Monday, October 17, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016

After twelve years, I didn't know if there would be anything left to write about the Grand Canyon. It's become my favorite tradition — one I wouldn't trade for any number of adventures around the world. But that doesn't make it a story. It's like coconut cream pie. Every year for as long as I can remember, my mother made coconut cream pie for Thanksgiving. I've eaten dozens of pieces in my lifetime. Coconut cream was my late grandfather's favorite, and every bite brings a rush of nostalgia about riding on his lawnmower, or climbing the old walnut tree. I suppose that's why we have traditions. They're an anchor to something tangible as we drift over a sea of memories. 

It was autumn 2004 when my dad invited me to join him and a large group of his acquaintances on a "Rim to Rim" hike across the Grand Canyon. This was before I stumbled into endurance training, and the prospect was deeply intimidating. I was 25 years old, going through a difficult period in my life, and on the cusp of uprooting everything and moving to Idaho Falls. The weeks leading up to that trip were shrouded in anxiety and angst, but all those feelings faded as the sun rose over the North Rim and revealed sheer canyon walls bathed in golden light.

Completing that first Rim to Rim with Dad was empowering, and helped spur big life decisions. By 2005, of course, most of those decisions had already fallen apart. I was back in the relationship I'd attempted to leave, and surprised everyone (including myself) by moving with him to Homer, Alaska. I interviewed for an Alaska job in August, and one of my conditions was a week off in October so I could fly home for a second hike across the Grand Canyon. The tradition was born.

In 2007, Dad's sister joined us for an unusually early mid-September trip. Temperatures never climbed out of the 60s, and torrential rain and hail followed us up the North Kaibab Trail. Waterfalls gushed off the canyon walls, pummeling the trail in sticks and rocks. My aunt was struggling but stoic during the long march. A few years later she battled and defeated breast cancer, and continues to run half-marathons with her daughters.

 There were the years I missed — 2009, because I couldn't take any more time off work after racing the Tour Divide. 2010, because my grandfather died. His funeral was the day we would have hiked the canyon. 2013, because of the government shutdown. 2014, because I had a torn LCL, so instead I drove the shuttle with my mom. Looking back, Fall Grand Canyon isn't so much of an annual tradition, as it is something to strive for. It's not a given that it will work out, but when it does, it's amazing.

This year, for the first time, Beat joined us. It was his first-ever trip to the Grand Canyon. Driving from Boulder, his attitude was nothing like mine was during my first visit, when all I did was fret about whether I'd be able to haul myself out of the canyon. No, he was scheming rim-to-rim-to-rim-to-rims and such, which never had a chance of working out because we were on a tight time crunch.

 Instead we stuck to the plan to hike from north to south on Friday, and south to north on Saturday. Also joining us was my dad's hiking buddy Raj, who Beat goaded into a sub-six-hour south-to-north traverse on day two.

 Not too much has changed in the past twelve years, but apparently the National Park Service recently placed some rather graphic warning signs. I think most ultrarunners would agree that this hiker is about to feel better.

 Friday evening on the South Rim. It's become tradition to head out to an overlook to watch the sunset (and in this case moonrise) before returning to the hotel cafeteria to eat traditional dinners (I always get the vegetarian chili bowl, and Dad orders chicken pot pie.)

 Morning on the South Kaibab Trail. Beat and Raj were already long gone on their run, while Dad and I enjoyed a more leisurely hike with a morning lemonade break at Phantom Ranch, and lunch at Cottonwood campground.

 We saw temperatures as high as 97 degrees on Friday, and it was still toasty on Saturday.

 It was a mere two years ago that Dad was intimidated by the prospect of two rim-to-rims in two days, but now he seems to take it all in stride. The water had been shut off after the Manzanita rest area, so we blitzed the last five miles and 4,000 feet of climbing without stopping. A decade ago, I remember wondering when Dad might start slowing down. He's 63 now and only getting stronger. I know he's stronger than me. But he insists that he will never attempt a nonstop rim-to-rim-to-rim. "That's when the fun-o-meter starts to go down," he said.

That's fine with me. I'm just happy to hike with my dad. Maybe soon we'll try the Tonto Trail. Maybe a few years down the road, we'll ride mules with my mom to Phantom Ranch. As long as the tradition continues, I'm grateful. 


  1. Great photos, Jill. Sounds like it was a great 2 day hike. How cool that you can share that with your dad.

  2. Very jealous, this is one of my favorite places. I agree with your dad about a one day RTRTR. I take FOUR DAYS to do it because I love being in the canyon so much and don't want to rush it. I need to go back.

    1. I'd love to have four days to spend in the Grand Canyon. Maybe someday I'll work out the logistics.

      Meanwhile, I admit to loving the idea of a winter nonstop R2R2R. Fewer people and no temps in the 90s. Maybe if I'm lucky there will be snow. Someday. :)

  3. I should go there right? :-) Going down in three weeks for FH ...o/o

    1. So jealous you're headed to Frog Hollow this year. The Grand Canyon is worth a side trip, but the North Rim closes down in mid-October, and I'm not sure you can go beyond the gate after that. Maybe hike Angel's Landing again instead? ;)

  4. I enjoy your annual Grand Canyon hike write-ups. Susan and I spent four days in the Grand Canyon in 1998. We've always intended on returning. It almost happened two years ago. We were going to do a rim to rim over four days. Being in the canyon is one of the experiences I've never been able to put in words to other people. It's magical. I need to go back!

  5. This R2R x 2 days has been on my list for years. Do you camp on the overnight or stay somewhere indoors up on the south rim? (And also: recommendations?) So glad that this is a thing you and your dad continue to do together.

    1. We stayed in the Maswik Lodge on the South Rim. Decent place but you need to reserve a year in advance. Campgrounds may be similarly booked, though, and not as close to the rim if you don't have transportation. Hope you can do it!


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