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2015 Cactus Rose Trail 100 and 50 miler recap – Part 1 By Chris Russell

2015 Cactus Rose Trail 100 and 50 miler recap – Part 1 By Chris Russell

I blame Brian. Ever since Brian taunted the Bandera Gods back in Sep 2013 every race at Bandera since then has been marred by “less than ideal” (i.e. crummy) weather. Cactus 2013 was ridiculously warm and humid (thus sealing Brian’s DNF), Bandera 2014 was unseasonably hot, Cactus 2014 was ridiculously hot, Bandera 2015 was freezing rain and mud, and Cactus 2015 was a Schlitterbahn and Tough Mudder combined into one. Even though Brian wasn’t running Cactus this year it seems as if the Bandera Gods are ensuring that no one will ever taunt them again.

 

I really struggled how best to write this report. I finally decided to give an overview of the weather and trail conditions for those that weren’t there and then do a summary of each of the Rockhopper’s races from my observations and the details I further learned about their races. In doing so I will share much of my own race experiences. Part 1 covers the 100 mile race. Part 2 covers the 50 mile.

 

Weather/Trail conditions:

 

The one area where the weather gods cooperated was pre-race Saturday morning. Nothing is worse than gearing up in a pouring rain and being soaked before the race starts. Fortunately the rain held off until after race start (although one could certainly feel the humidity). When leaving San Antonio around 230A the forecast was showing severe Thunderstorms starting around 7a. I was a little skeptical given how wrong the forecast had been all week but sure enough after dealing with some very light rain early in the race the skies opened up a little before 7a and it rained hard for the next 1.5 to 2 hours. Personally I really enjoyed it at first. The rain was cool and refreshing and the trails were streams to splash through. The water did provide resistance and made things a little slippery but the shoes weren’t getting muddy. Plus it was really cool to get to see Bandera up close and personal in those kind of conditions. Lots of waterfalls and it almost felt like one was in the Appalachians.

 

The rain was fairly steady (and varied in intensity) until more or less stopping around 1pm. On the first loop the tops of the ridges were starting to become bit nasty. Sky was tough to run. It was puddles and slippery rock, The tops of Boyles and Cairns were mostly runnable but rapidly deteriorating. The dirt road into the lodge was unrunnable and an absolute quagmire. When the rain stopped the mud became more prominent. On my 2d loop the ridges got worse and low trails like 7 and 2 were muddy messes. However, the strong wind was drying out the lower but exposed trails like 6,  Ice Cream hill section, and the 3s. So some of those were runnable. However, the times this year were much, much slower. Counting only 4 runners (including both 50 and  100 mile runners) broke 10 the first 50 miles. No one broke 9. I ran the first loop 40 minutes slower than I ever had. Granted my fitness wasn’t what it needed to be but still……

 

However, it was the Sat night when things really got miserable. Fortunately I was done but heard stories while hanging out at the lodge during the night. Sat night a steady and light cold rain came in along with a fairly strong cold wind. The real feel was in the 40s and I was wearing 3 layers just to stay warm walking around the lodge. Runners came in absolutely miserable and very cold. Almost to a person they said the tops of the ridges (particularly Sky and Boyles) had become totally unrunnable and were even difficult to hike fast (especially on tired legs). They were a perfect blend of wet slippery oozing mud and slippery wet rock with a lot of puddles thrown in to ensure things stay wet. Quite a few runners dropped at the end of loop 3 which is unusual that late in the race but they simply didn’t want to go back into the cold wet rain and deal with the terrible conditions of Cairns, Boyles and Sky again.

 

In talking to runners who did a loop 4 well into sun morning/afternoon they said things improved quite a bit as the sun came out. The last 15 miles had some runnable parts and the sun helped to dry out the more exposed muddy sections.

 

The 24 100 milers that finished is very impressive and my hat is off to them. My guess around Saturday at 8p was that only 20 of the 58 starters would finish but more than that finish. It took a remarkable resiliency to go out for loops 3 and 4. I only did 2 loops and I doubt if I would have wanted to start a 3d. My legs were worn out from the 2 loops in those conditions.

 

Okay enough about the weather and trail conditions. Below is my summary of the 100 mile Rockhopper races.

 

Julie (26:35 – first female and 4th overall) – Julie became the 3d Rockhopper female to win the 100 miler (quick…name the other 2). Julie killed it this race. Given the conditions her splits were amazing! She ran the first 50 in 12:11 and 2d 50 in 14:24. Not much degradation. But it wasn’t by accident. Julie has put in a lot of hours in making her body stronger, leaner and more fit. It really paid off. With dryer conditions she easily would have been under 25 and might have given sub 24 a scare. Notably Julie ran the first 50 miles with Mr Endurance Matt Zmolek who had just ran 102 miles the weekend before. I ran the first 5 miles with Julie and Matt and had a good time in congratulating Julie in chicking Matt at the Habanero Hundred and then reminding Matt of my victory over him at Cactus in 2011 (easily my best race ever). Julie was actually in 3d place at the 50 mile mark and passed Melissa Davis on loop 3 and then passed Lise Plantier at the Lodge between loops 3 and 4. Julie said that she was looking over her shoulder the rest of the way! Even though Melissa and Lise were dealing with some physical issues they are both very tough runners and Julie knew that she couldn’t let up. Anyway…huge congratulations to Julie!

