Not a race but another Grand Canyon run.
This is a long write up but FRB is kind of a running diary of sorts for me so I want to get a few details while it’s fresh on my mind. I wanted a different R2R2R experience than the main corridor and the chance to see some new Grand Canyon territory. This run took a considerable amount of research and planning. A R2R2R using the North and South Bass trails instead of the main trail corridor. This would require a fully self- supported run; no visitor centers at either end, no food or water except what you find, and no bridge at the bottomto cross the Colorado River. You have to swim it. With temperatures above 100F in the canyon floor and running solo I wouldn't be able to make many mistakes. This weekend I ended up having a few days off without the kids and pulled everything together Friday morning for a shot at it. Friday night I did some easy running out of Jacob Lake while talking with the rangers about how to get to the trailhead and trail conditions. The road map of dirt fire roads north of the North Rim is one of the most complicated things I have ever seen, literally hundreds of roads. To get to Swamp Point, North Rim, the trailhead of the North Bass Trail you have to drive 19 miles of 4X4 roads with 7 intersections that takes over two hours to drive from Highway 6. The first adventure is just finding it. I finally reached the North Rim about 10pm and parked the Jeep right on the edge of the rim to camp the night. The drive out reminded me how remote this was and I had second thoughts about running this instead of the main trail. The canyon is just so huge that it overwhelms you every time. There was one truck parked at the rim too which was comforting somehow.
Next morning I was up at 4:30 and packing. There was a ton of food to take, two headlamps, Garmin Fortrex, cell phone for backup GPS, paper topo maps, extra socks, goggles, shorty wetsuit, spare batteries, overnight kit, Camelback, GoPro camera, extra water bottles, water filtration system, and backpack. I had 240 ounce water capacity. I went out to the Rim and marked visual landpoints for as much of the route as I could see from the maps. I had downloaded GPS USGS Survey markers from USGS.gov for pretty much the entire route. I had trail GPX data from NPS for both South and North Bass trails. I marked each survey marker and the trail itself on the paper topo maps for back up. I did not want to get lost. I spent some time studying the canyon and felt pretty certain that I could see much of North Bass route except of course the river, and I could see far in the distance the point on the South Rim I was climbing to. I got a small cell signal and was able to check the NPS temperatures for the day, 50 F on the North Rim, 103 F at Phantom Ranch, and 87 F at South Rim. Heat was going to be a factor. I headed down the North Bass trail and just had to keep stopping to take pics. It was incredible. No wonder William Bass chose this spot of the canyon. I dropped down a mile to the Muav Saddle where an old patrol cabin still stands. From there the trail descended along the Redwall and I soon came up on Queen Anne Spring which Waypoint marked on the GPS. The trail was overgrown all over but not hard to follow at all, just extremely slow and hard to run. I easily reached the first two survey markers and finding the White River which I would follow for the next few miles. The trail just disappeared here all the time, back and forth across the small stream. When I hit the Tonto Sandstone layer the trail dropped down into the rocky and dry lower White River. So far this was so different from the Grand Canyon I had experienced before that it was like being in a different country. Green, wet, full of all kinds of wildlife. I was about 6 miles down and now stowed my overnight kit in case coming back I couldn’t make it up the North Rim climb. From here it was slow boulder hopping but now knew that water sources were reliable and that I could find the survey markers and see my route vs the trail route on the GPS. I decided in the lower section to follow the White Creek through the narrows instead of the old alignment to see some of these canyons. A little longer but I really wanted to experience this part of the canyon. Ran through slot canyons filled with pools, tons of red and gray toads, tadpoles, and small fish. Lots of shade. I came across a huge chockstone stuck high in the narrows above. Coming out of Whites I rejoined the Bass at the confluence of Shinumo and from here I knew I had just over three miles to reach the Colorado. This was hard running. Basically rock hopping a riverbed. I stopped at the old Bass Camp and looked through many remains; lanterns, picks, shovels, plates and cups. The Bass Trail feels like a museum that you run through, so remote that the only ones on it seem to be people who respect things like this enough to leave them for others. I’d read that you could look around and see the old peach and fruit trees Bass planted but I couldn’t find them. Plus I was eager to get down to the river. This had been one of the most demanding trails I’d been on.
