GrandCanyonSunrise

Trip Report: Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim

Hiking Mountain Culture® Travel Trip Reports
on
November 4, 2020

How COVID Created New Opportunities

Could it be possible that having too many opportunities at our fingertips before the pandemic diluted our experiences? Was it possible for the extraordinary circumstances in 2020 to teach us to live in the moment? Could I be grateful for what I had instead of worrying about what I didn’t?

I thought about these questions while logging miles with my husband and our dog, Timber, earlier this year. Instead of focusing on canceled races and events, I began to think about all of the adventures that were still possible. I shifted my focus to the great areas and venues in my own backyard. I gave back to the cycling community. I sought solitude and independence in the great outdoors and discovered that my limited options had become incredible luxuries.

I walked to local coffee shops, and that was a big deal. It was simple and didn’t cost much, but I found satisfaction in connecting with my community. All the little things in life became worth every step I took to get there. I burned through several pairs of sneakers and hiking shoes, and watched the steps add up on my Suunto 9 smart watch. I put more miles on my feet than on my car most days.

In nature, I found a welcome respite from my job at the hospital and a place where I could hit the reset button, both physically and emotionally.

An Idea Takes Shape

As my steps accumulated, my options grew. Over the summer, I found myself hiking new trails in Colorado, summiting three fourteeners and countess other peaks. The more I explored, unencumbered by training plans and race calendars, the more possibilities I discovered.

Jill MtHuron
Jill and her husband take Timber on his first fourteener. Mt. Huron, Colorado

In particular, one idea took hold: a Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R). Now I had new questions to ponder. Could I make it? What gear would I need? How does this even work?

I’d heard a lot about R2R2R over the years from friends and fellow endurance athletes. There are countless articles, blogs and resources, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. When my trip was finalized, I had only 10 days to get ready. For me, preparing for this trip was more about the journey and how coping through a pandemic led me to find ways to reset on my days off from the hospital. Tapping into my mental strength was my biggest asset when I stepped onto the South Kaibab Trail.

72 Hours in the Grand Canyon

Day 1: After spending the night in the cute town of Williams, Arizona, we started our day at Brewed Awakenings, a great local coffee shop.

After our java fix, we headed to Grand Canyon National Park south entrance (east entrance closed due to COVID) and did a 5-mile warm-up hike on the Bright Angel Trail to check our gear. Then we checked out the parking lot at the South Kaibab trailhead for our 4:45 AM start the next day.

Jill BrightAngelTrail
Jill takes in the scale and grandeur of the Grand Canyon on Bright Angel Trail

That evening we stayed eight miles from the park entrance in Tusayan, Arizona. This town offered the most affordable lodging options, but hikers looking to stay in the park can splurge on U.S. Park Lodging.

Day 2: With headlamps blazing and poles in hand, we stepped onto the South Kaibab Trail at 4:45 AM. Over the next seven, quad-busting miles, we dropped 4,700 feet in elevation.

BridgeGrandCanyonColoradoRiver
Bridge over the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

We refilled our hydration packs at Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood before climbing the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim.

BridgeGrandCanyon
Jill crosses bridge on North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

After 21.3 miles, we checked into the Grand Canyon Lodge and enjoyed take out and sublime canyon views.

Day 3: We departed the North Rim trailhead at 6:30 AM. We retraced our steps on the same route until we came to the junction with the Bright Angel Trail.

JillGrandCanyonDescent
Jill descends the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

Helpful hint: The Bright Angel Trail is heavily exposed in the early afternoon. Apply sunscreen generously; cover your head with a broad-brimmed hat; and wear clothing with built-in sun protection. Take advantage of water stops on the Bright Angel Trail to refill bottles and hydration packs.

SunGrandCanyonR2R2R
Rays of light illuminate the trail, Grand Canyon National Park

After 23.9 miles, we reached the South Rim to complete our R2R2R. That evening we celebrated our accomplishment over dinner.

Day 4: The celebration continued with a tourist day on the Upper South Rim.

Important: Always check Grand Canyon National Park Service for closures, water availability and other important information. Conditions change from day-to-day.

What to Pack

Make sure you test and check your gear before your R2R2R attempt.

  • Headlamp
  • Trekking poles – Invest in collapsible poles for easy packing and travel
  • First aid kit
  • Vaseline or CBD cream for feet and areas prone to chafing
  • Backpack
  • Hydration system
  • Plenty of snacks – My favorites included Honey Stinger waffles and chews; Chomps turkey sticks; Turkey jerky; Fig Newtons; dried fruit
  • NUUN electrolyte tabs
  • Sunscreen
  • Trail map (download to your phone before leaving cell service)

What to Wear

With temperatures changing over the course of our R2R2R, layers were key to staying dry and comfortable. As always, I packed my favorite KÜHL hiking gear for this trip:


Jill Cederholm is a member of KÜHL’s Cycling team. She’s a former collegiate swimmer and professional triathlete. Jill splits her time between her home and job in Minnesota and her second home and retreat in Colorado.

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