdo us, so we decided to sit in the creek as well. Except Jason did them one better. He took off his shirt and laid his whole body in the creek. Yes there are topless photos of Jason frolicking in the creek floating around somewhere.

– Anyway the whole soaking in the creek thing was a lot of fun and a great morale boost. As I have said before…the best thing about trail running is how it makes one appreciate the simple things in life.

– After soaking in the creek, we dried off and went back to the Cottonwood day use area to refuel. Jason was also sporting a pretty good blister. I had some blister pads so I attempted to put it on his blister. I don’t know if his foot hadn’t fully dried from the creek but the blister pad wouldn’t stick. Consequently, I then took some athletic tape to tape over the blister pad. Except the tape wasn’t sticking real good either. I countered that with breaking out my secret weapon…tincture of benzoin. I rubbed that on his foot and then added some more tape. The tape finally stuck (sorta) but he now had enough tape on his foot to cover a blister about 3 times bigger than what the blister really was. Edward got a big laugh out of watching me. Needless to say I won’t be providing medical at any of Joe’s races anytime soon.

– However, Jason was the only one of us smart enough (and with enough room in his pack) to bring an extra pair of fresh, clean socks. We all looked with extraordinary envy as he put those on his feet.

– After leaving Cottonwood our next stop was Ribbon Falls where we had to make a half mile detour. I could tell a couple of people in our group weren’t real excited about making a detour with 30 miles already on the legs but it is a “must see” sight.

– It helped matters that at the Ribbon Falls trail junction we ran into Julie, Chris, Elizabeth and Larry. They had just returned from Ribbon Falls and were raving about it.

– The trail to Ribbon Falls crosses some marshy type area. We were surprised to hear a symphony of frogs. Rather cool hearing that at the bottom of the canyon.

– The falls were beautiful, as always. It is quite the oasis seeing the water (which is more like a veil rather than a ribbon) cascade down the moss covered rock. It is also in an area that is almost always shaded and very cool.

– One of the cool things about Ribbon Falls is there is a trail that climbs up behind the falls. And if one positions themselves in the right place you can lean under and take a real good shower underneath the falls.

– We all took turns taking a Ribbon Falls shower (well…except Michelle…I think she just stuck her hands under it…see pic) and it was one of the most refreshing showers I have had. Again it was one of those simple things in life that is a lot of fun. Once again our spirits were high as we left Ribbon Falls.

– There are two routes to and from Ribbon Falls. The primary route involves going over a bridge to cross Bright Angel Creek. This was the route we took to the Falls. An alternative route involves crossing Bright Angel Creek via rocks. Upon leaving Ribbon Falls we decided to take the alternative route since it would drop us off farther down the North Kaibab trail and cut out a steep hill that we would have to climb up and over if we took the primary route.

– The trail for the alternate route is fairly easy to follow until it comes time to cross the creek. The most defined spot seemed to involve a rather long crossing of the creek over some wet rocks. Some of us were wondering if there was a better spot to cross elsewhere but Jason (who was leading us on the alternate route) thought that the long rock crossing was the best spot and we could see the trail continuing on the other side.

– Jason was the first one across and impressively decided not to use his poles for balance. He almost lost it on one occasion as he was balancing precariously on one leg with the other one way up in the air but somehow he saved it and scampered across without his feet getting wet. It was an impressive display of trail running performance.

– The rest of us were chickens who used our poles to balance ourselves as we made our way across. My feet got wet but at least I didn’t fall (see pic).

– Tanya wasn’t as fortunate. While she didn’t fall in (thanks to the poles), her whole foot slipped on her first step and her foot plunged into the water.

– When she made it across…she unhappily said, “Jason my socks are wet!”

– Now my socks are wet during half of my Tx summer runs so I didn’t see the big deal but when I looked at Jason’s face I saw a look of terror!!!  Turns out that Tanya’s feet are prone to heavy blistering with wet socks. A Tanya with blistered feet is NOT a happy Tanya. Especially when she has 30 plus miles on the legs and lack of sleep with another 15-16 miles to go. Plus it didn’t help that Jason didn’t have the common decency to at least get his feet wet in sympathy.

– Jason, to his credit, offered Tanya his old, dirty (but dry) socks that he had just changed out of. Now the cynical among us may wonder why Jason didn’t offer Tanya his fresh, new socks that he had just changed into but Jason was the one who had been carrying them the last 30 miles.

