Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim (Double Crossing)

May 16th
South Kaibab Trail: 7.5 Miles  / North Kaibab Trail: 29.0 Miles  /  Bright Angel Trail: 9.5 miles
Total Miles (46.0 miles, 10,571 feet elevation gained)

May 28th
South Kaibab Trail: 7.5 Miles  / North Kaibab Trail: 29.0 Miles / South Kaibab Trail 7.5 miles
Total Miles (44.0 miles, 10,427 feet elevation gained)

***mileage and elevation recorded by my Garmin Forerunner 920XT***

Trip Report:
- Whitney, AKA Tip-Toe, is known in hiking circles for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, two 2,000 plus mile journeys on each coast.  However, she has also completed some of the more signature one day "Ultra-Hikes" in the northeast, such as a Pemi Loop, several Winter Presidential Range Traverses, and a solo sub 24 hour White Mountain Hut Traverse, which is one of the most brutal endurance hikes around.  This May she tackled another signature ultra hike, the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim.
-  We started the day catching the 5AM hiker shuttle from the Backcountry Information Center over to the South Kaibab Trail, starting at 5:30AM.  We could not have picked a better weather day for a double crossing, the temperature at the South Rim started in the high thirties and it quickly warmed up to a comfortable temperature by the time we cruised by Cedar Ridge.
- I let Whitney set the pace and she did extremely well, we jogged and quick hiked to the floor of the canyon making good time to Phantom Ranch.  Here, we took our first break to refuel and prepare our packs for the seven mile hike to our next stop, Cotton Campground.
- The hike from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood goes through one of the more fascinating features in the canyon, "The Box," this is a three mile stretch where there is the trail, the river next to the trail, and steep walls on both sides that rise strait up a few thousand feet.  This is the crux on the return trip on most R2R2R, as the box is known for trapping heat and extreme temperatures.
-  Once past the box, the North Kaibab Trail opens up to expansive views, this is one of the coolest spots around, the vast open space with huge canyon walls far off in every direction seems quite magical.
- Eventually after seven miles the trail comes to a small shaded oasis, Cottonwood Camp, where we took another break, refueled, and prepared our gear for the seven mile stretch up to the north rim.
- From the campground we hiked to the pumphouse, Manzanita rest area, where we made a quick stop before heading up the canyon.  So far the first nine miles from Phantom Ranch to the pumphouse had been relatively flat with an ever so slight uphill.  That gradual grade was over, now came quite a bit of elevation gain over the final five miles.
- From the pumphouse to Roaring Springs is still relatively tame, but from the springs up to Supai Tunnel is a real butt-kicker!  Whitney still was setting a great pace up to the tunnel, where we took another good break before the final push up to the north rim.  The trail still gains quite a bit of elevation but it's not as bad as the stretch we just covered.
- However, there was just one catch that makes this part just as tough, mule shit!  This is the desert, so naturally the trail is quite dusty, usually there is a breeze, and the trail is heavily traveled so the dust gets kicked up, and worst of all is the steamy clumps of mule poop baking in the sun, quite the aroma!
- Whitney had a hard time with this, almost setting off her gag-reflax and puking, but we made sure to slow the pace down so she didn't.  Even with slowing down over the last two miles we still made excellent time from the south rim to the north rim in just under seven hours (6:55)
- We took a nice long break on the rim, having lunch, relaxing, reorganizing our gear, talking to other hikers.  We ran into a few others doing the double crossing, all in high spirits.  Eventually after a thirty minute break we started down for the long trek back across the canyon.
- The hike back down past Supai Tunnel, Roaring Springs, and the pumphouse went great, we took breaks at Supai and the pumphouse.  From the pumphouse we decided to straight shoot it to Phantom Ranch without stopping at Cottonwood.  Unfortunately as we just about reached Cottonwood, Whitney while standing on a rock to let other hikers pass fell off, she bruised her knee and had some minor cuts.  She's really tough, so even though she was in pain she wasn't going to let that stop her.
- Even with the tumble we had a great hike back through The Box to Phantom Ranch, this return trip through The Box always has the feel of being stuck in a time warp, as it seems to take forever, luckily for us our timing was perfect as the shade overtook The Box, so we only had to navigate the time warp!
- We took our last extended break at Phantom Ranch, it was 5PM and supper was being served to the guests, it smelled so good, much more appealing than the food, gummies, gels, etc that were in our packs.
- Now it was time for the long slog back up to the south rim.  The good news is the temperature was absolutely perfect, and other than the Devil's Corkscrew the hike to Indian Garden, the halfway point, is not too bad.  When we reached Indian Garden it was really quite, all the backpackers had retired to their campsites, it was kind of an eerie but cool atmosphere.  We took a very short break as I told Whitney to just keep moving, any extended breaks now and your body might revolt.
- Darkness fell upon us as we reached the three mile rest area, we strapped on our headlamps and continued onward into the beautiful night.  As we approached the one and a half mile rest house two things started happening, one, the wind picked up making for a not so tasty hike at times, and two, we started seeing more people, most of which were the unprepared types who should have read the sign at the top of the trail with all the warning on it (this one).  No one was in  too rough of shape, just over tired and it was going to be awhile before they reached their cars uses their Apple Phone as a flashlight!
- We continued on battling through the wind and topped out at 9:07PM, fifteen hours and thirty-seven minutes after we started!
- It was a great morning, afternoon, and night to spend in the canyon, and I couldn't have been happier and more proud of Whitney for doing so well on her first R2R2R.  It was a pleasure to tag along with her :)

