South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail Run – Rim to Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ

cmebrightangelNow that mud season has arrived it was finally time to take time off of work and do something fun! Matt and I bought tickets to see Umphrey’s McGee in Las Vegas the weekend after his birthday so we decided to make a trip out of it. The first part of the trip was going to the Grand Canyon to run an epic.  We did some research, and considering neither of us are in good enough shape for the Rim2Rim2Rim – we decided we would just go for a Rim2Rim from the south rim, down South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River and then back on Bright Angel Trail.

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Photo: Matt Coye

We left Colorado early in the morning and drove straight through to Arizona. We arrived a little after 3pm and did some sightseeing before getting to bed early that night.  At every trailhead we saw signs that said “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HIKE TO THE RIVER AND BACK IN ONE DAY”. We both found it very amusing but decided we should stop by the back country office to get some more details on what we were in for. We told the lady our plans and she warned us that it would be almost 100 degrees further down in the canyon so be sure to start as early as possible.

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We took her advice, woke up at 4:30am and caught the 5:30 shuttle to South Kaibab Trailhead. We began our descent at 5:45am just as the sun was coming up. The starting elevation at the top of the rim was just above 7000 feet. It was the first time I had ever began a run descending, typically around here I am always running up a big hill or mountain and then back down. The sun shining into the canyon from the east was breathtaking. (Unfortunately, later in our trip my phone was stolen and I lost all my pictures, but luckily Matt still took a lot too). As the sun entered the canyon there was a beautiful orange glow on all the walls around us. It was a great start to our day.

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Photo: Matt Coye

The descent was steep and because South Kaibab is a heavily used trail for mules, there were a lot of ruts in the steps and running through them was difficult. The trail had many tight switchbacks and no flat sections of any kind. We saw a lot of people hiking back up who had stayed at the campgrounds near the river for a few days, but we didn’t see anyone else running down to the river.

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Photo: Matt Coye
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Switchbacks into the canyon on South Kaibab Trail. Photo: Matt Coye
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Large ruts in the steps made running a little more difficult. Photo: Matt Coye

As we dropped further into the canyon the river came into sight, and our legs started to feel the ache of the descent. We reached the river at 8am, and 2470 feet above sea level. Considering the 4000 ft descent though, my legs still felt okay. We crossed two suspension bridges above the Colorado before beginning the ascent on Bright Angel Trail.

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Photo: Matt Coye

We crossed the second bridge and were happy to have a short flat section to get to the true beginning of the ascent on Bright Angel. Matt rounded a corner on this flat section and we both were surprised when we heard a loud warning rattle. There was a large rattlesnake to our right poised to attack. We kept moving and were very glad that it did not bite either of us. After that we both were jumping at the sound of anything moving in the bushes for the rest of the run.

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Photo: Matt Coye
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Matt running on Bright Angel Trail
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Looking down at the hell of a trail we were climbing. Photo: Matt Coye
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Bright Angel Trail switch backs. Photo: Matt Coye

Bright Angel is longer mileage than South Kaibab but supposedly slightly less steep. We felt good beginning the ascent and kept up with our calorie intake every hour. Before the trip we both stocked up on our favorite snacks, I had honey stinger waffles and gels in almost every pocket of my vest, while Matt had GU gels and Kate’s Real Food Bars. The first few miles of the ascent seemed to go by fast, we were keeping 16 minute average miles climbing 200-500 feet a mile. It was relentless! The last couple of miles were definitely the hardest with steep 700 foot switchbacks for each mile. We made it to the Bright Angel Trailhead around 11:30am, glad to have missed the hottest part of the day in the canyon.

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Matt and I close to the top of Bright Angel.

The next day I could barely walk because my calves were so sore, but every step of the run was worth it and I would do it all over again – someday I probably will. It was my longest and most difficult run to date, with a total of 17 miles and 4619 feet of elevation loss and gain. I’m very excited for my race next week in Maine. I feel fully trained and ready to kick some ass at sea level.

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Post run taking in the view. Photo: Matt Coye
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon

The next day we drove down to Flagstaff for breakfast and then continued west to the Hoover Dam and then to Red Rock just outside of Vegas. We couldn’t climb because we were so sore from the run but we did drive around and take a lot of pictures.

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Our campsite at Red Rock.

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