 

Edward Sousa (27:59 – 8th overall) – When I first saw Edward on loop 2 as I was coming in on loop 1 I thought “there is something different about Edward” but I couldn’t place what it was. Well I crossed paths with Tony as I was going out on loop 2 and Tony exclaimed to me, “Hey Chris did you notice Edward was wearing sunglasses?”. Yep in the middle of the rain with the sun nowhere in sight Edward was wearing sunglasses!! Give the man the Joe Cool award!  Edward had a really solid race. He ran the first 2 loops in 11:41. He was around Julie quite a bit on the 3d loop.  He slowed down some on the 4th loop and ran it in with Lise Plantier. Oddly the final results have Edward 1 second ahead of Lise but in the actual race Edward (ever the gentleman) let Lise cross first. Edward did admit to me that he did miss the Hawk a little.

 

Cory Torkelson (75 miles) – Cory crushed it the first loop running it in a very quick 5:23 (especially given the weather conditions). He slowed down quite a bit on the 2d loop and had a really rough 3d loop. As I said before… the 3d loop did a lot of folks in. I was hanging out at the lodge when Cory came in after the 3d loop and it was obvious he was done. He already earned a buckle last year so he had little desire to go out for another 11 hours (not that I could blame him). I did have fun needling Cory a bit about his very fast starts that Rabbers is always lecturing him about. Cory was very good natured about it and admitted that it is very difficult for him to start slow. He just gets too caught up in the moment. I have solved that problem by gaining weight, training less, and being slower in general. Anyway Cory said he might focus on some shorter races in the near term.

 

John “Bear” Davidson (75 miles) – One knows conditions are tough when the Bear doesn’t finish. He ran a very solid 14:37 the first 2 loops and came in loop 3 at 24:26. I don’t know much about his race so not sure if he dropped after loop 3 or sometime on loop 4. Still good job getting 75 muddy miles in

 

Jean Perez ( 75 miles) – Jean had a bit of an unusual race. She had a great first 50 miles! She was ahead of me the whole time and came in the first 50 at 13:47. It looked like she was setup for a great race. However the wheels came off a bit for her at 65 when she was having foot and back issues and was generally exhausted (I assume from fighting the elements). She took a long nap at Rockhopper Central. Niki, her pacer showed up and Jean started to feel better so she decided to head back out in the miserable weather and try to beat the 3d loop cut off. She was close but the horrendous trail conditions on Sky , Boyles and Cairns slowed her down too much and she ultimately missed it by 18 minutes. Still I was very impressed by her desire to go back out there in the misty cold and face the hardest 10 miles of the course in an effort to make the cutoff. If she had made the 3 loop cutoff I am certain she would have finished.

 

Rich Mihalik (55 miles) – Poor Rich’s fate was doomed when the rain first started. It is a shame to because Rich was actually running well. He came in the first 50 in 16:10 but the mud and rain really wore him out and he knew he would be hard press to make the cutoffs. However, he did start loop 3 which is something he had never done before at Cactus. He ran the 5 miles back to Equestrian where he elected to call it a day.

 

Aash (60 miles) – Perhaps no one was more excited about this race than Ash. It was his first 100 and he had really been training hard recently. He had no time goals. Just strictly wanted to finish. When I headed out on Loop 2, I was eager to see Aash coming in on loop 1 and to see how he was doing. I started to get concern when I came across Rich on top of Cairns because I expected Aash to be near Rich. I descended Cairns and still no Aash. On the trail between Cairns and Boyles I finally ran into Aash. He looked good and spirits were good so I had asked him what happened. Aash said that when the rain hit he got very cold and couldn’t stop shivering. He was only wearing a T-shirt and the man has no body fat. He went into the restroom at HQ to warm up. After a few he went back out and when he got back to Equestrian at mile 15 he was again very cold. He stopped at Equestrian….changed clothes, added some layers and got warmed up. He had a bit of an up and down race until mile 40. He said at mile 40 he started to run with a sense of urgency and ran well until mile 50 where he clocked in at 16:43. He felt good about about his chances of beating the 36 hour cutoff. He continued to run well until his leg (around the shin area) became very painful on the section between Equestrian and Nachos. He had no choice but to walk and was essentially dragging his bad leg. He wisely decided to call it a day at Nachos but in talking to him afterwards he was very upbeat about the whole experience and really felt like he learned a lot. His mom, Rani, was there crewing for him and she was a real joy to be around. She was always trying to give us food!!

 

Stephanie Bleich – Steph was entered in the 100 but quickly decided to do the 50. I will recap her race when I discuss my epic battle with 63 year old Robert Bleich in part 2. Stay tuned!

Hells Hills April 4, 2015

Hells Hills April 4, 2015

Here are the HH results courtesy of Chris and Observations by Scott.

