What the R2R2R hike is all about, and how this journey began

What is the “Rim to Rim to Rim Hike” in the Grand Canyon, and how did this whole thing begin?

My first trip was typical of many tourists who go to the Grand Canyon.  It started with a business conference in Phoenix, in 2003.  When it was over we drove up and spent about 2 hours on the South Rim before hitting Vegas.  We said “wow”, bought a t-shirt and left.  A vacation for me at that time was a beach and a lot of naps.  I had no way of understanding when I looked into the abyss that the tiny rocks and cliffs below us were hundreds or thousands of feet tall.  I had no way of knowing I would return the very next year and that Canyon would knock me down to my knees.

In 2004, I was invited to hike R2R2R with a group that had gone for years.  It sounded fun and I walked every night so I thought it would be a breeze.  Wrong!  I was unprepared, I did not trained properly, and I took bad equipment and horrible shoes.  Helping other hikers avoid these same mistakes was how this website was born.

R2R2R is the highlight of my year.  It is the one thing that I do where I can look back at one single day and see what I accomplished.  I proudly say “I did that”.   It is incredible but it is also very dangerous and serious.  It is not recommended that people hike down to the river and back in one day, it is in fact strongly discouraged.  Signs on the trail say “DEATH”.   It is not a place to go if you are in poor health, are injured, lack proper training, and are not in excellent cardiovascular condition.  It is not safe to be there without adequate food, salt, water, and electrolyte replacements.   I want my friends to experience this place but I also warn them repeatedly that it is tough thing to do both physically and mentally.  The reward is hard earned and the journey is amazing, but people die there each year.

The challenges of the hike include altitude and temperature changes over an extended period of time.   You hike anywhere from 8 to 16 hours each day.  It is amazing, but it is no race and if all you want to do is cross as fast as you can then you have missed the whole point and failed to soak in this fantastic wilderness.  Your experience in the canyon depends on your physical abilities and your fellow hikers.   We hike in groups for safety.  I have hiked with delirious, punch drunk, seriously ill heat exhausted people who seemed fine just minutes earlier.  Illness and tragedy can happen in an instant, so no one is ever allowed to hike alone.

The weather is a wildcard, and dehydration is our enemy.  It can be 30 to 40 degrees when you start and end your day, which may be in snow.  In May and June it already is reaching over 100 degrees at the bottom, and 110 in the shade equals 130 on the trail with the sun and the black rocks.  There is low humidity and you don’t realize how much you are sweating.  The trail is not smooth, rocks and trees have been placed in the trail to help with erosion or whatever by the incredible people who maintain this majestic national park, and these are big steps.  You continually step up and over things when you enter and exit the Canyon.

The trail from South to North is called the Kaibab Trail, it is about 22 miles long with an average incline of about 21% but the last 5 miles is closer to a 30% grade when we go up the equivalent of the Empire State Building over 3 times.  The trail from North to South is the Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch (about 14 miles into it), then switches to the Bright Angel Trail.  The Bright Angel Trail has an average incline of about 14% for a total of 24 miles.  We never climb up and out the Kaibab Trail on the South Rim on a N to S route.   There is no water and no shade.  Strenuous exercise in high heat and low humidity is hard, and heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke are life threatening.  There is an entire thick book out there  about how many people have died in the Grand Canyon.

It is a dangerous place, and this is a dangerous hike.  But at the end of that day, as you look out over the vast and dark abyss below, you see the twinkling lights on the other Rim of the Grand Canyon and you realize you just walked across that whole thing in just one day.  I think we forget how strong we really are, and what great things we may accomplish, in just one day.  I think sometimes we need to go somewhere where a cell phone can’t reach us, when the treadmill of life stops for awhile, and when our day is all about achieving  a goal that you can both see and feel.

This, is how the journey begins.

© 2013.   Jean N.  All Rights Reserved.