A few notes about this FKT… we did not plan to run this route as an FKT. It was designed as a difficult training run. We both have big summer goals that involve a lot of miles, vert, and heat, and we love the Grand Canyon, so we thought it would be a perfect brutally hard training run in a place that has some magic and memories for us independently and together. We separately realized just a week or two before our run that there was no female on record for having done the R2R2R x2 self-supported or unsupported. We already had planned to be self-supported, so we briefly talked about the benefits and drawbacks of going unsupported and decided to stick with our original plan. The only change we made to our plan was to go up and down S. Kaibab, rather than Bright Angel, which we originally had planned to do. We did not train or taper specifically for this run. In the days leading up to the trip, we were busy with work and family obligations and did not talk much or see one another, but we were each dealing with a lot of fear and nerves and managing the dynamics of extra pressure, while staying committed to the original spirit of this run. We settled on the realization that we would do our very best out there, work together, stick together no matter what, and appreciate the experience. When it comes to outcome-based goals, there are many contributing factors that are not in one’s control—we wanted to stay focused on the process, keeping the end goal in mind and staying committed to it, but not at the expense of everything that would be gained in the journey.
We left Colorado Friday morning, stopping in Santa Fe for a quick hike along the way. After arriving in Arizona late Friday evening and staying at a hotel in Valle, we drove to the South Kaibab trailhead, parked (legally) on the road about ¾ of a mile from the trailhead, and walked in with our drop bags. We cached our drop bags at the trailhead with a note to please not take them. Our drop bags contained water, fuel/nutrition, layers, Ginger Ale, Hydro Flask bottles with Cherry Coke, and a few other odds and ends. We did not leave anything very valuable in them, nor did we have anything in them that would have ended our run after one trip if someone had taken them. The cost of that decision is a much heavier pack than one would want on this challenging of a run.
At 5:15 AM on Saturday, 4/10, we stepped onto South Kaibab Trail to start our 2xR2R2R journey just ahead of the mule train. The sunrise was spectacular. We felt good, for the most part, and moved efficiently to Phantom Ranch where we filled out bottles as we knew it was going to be a hot day. Sheila had been dealing with nausea in the days prior to the run; it was better when we started, but she was still queasy. The stops, including this one, were longer than we hoped, in part because of the time it took to mix one of the fuel products.
We ran on to Manzanita, arriving there a little before 10:30 AM. The day was warming up, but it was not hot yet. On our way there, we confirmed that the water was not on at Cottonwood. We filled everything (bottles and bladders) we had since we knew there was no water on the north rim. On the climb, Sheila’s queasy turned to full-blown nausea. We still moved efficiently, but the heat and nausea slowed us down. We were grateful for the small patches of snow toward the top of the north rim and the snow on the rim—we cooled off in the snow and made an awesome Skratch slushy! We arrived on the North Rim at around 1:10 PM. We asked someone else up there to take our picture and headed off.
Heading back down was warm and we were both not running as well as we had hoped. It felt amazing to cool off in the creek just before Cottonwood (that was just before 4:00 PM)! We stopped at Phantom Ranch and, although they were closed, an awesome woman who worked there loved that we were out doing the R2R2R twice and let us buy lemonade and chips. Best lemonade ever!!! We left Phantom Ranch and crossed the bridge on the S. Kaibab Trail just after 6:00 PM. At this point, Sheila’s stomach was still a mess, and Gina’s feet hurt – we were moving much slower than we had hoped, and the stops were taking longer than we wanted. That said, the magic of the Grand Canyon was not lost on us. We were having a great time and agreed that we would finish no matter what.
Climbing back up South Kaibab was slow and hard. We turned on our headlamps partway up the climb, at 7:30 PM. We arrived at south rim at 16-1/2 hours (~9:48 PM). We stayed on top for almost an hour to refuel and repack from our drop bags for the second trip out. The top of the south rim was cold! It took a few minutes to find our drop bags, but they were there. We had a cold Cherry Coke from Hydro-flask bottles that were about the best tasting thing ever! Gina went into the bathroom (it was warm in there) to reorganize her drop bag. Sheila won’t have any part of a public bathroom even for its intended purpose, so she put her emergency blanket over her legs and stayed far away.