50M

Renzo 7:25 – 2d Overall and 6th fastest 50M time in HH history

Stephanie Bleich – 11:10 5th Female

Bear – 11:56

Alex – DNF due to mid race Acupuncture treatement

 

50K

Matt 3:57 – 1st overall

Melanie 4:22 – 1st Female and 2d overall

Stefan 4:40 – 3d Male

Lalo – 5:19

Tom – 5:24 1st Masters

Cara – 5:28 3d Female

Rolando – 5:40

Aash – 6:08

MJ – 6:32

Elizabeth -6:35

Delaine – 7:07

Kay 7:15

Alex2 – 7:32

 

25K

Rick Smith – 2:20 3d Masters

Tanya – 2:29 4th Female

Tony – 2:30

John McAllen – 2:31

Chris R. – 2:35

Mike E. – 2:35

Amanda A. – 2:36

Sandy – 2:37

Rich (Sandy’s Hubby) – 2:42

Cindy – 2:50

Jason – 2:50

Rich M – 2:52

Brian – 2:53

Martha – 3:01

Michele G. – 3:05 2d Masters

Kelly McAllen – 3:29

 

10K

Helena – 1:56

 

Kid’s 1 mile

Cardmon Fryar (Mel’s son) – 10:35 (and dug deep to avoid getting chick’d!)

 

Lessons and Observations:

> 1.  Stefan Grater – “never do 10 hippie hill repeats the day before a race.”
>
> 2. Brian Ricketts – “never do 28 hippie hill repeats the day before a race.”
>
> 3.  Alex Garrett – “never flop and roll on a cactus during an ultra race. And if you do, make sure it’s right next to the finish line and not 6 miles away.”
>
> 4. The fear on Chris Russell’s face trying to climb the wall with cramping oversized calves knowing Sandy was right behind him…… PRICELESS!!!!!
>
> 5. Watching Chris Russell flying down the last hill “digging deep” passing people like they were standing still was quite impressive.
>
> 6.  10k Tony is pretty fast.
>
> 7.  April 4th is Wrong Way Bowling’s birthday.
>
> 8.  The Renzo bromance has evolved and doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.
>
> 9.  Jason Spleen Espalin was 17 seconds away from his worst possible nightmare.
>
> 10. Jason 1, Tanya 1, can’t wait for the grudge match. However, one of the two will need to undergo some significant training.
>
> 11.  Cindy Ricketts 1, Brian Ricketts 0
>
> 12.  It was nice seeing Lalo and Amanda at a trail race. It’s been awhile for me.
>
> 13.  Dang, that Matt Smith guy is fast.
>
> 14.  I think the Rockhopper ladies are tougher than the Rockhopper guys.
>
> 15.  It was weird not seeing Rich, Jean & Jessica not running together.
>
> 16.  At the end of the day I looked over at rockhopper central and it was broken down and packed up on the ground in boxes and such. I was thinking “I hope Rich has a 20 foot trailer for all this stuff.  Five minutes later I went to go help and they had it almost all put up in the back of their Suburban. It was amazing, but that’s just how they roll.  U got to Love ’em.
>
> 17.  Rockhoppers are Bad Ass!!!!

The Rockhoppers, An extraordinary Journey! Part 3!

The Rockhoppers, An extraordinary Journey! Part 3!

The 3d part of any trilogy is always exciting. I remember standing in line in 1983 to see Return of the Jedi. Who can forget the epic grandeur that was Return of the King? As exciting as those classic part 3s were….the excitement over part 3 of the R2R2R trilogy has built to a fever pitch (well not really….although I did get a text from a Rockhopper asking me if he had somehow missed it).  So sit back, relax and enjoy the triumphant conclusion which I refer to as Return to the South Rim!!! (insert your own favorite epic cinematic musical score).

 

Quick review – Part 2 concluded with us arriving at Phantom Ranch on the return trip back and left the reader with these cliffhanger questions:

 

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

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

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

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

 

Phantom Ranch to Indian Gardens  (5.1miles, 1400 ft gain)

 

– As we prepared to go on the hike up Bright Angel trail, I had mixed feelings about the last remaining 9.9 miles. On the one hand I was excited that in a few more hours I would be able to take a shower but a part of me couldn’t but help have a sense of dread as I remembered my climb out last time I did R2R2R.

– When I did R2R2R in Jun 07 the climb out was a huge struggle and one of the hardest things I have done. The heat in the inner canyon had absolutely cooked me and I didn’t have a lot of energy. My entire body ached. My hiking was very slow and the water was lukewarm and tasted horrible. Plus I was really tired. I remember on one of the upslopes I almost fell backwards because of exhaustion. My dad was waiting for me at the top and said he had never seen me look so bad. It seem to unnerve him quite a bit and he still mentions it. While I was in a lot better physical shape starting the climb out this time around…it was hard not to worry a bit in the back of my mind.

– Furthermore the hike up Bright Angel is a slog. The first half is actually quite scenic. The first 2 miles are along the river and then the next 3 miles to Indian Gardens are a climb out the inner canyon. Much of it is along a creek and can be quite pretty. However, it would be dark when we would be doing this. Once past Indian Gardens the trail becomes an endless series of switchbacks up a side canyon and there really isn’t much to see. So the combination of not much in the way of scenery and being tired can make for a long, slog out. The good news was at least this time I would be hiking out with some good friends.

– We left Phantom Ranch somewhere around 7:35p. Myself, Edward and Jason quickly walked the .3 mile to the Bright Angel trail junction. There we waited and waited and waited for Tanya and Michelle who apparently were on some casual stroll. When they finally arrived I told Edward that it would be more like 5.5 hours to hike out if they kept moving at that pace. Tanya laughed and said she got the hint.

