The Rockhoppers, An extraordinary Journey!

The Rockhoppers, An extraordinary Journey!

R2R2R part 1.

Okay, I know I have been a bit tardy but here is part 1 (or volume 1 of War and Peace) of my R2R2R report.
Ever since I first laid eyes on the Grand Canyon at the age of 14 it has
captivated me. It was much bigger than I expected and it made me want to
explore it’s mysteries.  I have been fortunate enough to visit it a dozen or
so times and hike it many of those times. When I did a solo R2R2R in 2007, I
thought at the time it would be great to do it with other folks. When the
opportunity came to do it with fellow Rockhoppers from May 15-18 of this
year I couldn’t pass it up.

May 15th (Travel Day to Grand Canyon Village)

– Michelle and I flew in on the same flight into Phoenix arriving shortly
before 11a. Jean and her daughter Brittney got in a few minutes before we
did. Picked up the rental car and we were on our way to the Grand Canyon.
– I have always found the drive on I-17 to Flagstaff very scenic. One gets
some great views of Saguaro Cacti, Bradshaw Mountains (where Prescott is),
Verde Valley, the red rocks of Sedona and towering Mt Humphrey and pine
forests as one approaches Flagstaff.
– From Flagstaff we took a slightly longer but more scenic route to the
Grand Canyon. Heading up North on 89 and then veered West on 64.
– At the junction of 89/64 we stopped at the World Famous Cameron Trading

Post. Well I don’t know if it is World Famous but it is pretty cool. We ran

into Rich and family here. The trading post is loaded with Navajo Arts and
Crafts, souvenirs and a small grocery store. The ladies in particular seem
to enjoy browsing through here and even bought a few things. Brittney even
spoke the following blasphemous words, “This is way better than Buc-ees!!”
– I’ve always really enjoyed the drive on 64 West. The big highlight is the
spectacular Little Colorado River Gorge. This was where the guy tight roped
across the Grand Canyon recently. Except it wasn’t the Grand Canyon but the
Little Co River Gorge which eventually connects to the Grand Canyon.
– The Gorge is a couple of thousand feet deep and from the road looks like a

gigantic scar on the earth. There are a couple of scenic overlooks but one
has to negotiate past strategically placed Navajo artisan booths to get to

the overooks (the Gorge is on Navajo land).

– We pull into one of the overlooks. Walked past the artisans and walked a

1/4 mile down a jeep road to the overlook. Definite vertigo feeling as the
walls of the Gorge plunge straight down. I walked another 200 yards down the
jeep road (out of curiosity) and noticed it turned into a single track trail
that looked like it went on for miles. It was all I could do not to run.

– Brittney bought some jewelry from the Navajo artisans (that girl likes to

shop) and we were soon on our way to the GC park entrance.
– The entrance had 2 pay stations and as usual I picked the wrong one. The
pay station attendant in my line really liked to talk and seemed to be going
over the entire geological history of the Grand Canyon with the guy 2 cars
in front of me. Meanwhile 4 cars zip through the other line while I’m not
even moving. There was an opening and I whipped over to the other line.
Quickly got through while the pay station attendant in the original line was
in the process of explaining how early Canyon dwellers lived to his
captivated audience.
– Immediately after the entrance is Desert View. Ran into Rich and crew
(they had just seen it). Rich was blown away. To me this is one of the best
and most unique views of the Canyon. One has a great view of the Co River
heading South through the Canyon and then seeing it head West. A very big
and expansive view.

– We finally made it to Grand Canyon village close to 630p (last ones to get
there thanks to my desire to sightsee), stopped at General Store for a few

supplies and then met some of the others, that had arrived earlier in the
day, at Maswick cafeteria for dinner
– After dinner we got our gear together and tried to get some sleep.

May 16 South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch (7.4 miles, 4800 feet descent)

– After a “so-so” nights rest I got up around 330a. Jeanie was driving us to

the trailhead in 2 groups. The first group left around 330a. My group
consisted of myself, Michelle, Spleens, Edward and the Moore’s. Well the
Moore’s were supposed to be in first group but they overslept. Jeanie was
going to pick us up around 4a.

– All the ladies in the group seemed to have the exact same tan safari hat.
They must’ve gotten the bulk purchase discount.

