The run starts on the South Rim at sunrise and heads down to the Colorado River via the South Kaibab trail. This section of trail is roughly 7 miles with over 5000' of elevation drop and has one jaw-dropping vista after another.
1 We were out of bed about 3:45am, ate breakfast in the room, in the car by 4:30am, and to Bright Angel lodge just in time to catch the 5:00am shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. It's freezing (literally) at around 28 degrees, but the cold now will be well worth it later when the afternoon temps are reasonable in the canyon.
2 Dad looks ready for his hike down to the river and back.
3 I'm not so sure I'm ready for my run to the North Rim and back.
4 Away I go. It's the last time I see my Dad before I turn the corner and am gone for the rest of the day. Official departure time: 5:53am. While the trail is entirely runnable, the steep downhill is tough on the body. I prefer getting warmed-up on uphill first before hitting the downhill. And that's the way most of my training runs and races are.
But R2R2R is reversed; you start with a 5000' (steep) downhill on the South Kaibab trail before climbing 6000' up North Kaibab on the other side. It's pretty much an upside-down mountain. In fact kaibab means "mountain lying down" in the language of one of the local Native American tribes.
5 The trail leaves just to the west of Yaki Point and drops fast through the Coconino Sandstone cliffs. This section is known as the Chimney. I'm trying to be fairly conversative on the downhill so I don't trash my quads before making the climb up the North Rim. But it can be tough to control speed on these steep downhills.
6 A panaroma from somewhere near the very aptly named Ooh Aah Point. The light of sunrise on the canyon is just amazing. We definitely hit the trail at the perfect time of day. And if there ever was a trail for taking panorama pictures, this is it. View Full Size
7 Approaching Cedar Ridge and O'Neill Butte.
8 Made it to Cedar Ridge. 1,140' drop in about 1 1/2 miles.
The GPS on my camera has finally locked-in and all pictures for the rest of the day are geo-tagged. Click the "Map" button to see the location on the topo map.
10 I stop for a bit to talk to some hikers and they offered to take my picture. It's tough to get into a good running groove when I keep stopping to take so many pictures, but I'm determined not to miss a single good shot just because I'm worried about my running time.
11 I'm not sure if the canyon is this green year round or we're just here at the right time, but the contrast of green against the bright red rocks is awesome.
12 The trail heads down the east side of O'Neill Butte as it drops deeper into the canyon. View Full Size
13 The layers of rock are amazing. Some interesting facts from my handy trail guide... The steep cliffs result from erosion of harder rock layers while the more sloped areas result from erosion of softer rock. The topmost layers are around 270 million years old while the layers all the way down at the river are 1.7 billion years old. Each step you take down the South Kaibab trail is equivalent to 100,000 years of time!
14 The trail levels off at the Tonto Platform before reaching the Tipoff and dropping into the Inner Gorge. View Full Size
15 The Tipoff, roughly 3000' below the rim. A little over 1600' more to go.
16 The switchbacks dropping into the Inner Gorge. Brief glimpses of the Colorado River have been visible for a while now and are starting to become more frequent.
17 Panorama Point below the Tipoff. You can see part of the trail winding down to the Colorado River below. View Full Size
18 The views are still amazing and the river is starting to get closer.
20 You can see the Bright Angel suspension bridge is the distance below. View Full Size
21 Almost there! The River Trail runs along the south side of the river. I'll be heading the other way, over the bridge to Bright Angel camp.
22 The first full view of the Kaibab suspension bridge across the Colorado River.
23 The end of the South Kaibab trail winding down to the river, through the tunnel, and across the suspension bridge.
24 The tunnel leading to the South Kaibab bridge.
25 Heading across the South Kaibab suspension bridge, also known as the Black Bridge, built in 1928. Each of the 8 main cables is 550' long and weighs more than a ton. Each one was snaked down the trail by 42 laborers spaced along the cable. Prior to the bridge there was a gondola crossing, and prior to that it was by boat only.
The foreman of the trail and bridge construction project was killed during contstruction of the trail and his grave is evidently somewhere along the trail near the river. I doubt the National Park service would have the budget to pull off something like this nowadays.
26 A look down the Colorado River from on top of the bridge. The first stage of my journey is complete as I head into Bright Angel camp and Phantom Ranch.