Desert Vibes

Desert Vibes
Photo: Ben Clark

Monday, November 11, 2013

Week in Review: November 4-10—The Grandest of Canyons



“The glories and beauties of form, color and sound unite in the Grand Canyon. It has infinite variety and no part is ever duplicated. Its colors, although many and complex at any instant, change with the ascending and declining sun.” – John Wesley Powell


Monday, November 4th
PM—4 Miles—0:45—1,150’—Bright Angel Trail to 1.5 Mile Rest House
Figured I would get out for an easy run to evaluate my legs after yesterday’s R2R2R. As predicted, they felt like crap…My calves were exceptionally tight. Likely not running tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 5th
PM—3 Miles—1:49—1,000’—Grandview Trail and New Hance Trail Scouting Hikes
Woke up to even tighter calves this morning. So I decided that today would just be a short hiking day. I went to both the Grandview and New Hance trails to scout out the initial miles. I felt like a typical tourist hiker today since even the slightest downhill step had me grabbing onto anything in sight to reduce the impact on my destroyed quads, calves, and hamstrings. My main focus was the New Hance trail since it has a pretty stealthy trailhead and is supposed to be the most difficult trail on the South Rim. The first few switchbacks confirmed that this trail definitely isn’t Bright Angel.

Wednesday, November 6th
AM—6 Miles—3:12—2,200’—Bright Angel Trail Hike to 3 Mile Rest House
My legs were finally starting to feel a little better this morning. I decided not to rush into things and went for a longer hike versus a run. I wore my typical climbing attire and took a day pack in an effort to maintain my hiking pace instead of breaking into a run. At the 3 Mile Rest House I spent about an hour taking in the views and enjoying a beer while dangling my feet off a cliff.  A couple of other hikers came over to where I was sitting and looked like they had never stepped foot on an uneven, rocky surface in their lives. I had to warn them that my feet were dangling over a 500-1,000-feet shear dropoff and to approach with caution.

PM—4 Miles—0:39—200’—Greenway Trail
Since my legs felt pretty good on the hike this morning I figured I would see how they felt on a short, easy run. I started at the trailhead in the iMax parking lot and just ran an easy pace for two miles out and then back.

Thursday, November 7th
AM—20 Miles—3:55—5,000’—Loop of South Kaibab, Bright Angel, and Rim Trails
With somewhat fresh feeling legs (finally) I decided to head out for a little loop on the South Rim. My route descended South Kaibab to the Colorado River, ascended Bright Angel back to the South Rim, and returned to my truck via the paved Rim Trail. After a 6-minute warm up from my truck to the trailhead I dove into the canyon for an easy descent. I stopped and talked to a few people along the way—not really in any hurry. I didn’t feel like negating all of the healing my legs had achieved by bombing down the 5,000’ descent. I eventually reached the river in a little over an hour. After a quick bathroom break, refill of water, and downing of a gel at Bright Angel Campground I started the ascent to the South Rim. With the exception of stopping for water at Indian Garden, I never stopped and managed to run every step of the Bright Angel ascent. There was a pretty absurd amount of hikers on Bright Angel, but I found they got out of the way rather fast when I grunted, growled, yelled, blew snot rockets, etc. while running the ascent. As usual, there was also an absurd amount of hikers who thought that I had nothing better to do while running pretty hard up a 5,000’ climb than to stop and answer all of their stupid goddamned questions. Anyways, after a few hours of running I finally topped out at the Bright Angel trailhead in 3:05 (trailhead to trailhead). My truck was still 5 miles away, which meant I had to joy of ending my day with running on pavement through the most heavily touristed area in the park. Lucky me. I can’t hide how much I love weaving in-and-out of people who blindly walk wherever they please in an effort to get those canyon photos. It seems they all think the canyon might not be there tomorrow. I wrapped up the 5-mile obstacle course in about 49 minutes to get back to the Taco in 3:55. I did the same loop last year in 4:32. Not too shabby for a mostly easy effort.

