Last year my best friend Rob and I hooked up with Jim, Linda, and Jessica Ballard and a bus load of the Arizona Track 'N' Trail Runners for their yearly R2R2R trip (hiking from the South Rim to the North Rim, then from the North Rim to the South Rim. About 47 miles). We had such a great time last year, we signed on to do this year as well.
The only bummer was that I injured my back 2 weeks prior and was on crutches the week before. I was still having trouble just walking unless I was loaded up on Ibuprofen. It would be a miracle for me to do one rim, let alone two in the shape I was in.
The trip began in Phoenix, Saturday, May 19th, so Rob and I decided to fly in on Friday morning so we could look around Phoenix and have time to get ready for the trip. We lucked out and found a cute hotel called ALoft on Priceline for $99 a night. It was cute and had a free shuttle service to and from the airport.
The lobby of ALoft
I loved this display!
After we got checked in we decided to look around. The light rail train stop was right in front of the hotel and the desk clerk told us that we could get to downtown Tempe in just a few minutes. Tempe is the home of ASU (Arizona State University) and so there were lots of great bars and restaurants downtown.
The first place we went was a place called Americana Burgers & Beer. When we walked by and saw some people eating hot wings that looked really good. They told us that we needed try their happy hour menu, so we did.
Happy Hour wings and sliders for $6.00 and 32oz pitchers of beer for $4.00!
Exploring Tempe and we ran into some bunnies!
He's telling me a secret!
High 5 for Rob!
Pedal Haus Brewery
I loved the old school lawn chairs!
Having fun with my BFF!
When we left Pedal Haus, we got the light rail back to the hotel (and watched a crazy lady pull a knife on a guy singing to himself)! It was crazy!
The next morning we headed to meet the rest of the group for the four hour bus ride to the Grand Canyon!
Linda always finds a way to make the bus ride fun. They have been doing this trip for 13 years, so there are lots of stories. Everyone got up and shared their favorite Grand Canyon moment throughout the years. It was our second time to hike the Grand Canyon, so we Rob and I told our favorite stories from last year.
On the road!
We stopped about half way for people to get lunch. We just went to Starbucks.
The Grand Canyon is breath taking. Photos just don't capture the beauty of it, but we walked around the top of the South Rim before going to the hotel.
It looks like a painting in photos and you cant see the depth. It is AWESOME.
Me in front of the Grand Canyon!
There are elk everywhere. They don't seem to be afraid of people at all. They just walk around.
After our brief look at the canyon, we headed to the hotel. We were all staying at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel which was just a few minutes drive from the South Kaibab trail head. When we got there we dropped our bags off in the room and went back to the bus where Linda gave us our swag, a cool pair of custom made socks and a really nice backpack!
We were all pretty hungry, so a bunch of us went to pretty good pizza place across the street for dinner.
Pre- hike dinner!
We were out at the bus at 4:30AM and drove to South Kaibab Trail. There was a long line at the bathroom, but there is nowhere to go until you hit the bottom of the canyon, so I waited. I was glad I did.
Rob and I starting our journey.
There is zero water for the first seven and a half miles down to Phantom Ranch, so we had to carry our own. The top of the rim was cool at 5:00AM, but it heated up fast. It got hotter the deeper into the canyon your went. Once the pack was loaded up with the food and water, it was so heavy! Going down the steep and uneven terrain with that pack on my back was killing me! I had to stop a few times and take the pack off and stretch my back out because it hurt so bad going downhill. I was using my trekking poles to take some of the pressure off, but it was still hurting.
Beautiful View as we started.
These signs at the top of the trail head always crack me up, but they are correct, this hike is VERY difficult. You MUST train to do it or you will be toast!
How do I ALWAYS fall off this cliff every year? 😉
Friends taking a rest.
Rob fell off the cliff too! LOL!
One of the cool sights you see when heading down the South rim are the mule trains coming up. Sometimes they are carrying people (who pay a pretty penny for the ride) or supplies and mail going in or out of Phantom Ranch.
Cowgirl leading the mule train!
Cowboy bringing up the rear!
Can you see the mule train coming up?
Getting closer to the bottom of the canyon!
We know we are close to Phantom Ranch when we see this tunnel!
We made it to the Colorado River!
This calls for a selfie!
Manesh, Rob and I entering Phantom Ranch!