– When I saw the Spleens the first thing that jumped out at me was the size
of Jason’s new pack! It was big! It was bigger than a normal running pack

but a little smaller than a full blown backpack. Plus he had it stuffed! I’m

not sure what was in it but I think he could have bivouacked for the night.
My back and shoulders ached just looking at it. I was hoping there would be
enough room in the vehicle for Jason and his pack.
– Jeanie pulled up in the big SUV a little after 410a. They had gotten
turned around a bit, which is easy to do on the Canyon roads in the dark. We
loaded up and got dropped off around 430a. Hit the restroom, take the
mandatory trailhead sign pic and we were on the trail by 440a
– I was very excited about going down South Kaibab. No other trail in the
Canyon follows the ridgelines the way South Kaibab does. It is a very
spectacular descent and really gives one the feeling of being out there in
the middle of the canyon with every turn providing a new incredible view.
– When we hit the trailhead, one of the things I immediately noticed was how
bright the moon was! We really didn’t even need our headlamps. It was
absolutely beautiful and the Canyon seemed to glow. If I had known the moon
would be that bright I would have been tempted to have pushed to get started
a bit earlier

– Once we hit Oooh Ahhh point (about .7 miles into hike) headlamps were no

longer needed and the cameras came out (there is a reason it is called Ooooh

Ahhh point.

– It was a lot of fun for me to descend with folks who had never been to the
Canyon before. I also had to learn patience because of all the photos they
wanted to take!!
– Speaking of photos, no one was more trigger happy than Jason. Every few
steps he wanted take a pic. By the time we go to Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles
down) Tanya had to take the camera away from him and “cut him off”.
– About a mile after Cedar Ridge, we had stopped to take a few more photos,

I see Edward’s eyes get real big and points behind us and yells Mules! We

look back and see a cargo mule train coming down the trail and around 50

yards behind us. We did not want to get “muled”. So we took off running

(before then we had done little running) towards Skeleton Point (3 miles
from trailhead). At Skeleton Point we had put a little bit of distance on
the mules so stopped to take some more photos since this is the first place

on the trail where one can see the river. After Skeleton Point there are

some steep switchbacks. We were hiking down the first few switchbacks,
taking photos and we looked up again and those mules were right on our tail!
Those mules could move! So once again it was time to trash the quads and run
a good clip down the trail.
– This time we put some good distance between us and the mules and had a
moment to take a quick bathroom stop at Tip Off point.
– From Tip Off point the trail plunges into the inner gorge and is a lot of
fun to run as the trail is fairly smooth and offers some big views. In the
group before us, Julie said that she hiked all the way down so she could
save her quads to run down North Kaibab on return trip. That was likely the
smarter move but running down this section of the trail was too much fun.
Plus we had mules chasing us!

– On the way down, we discussed who would be the one to most likely have a
meltdown. The consensus seem to be Tanya (Tanya agreed as well)

– We got to the spectacular black bridge that crosses the Colorado River.
This bridge is held up by gigantic several hundred foot long cables that had
to be carried down by humans. Always amazes me how they do it. We took the
obligatory black bridge photos.
– After crossing the bridge we made our way to the Phantom Ranch Canteen
area (close to 7a) where we ran into Rich, Louie, and Doise.
– They were doing fine although Rich was not a big fan of the South Kaibab
decent at times. He said he didn’t even bother taking photos because he
didn’t want to get distracted and fall.

May 16 Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood (6.8 miles, 1500 foot elevation gain)

