Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (2 days)
by Peter Holleran
"All who wander are not lost."
Without a doubt going rim to rim across the Grand Canyon must be one of the greatest adventures in the world and a must-do for anyone considering himself serious about the outdoors. No, that’s an understatement. Let’s try and put it in another way: if you are in good health, with most of your body parts functioning normally, it would be a tragedy for you not to schedule a trip there as soon as possible. Life is short, who knows what tomorrow or next year may bring? Why wait until you are too feeble to do more than hobble from the car to the tour bus, joining the throngs of unfortunates who never get to know the heart and soul of the Canyon by entering into its depths? For that, my friend, is the road less travelled by, and it makes all the difference. If you have to take a mule ride down, then do it, but get down there one way or another. Less than 1% of those visiting the Grand Canyon ever make it to the river below, and probably less than 1% of those continue on to the other side. I'll wager less than 1% of this elite group do it in ONE DAY, and fewer still the roundtrip. Whether one does it in a day, three days - or three hours - it is a great experience, and not to be missed - nor postponed.
There are a number of logistics to consider before attempting such an undertaking, however, depending on how one wishes to do it: (a) hiking (one day or several days, travel light or backpack); (b) running (one day or two days, one-way or roundtrip), (c) South Rim to North Rim, or North Rim to South Rim (or both). Time of year is also a factor, as is, most importantly, adequate preparation, ie., physical conditioning. A trip to the inner canyon should not be taken lightly. Rescues are difficult and expensive. Park rangers pull their hair out over people wanting to do this, so the conscientious trekker should try and not give them something with which to say “I told you so”. This next section will explore these topics for the benefit of those who want to know how to do a rim-to-rim hike or run. Those uninterested can bypass this discussion and go on to the account of my trip itself.
First for some facts. The South Rim is 6840’ elevation at the Bright Angel trailhead and approximately 7200’ at the South Kaibab. These are the two corridor trails from the South Rim to the inner canyon. The Bright Angel route drops 4400’ to the Colorado River (elevation 2450’) in 7.8 miles, followed by another 1.6 miles on the River Trail and 0.3 miles more to Phantom Ranch, or 9.6 miles total. South Kaibab is steeper, dropping 4700’ in 6.3 miles, or 7.3 miles to the Phantom Ranch. In general, the Bright Angel follows the side of a canyon and is shadier, while the South Kaibab is more scenic following a narrow ridge line. The Bright Angel has water, restrooms and emergency phone at 1.5, 3.0, and 4.5 miles (Indian Gardens), while the South Kaibab has no water at all, but does have pit toilets at 1.5 miles and pit toilet/ phone at approximately 5 miles.
The North Rim lies at 8240’ with only one corridor trail, the North Kaibab, which descends Bright Angel Canyon for 14.1 miles and 5800’ to Phantom Ranch. Thus, the route up to the North Rim is substantially longer with 1000’ more vertical rise than either trail to the South Rim. It is roughly comparable to the climb up Mt. Whitney, only three miles longer and without the rigors of extreme altitude. There are water, flush toilets, phone, ranger station, and snack bar year-round at Phantom Ranch. The next drinkable water on the ascent is at Cottonwood Camp (7 miles), then Roaring Springs (8.5 miles), Supai Tunnel (12 miles), and the trailhead (14.1 miles). Water can be filtered from Bright Angel Creek which follows the trail for the first 7 miles. The North Rim itself, consisting of the Grand Canyon Lodge, visitor center and campgrounds, generally closes about October 15, which means that water along the North Kaibab trail shuts down as well, except for Cottonwood Camp. Therefore, on any late fall or winter trip someone hiking to the North Rim must plan on carrying enough water to make it up and down the top 7 miles of the trail which does not run along the creek. This will generally mean carrying a Camelback or similar hydration system. Water at the 1.5 and 3.0 mile Rest Houses on the Bright Angel Trail is also seasonal (May to Sept - or until the first frost, according to rangers. It is necessary to check ahead of time; I went in October of 2004 and they were still running). Thus, one may have to go 4.5 miles to Indian Gardens before the next water source. From there until the Phantom Ranch (or nearby Bright Angel Campground) the only water is that which may be filtered from Pipe Creek which runs along the lower portion of the trail. (Note: one also needs to check ahead of time to make sure the water lines are working because sometimes they have been known to break).
Temperatures in the Canyon vary greatly from rim to river. It is recommended one not hike in the summer months when the AVERAGE daily temperatures in the inner canyon are over 100 degrees. Since the North Rim usually opens in mid-May and closes in mid-October, for those doing rim to rim and wishing to stay at the North Rim it means planning a trip either mid-May to early June, or late-September to mid-October. Winter would be ideal for hikes from the South Rim down to the river and back. The North Rim is higher and about 10 degrees colder, however, and therefore gets much more snow in the winter making the upper portions of the North Kaibab trail dangerous at that time, especially without using crampons.
