Grand Canyon Running, Rim2Rim2Rim Adventure
PATH projects KREW member Gunnar Barrera recently ran his first R2R2R run at the Grand Canyon. This was by far Gunnar's longest run to date and an incredible experience. In this post he shares his experiences, learnings and tips for other runners and hikers looking to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
We started out on the South Kaibab trail toward Phantom Ranch. The sky was covered with stars. As we made our way down into the canyon, it was still dark, and you could see the lights of runners and hikers’ headlamps starting their journey into the canyon; it was quite the sight to see. This part of the trail was mainly downhill and was the easier part of the run, it was a great way to get a start on this epic journey.
Runners and hikers were scattered throughout the trail. Everyone enjoying their activities and going about their individual journeys. It was empowering to see so many people taking on the canyon! Everyone said “Hello!” and shouted, “Great job!”. People encouraging each other is truly one of my favorite things about the sport.
As we arrived at Phantom Ranch, we took a short break and then continued our adventure to Cottonwood Campground. The trails here weaved in and out of the canyon with breath taking views.
We finally approached the last stop, Supai Tunnel, before making the trek up to the North Rim. As I started to make my climb out of the canyon this is where I began to have a difficult time. Climbing seemed to take forever! This long, uphill segment took a toll on my physical and mental well-being. The views were amazing and provided a nice break from the grueling challenge. As time passed, I started to notice more people who looked well rested and not so worn out... there were more shouts of encouragement which meant only meant one thing, I was getting closer to finishing (this part at least!).
Once I arrived at the North Rim I was greeted by fellow friends which immediately lifted my spirits. At this point in the run, I was tired and in pain. I had to force myself to eat and “fill up the tank” for my way back to the South Rim; having water is what really did the trick for me. The water was ice cold and tasted so fresh! After a few minutes of rest and replenishment, I made my way back to begin the fun all over again.
Luckily, I had some friends to make my way back with. This was beneficial because we all helped each other get through the second part of this journey. Running with friends is always better! I can’t express how much they all helped me get through the second half of this.
The way back to Phantom Ranch wasn’t as grueling. It was mostly downhill, but another great spot to stop and refuel. At this point there were about 10 miles left on the journey… with another enormous climb out of the canyon. As we made our way toward the Bright Angel trail we crossed the beautiful waters of the Colorado River on a suspension bridge that can only be accessed by trekking down the canyon.
The beginning of this part of the trail was mostly flat, with a gradual incline, and some downhill areas. Shortly after, the true climbing began again. The sun started to set and on went the headlamps again to continue the journey in the dark.
Arriving at the Indian Garden, there was about 4.5 miles left. From this point, every 1.5 miles there were water stops which helped me count how much was left as my watch had died. Again, this was another mental and physical test for me. It was pitch black by this point with only the light from my headlamp to guide the way in front of me. In what seemed to be endless switchbacks, and a few hours later, I finally made it back to the top of the North Rim.
This was one of the most mentally and physically challenging things I have done to date. This run (if you can call it that) took a lot out me, but also gave so much more back to me at the same time. The group of runners I got to run with were all so encouraging and motivating. It was a privilege getting to run and share the adventure with them. I honestly couldn’t have done this without all their support and help. I’m already looking forward to doing this run again. Not many get to see the Grand Canyon from the bottom up, I’m one of the lucky few.
Running gear used for this adventure
Shorts: GRAVES PX 7”- BLACK
Base Liner: TAHOE CL 5” Base Liner
Shirt: CASCADE SS T - BLACK
Hat: BADLANDS CAP - BLACK
Bandana: PINYON BANDANA - STONE
Hydration Pack: NATHAN VAPORKRAR 4L
Shoes: HOKA ONE ONE SPEEDGOAT 4
Socks: Stance Run Feel 360
Headlamp: NATHAN Luna Fire 250 RX RUN CHEST/WAIST LIGHT
Water Filter: Katadyn Water Filter
Tips for runners/hikers looking to do Rim2Rim2Rim
Confirm what water stations are on/off. Water isn’t guaranteed so check with rangers and/or the visitor’s center prior to arriving and the day before you start your adventure.
Bring a water filter in case some or most of the water stations are off. Most of the run is beside the river which can be accessed by foot once in the canyon.
Be mindful of the time of year you decide to run. With how exposed the canyon is temperatures increase once you get down into the canyon.
Bring plenty of nutrition. Pack what you think you will need and a little extra. This is a self-supported run. Phantom Ranch has food and drinks but it’s not wise to rely solely on this.
Bring trekking poles if possible. They are beneficial when climbing out of the canyon and can assist when your legs/quads are spent.
Nutrition that is high in calories and/or caffeine.
Don’t go about this alone. Be sure to be with at least one person to make sure you’re safe and accounted for.
Have fun, take pictures, and take it all in! Most people don’t get the chance to run in the Grand Canyon let alone see it!