Deciding to hike OR run Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon is no small thing. 20+ miles across unforgiving terrain with a serious elevation profile in conditions that most of us are so unfamiliar with they may as well be from a foreign planet. This is not something to be entered into lightly, but once the decision has been made, there is still a lot to consider.
Permits & Logistics: One of the great things about planning a one-day Rim to Rim excursion is that no permits are required! However, there are some other logistical considerations to be tackled (which can largely be applied to hiking/backpacking as well). I have to give props here to my running partner, Candice, for handling a lot of the details for the trip.
North to South v. South to North The elevation of the N. Rim (8300') is significantly higher than the S. Rim (7000'). The lowest point in the canyon is 2200'. This means that crossing North to South involves 1300 more feet of downhill running than uphill, and vice versa. If you have issues with running up or downhill specifically, than your decision will likely be based on that preference. I absolutely love downhill running and while nothing can prepare you for the quad-blasting that occurs with almost 5000' feet of descent, we opted to go that route.
Trails from the South Rim
South Kaibab v. Bright Angel
The two trails converge at Bright Angel Campground on the South side of the Colorado River and offer completely different paths to the South Rim. South Kaibab is considered the “steeper” route, reaching Bright Angel Campground in just 6.8 miles with Bright Angel Trail clocking in at 9.3 miles. The South Kaibab Trailhead is about 100' higher than Bright Angel, so there's another slight challenge. If you really dig a power climb, then South Kaibab may be your choice, but it also has less rest stops (with
bathrooms and water) so be prepared for
that. We chose to ascend the Bright Angel Trail, the extra 2.5 miles seemed a small price to
pay for a friendlier grade and extra toilet options.
Shuttle Service v. Self Shuttle The Trans-Canyon shuttle offers a twice a day shuttle from one rim to the other for about $90 per person. This price might sound high, but after considering the time and gas cost of self shuttling, you may reconsider. To self shuttle, you need at least 2 vehicles and you will make the 5-6 hour drive TWICE. Once before your Rim to Rim and once after. We did consider this option (I am ever the penny pincher, but after calculating the gas cost, decided the $90 was worth it.)
Shuttle Before v. Shuttle After The shuttle is available for departure at 7am (arriving 11:30am) or 2pm (arriving 6:30pm), so the options if shuttling before your Rim to Rim are to ride the early shuttle and hike immediately (are you insane?) or to ride the late shuttle and start early the next morning (duh). If shuttling after the crossing, you can schedule the afternoon shuttle and hope you arrive before 2pm (risky) or plan to shuttle the day AFTER your run/hike and choose early or late depending on preference (also duh). When deciding whether to shuttle before or after, I imagined myself wearing the only filthy post-run clothes I have (because I'm not carrying a spare outfit across the canyon) crammed into a passenger van with a dozen innocent bystanders and riding for 5 hours with my sorry, sore, tired body post-run. So we decided to shuttle before.
The logical choice either way leaves you staying at one rim or the other without your vehicle and belongings, so this is something to be considered. We talked at length about what to take with us the night before our run and we settled on basically nothing. We wore our running clothes and packed our vests for the run, Candice brought two old pairs of warm pajamas that we intended to (and did) throw away at the trailhead the next morning.
Lodge v. Camping This is a decision for comfort v. frugality and that one is totally preferential. We stayed in the North Rim Lodge the night before our run, because we wanted to get a good nights sleep before our 4 am wakeup. At the beginning of October, it gets really cold at night, and camping seemed like a miserable option. Additionally, how would we have gotten our tents/camping gear there and back? The night after, we camped. And by we, I mean Candice (who is way more hardcore than me), I slept in my van, with a nearly queen size mattress and I was incredibly grateful not to be lying on the ground after what we had just done.
What to wear and bring on a run like this is highly dependent on what works for you based on your previous experience. If you have NO previous experience running long distances (15+) miles, then you need to get some before you show up at the Grand Canyon. But here's my gear list, for reference:
- Running vest (I actually upgraded my vest for this trip because my old one was too small to fit the food/gear/water bladder I would need for an all-day event.)
- Trekking poles - trust me, you will be sad if you don't have these for the climb
- Trail runners - YES! Trail specific shoes, not road shoes
- Clothing layers - It was super cold when we set off at 5 am and got hotter throughout the day, plus, even if it's hot all day, protecting your skin from the sun is a good choice.
- Head lamp
- Spare pair of socks
- Snacks (a combination of gels/gummies, hydration/electrolytes, and whole foods)
Training & Fitness: I am going to keep this part short and sweet. I can tell you what not to do and in the final trip report, you will understand why.
DON'T agree to run Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon two months before doing so unless you are already in tip-top, mountain-crushing, trail-running shape.
DON'T assume that because you are “training for a 50K” which is 6 months AFTER the proposed date of running Rim-to-Rim that you will be “far enough” into your training to be prepared for such an endeavor.
DON'T do absolutely nothing to train for uphill and downhill running, other than having taken a trail-running course two years ago.
DON'T have no clue how to fuel for a long distance run and no knowledge of what you might be able to stomach for 8 hours of running/speed hiking.
DON'T underestimate the descent, thinking that you will have loads of energy left for the uphill because “downhill is easy”.
DON'T take comfort in your way-more-in-shape partner saying they want to “take it easy” and keep a slow steady pace.
For every trip you take there are a hundred little details to consider. And it is never until you arrive that you find out about the ones you hadn't even thought of. That's why I am excited to be hosting a trip to Peru, where we will visit Machu Picchu. The best part is, all the planning has been done by experts! If you want to join me on the Inca Trail for an epic adventure with none of the planning hassle, click here for more details or email me directly at email@example.com