– I always enjoy the Phantom Ranch Canteen area. There is a picnic table to
relax at and some big trees that provide shade. We refueled and were ready
to tackle the Box section
– The Box is a fairly narrow gorge and the trail runs along Bright Angel
creek. It is very scenic with lots of turns. The trail is fairly flat but
gradually uphill so you find yourself working hard while running than you
think you should.
– All of us (to include Rich, Louie, Doise, and Moore’s) took off Phantom
Ranch together although they would eventually drop off and soon it was my
group of 5 (myself, Michelle, Spleens and Edward). We alternated between
running and hiking (when the trail inclined up). I also found myself
thinking, “this trail has a lot more climb than I remember”
– There were some trail runners ahead of us that were running every step of
this but they never really seemed to get that far ahead of us.
– It was also during this section that we saw a lot of R2R and R2R2R
runners. This was the first weekend the North Rim was open and all the water
stops were fully turned on.
– There were 2 type of runners coming down North Kaibab. The fresh ones and
the haggard looking runners. I assumed the fresh runners had left North
Kaibab fresh early that morning. The more tired runners had likely left the
South Rim the previous evening. Normally that makes little sense to me
because one would experience most of Canyon in dark; however, given the full
moon they probably did get to see a lot of the Canyon. Most of the runners
were friendly but there were a few “locked in”.
– One nice thing about the Box is it is almost always shaded unless the sun
is directly overhead. However after about 4-5 miles it opens up into the
bigger Bright Angel Canyon and plunges into sunlight. It isn’t yet 9a but it
was already feeling warm. I was already dreading how hot it was going to be
on the return trip back.
– One section of this trail the Park Service had really improved. On
previous visits the trail would go through this bog/marsh like section and
my shoes always got wet and muddy. This time the trail was built up and
elevated so it wasn’t an issue. Very much appreciated.
– A mile away from Cottonwood the trail makes a very steep climb for a few
hundred feet. The type that makes the heart pound. I saw the “always
running” couple just ahead of us. It was satisfying to know they hadn’t
gained much distance despite all the running they had been doing. On the
other side of the climb the trail drops down to the Ribbon Falls junction.
It was here we caught up to Rick, Jean and Brittney. They all seemed to be
doing well and Brittney was really enjoying her R2R adventure. As we got
close to Cottonwood Campground we say Jessica come running at us. She had
been running with Julie, Chris C., Elizabeth and Larry. She asked if Jean
was okay and then continued on to find her. What a friend.
– We arrived at the Cottonwood day use area (bathrooms/water) around 9a.

May 16 Cottonwood to North Kaibab (6.8 miles, 4100 foot elevation gain)

– It was feeling pretty warm at Cottonwood, plus it is exposed with little
shade, so I decided to hit nearby Bright Angel creek and soak the feet a
bit. I made it a habit of periodically of soaking my feet (which turned into
full body soaks as day got hotter) the last time I did R2R2R and found it to

be a good morale boost. Edward and I found a cairn marked trail that led to

a great spot to soak the feet in.
– The water was cold! Edward was only able to keep his feet in for a few
seconds before having to pull them out. It felt like an ice bath but
incredibly refreshing. The thing I enjoy about adventures like this is how
much enjoyment one can get doing something as basic as soaking feet in a
cold creek.
– After a few minutes, we dried our feet off, put on socks/shoes and headed
back to the others in the day use area.
– We had 1.4 miles and 500 feet gain to cover until our next stop at the
Pumphouse Ranger Section so we decided to break out the trekking poles.
– I hadn’t used trekking poles in a long time and kept trying to figure out
the best way to use them. Should they make contact every step or every other
step? Same foot or oppsitie Foot? Or do they both hit the ground at the same

time and use them to pull myself forward like a cross country skier. I tried

to watch those coming at me but everyone was doing it different. Finally I
just went with what felt natural.
– I really, really enjoyed this section of trail up to the Pumphouse. It ran
right along Bright Angel Creek and it would make small little waterfalls and
natural swimming holes. Very calming.
– One of the coolest things I saw was a puddle of water right on the trail.
Okay a puddle of water may seem like no big deal but everywhere else it was
dry. I looked at it closely and one could see bubbles coming up. Sure enough
it was a very small little spring right here on the trail.
– When we got to the Pumphouse I almost didn’t recognize it. They had built
some really nice benches and a restroom. I asked the ranger there if this
was new and she said it was (she seemed rather proud). However it still had
the big trees and the creek was still running along by it. Very nice.
– The ranger was very friendly. She mentioned that she had snacks if anyone
needed any. She encouraged everyone to soak their shirts and headgear (temps
were still climbing) but she did it in a non-lecturing way.

– The water at the Pumphouse was very cold and tasted great! One of the
things I liked about our group was we were really good at enjoying our
stops. Not ideal for a race but ideal (in my mind) for a R2R2R adventure.
Really added to the enjoyment of the day.

– We knew we had a long, hot almost 4 mile stretch that climbed 2200 feet
until the next water stop so we decided to top off our water.