Phantom Ranch is an oasis at the bottom of the canyon. It is the first place you can fill up your water, sit in the shade (but it is still hot) or you can go into the building, where you can purchase an iced cold lemonade (it's not fresh squeezed, but it is cold and delicious), or a snack. You can also mail a postcard from the bottom of the Grand Canyon which you place in a saddle bag and it will be brought out by mule for mailing. We opted to sit and eat our lunch inside as there was air conditioning.
Last year Phantom Ranch was a mad house, but this year there were very few people there, which was great! Rob and I were starving last year and split a tiny package of jerky for lunch. This year we went to Subway the day before and got a foot-long sub, stuck it in the refrigerator in the hotel and packed the sandwich down in a tiny insulated lunch bag to keep it somewhat cool. When we pulled those subs out of our packs, I think the other hikers got a little jealous as they were so good!
Here was the water situation. We were going up the North Kaibab trail, so there were only 3 places to fill up. That seems like plenty, but when it is close to 100 degrees out, and going almost 6,000 feet up, it's not a lot and you have to really watch your water intake.
I loaded up on some more Ibuprofen before we left and hit the stinky camp bathroom and we started to make our way to the Cottonwood campground about 7 miles away.
At this point we were walking along the bottom of the trail. I liked this part as the trail was not to rocky or steep and there was a bit more shade than the South Kaibab trail or the Bright Angel trail, but, as I mentioned earlier, the bottom of the canyon it the hottest part of the canyon.
We followed the river for a while which was nice. When the occasional breeze would hit, the water made it that much cooler.
There was a little shade and a few bridge crossings.
Linda had warned us to watch out for falling rocks. We didn't see any last year so we were not worried. Then out of nowhere a rock fell with a lot of speed and crashed to the trail not 10 feet behind us!! I could have killed one of us if it struck us in the head! We got a little nervous on sections where we were up against the canyon walls.
These old power lines were cool!
Along the way we stopped in some shade and ran into Steve (with a big stick, [he carries and big walking stick]) and a hiker named Killer (he was harmless). When we told him we were hiking the South to North Rim in one day, we said we were crazy (he was doing it in 3 days). We chatted a bit and got on our way. Steve joined us for a while.
We found out quickly, that our Garmin's went a little wacky in the Grand Canyon, so our mileage was either too long to short. When we hit 7 miles from Phantom Ranch, we were still about 2 miles from Cottonwood. That sucked because we were watching our water. Rob ran out first and I shared what I had left with him, so by the time we hit Cottonwood, we were both out of water! Thank goodness I ran out just outside of the campground and was able to fill up when we got there.
We saw a few other people from our group there and we sat in the shade and ate some more food from our packs and drank a lot of water before filling up again. After about 30 minutes, we were back on our way.
We were only 7 miles from the top of the North Rim and thought that we could probably make it in about 3 hours. We were wrong. We started climbing out of the canyon and felt pretty good. We got to Manzanita (about 1 1/2 miles from Cottonwood) and topped off our water and as we left, we could immediately tell that the last 5 1/2 miles would be no joke. The REAL climbing started there.
The next 2 miles were pretty good as switch backs go. We would go up this really steep climb, then the trail would level out a little. We would climb some more and then go down hill, which I hated. Not only because it made my back hurt, but the more we went up the closer to the rim we got, if we went down, it just meant we would have to go up again!
The view was just beautiful!
This bush with the purple flowers and green leaves caught my eye. I didn't see another one like it out there.
Beautiful flowers just grew out of the rocks.
There were lots of these little guys out there!
According to my Garmin we had about 2 miles left. We just wanted to get out before it got dark so that made us happy as we were a few hours from sunset. I saw a couple hikers coming down and asked them if my mileage was correct. They said it was probably more like 3 miles, but they were a really hard 3 miles.
They were not joking! The last 3 miles were so hard. We kept coming up on people sitting on trail exhausted. Some were suffering from the altitude, but we were good there. My back was hurting and all those switchbacks were killing me! Not knowing how far we had to go was torture.
The trail was rugged and narrow at spots!
The beauty was indescribable!
Since our GPS was going crazy, we had no real way to tell how far we were from the top. Just when I thought we were super close, we weren't.
On the bus on the way up, people were sharing tips with the first timers. Rob and I hiked the Canyon last year, but we went up Bright Angel, so we were first timers coming out on the North Rim, so we listened carefully.