------------------------MAY JUNE JULY AUG. SEPT. OCT. NOV.
SOUTH RIM-------70/39 81/47 84/54 82/53 76/47 65/36 52/27
RIVER-------------92/63 101/72 106/78 103/75 97/69 84/58 68/46
NORTH RIM-------62/34 73/40 77/46 75/45 69/39 59/31 46/24
The South Rim is a self-contained village, with many accommodations, while the North Rim has but one, The Grand Canyon Lodge, with another, the Kaibab Lodge, 18 miles away and outside the park. There is a reason for this. The South Rim is just 78 miles from Flagstaff, the closest airport, and 53 miles from Williams, starting point for the famous Grand Canyon Railway, which drops off travelers directly in front of the South Rim lodges.
The North Rim, on the other hand, is a five hour drive from either Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or the South Rim itself. It is more remote and more peaceful, with arguably the most stunning vista of all at Bright Angel Point, a short, narrow, paved walk from the Lodge with precipitous drop-offs on either side.
With the preceding background information in mind we can now assess the various cross-canyon trip options. The backpacker can go rim to rim in three days, starting at the South Rim and staying at Indian Gardens or Phantom Ranch campgrounds the first night, Cottonwood Camp the second night , and reaching the North Rim on the third day. He should start hiking early each morning, preferably by dawn, resting at his destination campsite during the warmest part of the day. He can cross in two days by staying at Phantom Ranch (preferably in one of the lodge rooms, thus needing only a light pack, leaving the camping gear behind), and then making the 14 mile climb to the North Rim on the second day. Keep in mind that the Phantom Ranch snack bar doesn’t open until 8 A.M., so getting the recommended early start means you won’t be eating there. You will, therefore, need to bring food for yourself or buy some bagels, etc., at Phantom Ranch the day before to eat in the morning. As a hiker, moreover, you will be out there for quite a while and will therefore need more than just Gatorade and a PowerBar to make it all the way to the North Rim, so plan accordingly. One can hike rim to rim in one big day (10-14 hours or so) if you are in good shape, travel light and hustle a bit on the downhill. The shortest route goes South to North via South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails (21.2 miles). By leaving as soon as it is light enough to see one will catch the sunrise on the way down and get to Phantom Ranch by 8:30-9:30 A.M. That way one can make some distance towards the North Rim before it heats up too much down below. There is more climbing South to North, but the first 7 miles of the North Kaibab Trail are relatively gentle, with the serious climbing coming mostly after Cottonwood Camp. Going North to South, while appealing because there is more downhill and less climbing, also means one will spend approximately twice as much time before reaching the river and consequently will be down in the inner canyon longer in the hotter part of the day. The waterless South Kaibab Trail is not a realistic uphill option except in the cooler winter months, and therefore you will be taking the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim which will make a North to South hike longer (23.5 miles) and more difficult although not impossible to finish in daylight. This is not a problem if you don’t mind hiking with a flashlight.
The simplest plan for going rim to rim in one day, whether hiking or running, would be the following: fly to Flagstaff, drive to the South Rim and stay overnight, take the South Kaibab to North Kaibab trails, stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim (a 1.5 mile hike from the trailhead, but before 4:30 p.m. there is a free shuttle - good luck reaching it in time), then return to the South Rim the next day on the Trans-Canyon Shuttle ($65, approx. 5 hours); call (928) 638-2820. Another option is having non-hikers or non-runners in your group drive around to the other rim and pick you up. That’s alot of driving, however, and in this case you might want to add another day so they will have time to enjoy the canyon, too.
One more consideration are the clothes you will need after your hike. There are basically two options: carry them with you in your daypack, or ship them in advance to: Grand Canyon Lodge c/o General Delivery.
A runner going one-way rim to rim should have no trouble time-wise in either direction. He can either drive to the South Rim, stay overnight, run across the canyon and return on the shuttle the following day, or stay at the South Rim, take the Trans-Canyon Shuttle to the North Rim the second day, and run back on the third, conceivably still making it back to Flagstaff for an evening flight out. (Departing out of Phoenix (220 miles from the South Rim) does have advantages, like being able to drive through Sedona and check out the energy vortexes (groovy, baby, but perhaps a little anticlimactic after being in the Canyon), but it will be too far to catch an evening flight after your run. Likewise, those driving to the North Rim could schedule a trip to famous Monument Valley, several hours to the northeast (or just forget it and rent a classic John Ford movie like The Searchers instead).