– After the pump house the trail starts to steepen and I could really tell
how much having the trekking poles helped. One of the things I liked was how
it forced me to move my arms which helps propel body forward.
– Within a .5 mile after leaving the pumphouse we started to get views of
Roaring Springs. I alsways found Roaring Springs to be very dramatic in how
the water comes straight out of the canyon wall and in such a heavy volume.
Great contrast to the surrounding scenery.
– After Roaring Springs the trail winds along the cliffs of Bright Angel
Canyon. It always me how they built this trail. It is only a few feet wide
with a very dramatic drop off on the side. I would not want to be on this
trail at night.
– After some time I noticed that no one was following Edward and I. I look
behind us and about 50 yards back I see Michelle and Tanya hugging the
canyon wall and moving a bit on the slow side. Michelle said she had a
family to think about and Tanya said she had her dog, Buster, to take care
of.
– It was really feeling warm so when we stumbled upon a small shaded
amphitheater on the trail we had to stop (see attached pic) for a few
minutes. It was extremely relaxing laying on the cool rock and staring at
Bright angel Canyon. It struck me just how massive the Grand Canyon. In just
about any other state the spectacular Bright Angel Canyon would be its own
National Park or Monument; however, in the Grand Canyon it was just a small
sliver.
– Brittney mentioned to me later that her group also stopped at the shaded
amphitheater. She said it was her favorite moment on the trail.
– After our stop we crossed over a bridge (don’t look down that took us from
the west canyon wall to the east canyon wall. We then hit our toughest climb
thus far as the trail switchback very steeply and in the hot sun.
– On this section we came upon a Ranger carrying an umbrella so I will call
her Mary Poppins. She said to me, “it is getting hot”. I could feel a
lecture was coming so I quickly moved past her and simply replied, “yes it
is”. Everyone else managed to quickly work their way past her but she did
manage to corner Jason. Jason was all too happy to give her his full ultra
resume and regale her with his Tejas 300 exploits. I’m kinda surprised he
didn’t have his Tejas 300 rock in his pack (the pack was big enough) to show
her.
– It was a big relief to get to the Supai Tunnel rest stop (or aid station
as Jason repeatedly called the rest stops) because we were all pretty much
out of water and were running pretty hot.
– After the refueling we tackled the remaining 1.7 miles to the rim. Early
on I remember thinking this is steeper than I remembered last time. Looking
back at the stats, this last 1.7 miles was a 1.4 mile climb.
– One of the positives was we were getting some cloud cover and a breeze.
This really took the edge of the temps. We were keeping our fingers crossed
the whole time.
– For most of the trip I had been good about taking calories but as we got
to the steeper sections of North Kaibab I had been neglecting it because I
didn’t want to mess up my hiking rhythm. A few minutes after leaving Supai
it caught up with me. A 235lb man going up a mountain needs calories! My
blood sugar crashed and I slowed to a crawl. I felt very light headed.  I
had to stop several times to eat something. I finally made it to the North
Rim but behind the others.
– The North Rim was like R2R2R festival. Julie, Elizabeth, Larry, and Chris
C. were there as well as several other R2R2R folks getting ready (or
motivated) to head back. No one seemed to be in much of a hurry. It was fun
to talk to others and get their thoughts on the trip.
– Josh, Doise’s husband, was there so he could drive Doise and Brittney back
after their R2R2R adventure. He had a cooler full of cokes. Boy that coke
tasted good!! As I said…these adventures really make one appreciate the
simpler things of life.
– I was still feeling hungry after the climb and must’ve consumed about 1000
calories at the stop. Plus Julie was giving away foo to which I gladly
helped myself to.
– After a roughly 50 minute stop it was time to head back. Julie, Elizabeth,
Larry and Chris C. had left 20 or so minutes beforehand. While I was excited
to get back on North Kaibab and experience it going down vs up and seeing
ribbon Falls, I was not excited about going through the Box (and its heat)
and the slog up Bright Angel trail. But I knew regardless some great
memories would be made.

This concludes part 1 of the R2R2R report. Stay tune for part 2 to find out:

1. Would Tanya have the predicted meltdown?
2. Why Rich is the Baddest (as in tough) ultra runner around?
3. What key item that Derek Moore brought that should be standard in every
R2R2R runners pack?
4. What huge  controversy surrounded Jason’s R2R2R claim and resulted in him
having the longest A/S stop on record?

and much, much more……..
Chris R.

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