Friday, November 8th
PM—13 Miles—5:03—4,950’—New Hance Trail
I got a bit of a late start this morning (10AM) due to waiting on the temperature to warm up a bit. I entered this day with hopes of getting to the river and back without seeing another person. Those hopes were crushed a mere few tenths of a mile down from the rim when I saw an older couple who looked anything but comfortable on the technical terrain. To say that I ran much of the descent would be an overstatement. Yes, my feet were moving somewhat quickly, but my average pace for the descent was 20 minutes/mile. I did quite a bit of hiking on the descent and pretty much hiked the entire ascent—I didn’t really want to snap an ankle on the steep, technical trail by trying to run it with tired legs. This trail was definitely the most technical terrain I’ve experienced in the Canyon. Calling New Hance a “trail” might actually be a little misleading. Near the Colorado River I ran into a group of four who had setup camp on the beach, but were out for a day hike up the wash. Two of the four were tripping on acid, which I’m sure made for a rather interesting day. The group made for great conversation so I spent a while chatting with them before heading on to the river. They told me where their campsite was and said I could take the water they already had treated, which was great because it was starting to get pretty damn hot out. I snagged a handful of M&M’s too. After playing around the river for a bit I started my long ascent—dripping sweat the entire way. I stopped to chat with the gang again and got their plans in hopes of meeting them on the trails again in the coming days. Like I said, I basically just hiked the entire ascent. It wasn’t even a power hike either. I just took it nice and easy, chatting with the other people I saw along the way. This was probably the best route I’ve done in the Canyon so far.

Saturday, November 9th
AM—9 Miles—2:55—4,950’—Grandview Trail to Hance Creek Campground
Pretty easy run down the Grandview Trail due to a combination of steep, technical terrain and loads of hikers on the trail. Also, I didn’t have too much faith in the traction provided by my 1010’s on the dirt-covered cobblestone trails on upper Grandview. The descent to Miner (AKA Page) Springs was steep and nasty—just the way I like it. At the springs I ran into two guys from Sedona who saw me getting ready to take water without treating it. So, they gave me some of their Steripen-treated water. I ended up missing the hard left turn onto the Tonto Trail heading west, which would have taken me on a loop around Horseshoe Mesa (my intended route). Instead, I went a mile or so east on Tonto towards Hance Rapids. Just as I was planning to turn around and make my way back to the trailhead I ran into a park employee who informed me I missed the trail junction I wanted to take. On the way back to Miner Springs I noticed the Tonto West junction and made a mental note of its location. I stopped at the springs for another water refill (this time without treating it) and charged into the steep, technical climb up to the mesa top. The lower sections of Grandview provided a fun, challenging ascent. As I neared the rim I started power hiking on most of the cobblestone sections since my shoes kept slipping on the dirty rocks. This trail provided engaging terrain that required sharp mental focus to keep from shattering an ankle or clipping a toe and taking a huge nosedive. I love trails that require spot-on foot and hand work. I was hoping to catch the New Hance Gang, but didn’t see them out on the trails. Maybe tomorrow?

Sunday, November 10th
AM—7 Miles—2:35—2,800’—Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa
Another pretty mellow descent, but a little faster than yesterday. I got an early start with the intent of running the full lollipop loop around Horseshoe Mesa. During the descent I felt a few twinges in my right calf that eventually manifested into full-on pain. About 1.5 miles down I ran into Patrick (one of the four I met on New Hance a few days prior) and chatted for a bit. Within a few minutes the rest of the New Hance Gang caught up and joined the conversation. We made plans to meet for lunch, but I wasn’t confident I would finish my run and make it there on time. Closer to the mesa I passed a ranger that I talked with a bit yesterday. He was a bit surprised to see me down there a second day in a row. When I got to the mesa I decided to call off the lollipop loop due to my calf pain. Instead, I searched around for a way to the tip-top of the mesa—I found one. After 30-45 minutes of scrambling around I began the painfully slow ascent on my gimp leg. En route I passed the ranger again (he seemed pretty impressed at my pace), the two guys who gave me treated water, an editor for Backpacker Magazine, and a guy named Mark (or Mike? I always get those two names confused) Fenton. Mark (Mike?) and I chatted for a while. We crossed paths a few days ago on New Hance so he seemed a bit intrigued when he saw me again on Grandview. The conversation was a much needed break since my calf was really starting to hurt like hell as I neared the rim. When I reached the trailhead I didn’t waste any time getting changed and making my way to the Bright Angel Lodge where I was pleased to spot the New Hance Gang. So we got cozy at the table and I joined them for lunch.


