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Greg Mills (E2 Athlete) Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

Long Trip report from my recent Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim "Run"

I am sitting here trying to come up with the words to describe my Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim report. The only real word that comes to mind is EPIC!

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A few months ago a ”Friend” asked me if I would like to go with a group, Josh, Jerry, Beth, Caitlin and Kevin, to run the Grand Canyon. I remembered my trip last year to the Grand Canyon and thought that would be amazing. After selling it to the wife and promising to take her to Vegas to spend our anniversary there, I said yes.

I will be honest, I didn’t do a lot of planning for the R2R2R run other than the essentials: running clothes, hydration pack, nutrition, basic aid, and a head lamp. I knew the GC would be a beast but I did not want to overanalyze the run and wanted to be dependent on the team for the run. I’m a runner but wanted to stay with the group as much as possible so I left the navigation up to Josh.

We left Vegas around 1100 on Wednesday to head to GCNP. A couple mandatory stops later at REI and Route 66 Café and we were there. Now, I have seen the GC before on a cursory level and never imagined myself running it. When we showed up at Bright Angel Trailhead I felt like Merlin from Top Gun when Maverick said he was going to hit the brakes so the other jet could come closer; We’re gonna do what?!?!?!? We checked into our hostel, a typical 4-person room that they added a bunk bed to. We were a little cramped to say the least. This was interesting watching everyone get there gear together. I actually prepared very well for this and was already packed. I watched and laughed as they “got their life together.” We finally got to bed around 10pm and tried to sleep. It was going to be a 2:30 wake up.

Up at 2:30, we all got ready and headed out the door. It was a little chilly so we all donned extra layers to peel off as the sun came up. We hit the Bright Angel Trail head just before 4 am. We slowly winded down the treacherous switchbacks that lead to certain death, a little slower than we wanted to. Just after 6 we hit the Colorado River just as the sun was painting the canyon. To say it was an amazing sight is an understatement. We pushed on over to Phantom Ranch and took our first real stop. We regrouped and refilled our hydration packs. At this point we agreed we would go at our own pace. We all headed off to Cottonwood Campgrounds.

The path from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood is amazing. There is a small stream that flows next to a majority of the path and the views were amazing. It switches between tight corridors to vast open area. The elevation rise is just enough to let your muscles know you are going uphill. We were behind schedule somewhat and I had the need to push my pace a little and stretch out my legs. I arrived at Cottonwood right at 9 am and felt great. I had been running since 4 am and had covered 17 miles. I took some time to do a mind, body and gear check and to catch up on nutrition. I stayed for a little while until Josh and Jerry, AKA The Wonder Twins, caught up to talk strategy and how we all felt. Then I told them I was going to push on and would see them at the top. It would be another 7 miles to hit the top of the North Rim. I set out around 9:30.

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7 miles is not that bad. It’s a little over a 10k. That is what I told myself. When I left Cottonwood I was ready. I had my mind right, my gear set and my shoes tight. You know it’s only 7 miles. 7 miles with 6000 feet of elevation gain…… I wasn’t ready. As you begin to look up at the magnificent structures around you, you realize that you have to get to the top of them at some point. It was a constant battle in my head of we are going to do this to why would anyone ever want to do this. IN ONE DAY! You begin to hate things: rocks, birds, people, shoes, rocks, people, rocks, people, specific people…. I stopped at the rest area on the way up and refilled water and asked how much further. They told me 1.8 miles. I thought, that’s nothing. I was wrong. I kept pushing and my calves were really telling me what they thought of this expedition. I went for what felt like forever and saw some workers on the trail fixing the trail. I asked how much further and they said less than a mile. I guess .8 is less than a mile. I thought F*CK…. I kept pushing until I finally hit the top. At the top of the North Rim is a parking lot. It was extremely disappointing for the pain that I had just endured. This was by far the hardest thing I had done. I arrived just after 12. I sat there for a few about 30 minutes to get my life together. Had some lunch and refilled my water. Chatted with some visitors and started to make my way down.

I started on the way down and felt like I could fly. I was running again and it was awesome. I met the Wonder Twins just after the workers and informed them that is was .8 miles to the top and nothing to see. They told me they were going to continue up and finish. We talked about the run and I continued on. I hoped that I did not look that bad when I was in their spot. They were about 1.5 hours behind me now. Another mile and I spotted Beth and Caitlin. They didn’t look as bad but told me they were only going to do Rim to Rim and catch a ride back to the South Rim. Probably the best decision any of us made. I stopped at a rest area to change my socks, remove rocks and lube my toes. As I looked around, I was the only person wearing running shoes. Everyone else had on hiking shoes. I continued back to Cottonwood and enjoyed the views while taking the pace a little slower to let my calves recover. Cottonwood came and left and I pushed onto Phantom Ranch. It had taken me over 6 hours to get to the top of the North Rim from Phantom Ranch. It took less than 4 to make it back.

I met Kevin at Phantom Ranch around 4pm and told him I got good news, bad news and bad news. Good news, I’m here. Bad news was the Wonder Twins were about 2 hours behind me and Beth and Caitlin were going to hitch back to the South Rim. Kevin was our life support. He provided friendly conversation, Coke Cola and more nutrition. He had hiked down 10 miles after us to Phantom Ranch to play Sherpa duties. Never underestimate the power of the Sherpa. He gave me the keys to the vehicle and room and I headed on my way. He stayed to wait on the Wonder Twins.

I set off on the last 10 miles of my journey, back up Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. There are a lot of thoughts that run through your mind when you do epic stuff. Why did I do this, what was I thinking, where am I, why am I so mad, where are the Wonder Twins… I want to kill them…. I kept pushing and started passing other people hiking out. One lady offered me Orange Slices. I think she saw the pain in my face. They immediately made me feel better until my stomach said no. I kept pushing. I had drunken legs. The wheels had fallen off and I was just grinding down the axles. It is pretty scary heading up Bright Angel Trail in the dark when your legs fail to do the things your mind is demanding they do. I kept pushing. The last stop was for water at 3 miles out. I didn’t want to carry the weight but knew I had to. 3 miles… It’s only a 5k right. I kept imagining it to be the same distance from my mom’s house to the gas station, 3 times. Take it a mile at the time. About a mile out I could see the finish area come within sight and then disappear like it was a cruel game of peek-a-boo. My watch died and my legs were shot. I finally summited “Mt St South Rim” just after 9. Dazed and confused my body began to shut down. 3 miles had taken 1.5 hours. I was lost for words and mentally and physically shot. 

I drove back to the hotel and took a shower, checked on Beth and Caitlin and called the wife. I drove back to Bright Angel Trail Head to wait for the Wonder Twins and Kevin. I think they almost cried when they saw me as I almost did when I reached the top.

This was by far the hardest most Epic thing I have ever endured. I can now say that I have completed Rim to Rim to Rim in one day. Thanks to Josh, Jerry, Beth, Caitlin and Kevin for letting me tag along. This is a memory that shall never fade. I would do it again but not in one day. Camping along the way would be the best for me. Maybe again one day.

Notes: Headlamps and Hiking poles are a must. I only had one of these. The Wonder Twins can no longer invite me to things they describe as “Awesome, Amazing, or Epic”

Josh Winters