I chose to run South to North the first day, stay over at the North Rim, run back the second day, and fly out the same night. This required precision planning. Fortunately I had the advantage of joining friends at the North Rim who had driven there from Las Vegas and were going to run North to South who brought some clothes for me to change into after my first day's run, thus sparing me extra weight. The next day one of the wives drove a car around to the South Rim while we all ran across. I picked up my first day's clothes when I reached the other side, got in my car and immediately left for the airport. I could have managed this two-day run by myself without too much problem by carrying some (ultralight) clothes, but would have needed to take my Camelback RimRunner backpack instead of just a fannypack with water bottles, which I prefer when possible. “Travel light” is my motto.
In contrast to rim-to-rim, Rim-to-Rim-to Rim is another ballgame altogether. It is generally attempted as late in the year as possible, to ensure cooler temperatures, with the tradeoff being that the days are shorter. A popular time for ultrarunners to do this is at Thanksgiving. At this time of year there are only ten hours of daylight (approx. 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.), which means, unless you are a world champion, that you will either start or end the run in darkness. If you are hiking you definitely will. To finish in under 24 hours is a worthy goal of many hikers, and under 20 is quite good, requiring real training. A respectable run would be under 14 hours, under 12 excellent, and under 10 terrific. The record going North to South on the North Kaibab and South Kaibab trails is a phenomenal 2:42 set in 2016 by Jim Walsey. The double-cross record, or Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R) was set by Kyle Skaggs in 2006 in 7:37, and then in 2007 was lowered by Dave Mackey who ran an at-the-time blockbuster 6:59.56, despite spending 10-15 minutes stuck behind mule trains. Rob Krar lowered it in 2013 to 6:21, and on the same run in which he set the South to North record Jim Walsey set the current double-cross record in an ethereal 5:55:20! In 1987 Wally Shiel did a Double Double Cross (or “Quad”) in 24:45, which record Jim Nelson in 1999 lowered to 22:48. Finally, as if that weren't enough madness, in 2013 Ras Vaughn made the only known TRIPLE in 68:10. Organized running events in the inner canyon were stopped by the National Park Service in 1982, although a “Grand Canyon Marathon” is still held on the rim.
Hiking rim-to-rim-to-rim is a strenuous affair, and when done after October 15 will require filtering water and also possibly carrying a hydration unit to make it through the long waterless stretches. Because it will be cooler, however, one will not use quite as much water as those hiking in the warmer months. It will also require carrying ample food and possibly caching food along the way to eat on the return to avoid carrying it all the way up to the North Rim and back. The runner can make due with less than the hiker, carrying energy bars, Gu, salt (ie., pretzels or wheat thins), and plenty of electrolyte drink powder, and eating what he can while passing through Phantom Ranch. Don’t count on meals there, however; they are for overnight guests only (the menu reads like one in the movie My Cousin Vinnie - except for the prices, which reflects the fact that all supplies are carried down into the canyon by mule train: Breakfast, $17.50, Lunch, $24.50, Dinner, $28.50). Bagels and cream cheese, coffee, soft drinks, energy bars, and sometime sandwiches are what you will find. On second thought, don’t count on the sandwiches - they had none when I was there. When in doubt, carry more than you think you will need - 45 miles in the canyon is a long way. On a hike this late in the year one will also need to bring extra clothes: fleece, raingear, etc., as the weather is very changeable. A lot can happen in 24 hours. A runner may want to carry a water resistant shell and some running tights.
My friend Tim Hicks, 62, is an animal and went Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in 15.5 hours in June, including an extra five miles on the South Rim Drive to connect the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trailheads, carrying over ten pounds of water in 100+ degree temperatures. That is something not recommended for the average mortal, but at least he stayed on the corridor trails where help and water are available. Others have not been so lucky.
Being value-conscious and wanting to get my money’s worth, I opted not to fly to Las Vegas and drive to the North Rim with friends who were planning a one-way North to South rim-to-rim run. As previously mentioned, I flew into Flagstaff one day earlier (9/25), ran South to North on Friday, and, after joining the group for dinner at the Grand Canyon Lodge, spent the night just outside the park at the Kaibab Lodge, and ran back with them on Saturday. I planned on going at a modest pace the first day, to guarantee safety and keep some energy in reserve for the return trip, for which I allotted 8 hours in order to make it back to Flagstaff for my 5:30 p.m. flight. This seemed ample time to allow for slowing due to soreness/ tiredness from the first day’s run, dilly-dallying with the group who wanted to make a side trip to Ribbon Falls, engage in picture taking, etc. It didn’t allow for time lost to injury, heat exhaustion or any other emergency that might arise. In other words, I still had to stay focussed. An additional night at the South Rim would have let me relax and savor the experience more, but it was a luxury I would forego until another time.
Having failed to secure a reservation at the Bright Angel Lodge, the cheapest ($60-$80) and for the purposes of this run most conveniently located accommodation at the South Rim (immediately adjacent to the Bright Angel trailhead), I exercised my fallback option and stayed at the Motel 6 in Williams, planning on making the 50 minute drive to the canyon in the morning. I don’t mind doing this as it gives me a chance to wake up and eat breakfast before the run. The highway is excellent, speed limit 65 mph (75 from Flagstaff to Williams), with hardly any cars. An extra benefit was that I passed through the Park entrance before it opened and therefore avoided paying the $20 fee. (Unlike at Yosemite, they did not check upon exit whether I had paid or not).