– Shortly we had to use the silver bridge to cross the river. This was my least favorite part of the whole adventure. Unlike the black bridge (we used to cross over from the South Kaibab trail that morning) the silver bridge crosses a wider part of the river and the bottom is thin metal grates that one can see through. Plus it shakes. Doesn’t feel near as sturdy as the black bridge.

– Crossing the silver bridge gave me vertigo and made me feel like I could plunge through the bottom and into the river. The shakiness of it didn’t help. I was clutching the side railing. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to solid land on the other side. I wasn’t the only one. Tanya, in the best line of the day, said, “That made my butt cheeks shake”.

– Ironically, Michelle, who earlier was hugging the North Kaibab cliff walls and wouldn’t run down parts of the trail as a result, was totally fine on the silver bridge, pausing and taking pics in the fading light.

– After crossing the bridge we would walk the next 1.5 miles along the Co River; although, the trail itself would usually range 100 to 200 feet above the river level.

– While the sunset had already passed there was enough fading light that allowed us to walk almost all of the river section without using our headlamp.

– There wasn’t any running going on at this point. One, we were tired. Two, the trail along this section had beach like sand sections.

– Additionally, the heat of the day was now radiating off the inner canyon walls and it even felt a little humid. We were going through our water a bit faster than expected.

– One of the cool things about this section of trail was we saw some river rafters camping across the river on a beach. Looked like they were having fun and we wished we could have joined them. Definitely want to do a rafting trip someday.

– Along this trail I heard a noise. I turned on my light and saw a really big deer on a nearby slope. However, in hindsight that deer looked like some elk (without the rack) that I saw on the South Rim the next day. Still I didn’t think elk would be down in the inner canyon.

– After hiking west along the river we then headed south into an inner side canyon that we would climb out of. The humidity definitely picked up in this area. The heat was still radiating along the walls but there was more vegetation due to a nearby creek and zero air circulation. Definitely started to sweat more.

– This trail featured quite a few short, shallow water crossings. However, I did find myself thinking, “Boy I hope Tanya doesn’t get her socks wet again”.

– Because of the water and vegetation down here there was quite the symphony of frogs (which I would not have expected).

– After a bit the trail started to climb steeply upward a series of switchbacks called Devil’s Corkscrew. The section of trail would take us out of the inner canyon.

– This was the first real climb we had done since leaving the North Rim about 17 miles ago. Took a little while to get the climbing rhythm going again.

– Poor Jason was at the back of our train and we were kicking up a lot of dust. He later said this was the worse section of the hike for him. It was warm, humid and he was choking on dust.

– Frogs weren’t the only wildlife out there. Michelle spotted a baby rattler on this section of trail. Jean later said their group came across 6 snakes including 2 rattlers. Larry K. saw a mountain lion.

– After climbing Devil’s Corckscrew the trail flattens out (but still steadily up) until Indian Gardens. Edward was low on calories so we stopped to rest a bit. I was also getting peppered with questions on how much farther it was to Indian Gardens. One reason people were concerned was I told folks back at Phantom Ranch that it was 4.5 miles to Indian Gardens. Turns out it was around 5. Combine that with heat, humidity and the climbing caused folks to start getting low on water.

– Normally once I climb Devil’s Corckscrew I always think that I am almost to Indian Gardens and that it is just “around the corner”. In reality we still had at least another 1.5 miles but I told folks, “Not that much further, should be around the corner”. Famous last words.

– Well we hiked around the corner, still no sign of Indian Gardens and we hiked and hiked and hiked (around several more corners). I could hear Garden Creek raging pretty good on my right and by this time everyone is out of water. Edward said something about wanting to plunge down into the creek.

– I kept thinking to myself, “I don’t remember Indian Gardens being this far”, I kept looking for the Tonto Trail junction sign that I knew we would hit shortly before Indian Gardens. I could sense everyone’s frustration that we hadn’t gotten there yet and that as de facto trail guide that frustration was being quietly directed toward me (lesson learned: never underestimate the distance as trail guide).

– Finally we come to the Tonto Trail junction sign. I said, “ok we are really almost there”. Michelle, who is behind me looks at the sign and says, “Indian Gardens 3 miles!” I hadn’t paid that close attention to the sign but I knew it couldn’t be  3 miles so I blurted out, “that has to be .3 miles”. Immediately Edward, Michelle, and Spleens all shine their lights on the sign. I hear someone say, “Yep it’s .3”. Whew!! If that had really been 3 miles there may have been a new murder story to add to the Death in the Grand Canyon book.

 

Indian Gardens to South Rim (4.8 miles 3000 ft gain)

 

– After narrowly avoiding being another Death in the Grand Canyon statistic, I was very relieved when we soon arrived at Indian Gardens. We ran into Larry K and Elizabeth! Julie and Chris C had gone on ahead so Larry and Elizabeth were hiking out together. They were leaving just as soon as we arrived.

– We took our time refueling at Indian Gardens. We were feeling pretty tired and the lights at the top of the South Rim looked so far away. I knew from previous experiences that the lights at South Rim never really seem to get closer until you are almost there. So I resolved not to look up at them anymore during the hike out.

– Indian Gardens has several long benches and Tanya wasted no time stretching all the way out and resting her eyelids.

