Grand Canyon R2R2R Run: Time To Get Haggard

Grand Canyon National Park (November 3, 2012)

42 miles, 11,000′ of gain

The Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim challenge had been on my “to do” list for the past year. Ben had originally been planning the trip and I knew we needed to keep the adventure alive.

Arriving at Grand Canyon National Park

Arriving at Grand Canyon National Park

Although I reflected on Ben during my latest Ironman event, I needed a unique experience following his death, like R2R2R, to re-inspire me to live like Ben did.  This meant always aiming for new challenges in order to fully appreciate life.  Eight of us took on the Grand Canyon this past November, and we all had Ben’s spirit by our sides the entire day. We weren’t just specators in nature, we were participants.  It was time to get haggard!

Scoping out Saturday's task

Scoping out Saturday’s task

After piling into Dax’s car for the drive to Grand Canyon National Park, I had a massive craving for macaroni and cheese.  Randomly, the radio show began talking about macaroni and cheese and we simultaneously pulled alongside a truck with a bed full of macaroni and cheese boxes.  I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to.  After driving through endless desert and still on the search for the golden noodles, I eventually had to settle for a PB&J sandwhich.

Completing the South Kaibab descent and heading into the tunnel to the bridge over the Colorado River

Completing the South Kaibab descent and heading into the tunnel to the bridge over the Colorado River

Arriving at the canyon, we scoped out the following day’s task.  There was a chill in the air and I knew it was only going to get colder.  A monster burrito became my pre-run meal and before snuggling into my sleeping bag on the hotel room floor, I prepped my pack with the necessary calories and fluids for the following day.  This was an out-and-back run and self-supported.

Crossing the Colorado River after descending into the canyon via South Kaibab

Crossing the Colorado River after descending into the canyon via South Kaibab

At 4am I peeled myself off the floor, dressed and met the gang in the hotel lobby.  Of the group of 8; Erin, Matt, PJ and myself decided to stick together that day. Some folks also came out for the Grand Canyon rim-river-rim challenge, which was a great alternative for those that didn’t want to do the full distance.
First haggard o'clock photo

First haggard o’clock photo

Starting at the South Kaibab trailhead, the stars were out and the temperature was 24 degrees. Descending the early switchbacks, the trail was packed dirt which made for good running terrain.  However, it was still best to pretend that I didn’t know about the long drop-offs to our sides.
Traversing through the canyon

Traversing through the canyon

Guided by the light of our headlamps, dust and dirt clouded the air which made visability somewhat challenging at times. The sky gradually lightened as the sun rose from the horizon, and it was then that I fully grasped the beauty of our surroundings and what we were there to accomplish.
Taking a look down the side of the trail

Taking a look down the side of the trail

The South Kaibab descent ended with a tunnel leading to a bridge over the Colorado River.  Passing through Phatom Ranch, while being careful not to step in burro crap along the way, the trail followed the water through the canyon and through campsites where a few running water spickets were still on.
Climbing out of the canyon via North Kaibab

Climbing out of the canyon via North Kaibab

Everywhere we looked, there was a photo opportunity.  To honor Ben, it was decided that every hour on the hour we’d take a self-haggard shot.  This would eventually be known as haggard o’clock.  As we traversed through the canyon, we literally ran into our other group members; James, Kevin, Greg and Daniel.
Climbing out of the canyon via North Kaibab, the sun was shining and the temperature was rising. At the top of the ascent, the flies were swarming and eager to cling to our sweaty bodies.  After shoving in part of a sandwhich, the turn around was quick as we were chased away by the flesh eating flies.
Quick bakasana break at the north rim

Quick bakasana break at the north rim

My main goal was to take in the full experience of the adventure and I was stoked that everyone in the group was on board with that idea. Everyone eagerly took their haggard o’clock photos, and we occasionally stopped at amazing look-out points to breathe in the vastness of the canyon…and of course take multiple photos.
North rim ascent complete but a quick turn around due to the flies!

Haggard o’clock after the north rim ascent. A quick turn around was needed due to the flies!

There was a twinge in my left knee on the second descent, but I kept moving and my mind was kept active by the placement of my steps ahead.  As mentioned before, the trail was packed enough to make for good running conditions, but the drop-offs were very deep so it was important to stay focused.
North rim descent and heading back towards Phantom Ranch

North rim descent and heading back towards Phantom Ranch

At the bottom of the canyon I turned off my mind and was on cruise control for the return to Phantom Ranch.  This did result in eating shit, which I proudly ninja rolled out of, but I was very concerned about my camera that had flown out of my pack during my debacle. As I brushed the dirt off my bloody left knee and bloody palms, I checked the status of my baby. It made crunching noises and occasionally gave me a lens error message, but the beast continued to function.  Landing on my bad left knee did cause more pain in the remaining run time and also in the recovery process.
Haggard o'clock before the South Kaibab ascent

Haggard o’clock before the South Kaibab ascent

At Phantom Ranch we chatted about the remaining climb up South Kaibab.  Personally, I was looking forward to getting it underway because I knew the end was in sight.  Taking a haggard o’clock photo after crossing the river bridge and going through the tunnel, it was time to go up.
South Kaibab ascent

South Kaibab ascent

I felt really good at this point so I had to use this to my advantage.  Retracing our steps from earlier in the day, the views we missed while descending in the dark were breathtaking.  I knew what was in store for the ascent and as we climbed the steeper sections it was important to keep the momentum going and encourage the group to push forward.
So R2R2R is ok then?  Sounds good!

So R2R2R is ok then? Sounds good!

With a half mile remaining, the temperature dropped significantly and a blanket of cold air surrounded us.  Spotting the “warning sign” near the trailhead, it was time to celebrate our victory as we ascended up the final switchbacks and to the top.  PJ’s wife was waiting with a pizza in hand and I was proud that we conquored R2R2R in true haggard fashion.  It was the only way Ben would have wanted it.
Erin, Matt, me and PJ before the start of R2R2R

Erin, Matt, me and PJ before the start of R2R2R

Cruising through the canyon

Cruising through the canyon

Continuing the traverse

Continuing the traverse

More haggard o'clock goodness.  Prepare for more...

More haggard o’clock goodness. Prepare for more…

North Kaibab descent

North Kaibab descent

Who let this girl into the canyon?

Who let this girl into the canyon?

Rock hugger

Rock hugger

You can probably guess what time it is...

You can probably guess what time it is…

South Kaibab ascent

South Kaibab ascent