After entering the Park one takes a left on Center Rd. and follows it to the main lodges on the rim. I chose to park in front of Bright Angel Lodge near the Bright Angel trailhead so it would be easy to find my car after finishing on Saturday. I then walked to the shuttle stop adjacent to the Lodge and waited for the 5:15 local bus as advised by a Park employee, in order to get to the South Kaibab trailhead near Yaki Point, 5 miles to the east, before dawn. This was a mistake. If it wasn’t for a good samaritan bus driver who went out of his way to help me connect with another local bus I would not have gotten to the trailhead until at least 6:15. The quickest and most direct route is to take the Express bus which leaves hourly starting at 5 a.m. (note: 6 a.m. in October). This will get you there by 5:20, a little early but still better than late. (Those wishing to make an even earlier start need to call the front desk of their lodge for a cab or call Fred Harvey’s 24-hour taxi service direct and arrange for pick-up (928/638-2822). The road to the trailhead is closed to private vehicle traffic from Mar. 1 to Nov 30). Sunrise on the day of my run was at 6:22 and I wanted to make headway before that. Fortunately, due to the kindness and quick thinking of the driver I reached the South Kaibab trail at 5:50, and by 5:55, with enough daylight to permit safety, I took my first exhilarating steps into the yawning abyss before me. It was 43 degrees. Two hikers with backpacks saw me and whispered, “look, he’s going solo!” (I love it). There was a light haze in the distance from several fires burning in the canyon. I could smell smoke but once I dipped below the rim it disappeared.
The South Kaibab is steep, but less so than expected, and the dusty trail is perfectly acceptable for jogging, in spite of being uneven and step-like in places. At no time did I fear I could fall off anywhere (unlike the middle section of the North Kaibab that is blasted out of the side of a cliff), but caution is always in order. A severely twisted ankle can cause major problems if you are near the bottom of the canyon. It’s not like you can just call a cab. A hefty surcharge on top of the usual $339.50 rate is charged for a mule ride out without reservations, and for helicopter rescues, just forget about it.
The trail begins with a series of short steep switchbacks followed by a series of more gradual and longer switchbacks leading to Cedar Ridge, 1.5 miles and 1200’ down. At one point I had to walk behind a pack mule train for ten minutes before they could pull out there and allow me to pass. The cardinal rule at the canyon is: never pass a mule train until authorized by the lead rider. In most cases the trail is so narrow you would not consider it, but also keep in mind that pack mules are not as tame as passenger mules and are more unpredictable. According to park records no mule has ever fallen over the edge, but people (and horses) have, therefore it would be wise not to push one’s luck.
There is a pit toilet at Cedar Ridge. The trail then begins dropping on long traverses until it reaches a nearly level ridge or saddle under O’Neill Butte, with views north down to the Tonto Platform on either side. It then rounds the east side of the Butte to another saddle, with a toilet and emergency phone on the right (5.0 miles), followed by steep switchbacks down through the Redwall and across the Tonto Platform to the Inner Gorge. Just before crossing the suspension bridge you pass through a short, dark tunnel. At this point you have come 6.4 miles and dropped 4780 feet. Very fast runners have made it here in 50 minutes. I took 85, not counting time stuck behind the mules. A good hiker, travelling light with intermittent trotting, should be able to get down in 2 1/2 - 3 hours. The trail then heads west before turning north along the east bank of Bright Angel Creek to Phantom Ranch (7.3 miles). I reached here at 7:35, too early to buy anything at the snack bar, and too soon to be very hungry, so I used the spigot to re-fill my water bottles and washed down one Gu packet. The temperature was pleasantly cool - about 75 degrees - a marked contrast to what it would be in a few short hours. I was somewhat surprised at the modesty of Phantom Ranch, just a few simple, rustic structures almost seamlessly blending in with their surroundings. Few were stirring at that hour, and I began the long ascent up to the North Rim.
The first few miles of the North Kaibab trail follow Bright Angel Creek through the section of the canyon known as the “Box”, a narrow gorge with near-vertical walls rising on either side. The trail crosses the creek on bridges several times before opening up. After six miles or so a junction is reached where the trail continues right over a steep hill, while a detour goes left to Ribbon Falls requiring you to take your shoes off crossing Bright Angel Creek. (From Ribbon Falls you then go north 0.25 miles, re-crossing the creek on a bridge to rejoin the Kaibab trail). Ribbon Falls is a worthy side-trip, with a tall, moss covered facade ending in a small pool with an interesting cave-like opening at the bottom.