– After my “miscalculation” on the distance from Phantom Ranch to Indian Gardens (thus causing some people to run out of water). Jason quizzed me extensively about distances to the water stops up to the South Rim. This resulted in an Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first” routine between Jason and I as I tried to explain it was 1.5 miles to the 3 mile rest house and 3 miles to the 1.5 mile rest house.  Clear as mud.

– Turns out that wasn’t the only confusion the 3 mile resthouse caused. First a bit of background. The 3 mile resthouse is on a 50 yard side trail. There is a sign at the junction that says “Water. 3 mile Rest House”. Later in the night when Rich’s group came to that sign, someone said, “hey look…we can get some water”. Rich emphatically replied, “I am not going 3 miles to get water!”

– The water at Indian Gardens actually tasted quite good. My experience has been the water at the 3 and 1.5 mile rest house can be rather lukewarm and stale tasting so I encouraged folks to go ahead and fill up on water at Indian Gardens.

– After finally getting ourselves psyched up we began the long 4.5 mile, 3000 foot climb to the South Rim. To me this is one of the things that makes R2R2R a unique challenge. Most ultras finish the last few miles on flat or a downhill (especially mountain ultras); however, R2R2R finishes with almost a 5000 foot climb from Phantom Ranch to the South Rim. Aside from Badwater I can’t think of another ultra that does that.

– There really isn’t a lot to say about the hike out. It was steady forward progress with switchback after switchback. No one really felt like talking. The 3 mile rest house seem to come relatively quickly. However, the stretch from the 3 mile rest house and 1.5 mile rest house seem to drag a bit longer.

– At the 1.5 mile rest house my blood sugar plummeted and I quickly fell well behind the others. I had made the same mistake I made going up North Kaibab and hadn’t taken in enough calories. I had taken in calories at Indian Gardens but hadn’t taken much since then (close to 1.5 hours) and it caught up to me.

– Edward noticed I had fallen behind, waited for me and offered a cookie. I had taken a couple of gels but they hadn’t kicked in yet and that cookie looked good so I took him up on it.

– The cookie hit the spot and in a few minutes I started to feel much better and was hiking at a more normal pace.

– It was during this part of the trail that we came across quite a few R2R2R runners starting down the Bright Angel trail (Close to midnight). As I mentioned before…this didn’t make a lot of sense to me since they would miss seeing the dramatic descent in the dark. Plus they would be coming back up Bright Angel in the heat of the day.

– Many of them were flying down and they weren’t doing much yielding to the uphill hikers. I sure wasn’t moving aside (I was too tired to anyway) so they were forced to go around me.

– A couple of them had an external speaker blaring music. I thought this was a little much in a place like the Grand Canyon.

– Before we knew it Edward and I were on the final switchback…Michelle and the Spleens were up ahead finishing. When we crossed under the tunnel I heard Elizabeth up ahead yell out, “Chris is this the right way?”. Turns out we had caught up to her and Larry. At first it confused me that she would ask if she was going the right way? There were no major trails that connected to Bright Angel up here. Then I remember that about 40 yards from the trailhead is a side path on the left that leads up to some of the Grand Canyon stores but it really isn’t considered to be part of the Bright Angel trail. Anyway I could see that Elizabeth was heading straight up Bright Angel and didn’t make the turn to the left and yelled out to here that she was going the right way. Little did I realize the immense controversy this side path would cause later.

– Edward and I soon made it to the top and there we celebrated with Michelle, Spleens, Elizabeth, and Larry. Julie and Chris C. were there as well (they had finished a long time ago). Everyone felt really happy and satisfied with the accomplishment. It really is something that should be on every runner’s bucket list.

– We finished around 1215-1220a so it did take us around 4.5 hours to climb out from Phantom Ranch.

 

Aftermath

 

– The next day (Saturday) ended up being fairly eventful so thought I would share a few highlights from that day and share some of the stories that I heard from others about their R2R2R adventures.

– I found out the that Rich, Rick, Jean, Jessica, Louie and Moores all finished together sometime after 3a. Derek and Louie kept everyone awake with their conversation.

– The Moores were very entertaining with their stories. The best one was when they got to the top of the North Rim they had a conversation that went something like this:

 

Derek: “I can’t find my beanie”

Jennifer: “Big deal. We will buy you another one”

Derek: “No. You don’t understand. I think I left my bribe money in there”

Jennifer: “Bribe money?”

Derek: “Yes. Bribe money. I had brought (insert large figure) in bribe money. Just in case I get stuck down there and need to get a helicopter or mule ride out or pay someone to let me crash in their place at Phantom Ranch or pay someone to give me a ride from North Rim to South Rim etc”

 

– Anyway their conversation was a lot more substantial than that but you get the idea. Fortunately Derek did find his bribe money and he never had to use it. Still you have to commend him for being prepared. I guess I should adjust my checklist to say: “Food, Water, First Aid, jacket, bribe money etc.

– The Moores also met a couple of interesting guys at Phantom Ranch. Apparently they were ultra runners themselves but they seems a little bit on the “high” side if you know what I mean. They said after the Grand Canyon they were going to go to Sedona, score some peyote and hang out in the energy vortexes.