Miles—66
Time— 20 hours 56 minutes
Elevation Gain— 21,200 feet



Well, it took a little longer to fully recover from last Sunday’s R2R2R than I had hoped. Oh well, I’m sure the easy front end of this week was much appreciated by my body. 

My plan for this week was to explore some of the lesser-known trails of the Canyon’s south rim. New Hance and Grandview trails provided just what I was looking for; steep, technical terrain that requires substantially more thought than the cruiser corridor trails. These trails were rocky, boulder strewn, and overgrown with trees, cacti, and other plants that scrape, stab, poke, and prod. It’s always a blast when running doesn’t just involve the legs; when you have to start using your arms to leap over boulders and rip through vegetation obstructions. 

I saw significantly more people on the trails than I was anticipating. However, the people I saw on these trails were pretty awesome. Most of the hikers on the corridor trails have no concept of trail etiquette and generally won’t even respond when I try to say something as simple as “hello.” The hikers on New Hance and Grandview were all super friendly and great to talk to. I seem to have great luck when it comes to meeting awesome people in the Canyon. Three years ago I met my “Canyon Savior” Charissa as I neared the north rim. Last year I met Susie, a fellow vagabond ultrarunner. This year I met the awesome New Hance Gang. Who knows who I’ll meet next year? Who knows who I’ll meet in the rest of my time here this year? I’m excited to find out.

I’m always amazed with the Grand Canyon. For the past three years I’ve made trips out here; each year learning a little more of the secrets hiding in the canyon’s depths. One could easily spend his entire life exploring the Canyon and never grow tired of it. There are still hundreds of miles of trails I’ve yet to explore. The more people I talk to about the Canyon the more I learn of things like the Old Hance Trail and other routes that technically don’t exist, but are still out there waiting to be traveled. I suppose all I have to do now is sit down with a topo map and put my imagination to work. 

Big days in the Canyon will likely be in my future…

Sunrise at South Kaibab trailhead

Descending South Kaibab trail

Looking down at the remaining descent of South Kaibab to the Colorado River

Black Bridge across the Colorado River

Getting ready to cross the Colorado River

Looking back towards the Black Bridge from Bright Angel Campground

Sweet view of both bridges crossing the Colorado River as I head up Bright Angel Trail

Meandering along the river bed before Bright Angel trail begins its ascent to the south rim

Over 250 people are rescued from the depths of Grand Canyon each year...Most of them look like some random douche modeling the newest line of North Face winter wear on the centerfold of a magazine...
Hance Rapids in the Colorado River


Colorado River near Hance Rapids

View from where New Hance trail meets the Colorado River

Some of the most runnable trail on New Hance. It didn't last long.

Rock formation on Grandview

Sweet little overhanging rock on Grandview.

A nice rock bulge over part of Grandview. There's a little bit of a drop to the right hand side.

Looking part of the Grandview Trail. There's a trail in there somewhere...

Some sign warning about radiation in the Canyon...

Looking back at the ascent up Horseshoe Mesa

The trail to Miner Springs

Miner Springs--a much-needed water source in the middle of the desert

Mining equipment and an abandoned mine shaft on the Grandview Trail

Cool mining ruins on the Grandview Trail

These hurt to kick or land on...

Sweet, runnable singletrack in the bottom of the Canyon

Spot on...

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