The overall grade thus far is gradual, climbing 1500’ in seven miles, but just before Cottonwood Camp there is a short, steep hill, fully exposed to the sun which was now beginning to rise over the canyon walls. I reached there at 9 a.m., stopping again for a few minutes to get water and chat with hikers who left Phantom Ranch about the same time I left the South Rim. Rather than carrying my Camelback with its 100 oz. reservoir, I had adopted an ingenious go-light strategy suggested by my friend George who had been to the Canyon several times before. This consisted of wearing a small one-bottle fanny pack and carrying two additional bottles. On the descent from the South Rim I filled a hand-held bottle, kept an empty in the fanny pack and slipped a spare with a hand strap over the fanny pack’s waist belt. When I got down to the Ranch I then filled all the bottles and carried one in each hand for the long stretch to Cottonwood Camp. Because I had started early I actually could have made it with only two bottles, but when hiking instead of running the rising morning temperatures will make more water a necessity. (Likewise, my strategy would not work for those hiking up the waterless South Kaibab trail). Such is the freedom of the runner, however, who can cover more ground in less time. (The principal reason for the third bottle was the next day’s climb out of the Inner Canyon up to Indian Gardens, a 5.0 mile stretch in the warmest part of the day. Not knowing what my condition would be at that point I wanted extra insurance against ending up totally parched. As it turned out, however, even this section wasn’t too bad).
1.5 miles from Cottonwood Camp is a pumphouse and caretaker cabin that offers water, shade, and occasional lemonade supplied by the caretaker’s wife. Just above the cabin is a spur trail on the right descending 0.2 miles to the falls at Roaring Springs (5200’), water source for both sides of the canyon, and audible up to the North Rim. At the cabin I topped off my bottles once more, as it was a long and steep 3.5 miles to the next water supply. From Roaring Springs the grade noticeably increases for 1.3 miles before reaching the Cliffs (6100’). Here the trail was blasted out of the side of Roaring Springs Canyon to form narrow ledges (but not less than five feet or so!) above Redwall cliffs. This is the only section of trail that made me nervous. I had to pass several parties here and was reminded of a scene in an old Tarzan movie where native porters creeping around the edge of a high escarpment fall one after another to their deaths far below. As I passed the hikers I half-jokingly cautioned them, “don’t move!” I would be hesitant to do this section in the dark, but surprisingly when descending the next morning I had no fear even while jogging through it. (This was, no doubt, partly due to the fact that when coming down I was on the inside, not the outside, of the canyon wall, but also because I was more mentally adapted to the sheerness of the terrain). The dropoffs here are definitely impressive. This entire section is also known as the Devil's Backyard. At the top of the Redwall is a towering Limestone spire known as “The Needle”.
1.2 miles from the beginning of the Cliffs the trail drops down into a side canyon and crosses a suspension bridge. It then begins climbing very steeply. At 12 miles it goes through the Supai Tunnel (6840’), where there are water, restrooms, and shade. This is a popular turnaround point for day hikers coming from the North Rim. From here the trail begins to moderate as it continues towards the Rim, passing a great view spot, the Coconino Overlook, and then gradually rising through thickly forested terrain away from the side of the canyon on a final series of switchbacks to the trailhead. A stone fountain there offers the coolest, best tasting water in the Canyon. While resting I met a man from New Hampshire wearing an Appalachian Mountain Club shirt, which sparked a conversion about my recent trip to Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, and also a man and wife from Vermont who gave me a ride to the Kaibab Lodge, where I waited for my friends to arrive. Running time for the South to North trip was 6 hours, with an additional half-hour of stops.
If you are staying on the North Rim be sure and make reservations for dinner at the Grand Canyon Lodge as it the only game in town and very popular (and expensive). The Kaibab Lodge is also open for dinner, but sunset on the North Rim is worth paying up for. Do not forget to take the short walk to Bright Angel Point with breathtaking views into the Canyon and across to the South Rim. While standing there in amazement I asked myself, “did I REALLY come that far, and am I REALLY going back there tomorrow?!”
That evening my legs were a little sore, in spite of my moderate pace (I guess there is really no easy way to run across the Canyon), so I preemptively took some Advil and Aleve, and did so again in the morning, figuring I needed all the help that I could get. (The long descent to Phantom Ranch on day two proved to be a little jarring, but surprisingly I gained strength on the last half of the climb up to the South Rim, such that I was able to jog vigorously past numerous tourists timidly walking a little ways down from the rim, including one overweight specimen who proclaimed as I went by, “now that’s depressing.” Made me feel great, though).
At the start of our run from the North Rim at 6:15 a.m. the temperature had dropped to 34 degrees. Even so, most of us (except three women from Alaska who apparently weren’t used to anything but cold weather) wore only shorts and t-shirts. As expected, a few minutes below the rim it quickly warmed up to about 60. This was not due entirely to the drop in elevation, but because of warm air in the canyon rising upwards. By the time we reached Phantom Ranch the thermometer said 101, although I don’t think it was quite that warm - the thermometer was in direct sun - it was probably only 95!