We headed back down South Kaibab a little before 11:00 PM. That trail was quite different all in the dark on tired legs and sore feet. We were excrutiatingly slow. The trip back down seemed to take forever, but we thoroughly enjoyed the incredible depth of stars in the night sky. We are sure we had never seen so many stars in our lives. We stopped at Bright Angel to refill bottles and look up at the night sky (this was after 2:00 AM). We made the long trip to Cottonwood where we took a quick 10-minute dirt nap and got started again with the sunrise. We stopped at Manzanita to load up on water and prepare for another long, hot climb up to North Rim. Even though it was morning, it was much warmer than we had expected; the shady places were a nice reprieve from the sun and the heat, and the snow patches made for good ice in the mouth and on the skin. We arrived back on the north rim at about 9:50 AM on Sunday. We did not stay long up there; we talked briefly to a group of about four people who were up there with bikes, saw a few others who were running and hiking, and left.
We headed back to Manzanita for another refill on our bladders and bottles. Sheila’s stomach was still a mess, and it was hot, so we tried to move efficiently and continuously, but nothing fast was happening. Our feet also had taken a beating. At Manzanita, we did various things that we each wanted to do (water on our feet and in our packs, Tylenol and Advil, food, etc.) and headed to Phantom Ranch (at about 1:00 PM). The trip back to Phantom Ranch was really hot! We didn’t want to take any chances on it being closed, so we were mindful of the time and our decisions. We stopped briefly at the creek near Cottonwood to wet our hat and buff, but we did not soak in it this trip. We met some trail angels along the way who offered Motrin and Tylenol, electrolytes (which even though we had plenty, theirs were a welcome break), and a few other things that we didn’t need. At Phantom Ranch, we had iced tea (Sheila) and lemonade (Gina), and we got a bag of ice to chew on and add to our bottles. We met a few guys there who seemed to have hiked all over the US together and had a pleasant conversation while we took off our shoes and reorganized our packs for the final climb up. We left Phantom Ranch at approximately 5:35 PM.
We had a hard but rewarding climb up South Kaibab. All things considered, this stretch was probably our strongest. We both moved well and were in good spirits, only stopping very briefly twice, once to turn on our headlamps and a second time to eat (the 30-second-shove-food-in-your-mouth-and-get-going kind of eating). Part way up, some folks from Oklahoma joined us, completing their R2R2R adventure (a woman, her husband, and her brother-in-law). The woman was friendly and a great conversationalist, and the time was passing quickly. We were sure we had missed the overlook 3 miles from the top and that we would be seeing the one 1.5 miles from the end soon. That was not the case, and the three of us (woman from Oklahoma and the two of us) simultaneously groaned in disbelief, but reminded ourselves and each other that we were close and everyone was moving strong and doing well. We arrived at south rim at 9:40 PM on Sunday night to complete our R2R2R2R2R (we think that is the correct number of Rs, but we’re tired, so if we’re wrong, it is an unintentional mistake!)
Gina went to get our drop bags. It was COLD and windy on top of the south rim, so Sheila found a man who was dropping off his son to start his R2R2R run and asked him if he would mind giving us a ride back to our vehicle. He and his son were very nice, letting us use their car to get warm, talking to us, and offering us anything they had in their huge bag of food, protein shakes, gum, and various other treats. Before we left the south rim, they took a picture of us, but it was too cold to get out and walk to the sign for a picture, so our finisher picture is in a kind stranger’s car! The Grand Canyon 2x R2R2R was a fantastic, grueling, epic friendship adventure that did not stray from its original purpose of creating memories amid much beauty, joy, and suffering.
Just to be clear – to our knowledge, we did not violate any of the rules or the spirit of a self-supported FKT. We received support from our packs, one another, water sources (Phantom Ranch, Manzanita, and Bright Angel), Phantom Ranch, our drop bags one time, and a few trail angels we met along the way. We had no crew and no pacers.
An amazing accomplishment by two of the most bad ass women I know!