Coming over the ridge I could see the Colorado below. There was a set of rapids above which was very loud and a set of rapids below. I believe these were Bass and Shinumo Rapids. In between the water was wide and slow. I could see many strange up currents and flows going backwards along the sides. The section where it looks like Bass had his tram is obviously very narrow, but the water was fast. I chose the wide slow place. I pulled everything out and triple ziplock bagged it, throwing it all into a large Hefty garbage bag which I filled with air to use a possible flotation if needed. I pulled on the wetsuit, and tied the bag to it’s zippers. I sat by the river and studied it for maybe 10 minutes watching the currents moving things around. It took some will power to actually get in and start. The water was freakin cold but slow. I was hauling. Didn’t want to spend too much time in it. But the water was smooth, like swimming across a big pond. This was fun. Reaching the other side the current reversed, going upstream, and I actually had to swim downstream to hit my landing spot. I unpacked the bags, stowed them all for the return and started up the short cliff wall to where I could see the trail line on the GPS. I was shivering and it was 101 F. I had taken so much video through the slot canyons that my GoPro battery ran out climbing out of the water. I soon got into Bass Canyon which required some rock scrambling and this section was thankfully in the shade just moving around one big boulder after another. I eventually came across the Tonto trail junction where I began to see a lot more Cairns marking the trail. Climbing through what I believe is called the Esplanade I kept finding pocket after pocket of water. This had been a wet Spring. I was keeping soaked this whole run and the Sawyer filter tube with the Camelback gave me virtually unlimited water supply. As usual on Rim trails the last mile and a half is freakin impossible hard and this one didn’t disappoint. I was a bit lower on water than I wanted and headed back down with only a short break. Now I just had to survive in reverse and I had full comfort of an established trail line on the GPS and known water. I took my time and once again sat by the river at my wetsuit stash. Much more comfortable than before. Again I swam nearly the same spot coming out on a nice beach on the other side, bagged everything up, and headed up the ridge to the Shinumo drainage. As I ran up the Shinumo I now noticed a faint trail along the south side of the river and was able to run it much faster than the boulder hopping mile after mile of the way down. When I reached the dry White River upper beds I saw for the first time two hikers ahead, heads down in a death march, with huge packs and gear. They were overjoyed to see me, from New York, fairly lost with only three pages of a trail map printed from the internet. Grizzled good wilderness types though. They had spent a week hiking the North Bass down to the River and back. But yesterday 7 miles up from the river on the winding trails they got lost, and headed back to White Creek in the evening to water. Today they got mixed up again and I showed them the route up on the GPS and using my topos. We then drew the line on their map for them to follow. One of the guys was looking so slow that I told them not to try the climb to the North Rim that evening. But they were certain that a six mile climb was doable. As anyone can attest who has run the North Rim, the North Rim climb is a destroyer. I’ve seen four miles add five hours to a R2R2R with people before. They had only 1 mile to water and the stream to follow so I gave them all but 20 ounces of my water and left. Hope they made it.
When I reached the Redstone layer I hit for the first time in the canyon ever continued nausea. I worried that it was some contamination from the water, a problem with the filtration. But logic told me that wouldn’t hit for a full day. Most likely it was from the ibuprofen that I took an hour before. A stupid mistake that I should have known better than to make. It was relentless and dropped me to a snail pace on the climb. Power hike 10 minutes, rest head in hands two minutes. Repeat. Endlessly. I ran the mantra through my head that every ultra runner knows; you will never feel the same in an hour that you feel now. This was mechanical pain fest. Finally climbing through 6,000 feet it faded away and I was able to alternate running and hiking up to the rim.
This run reset something yet again in my soul about the canyon. It opened up another world. Also this time I was out of shape, 160 lbs of winter fat, but not even a whisper of any injury. Every other time on a R2R2R I was tired from racing. Who knows what the best condition is for one of these? The profile is remarkably similar to a R2R2R in the corridor. 45.6 miles, 11,350 feet of elevation to climb. I took a lot of video on this run so I'll be putting together some video soon.