About halfway between Cottonwood Camp and Phantom Ranch we passed a group of three lady Tamalpa runners from Mill Valley, California coming the other way, doing the Bright Angel-North Kaibab route. The idea of my two-day Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim strategy intrigued them. They informed me, however, that Mike Soltesz, a fellow Tamalpan, had already done it in ONE day. I know that guy - he beats me, I beat him - so I guess I could do it, too. The question is, will I ? or rather, will I want to? Perhaps....Maybe........Probably. The gauntlet has been thrown down, and the challenge beckons.
After a half-hour iced-tea-bagel-and-cream-cheese break at the Ranch I bid adieu to my friends, who continued at a more leisurely pace, and headed off towards the South Rim, hoping to make it in three hours or less in order to catch my plane. It was slow going at first, overcoming the enertia created by the long break and dealing with the sun and heat, but the air was dry, there were light breezes and some shade, and it wasn’t that bad. I had been in much worse before, and it was easier than my expectations. I did feel some sympathy for hikers still trudging down carrying big packs, however, many who looked like they had had it.
From Phantom Ranch it is 0.2 miles to Bright Angel Campground where the trail goes right leading to the Silver Suspension Bridge (or left back to the South Kaibab trail). The floor of this bridge has a metal grating through which you can see down to the river below, for which reason mules are afraid to use it. All mule trains cross on the other bridge farther upstream by the South Kaibab trail. (The River trail connects the two bridges on the river’s south bank). Looking back across the gorge stupendous tiered buttes and ridges with exotic oriental names soar in the distance. After crossing the bridge turn right on the River trail and proceed for 1.5 sandy miles to the start of the Bright Angel Trail, which begins its long ascent up the canyon alongside Pipe Creek. This section of trail has ample amounts of shade, and the ability to repeatedly soak my hat and shirt in the creek helped greatly in keeping cool. I was therefore able to make pretty good time here. (By “good” I mean 18 minutes per mile). After a couple of miles the trail ascends steeply through a series of switchbacks called the Devil’s Corkscrew before going through the Tapeat Narrows to Indian Gardens (4.0 miles) (3760’), where there is water (until 1970 the spring here supplied the South Rim), phone, restrooms, and a small open pavillion in which to rest protected from the sun. Quite a few weary hikers were availing themselves of this option. I stopped only briefly, however, took some more water and continued on through, feeling pretty good.
The Havasupai Indians farmed at Indian Gardens for centuries until they were relocated in the 1920’s by the Park Service. They used the Bright Angel trail to descend from the rim, where they hunted in winter. Other tribes preceded the Havasupai in more ancient times. Hopi tradition tells us their ancestors lived in an underworld in the Grand Canyon until dissention arose between the good people of the one heart and the bad people of the two hearts. Machetli, their chief, couselled them to leave the underworld, but there was no way out. He then caused a tree to grow up and pierce the roof of the underworld and the people of the one heart climbed out. They tarried by Paisisvai (Red River, ie., the Colorado) and grew grain and corn. They sent out a message to the temple of the Sun, asking blessings of peace, good will, and rain for the people of the one heart. That messenger never returned, but today at the Hopi villages at sundown the men gaze towards the Sun, looking for the messenger. When he returns their lands and ancient dwellings will be restored to them. Such is the legend. The idea of an underground world is found in many native traditions. Conspiracy and UFO literature as well is filled with references to “Dreamland, a vast network of tunnels and caverns, both ancient and modern, natural and man-made, that honeycomb the Western United States within a several hundred mile radius of the area of the Four Corners. Miles of underground water passages and interconnecting caverns in other areas are also said to exist. Doug Childers, chronicler of everything strange and unusual, says that in the April 5, 1909 Phoenic Gazette an article by G.I. Kinkaid describes an expedition, financed by archaeologists from the Smithsonian Institute, of one Professor S.A. Jordan who discovered large caverns in the Grand Canyon filled with Egyptian and oriental artifacts and hieroglyphics. The location of the opening was supposedly 42 miles upstream from El Tovar Canyon, down a sheer canyon wall, 1486’ above the riverbed, on government land with entrance to it forbidden under penalty of trespass. As you might guess, the Smithsonian denied any knowledge of this. Why would this not surprise me? One report reads:
"The Smithsonian Institution was started in 1829 by an eccentric British millionaire “for the increase and diffusion
of knowledge among men”. It was late in 1881 that the Smithsonian Institute committed itself to the idea of Isolationism – that there had been very little past contact between ancient civilizations – especially those separated by bodies of water.
When new evidence contrary to this view began to surface, there commenced an active suppression of the knowledge
relating to these discoveries.