– Okay, I am having a bit of fun at Jason’s and Tanya’s expense (big shock I know). Fortunately the Canyon is low humidity so Tanya’s socks sorta dried out and she held it together really well and kept a great attitude (i.e. no Meltdown‼!).

– We were back on the North Kaibab trail with about 6 miles to go until Phantom Ranch with most of it being the Box section.

– Despite the fact this section was slightly downhill and very runnable I was not looking forward to it for a variety of reasons. First, it can get very hot. When I did this section on my R2R2R in Jun of 2007, I had major heat issues. It was 110 and the heat radiates off the black rock walls in the Box. I ran out of water and had to take a detour down to the creek to refill (giardia be darned). While the cloud cover helped I knew heat would still be radiating off the rocks. In fact, at Cottonwood, I had ran into some hikers who had just finished the Box. They said before the cloud cover it was brutal. The second issue with the box is all the turns look the same after awhile and it feels like Groundhog Day. It can seem endless.

– Edward took off ahead of us and it was Michelle, myself, Jason, and Tanya in  a train. Michelle set a good steady pace throughout this section.

– While it was warm in the Box, it definitely was better than in 2007. Having said that….every time we got up against a black rock wall the temp seem to jump 10 degrees. Jason likened it to being in a hair dryer.

– I purposely didn’t say anything to the others about it seemingly lasting forever. I was curious to see how long it would take before the complaining would begin.

– One of my markers for the Box are the bridges. There are 4 bridge crossings. The last bridge is about a mile away from Phantom Ranch. I was expecting the complaining to start before the 3d bridge. I have to give my group credit. It didn’t start until right after the last bridge when Michelle said, “Dang how much longer is this going to take?‼”. Ten seconds later, Jason (who was behind me and didn’t hear Michelle) said, “Dang, how much longer is this going to take?”

– About a 1/4 mile ahead we see Ed by a sign (Phantom Ranch – 3/4 mile) waiting for us. He immediately exclaimed, “I thought that section was never going to end!”

– A few minutes later we arrived at the Phantom Ranch Canteen. It was around 7p.

– Immediately we were tortured by the delicious smells coming from the Dining Room. Unfortunately it was by reservations only and the snack bar (with the ice cold lemonade) had long since closed.

– Michelle looked through the dining room window using her best “lost puppy dog” look. She was hoping someone would have pity on us and throw out some scraps. No scraps were forthcoming.

– If someone could open an all night snack bar down there with cold drinks and warm food (or deli sandwhiches) they would make a killing with R2R2R folks. Seriously I would have paid at least $10 (probably $20) for a big glass of lemonade (with ice) right then. I was getting tired of drinking water and eating my snacks.

– One saving grace was up at the North Rim, the Spleens had manage to score a Deli sandwich (with all the trimmings). Jason had somehow conned Tanya into carrying that sandwich all the way down North Kaibab (this “conning” was a frequent point of discussion at every stop). The Spleens broke out the sandwich and were kind enough to share some of it. That was the best tasting sandwich I ever ate‼ Small pleasures. They also broke out the apple they had been hauling (and dropped a couple of times–5 second rule) the entire time as well. Real food is a definite must on a R2R2R adventure.

– After almost 30 minutes of relaxing and with the sun setting it was time to hit the trail. From Phantom Ranch we would be hiking out the Bright Angel trail. It would be about 9.5 miles and climb 4,400 feet. A couple of folks asked why we didn’t hike out South Kaibab because it was 2 miles shorter. South Kaibab is quite a bit steeper (the trailhead is 400 feet higher than Bright Angel) but most importantly there is no water on the trail. Plus when one finishes they still have a 2 mile hike to the lodge unless they have arranged for a shuttle.

– As we were about to leave Phantom Ranch, Edward asked me how long would it take to climb out? I said given our fatigue and counting stops it would be at least 4 hours and likely closer to 4.5 hours. Edward said, “4.5 hours? I was not expecting that! I was hoping for only 2-3 hours!” He looked despondent.

– On that cheery note we began our long slog up to the South Rim.

This concludes part 2. Stay tuned for part 3 and the exciting conclusion of the Rimhoppers R2R2R adventure where you will learn:

– What sign almost caused mutiny against the trail guide (me)?

– Why the park really needs to change the name of the 3 mile and 1.5 mile rest house?

– What unique R2R2R checklist item did only Derek Moore think to bring?

– The circumstances behind Jason having the longest A/S stop in R2R2R known history?

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