Ever since I had left the Grand Canyon last summer, I had plans to come back and achieve the RIM-RIM-RIM feat someday.
Now that I was here for a whole summer, it was really just a matter of when. My work schedule was obviously the biggest factor, so when 4 straight days of came my way I knew exactly what to do. I headed straight to the back country office to obtain a permit and set up my itinerary. I would not be following the traditional route from the South Kaibab Trailhead to the North Rim and coming back up the Bright Angel. Instead, my trip would start on the Western side of the park at the more remote Hermit’s Rest Trailhead. This added over 25 miles onto the already grueling hike of 42. What was I thinking?
And so my adventure commenced.
Tuesday, June 19
At about 7AM, I stepped off the Hermit’s Rest shuttle. I had missed the 5:45 shuttle by just seconds, not having the desire to chase the bus down with my 40 pound pack. It was a chilly morning waiting for the next bus some 30 minutes later.
Much of the first leg of this journey was familiar to me. I had previously hiked the Hermit Trail down to Hermit Rapids only a week and a half ago. The new stuff didn’t start until I took the turnoff for the Tonto Trail and descended up a steep slope of Bright Angel Shale. From there, I winded down to Monument Creek, following the dry creek bed to the Colorado River and Granite Rapids, my first night’s camping spot. The rapids were impressive as always, though the shoreline lacked any significant shade. I succeeded in setting up a lean-to with my footprint, some driftwood, and a couple rocks for added measure.
In my manufactured shade, I lay reading, writing, sleeping, and listening to the roar of the rapids. Sometime in the afternoon a new sound overpowered the river. Along with it, came huge gusts of wind, causing my lean-to to fly all over the place. With one hand holding it down, I used my other to block the sun and look skyward for the source of this commotion… a helicopter!!!
The helicopter headed straight for me, stopping about 10 feet above me. I could see the co-pilot staring at me; I waved, thinking this was only polite. He landed on the sand dune above me, turned off the motors, and I waited for him to come down by me, thinking, who else is here? Turns out, I was not alone. A group of three middle-aged men were also in the vicinity and one was sick. I talked with his buddies as we watched him enter the chopper and then fly away out of sight. Crisis over, curiosity quenched, it was back to my cubby for me. What an interesting first night!
Wednesday, June 20
It was a rough night to say the least. I spent half of it fending off tiny bugs, toads, blowing sand, and the heat. Maybe it was the nearby bats circling a bush for bugs, or the bizarre color the sky takes on just before the first rays of sunlight appear, but the pre-dawn twilight was kinda eerie. I headed back the same way I came, this time taking the left fork of the river bed. When I found water, I opted out of taking the trail that led above it, choosing to follow the stream instead.
The stream rewarded me by leading me to a wonderful little slot canyon of its own creation. It was similar to the one at Hermit’s Creek. The traverse was more difficult and involved some tricky maneuvering up slick rock waterfalls. It was a big adrenaline rush… what a great way to start the morning!
After my fun little scramble, it was back onto the Tonto Trail where I circumnavigated gorges formed by other creeks. Maybe someday I’ll be able to explore these as well! I made serious time on the Tonto, mostly because it is reluctant to change elevations and follows the contour lines on a map. Unlike most trails in the park, it does not descend to the river or ascend to the rim; it remains on the Tonto Bench, a platform that creates a sort of second level to the canyon. Therefore, the 11.5 miles to Indian Gardens was a lot easier than most of the other trails in the park.
I rested for a bit at Indian Gardens, conversing with a group of people from none other than Wisconsin! Afterwards I finished my hike for the day by heading down to Bright Angel Campground. It’s been almost exactly a year since I was last here on Dale’s Wilderness Ethics Trip. Back then I would’ve never guessed I’d be here again so soon. I rested up, knowing that if all went right tomorrow I would be standing on the North Rim for the 1st time!!!
Thursday, June 21
The first portion of the hike was way easier than I expected. The initial 8 or 9 miles followed the meandering Bright Angel Creek, crossing it several times. The gradient was gradual and I hardly even worked up a sweat. A stop at Ribbon Falls was really wonderful. The falls seem to magically appear out of the side of a cliff, falling a long ways to a pool below. I took a nice little shower here.
The last 4 miles made up for the easy front 9. This is where the majority of the elevation gain is done and switchbacks are abundant.
Once I reached the rim, I reflected on how different the North Rim is than its southern counterpart. The canyon the trail uses to ascend to the rim is much more narrow than the expansive gorge Garden Creek has created on the South Rim. This gives the North Rim a rougher, wilder feel. This is also reflected in the way the North Rim is operated as far as visitor services go. The North Rim’s “Village” consists of a lodge, a visitor center, a general store, and lodging for guests. That’s about it. In comparison, this makes the South Rim seem like Manhattan. The seclusiveness of the North Rim was welcoming as far as I was concerned, though I’m glad I work on the South Rim.
In terms of ecology, 1,000 feet makes a big difference. The North Rim is a true boreal forest comprised of tall pines and other hardy plants that must survive tough winters. It was much cooler here as well… wonderful compared to the 120 temps I had endured at the river. I chowed down on some Ramen noodles and pretzels before watching the NBA finals at the employee’s pub- I missed the game on Tuesday and wasn’t about to miss this one too. I relaxed and watched Lebron earn his first ring… gotta give him some props. Then it was back to the campsite where I conked out almost immediately.
I had a big day ahead of me!
Friday, June 22
“Mind over matter” my roommate O’neil always says. That was my strategy today to get through the tough 23 miles I had ahead of me. The extreme soreness I had expected wasn’t all that bad; maybe the massive amount of food I ate last night had something to do with that. The food must have really re-energized me because I jumped out of my sleeping bag at the sound of my 4AM alarm. Though it was still dark, I packed up my bag and hiked the mile or so to the trailhead. As I took my first couple steps down from the rim I couldn’t help but think, “Only 22 miles to go”… “Mind over matter, Jake!”
Because there is plenty of water on this trail- almost every 3 or 4 miles or so- I opted out of filling up my 64 ounce bladder and used my Gatorade bottle instead. This kept my pack lighter and allowed me to go much faster. It made the distance much more bearable. By 8AM I was at the river… easy part was over. Now for the tough section, 9 miles straight up! Though I was pretty worn out, I pushed myself onward using music as motivation. I huffed and puffed, dumping water on my head every chance I got to combat the full blown heat of the day. It’s always amazing how fast it dries. At just past noon I finally emerged from the clutches of the Grand Canyon. I was sweaty, dirty, hungry, thirsty, a little bloody, and beyond exhausted. But I had done it… I had hiked 69 miles in the last 4 days on my rim to rim to rim journey!
If less than 1% of the park’s visitors make it to the river and back, where does that put those who go Rim to Rim to Rim? It was a hell of a journey… a definite bucket-lister!
Stats: 4 days, 3 nights, about 30 hours on the trail, 70 miles
Read about my second RIM-RIM-RIM experience HERE!
Read other hiker’s accounts of their RIM-RIM-RIM journey at http://www.rimtorim.org/.