– We did spend Saturday going on the West Rim Shuttle tour. The trailview stop was really cool because it gave a great bird’s eye view of the Bright Angel trail. It was all laid out before us. Since it was night time when we climbed it, we hadn’t really been able to see it. It was quite impressive getting to look at in the day time and hard to imagine we had climbed up it the previous night. It looked very imposing.

– One of the things that stoop out on the West Rim tour was how hot it was!! There was zero cloud cover and the sun was intense!!! We lucked out doing it the day before.

– Saturday night we had dinner at El Tovar which had a great atmosphere. Rick had made R2R2R medals for us which they gave out. But this would lead to a great controversy.

– One of the details that had emerged from the previous night was Jason had decided to take the side path (that Elizabeth had asked me about) to the rim rather than the last 40 yards on the official Bright Angel trail.

– I correctly pointed out to Jason that he shouldn’t take credit for an official R2R2R since he didn’t finish it on the official agreed upon route. Jason, tried to counter that with the weak argument that he did the same distance if not more. I brilliantly made the point that in all of Joe’s races you have to do it on the official course. If you go 5 miles off course, you still have to go back and do the part of the trail you missed.

– Despite my superior arguments and suggestions that Jason go back and do the 40 yards he missed…he stubbornly refused to cave in.

– I also found out during the day that Rick and Jean had also started up the side path on their climb out but once they realized that they were no longer on the Bright Angel trail they turned around, rejoined  the trail and finished up on the official Bright Angel trail

– So when Rick and Rich were passing out the finisher medals I decided to Jason a favor. I knew he would regret it for the rest of his life if he didn’t properly finish R2R2R and that it would haunt him forever. Because I care about Jason I took his medal from him and refused to give it back to him until he finished the last 40 yards. I could see his gratitude written all over his face.

– At this point Jason had no choice but to go back and do it properly. We gathered everyone together at the Bright Angel trailhead so we could cheer Jason on as he ran down the side path and then went up the Bright Angel trail.

– Jason started running on my signal and he was flying! He flew down the side path and then sprinted up Bright Angel to a big crowd of cheering Rockhoppers (and some very confused onlookers). What a finish! I proudly put the medal over Jason’s head and he raised in arms in triumph. Thus after a 19 hour Aid Station stop of shower, sleeping, breakfast, west rim tour, nap, and dinner Jason officially finished his R2R2R adventure in 38 hours and 19 min.

 

Final thoughts:

– Last time I did R2R2R solo. This time I did it with a great group and travelled the whole way with my terrific friends….Michelle, Edward, and the Spleens. They made it so much more fun than when I did it solo and it was great to share it with them. Afterwards I immediately thought I will never do another R2R2R again. But after a few weeks have gone by I know I’ll be back.

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?

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.
Observations on The Rockhoppers R2R2R Experience – May 15, 2014

Observations on The Rockhoppers R2R2R Experience – May 15, 2014

Grand Canyon 060

I know there has been more attention paid lately to the impact of R2R2R runners at the Grand Canyon. I was originally going to include our observations in my trip report but I decided that it warranted a post on its own. If I have overlooked anything then feel to weigh in.
 
Given some of the recent publicity about R2R2R traffic at the Canyon I was interested to observe things firsthand and to see how much things I had change since my R2R2R adventure in late June 2007. In 2007 I didn’t knowingly see any R2R2R runners. If I did….they weren’t running and there wasn’t a lot of trail traffic. I’m sure the time of year I went was a contributing factor as well. However it is very evident things have changed since then.
 
On our way down South Kaibab we didn’t encounter many other R2R2R runners. There were some people on the trail but few of them appeared to be runners. There were a few people coming up but it wasn’t evident they were runners. Regardless the traffic didn’t seem above normal; plus, most would have been coming up Bright Angel which had water. Once we got to the Box section between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood (hours between 7-9a) that quickly changed. We noticed a few runners going in same direction as us but there were a lot coming our way. Some looked really fresh and others looked beat. I am assuming the fresh ones started at North Rim early that morning may have only been doing R2R. Hard to say. I am assuming the tired looking ones started from South Rim the prior evening and were on their way back. Now it didn’t make a lot of sense to me to do most of it in the dark when one can’t see much but it was a full moon. When I say “a lot” I would estimate close to 30 which seemed like fairly heavy traffic for that stretch. From Cottonwood to North Rim during the late morning hours we came across a small handful (near the top of North Kaibab)making their return trip. On the North Rim it seem like there were around 25 – 30 runners trying to get motivated to return.
 
On the way back during the afternoon hours I don’t recall seeing any other runners (some of them may have been trekking the way up but it is hard to distinguish between them and day hikers) outside of our group. Traffic didn’t seem overly high and during the Box section Michelle made a comment that it seemed like we were only ones out here. It stayed pretty much that way all the way to 1.5 mile rest house. We came across very, very few people in the stretch from Phantom to 1.5 mile rest house (about an 8 mile stretch). However that changed as we hiked up the last 1.5 miles between 11:30p and 12:15a. We were bombarded by runners coming down (this made little sense to me because they would end up going through the Box and climbing Bright Angel in heat of day on the return trip…not fun). The group containing Jean, Rich, Jessica, Rick, Louie, Moore’s which finished a little after 3a, were bombarded by runners the entire way up Bright Angel (the runners were coming down).
 