Midnight Express R2R2R Solo "Run"
- After Whitney headed back to NH, I set my plans on running the canyon.  Since I had work during the week, I could only do it on the weekend, and unfortunately the only weekend left before I headed home was Memorial Day Weekend, one of the busiest weekends of the year in the canyon!  To avoid the crowds I decided to start my run at midnight, I had always wanted to head across the canyon in the middle of the night under millions of stars along with cooler temperatures so I was excited.
- I left Flagstaff at 9PM and made it into the park just after 10:30 and headed to a picnic area that was a quick ten minute walk from the trailhead. I relaxed for about an hour, listening to coyotes howling in the night, they were close by and it was kind of spooky, but I didn't worry about it too much.  Eventually I got my gear ready and walked to the South Kaibab trailhead.
- 12AM, I'm off!  I eased into the run for the first couple of miles, being sure not to go out to strong, the trail is rutted in places from the mules along with odd log placements for steps, making a consistent stride hard to maintain.
- Once past the Skeleton Point switchbacks I opened up my stride and went fast...for about thirty seconds, this is when the bats entered into the equation!  I had noticed them here and there from Ooh Ahh Point to Skeleton Ridge but didn't think too much of it.  As soon as I started to run fast, they became a problem, they were now within arms length of my head, every couple of seconds they'd dive bomb into my light from my headlamp then dart above my head out of sight.  This constantly kept happening and the last thing I wanted was to have one fly into me and accidentally bite me, so I had to slow back down to a steady jog.  Every once in a while I'd try and pick up the pace and as soon as I did, they'd be everywhere.
- Still, I reached the floor of the canyon in one hour and five minutes and was passing by Phantom Ranch about ten minutes later.  About a half mile past Phantom Ranch I felt a tight/soreness in my IT Band on the side of my knee, an old injury from a 2011 50 miles Hut ti Hut and a 50K MMD trail run, and last year's 50K trail run,  I couldn't believe it!  I was shocked, these trails are so tame compared to what I am used to, so I was a bit upset.  The good news is I could still move fast but wouldn't be able to open up my stride, which was fine because the bats were still everywhere until finally breaking out of The Box.
- It was a really amazing night hike through the canyon, there were billions of stars out and it was around 65 degrees along the inner canyon.  As I made my way up to Supai Tunnel I started seeing some hikers, but only about four, however this was all about to change.
- From Supai Tunnel to the north rim is just under two miles.  It was just before 5AM and I finally took off my headlamp, as soon as I did this I couldn't believe what I saw, hikers and runners in droves.  Over the last mile I must have seen fifty people!  As always, I don't mind running into hikers, it makes me feel real comfortable knowing there are people everywhere when I attempt one of my longer hikes/runs.
- I reached the north rim at 5:30 AM, refilled my water and prepared my gear and took off after a five minute break.  The descent started slowly, about two thirteen minute miles, my knee was tight and in some pain, but after about two miles it started to loosen up, I became numb to the pain, and was able to run at a decent clip.  I passed by a lot of excited hikers and runners as I made my way down, I didn't tell anyone what I was doing, I always feel uncomfortable unless someone asks, but most knew what I was up to and gave me words of encouragement.  Always nice having others show their appreciation.
- I was able to trail run the fourteen miles back to Phantom Ranch in two and a half hours, making it there a few minutes past 8AM.  If I was pain free it would probably have been around two hours, so I was psyched considering the puzzling knee problem!
- I took a ten minute break and was off at 8:15A, now came the moment of truth, do I take the Bright Angel Trail, 9.5 miles to the south rim, deal with tourists, and then have to jump on a crowded bus back to South Kaibab, or do I head up the South Kaibab Trail, seven miles to the south rim, deal with half the amount of tourists on the trail, and then only have a ten minute walk back to the Jeep.  I chose the South Kaibab approach.
- Well it started off well until the halfway point when I reached the switchbacks below Skeleton Point, they defeated me, it's been awhile since I have felt like this, and to add insult to injury it was SWITCHBACKS!  I actually had to stop and collect myself once I reached Skeleton Point.  I can't believe I had to take a break, I was actually dragging ass!  Anyway, after a five minute break I made my way towards Cedar Ridge, taking two mini breaks on the way and another five minute break once at Cedar Ridge.
- By now there were tourists everywhere, not hikers, tourists, they stick out like a sore thumb, hundreds of them, if it seemed bad here I couldn't imagine what it was like on the Bright Angel Trail!
- After Cedar Ridge came Ooh Ahh Point, one mile to go, I took one last break here for just a couple of minutes with about fifty of my closest friends, I took great pleasure in knowing that I smelled like a foot locker, the dude in the jean shorts "jorts" sporting a wife beater, and his girlfriend with a bikini top must have loved me plopping down right beside them!
- The last mile went pretty smoothly, I started feeling better and I topped out at 11:30AM.  11.5 hours after I started.  I think I should have stuck to the Bright Angel Trail, I've been up that way plenty of times and it's very tame compared to the upper half of South Kaibab, and it has ample water sources.
- Once back at the top I shuffled my way back to the Jeep and cleaned the 42.5 miles of dust off of me before driving back to Flagstaff.
- What an adventure I had, while I wasn't able to go as fast as I wanted to, I still had a great time.  The bats were scary when moving fast, but once I found a pace that kept them at a tolerable distance it was fascinating to watch them pick off the bugs that fluttered into the stream of light from my headlamp.  Also, The total isolated feeling I was able to experience along the first twenty miles under millions of stars is something I will never forget and lucky to experience considering this is one of the most heavily used trail corridors in the United States.
-  This was my third R2R2R, one in 2014 and two this month.  I hope to do another one in the future, but I think I'll start at dawn, use the Bright Angel Trail on the way back like my first two double crossings, and do it during the week! :)