There were two signs to let you know you were close. The first was the tunnel, which was 1.5 miles from top. When we saw that we knew how far we had left (which was good and bad as we thought we were closer until we hit it).
There is the tunnel!! 1.5 miles to go!
That 1.5 miles took FOREVER!! We climbed and climbed until we saw the the second sign, the cart of rocks. We were told when we saw the cart of rocks we were super close. It was a sight for sore eyes (legs, feet and back too)!
I started hiking ahead of Rob as he needed to sit one more time. Then out of nowhere I saw a sign and realized that I had made it to the top! I called to Rob and told him that we made it. We gave each other a big hug and was so relieved to have made it out before dark!
We did it! Rob and I at the North Kaibab trail head!
At this time we had to find a way back to the hotel 1.5 miles away. We were told that it would be easy to get a ride as other hikers or people driving that way will always help you out. That wasn't our experience. I asked two different people who were at the trail head and they both said no, so we started walking in hopes that someone would stop and pick us up.
We walked for about 30 minutes and never saw the hotel. It shouldn't take 30 minutes to walk 1.5 miles. At this point it was getting dark. We kept walking for another 15 minutes and nothing. We kept going and it got dark. We were so tired and when the sun went down, it got cold. We tried flagging cars down just to ask where the hotel was, but nobody would stop.
At this point, I was hungry, tired and cold and I started to cry. I just wanted get a shower and some food. When we finished, my back hurt, but I thought, if I got a good night's sleep and a good meal, I just might be up for doing the second crossing, but I was so frustrated and it was getting late, I lost my will.
We finally came across a building that happened to be employee housing. I man came out and told us the hotel was still a mile away! WTH? He said the employee shuttle ran every 15 minutes and if we asked the driver, he would probably give us a ride. We waited 15 minutes and like clockwork, the bus came and the nice driver took mercy on us and gave us a ride to the hotel.
We had been told our bags were on the bus with our room keys, but we didn't know that the bus had to move and Linda and Jim would have everyone's bags on the porch of their room. So, when the woman at the front desk told us that the bus was a mile away, I started to cry again.
It was 9:30PM by this point and the restaurants either closed or had their last sitting at 9:30. When we finally got into our room and got showers, the only thing opened was the Saloon and the only thing to eat there was some pizza that had been sitting under a hot lamp for God knows how long. I drank a beer and ate a half a piece of horrible pizza and just wanted to sleep. If I was going to do the second crossing, I would have had to repack my pack and be out front at 4:45 AM. I just didn't have the strength to do it. I needed to sleep.
I was so tired, but slept lousy, so I didn't regret not taking the second crossing. I was lucky to do one crossing with my back injury. I was glad I stopped when I was ahead.
We got the bus for the 3 hour drive back to the South rim, where we walked around, got ice cream, got drinks, bought some souvenirs and hung out with other members of our group while we waited for the those who were doing the double crossing.
Just chilling on the South Rim
This book was in the gift shop. I thought it was funny! 💩
Once all our people came out of the canyon, we got on the bus and started the 4 hour drive home. The bus ride is always fun as Linda presents everyone with a medal and a pin representing how many years you have been on the trip.
When we got back we said our goodbyes and got an Uber to our hotel.
Linda and Jessica Ballard with me before we left. They (and Jim Ballard) have made the trip spectacular for people for 13 years. We can't thank them enough for the experience! LOVE YOU GUYS!!
Since our flight didn't leave until the evening the next day, Rob and I got some sleep, went for a swim, and went to the Phoenix Zoo! We stayed at a hotel near the airport called The Green Tree Inn. The room was small, but they had a pool, and they let us store our bags and gave us a ride to and from the zoo.
After they picked us up from the zoo, we made it back to the hotel in time to pick up our bags and partake in their Happy Hour, which included free wine, cheese and snacks. We drank a glass of wine then got the shuttle to the airport to come home.
This was an epic adventure and it would have never been possible if it were not for the Ballards. They did a FANTASTIC job organizing everything while keeping the price low. THANK YOU LINDA, JIM AND JESSICA! I will miss this yearly adventure with them as this was the last year they are doing it. I still want to conquer that second crossing, so now that I know where I am going, I might just plan my own trip with a few friends next year.
I also want to thank my BFF Rob. I could not ask for a better friend to do all these shenanigans with. We fight like an old married couple, but that's because we are such great friends. 😀
Good times, good friends and the Grand Canyon. It doesn't get much better than that!