On April 5, 1909, a lengthy front page story of the Phoenix Gazette gave a highly detailed report of the discovery and
excavation of a rock-cut vault by an expedition led by a Professor S.A. Jordan of the Smithsonian Institution.
G.A. Kinkaid, an explorer working with Jordan, discovered a network of caverns, artificially hewn into the side of the
Grand Canyon. Hundreds of rooms radiated from a central point like spokes in a wheel. Everywhere he looked,
hieroglyphics were to be seen… as well as Egyptian artefacts.
The World Explorers Club decided to check out this story by calling the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., although
they felt there was little chance of getting any real information. Nobody with whom they spoke admitted to knowing about the discovery. While it cannot be discounted that the entire story is an
elaborate newspaper hoax, the fact that it was on the front page, that it named the prestigious Smithsonian Institution,
and that it gave a highly detailed story that went for several pages, lends a great deal to its credibility. It is hard to
believe that such a story would have come out of thin air. Is the Smithsonian Institution covering up an archaeological discovery of immense importance? If this story is true, it would radically change the current view that there was no trans-oceanic contact in ancient times – and would challenge the pre-history of North America, as currently touted to us. Is it more important to maintain the status quo than rocking the boat with astonishing new discoveries that overturn previously accepted academic teachings?
After the denial by members of the Smithsonian, historian and linguist Carl Hart, editor of World Explorer, decided
to research further. He discovered that much of the area on the north side of the canyon had Egyptian names. Was
there a relationship between these places and the alleged Egyptian discoveries in the Grand Canyon? The World Explorers Club found that the entire region in the Grand Canyon with these names is a forbidden zone. That means no one is allowed into this large area. A state archaeologist said this area was off limits “because of dangerous caves”.
One can only conclude that this is the area where the vaults were located. Today this area is curiously off limits to all hikers – and even, in large part, to park personnel. [ maybe so but I doubt anyone is standing guard]
In a report to Nexus magazine, David Hatcher Childress of World Explorers Club documented a disturbing sequence
of cover-ups by the prestigious Smithsonian Institution. He concluded:
“I believe that the discerning reader will see that if only a
small part of the ‘Smithsoniangate’ evidence is true, then
our most hallowed archaeological institution has been
actively involved in suppressing evidence for advanced
American cultures, evidence for ancient voyages of
various cultures to North America, evidence for
anomalistic giants and other oddball artifacts, and
evidence that tends to disprove the official dogma that
is now the history of North America. The Smithsonian’s Board of Regents still refuses to open
its meetings to the news media or the public. If Americans
were ever allowed inside the ‘nation’s attic’, as the
Smithsonian has been called, what skeletons might they
Mr. Kinkaid was the first white child born in Idaho. He
had been an explorer and hunter all his life, 30 years
having been in the service of the Smithsonian Institute.
“I was journeying down the Colorado river in a boat alone,
looking for mineral. Some 42 miles up the river from El
Tovar Crystal canyon, I saw on the east wall, stains in the
sedimentary formation about 2,000 feet above the river
bed. There was no trail to this point, but I finally reached
it with great difficulty. Above a shelf which hid it from
view from the river, was the mouth of the cave. There are
steps leading from the entrance some 30 yards to what
was, at the time the cavern was inhabited, the level of the
river. When I saw the chisel marks on the wall inside the
entrance, I became interested, securing my gun and went
in. During that trip I went back several hundred feet
along the main passage until I came to the crypt in which
I discovered the mummies. One of these I stood up and
photographed by flashlight. I gathered a number of relics,
which I carried down the Colorado to Yuma from whence
I shipped them to Washington with details of the
discovery. Following this, the explorations were undertaken."
"The main passageway is about 12 feet wide, narrowing to
9 feet toward the farther end. About 57 feet from the
entrance, the first side-passages branch off to the right and
left, along which, on both sides, are a number of rooms
about the size of ordinary living rooms of today, though
some are 30 by 40 feet square. These are entered by
oval-shaped doors and are ventilated by round air spaces
through the walls into the passages. The walls are about 3
feet six inches in thickness. The passages are chiselled or
hewn as straight as could be laid out by an engineer. The
ceilings of many of the rooms converge to a center. The
side-passages near the entrance run at a sharp angle from
the main hall, but toward the rear they gradually reach a
right angle in direction."
“Over a hundred feet from the entrance is the cross-hall,
several hundred feet long, in which are found the idol, or
image, of the people’s god, sitting cross-legged, with a
lotus flower or lily in each hand…. There are two large
cactus with protruding arms, one on each side of the dias
on which the god squats. All this is carved out of hard rock
resembling marble. In the opposite corner of this cross-hall
were found tools of all descriptions, made of copper. These
people undoubtedly knew the lost art of hardening this
metal, which has been sought by chemists for centuries
“Among the other finds are vases or urns and cups of
copper and gold, made very artistic in design. The pottery
work includes enamelled ware and glazed vessels…. A
grey metal is also found in this cavern, which puzzles the
scientists, for its identity has not been established. It
“One room, about 40 by 700 feet, was probably the main
dining hall, for cooking utensils are found here….