The sun rising in the east as we head down from the south rim

Whitney hiking along Cedar Ridge

Hiking below the Natural Arch

One of my favorite spots along the South Kaibab Trail, below the Tip Off

The Colorado River

Making our way through the tunnel to Black Bridge

After passing by Phantom Ranch, we head into The Box!

Hiking through The Box

After leaving the box the North Kaibab Trail starts to open up

Why I really enjoy the North Kaibab Trail is because there are quite a few different feels to it.  Once again this is a section with super huge views

Leaving the Pumphouse we finally start to gain elevation

Passing by Roaring Springs, what an incredible view!

We make our way back through narrow trail blasted from the side of the canyon walls!

Whitney goofing around at Coconino Point

Heading back down from the top of the north rim

Looking down at the bridge in the redwall

A picture of Whitney on a switchback below me, and looking back up to the north rim

Tight trail corridor in spots...with some big drops!

The sun shining brightly and bouncing off the canyon walls

Passing by Cottonwood Campground, and I think a pic of Oza Butte or the Manu Temple (bottom right)

Heading back through The Box

Limestone scarred walls

Hiking back over the Colorado River

Silver Bridge, Colorado River, and Zoroaster Temple

After paralleling the Colorado River for a mile we make the turn and head back into the canyon

Hiking up to Indian Garden and passing by the Devil's Corkscrew

Looking up at the south rim

One last shot from the three mile rest stop as darkness falls upon us

Congrats to Whitney on the R2R2R!!!! :)

Elevation over distance profile for my R2R2R run :)


  1. Hey Chris,

    Great report as always. Man, that run in with the bats must have been startling.

    Quick question as I plan my running year.

    How does running R2R2R compare with the effort it takes to run the Pemi Loop?

    I'm inspired by all the runners that run the big ditch. But, I have to admit, I'm a little intimidated.

    I've run the Pemi twice, but R2R2R is another 14 miles.

    Your thoughts are fully appreciate.

    Thanks again for sharing your adventures - pure inspiration.


    1. Hi Steve,

      The footing is much easier than the Pemi Loop, so nothing to be intimidated about as far as running, it's really tame, like a dirt ramp, no steep grades. What you have to be careful about is the weather, depending on when you are running it the extreme heat can be deadly and so can lightening storms.

      Between mid May and mid October the water sources on the North Kaibab Trail are usually on so that helps tremendously for staying hydrated. Make sure you check the grand canyon website for up-to-date water source information. If you go in March or April expect some rotting snow and ice as you head up to the north rim.

      The other thing to remember is the elevation at the rims is higher than what we're used to, so if you flew in, drove up to the rim, and tried to run right away that could lead to dizziness and headaches.

      Other than that enjoy the double crossing, you'll have an awesome time that you'll never forget, let me know how it goes.

      If you have any other questions about the R2R2R or how to get around the South Rim, parking/shuttle service to trailheads email me at


    2. Got it Chris...Thanks for the reply.

      I didn't consider the elevation so better get out there a couple days early.

      Ideally, I'd like to score a much coveted back country permit to camp at Bright Angel in the canyon. That way I'll have my own built in aid station and the opportunity to bail if I feel defeated after hitting the North rim from the river.

      I'm sure I'll have more questions soon...Thanks.