Some of the runners were very friendly and almost encouraging as if it was a race saying “looking good” and “good job”. Other runners were locked into their music and had their PR faces on and didn’t say a word. One sore point for me is very few runners were yielding to uphill hikers (I guess they thought it was a trail race where downhill has right of way). Even so I wasn’t moving aside for them. They had to negotiate around my 6’8″ body. Fortunately Bright Angel is a fairly wide trail so it wasn’t a huge issue. Would have been a different issue on the narrower North Kaibab. I was proud of the courtesy and friendliness of our group. From what I heard and personally observed, folks were very good about yielding to uphill hikers. I even had one haggard backpacker going up North Kaibab say, “Thank you so much. Bless you” as I moved aside for her. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn but I thought it was indicative that not many downhill folks were yielding. When going uphill the last thing you want to do is to have to yield and lose your momentum (especially when carrying a 50lb backpack).
 
There is a 2d part to this story. There was a ranger on the upper part of North Kaibab who was very diligent about monitoring R2R2R runners. She had conversations with several of us and tried to encourage several folks to cut it to R2R and take a shuttle back. She eased a bit once she realized (thanks to Jason and Derek) that most of us had ultra experience (Jason was really good about spouting off his resume and Derek gave her everyone’s resume) and I think the easing temps due to cloud cover helped as well. I got the impression many people attempting R2R2R did not have a lot of ultra experience. The Moore’s in particular had a very long conversation with her. Some of the pertinent tidbits we picked up from her were:
 
– With the popularity of trail running they have seen a big surge in R2R2R runners over the last 2 years.
– That day they had seen at least 100 people doing R2R or R2R2R and it wasn’t even noon yet. They are worried about increased congestion on the trails (impacts solitude) as well as resources to help increased number of people requiring assistance.
– One reason congestion/solitude is an issue is the impact on the campers at Bright Angel/Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood campgrounds. With runners coming through in middle of night (as evidenced by the number of runners coming down Bright angel at all hours of night) it deteriorates from the camping experience if the runners are noisy (or have voices that carry like mine:-) during sleeping hours (although we personally didn’t hit any campsites in middle of night).
– The runners are leaving a lot of trash (primarily gel and snack wrappers). Jennifer said she picked up a lot of gel wrappers on hike up Bright Angel.
– The ranger confirmed that runners are taking a dump right on the trail. And leaving their toilet paper right there with it. I’m at a loss for words.
– The ranger asked Tanya if we were eating solid and real food. She said a lot of runners were assuming they could do R2R2R on gels and liquid calories and many of them can’t and find themselves sick from the gels or bonking hard.
– She quizzed Derek pretty good about our group and whether Rich was charging us dollars for his organizing efforts. They have seen “unpermitted” guides charge folks up to $500 for R2R2R.
– They feel like they need to get a handle on the R2R2R explosion because it is overwhelming them but aren’t really sure how. They have talked about a permit process for R2R2R runners but how does one enforce it?
 
My personal takeaway is I definitely have more sympathy for the park in dealing with R2R2R runners. By nature I prefer  “less regulation” to “more regulation” but it is evident things are getting close to a tipping point and they do need to figure out a way to get a handle on it. There were times when I definitely thought it would be nice to have more solitude and less congestion. However, would I feel the same way if I’m the one that gets cut out of doing R2R2R so someone else can have the solitude? The irony about all this is if one diverts onto Tonto trail or Clear Creek trail (that connect to the “corridor” trails) they would have all the solitude they could ever want in about 1/8 mile. Chris C. recently did a 25 mile (Hermit Trail to Tonto to Bright Angel) trek and he hardly saw anyone. But if one wants to check off R2R2R they really have no choice but to stick to corridor trails.
—Chris R.
Derek and I saw traffic pick up after we left Phantom Ranch. It felt like it was a combination of local runners, day hikers and I’m sure R2R/R2R2Rs.  Some we’re running so well, it did feel like there was a race going on but we attributed the traffic to the 1st weekend with all water stops available.
What was interesting was that some of the R2R and R2R2Rs groups were wearing shirts that said what they were doing so they could identify their group. Derek and I also ran into guys wearing white shirts with the backcountry goat during our decent on North Kaibab and they did tell us they were running R2R2R they started on the north side.
We really enjoyed talking to the ranger but Chris is right….she did her best to try to discourage us from completing R2R2R. She made the pizza, beer and views at the North Rim Lodge sound amazing!  We spoke to quite a few hikers that we’re going to spend the night there and head back south in the morning.  I do sympathize with the park because on our way back down North Kaibab, we came across everyone that was trying to make out of the canyon for day. We could tell that many were just folks who decided to hike down and really didn’t realize what they were getting into.  Many were not carrying water, some only had a plastic water bottle and others were struggling with the climb to make it out.  Now I know why airvac is used so frequently in the canyon.
Almost everyone we encountered was very courteous on the trails.  It wasn’t until we got to the last 3.5 miles up Bright Angel when we started to bump into runners barreling down the trail. They were going down so fast they missed the trail and Jessica was nice enough to point them in the right direction. Some were cordial and some were not but none of them gave us the right of way and this is where I saw  the most trash on trails. I have to say, despite the amount of traffic in the canyon, there was no trash to be seen thr ough the day.  Everyone takes “packing it out” very seriously so seeing 2 to 3 gels packs felt like a lot. This is also why we were shocked to hear the rangers story about folks pooping on the trails, especially given the incredible bathroom facilities the park provides at many of the water stops.
Oh, one last thing…. I think I need to reach out to Hoka for some swag/compensation cause I know I sold at least 5 pairs of Hokas while I was out there. One pair was to our park ranger!
-Jennifer Moore
DerekJen
 
