A Grand Canyon Adventure

Jameson Henkle

There are certain adventure's in nature that have no organization. There is no designated day, time, group, or prize. Just an adventure goal that exists in the world. Climbing to the top of a mountain has this flavor of adventure. Riding a bicycle long distance does as well as certain endurance runs. There is an adventure called the Rim2Rim2Rim in the Grand Canyon. It is a double crossing of the Grand Canyon running from the south rim, down to the Colorado River, up to the north rim, back down to the river, and returning to the south rim. 

I've had my eyes set on the R2R2R for about 8 years since I started running long distance. While training for my first marathon I read about this in a magazine or somewhere online and back then I had the thought, "If only I could do that someday...."

Well after the previous 8 years of continuous forward progress on the path of fitness and endurance I decided this past February that that someday was here. My longest trail run was 45 miles the previous summer and I knew this run would be around 50 miles. So I devised a 6 week training protocol with the date of April 15 on the calendar. 

I was stoked to road trip out with a friend, climbing buddy, and yoga student from MetalMark Climbing. This is the local Fresno climbing gym where I teach yoga, acroyoga, and conditioning classes. Steven and I hit the 10 hour drive on a Thursday and camped just outside of the park for a final night of rest.

I get nervous before these big adventures. Can I do it? Am I physically and mentally strong enough? What if something goes wrong? What if I fail?....

That morning we were the only 2 patrons inside of McDonald's at 5 am. I had a $4 large coffee and we were sitting still, quiet... listening to classical music play through the speakers. It was a surreal moment. A calm before the storm. 

We headed into the park and I was departing the Bright Angel Trail at 6 am. I said goodbye to Steven with everything I would need on my back; a Patagonia trail running pack with a 2 liter hydration reservoir filled with electrolytes, first aid kit, sunscreen, and fuel to sustain my 150 calorie every 45 minutes nutrition plan.

The run started out great. I was feeling strong. Making great time. I was jammin! Running down hill and being very careful with my footing. As the sun rose higher in the sky the view of the canyon illuminated and the layers of rock turned colors. Running down the Grand Canyon really is a walk through time. The rocks at the rim are ~200 million years old and the granite rocks at the banks of the Colorado River are ~2.2 billion years old! Whoah.

I made it down 3000' and 10 miles to river in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Cruisin. I stopped at Phantom Ranch and refilled my reservoir while watching hikers get ready for their own exploration of the canyon. Time to climb.

I traveled up the North Kaibab Trail alongside Bright Angel Creek. The river was roaring and the temps a bit warmer at the bottom then at the top. I had stoke fueling my fire running uphill. After 10 miles of moderate gradient climbing about 2000 feet I hit some steeper sections. No more running but power hiking uphill. I was cruising good. Another 2000 feet and 5 miles then I hit a wall.

Not a physical wall, or a mental wall. A logistical wall. The North Kaibab Trail was closed 2 miles below the north rim for trail maintenance. I had read a sign at Phantom Ranch and another at Cottonwood Creek about the closure, but I didn't really think they would turn visitors around. But to my dismay, they sure did. 

I was greeted by a very young park worker who in not so nice of a way tells me, "it's a hard closure from 830-430, you read the signs didn't you..."

I had seen just minutes previously the only other 4 runners attempting this same adventure. They informed me they tried hard to get passed, but to no avail. 

As I stood there on the bridge looking to the north rim, just miles away, so close to this dream I've had for so long, I started to feel a flood of emotion. I felt tears welling up. I walked away from the park employee and off the bridge and dropped to the ground and began to ball. I cried like I haven't cried in a long time. Deep shit upwelled and poured out of me. After a good cry i composed myself, got up and started to run, took 3 steps and another wave of emotion flooded my tear ducts. I sat back down and let this one pass through just like the previous. Composed myself again. And got up to make the return journey.

I had run 25 miles at this point. And now it was time to run 25 miles back.

The return journey was hard. I was disappointed. Hell I was devastated....heart broken. This led me to be very negative. Negative thoughts and feelings arose within me. Then I was self conscious and upset with myself over being so disappointed at something so out of my control. I tried to find the positive but couldn't. I worked through shit in my mind, deeper shit in my life.... for hours. Nowhere to go and nothing else to do but face what I had been burying deep.

After 15 miles back at Phantom Ranch I found the other runners. A father and son from Charlotte and another couple from Denver. All of us, equally disappointed and defeated. Dreams shattered. I could tell by the looks on their faces that everything I was experiencing....they were too.

I left the pity party at the river for the 10 mile uphill slog to the south rim. It was slow going. I had 40 miles on my legs and no fire inside to push. Although by this point I'd resolved a lot of my negativity. And it was time to get home. Time to finish up this adventure. I jammed up as fast as I could. Slowly and steadily upwards and onwards.

I arrived back at the south rim in 12 hours and 25 minutes greeted by Steven. I explained the story over dinner and a cold beer. Still in shock at the exertion, the adventure, and the circumstances...

The following day we went on a nice 6 mile hike in Buckskin Gulch which is a slot canyon in southern Utah. I was able to find closure on the adventure. I have heard many opinions from many friends whom I've shared this story with. Opinions ranging from how I completed it regardless of reaching the north rim or not to sympathy at how disappointing it must have been.

At this point, I'm stoked. I'm stoked I'm alive and well and I did in fact run across the Grand Canyon twice. What I did not do, is a Rim2Rim2Rim. That specific goal still lies waiting to be had. Maybe some day....maybe not. There is a lot that I want to do on this Earth.

And maybe I was never meant to actually complete the expected goal. No in fact I do believe that everything unfolded exactly as it should. I have returned from the canyon stronger, wiser, and more humble then I could have thought possible.

The Grand Canyon is a natural wonder and I am so thankful to have given my best effort and returned safely from this epic adventure.

Love Jameson

Comments