In 2007, I attempted to run a double crossing (R2R2R) of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to the remote, primitive, Boucher Trail on the South Rim and back.  During that adventure, I reached Boucher Creek, but turned back without climbing up to the rim.  I desired to try again to conquer that very long 90-mile double crossing this year.   But the weather didn’t cooperate because of a record arctic cold front.

The forecast improved so Thanksgiving afternoon I decided to go ahead and travel to the Grand Canyon to do my run.  But, as I approached the North Rim entrance at 7:30 p.m. I went through dangerously cold pockets of air.  It got down to -18.  That is minus 18 F!!   It really freaked me out.  I envisioned finishing my 90-mile run in below-zero temperatures moving very slowly up the North Rim.  What if the car wouldn’t start because of the bitter cold?  No one would be around to help because the services at the rim were closed.   I decided to turn around at the North Rim entrance.  I wasn’t willing to take on that danger.

My route in green

My route in green

Instead, I decided to make the long drive around the canyon to the South Rim and then do a shorter but amazing run during the next day when it would be warmer.   My new plan was to do a giant loop, descending down Bright Angel Trail, heading west (down river) on the primitive Tonto Trail, go up the rough Boucher trail to Hermits Rest, and then either run 8 more miles on the rim back to my car or take the shuttle back.  This would be normally a 4-day backpack trip.  I hoped to run it in about 12 hours.

I arrived at the South Rim around 11 p.m. The motels were all crowded and I knew would be expensive, so I decided to just sleep in my car at the Bright Angel Trailhead.  It was 12 degrees.  I had a warm sleeping bag and blankets.  I woke up every 90 minutes to turn on the car and heat.

At 5:30 a.m. I was away, running down Bright Angel Trail.   There was snow and ice for the first mile or so, so I had to be pretty careful.  I arrived at Indian Garden in 1:05 and it was warmer but still below freezing.  They had left the water fountain flowing a little to prevent the pipes from freezing.   It was now bright enough for me to pack away my flashlight.

Instead of taking the usual route on the mule trail down to the river, I turned west (downriver) and ran along the primitive West Tonto Trail that rolls along the Tonto Platform about 1,000 feet above the river.   I’ve been on this section of the trail twice before and I love it.   It is a primitive trail that only gets foot traffic (no mules).   It is tough to run it fast because of many rocks along the way.   I struggled to run at a pace faster than 12:00.  I didn’t want to try blasting down the technical trail because if I had a bad face-plant, I was far away from any help.  There were many nice long smooth sections where I could increase the speed.

 

Sunrise from the Tonto Trail

Sunrise from the Tonto Trail

The sun started to shine on the rims above and exploded my eyes with colors.  I love watching the sunrise down inside the canyon.   It was so peaceful and quiet.  

Me, between Monument and Hermit Canyons

Me, between Monument and Hermit Canyons

I ran into my first humans at Monument Creek (mile 15.4) at about 9 a.m..   As I descended toward the creek, I could see about 20 backpackers down below breaking their camp for the day.   I passed others making their way westward to Hermit Creek.   They were all surprised to see a solo runner, but I didn’t stop to explain.

Looking down to Hermit Rapids on the Colorado River

Looking down to Hermit Rapids on the Colorado River

At Hermit Creek (mile 19.2) I decided to do an out and back to the Colorado River to view the Hermit Rapids.  The trail down to the river followed Hermit Creek and it was slow going because it would keep crossing the creek and going through bushes. 

Hermit Rapids

Hermit Rapids

The Hermit Rapids on the Colorado River were amazing and well worth the effort, but it put me a little behind schedule.

Resting at Hermit Rapids

Resting at Hermit Rapids

I took a short break from my running and enjoyed looking at the roaring force of the river. 

Hermit Creek

Hermit Creek

As I climbed back up Hermit Creek, I passed for a second time a group of backpackers.  They asked me where I started and where I was going and were stunned by my answers.  I explained that it was a lot easier without a backpack.   I was traveling very light, with a small camelback and just one water bottle.  My water stops were at Indian Garden, Monument Creek, and Hermit Creek.  Before leaving Hermit Creek I filled my bottle and camelback, three liters total for the remaining 15 miles.

Between Hermit and Travertine Canyons

Between Hermit and Travertine Canyons

Back on the Tonto Trail, I continued westward toward Boucher Creek.   I ran past more backpackers.   The views were incredible and the early afternoon finally was warmer.   I kept getting delayed because I wanted to stop for pictures and also to view everything that I was going past.

At Boucher Canyon, I missed the junction for the trail up to the rim.  I think I was looking at my GPS and ran right by it.   So I did an extra mile until I figured things out.  Finally I was on the primitive Boucher Trail that would take me to Hermits Rest on the South Rim.  This trail was created by a Hermit who lived down at Boucher Creek.

This was the fifth trail that I have used to ascend to the South Rim.  (Grandview, South Kaibab, Bright Angel, Hermit and Boucher).  It was slow, tough, going, but I was having a blast.   I loved that trail because it was tough and varied from hand-foot scrambling to runnable sections.  At one point it climbed through the Supai formation making its way through boulders the size of houses.  

My feet were holding up well, but I started to feel a sharp pain in my right little toe that felt like a cactus needle.   I convinced myself that it was a torn nail that I would just have to put up with the pain. (It wasn’t until the next day when I finally took a close look a pulled out a nasty sharp cactus needle).

At Yuma Point

At Yuma Point

Right below Yuma Point, I startled a couple backpackers resting as I came up fast around a corner.   They looked really tired and explained that they would be camping at Yuma Point.  I knew that they face a very cold night ahead.  With the sun starting to go down, the view at Yuma Point was fantastic.

I kept an eye on my watch.  I really wanted to reach to top (Hermit’s Rest) before sunset so there would be no risk at missing the shuttle that would take me eight miles back to my car.  I really didn’t want to run those miles in the dark in the bitter cold rim.  The last mile, as with all climbs up to the rim, was like a steep death march.  I ran out of water and was getting very cold.   I reached the top at 5:30 p.m. just as it got dark.   My 39-mile run was complete.

No one was around Hermit’s Rest.   I could feel hypothermia setting in as I was still quite wet from sweat.   I went to the shuttle stop, but it was quiet, cold, and dark.   I went to the gift shop, saw someone in the warm closed store, and I knocked on the door.  The guy didn’t let me in but explained that the shuttle would be along in about ten minutes.

I did my best to stay warm in a bathroom and eventually just had to start running down the road.  I flagged down the shuttle when it finally came and the driver was so very nice to me.  It was warm inside and he helped me get water that I desperately needed.   He was very concerned, never before seeing someone trying to recover from a long run.   On the drive back I started to shiver like crazy.   I took out my emergency blanket and that helped.   The driver dropped me off only 100 yards from my car.  He kept asking me if I was sure that I would be OK. I assured him that I was fine. Once I got inside my car, I cranked up the heat, and drank a ton, I soon felt much better.

I drove for the next six hours toward home and then slept until dawn in my car in a location that was 31 degrees.   I finally arrived home at 8:30 a.m.   It was a wonderful adventure.

I’m already plotting my next Grand Canyon adventure.  I would like to do another amazing loop, this time using the Boucher and South Bass trails (would be my 6th trail), traveling about 29 miles on the West Tonto and about 18 miles up on the rim for a total loop of about 64 miles.   This will be my most remote Grand Canyon adventure because I will likely not see anyone west of Boucher creek.  Spring, in early April, would be a great time to do it.