Rockhoppers all over the map the past three weeks. Here are just some of the races and results

Rockhoppers all over the map the past three weeks. Here are just some of the races and results

The Georgia Death Race March, 15

John Sharp 15:02, Brian Ricketts 17:11

The Georgia Death Race is a point-to-point ultramarathon trail race in North Georgia. The race is 60ish miles (last year some clocked it around 64ish? Maybe just a bit longer this year?)

Prairie Spirit 100 mile trail run March, 29

In and around Ottawa, KS, The Prairie Spirit Trail is a beautiful “rails-to-trails” course that runs through numerous quaint little towns. Elizabeth returned this year after being pulled of the course last year at mile 85 by the Kansas Department of Transportation due to a blinding snow storm!

Elizabeth Gonzalez- 26:09

 

Texas Independence relay, 200 mile road run, March 29-30

John Sharp- Ran (and finished) SOLO!

 

ZION 100 trail run ,April 4

A challenging, scenic run through the southern Utah desert adjacent to Zion National Park

Rachel Ballard – 28:31

Umstead 100 Trail run, April 5
Liza Howard – 15:07

 Liza’s 15:07 broke the female recors by 51 minutes. Umstead has been around since 1994.

– Considering all genders Liza has the 15th fastest time there ever and she was only a couple of minutes behind the 13th and 14th fastest times. 2 of those people (Serge Arbona and Glen Redpath ) did it twice so only 12 people have run Umstaed faster than Liza.
– Umstead was the 2d fastest 100 mile trail time ever for a female and only 5 women have 100 miles faster (based on UR mag lists) regardless of surface.
– Liza is the only female to run 4 sub 16 hour 100 mile trail races. 2011 RR is the 3d fastest trail time and I’m fairly certain her Javelina time and her other sub 16 hour RR are in the top 10 as a minimum.
As impressive as all this is, what makes it more impressive is that Alison Bryant told Eliot that Liza made a 1.5 mile detour early in race. Based on splits I assume it was on the 3d loop. She also had to stop periodically to use the breast pump. Easily could have been a sub 15 hour race

 

Hells Hills 50 Mile, 50K, 25K, April, 5

– Matt won 50 miler followed by Rabbers, Nicole Studer, and Tom believes Ghost and Dave were 4th and 5th. If so Rockhoppers took top 4 of 5 places overall. Tom said Renzo was waiting for his daughter at right at the end to finish with her. Dave could have passed Renzo right then but didn’t do so. Classy move by Dave
– Tom was 1st Masters in the 50k settting a HH PR for himself (5:13). BFF Joe T ran a stong race and was 3d masters.
– Melanie was 1st female in 50K and 4th overall. Care was in top 3 in 50K.
– Kelli was fourth female in 25K. Stefan ran a strong 25K as well. not sure where he finished. 25K race was extremely fast.
– Speaking of epic, Legend and the Hawk were locked in an epic battle after finishing 2 of 3 loops.
– Jason C. had a good 50k beating his Nueces time by 10min and Julie had a solid 50K coming off injury.
– Tom said that he didn’t know of any RHer drops in 50 miler and all were plugging away.
– Tom’s wife, Michele completed her 2d trail race in finishing the 25k. Stella volunteered making it a family affair.
– Rich and Jean had a great Rockhopper tent set up that was much appreciated.
Official Final results;

50 Mile

Matt 7:20 (1st Male)

Rabbers 7:28 (2d Male)

Ghost 7:44 (3d Male)

Dave 7:45 (4th Male)

Anabel 9:18 (3d Female)

Ed Sousa

Don, the “Hawk” 9:35 (1st in 250 !)

Alex 9:44

Legend 9:46 (1st Masters)

John Blanchard 10:16 (2d Masters. 2d in 250)

Fumi 11:30

Larry K. 12:11

Charles Steinkuehler 12:26

Crystal Ybanez 12:32

Jean  12:56 (1st Female in 250)

Jessica 12:56

Mighty Mihalik 12:56 (4th Male in 250)

 

50K

Melanie 4:25 (1st Female)

Jason C. 4:51

Wrong Way 5:13 (1st Masters)

Cara 5:28 (3d Female)

Joe T. (3d Masters)

Julie 6:13

Derek & Jennifer Moore 11:29 (I bet they have stories!!)

 

25K

Stefan 1:53

Thor 1:56

Kelli 2:16 (4th Female)

Erica 2:22

Rick Smith 2:30

Claudette 2:38

Sandy 2:40

Brittany 3:00

Kay Perry 3:26

Kris Hunt (Joe T.s GF) 3:28

Michele (Tom’s Wife) 3:46

 

 IAAP 10 and 20 Mile trail run, April 6
Stefan  Grater won first masters in the 20 miler.
Daniel Cadena 20 mile, Tony Maldonado 20 mile, Steve McGrew 20 Mile
Margie Hodges  10 miler.