Upwards of 50,000 people could have lived in the caverns
“One thing I have not spoken of, may be of interest. There
is one chamber the passageway to which is not ventilated,
and when we approached it a deadly, snaky smell struck us.
Our light would not penetrate the gloom, and until stronger
ones are available we will not know what the chamber
contains. Some say snakes, but other boohoo this idea and
think it may contain a deadly gas or chemicals used by the
ancients. No sounds are heard, but it smells snaky just the
same. The whole underground installation gives one of
shaky nerves the creeps. The gloom is like a weight on
one’s shoulders, and our flashlights and candles only make
the darkness blacker. Imagination can revel in conjectures
and ungodly daydreams back through the ages that have
elapsed till the mind reels dizzily in space.”
In connection with this story, it is notable that among the
Hopi Indians the tradition is told that their ancestors once
lived in an underworld in the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon “recent”?
Now here is something to think about. If the report is
genuine, then these early visitors who carved steps from
the tunnels to the river level, did so when the water flow
was 2,000 feet (600 meters) higher than now. This would
mean that the cutting down of the canyon since that time
could not have taken millions of years. So such theories
would need an overhaul – and you can imagine how
unpalatable that would be to many “authorities”.
A new expedition should definitely check this out. I did see a number of interesting cave-like openings on my run but chose not to explore them. My main concern was not encountering subterranean humanoids, greys, or mole people, but the chance that a rattlesnake or cougar might have found in one of them a ready-made home.
A short distance beyond Indian Gardens a sign points right for the Tonto and Plateau Point trails that lead 1.5 fully exposed miles down to the edge of the Tonto Plateau, a 1300’ overlook above the Colorado River. This route is easily visible from the South Rim. Bright Angel continues straight ahead.
From Indian Gardens the trail naturally divides into three 1.5 mile sections: to Three Mile Rest House (4760’), to Mile and a Half Rest House (5720’), and to the South Rim (6840’). Both rest houses have water, toilets, and phone. I remained strong and on pace, taking 30 minutes for each section, and reached the rim at 2:05, just over 3 hours from Phantom Ranch. I was early (George’s wife Judy had yet to arrive by car from the North Rim) so I sat down at the trailhead and admired the view, watching other hikers struggle out of the canyon. A woman next to me asked, “how far down did you go?” and I replied, “see that other RIM over there?!”
My time going North to South was 6:30, with another 1:15 for refueling breaks and a side trip to Ribbon Falls.
After picking up my spare clothes and doing a quick change I said goodbye to the Canyon and headed to Flagstaff. The drive went smoothly and I arrived with a half-hour to spare, so I filled the gas tank and picked up something to eat, dropping off the rental car and reaching the check-in counter at 5 p.m., only a few minutes before boarding. Normally this could be problematic, but here it wasn’t, because everything about the Flagstaff airport is very small. The terminal is no bigger than an average-sized house. It has one check-in counter (America West), and the check-in person not only gave me a boarding pass, but ran me through security and walked me to the plane as well, which was a two-prop 32-seater. In addition, the flight attendant was the mother of the two pilots! She said they had already made the trip to Phoenix five times that day. Hoping that they weren’t too tired, I settled into the first leg of my journey home.
Just about anyone can make it down to Phantom Ranch, or cross the Canyon in several days, but going Rim-to-Rim in one day requires conditioning, and Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim a great deal of conditioning. The following are rough estimations for one to consider.
To hike Rim-to-Rim comfortably in 12 hours or less one should, after establishing a good base of fitness, hike on hills a few times a week, with six months to a year of longer hikes (10-15 miles) 3-4 times a month, with occasional even longer hikes (15-20 miles).
To hike Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in under 24 hours you should, in my estimation, after establishing a good base of fitness, hike 30-40 miles with 4000-5000 feet of climbing per week for 2-3 years or more (with occasional weeks of 8000-10000 feet). Even then it will be very strenuous.
To run Rim-to-Rim you should be comfortable with the marathon distance on long, steep hills.
To run Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim you should be a strong ultra runner with even more experience running up and down long steep hills (and also be a little crazy).
Now having all you need to know, the only thing left is to go for it! Visualize, plan, prepare, and then accomplish what few have ever done, or ever will do. Be grateful for the opportunity, then savor the achievement, which you will remember the rest of your life - or until next year, when you will want to do it again.
Here is a YouTube of a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run with ultra runner Ian Torrence .
New for 2006, here is a way for less fortunate or less ambitious sedentary souls to get a bigger thrill out of their canyon experience.