Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Grand Canyon - Hermit Trail Trip Report

Two summers ago, I had the privilege of experiencing the Grand Canyon by raft. My river trip that summer began at Phantom Ranch and the first major rapid of the day was a roller coaster of water called Hermit. The hydraulics of the river along with the wildness of the canyon left me in awe. As we floated along, I found myself continuing to glance up at the rim. I was overcome with curiosity about the trails that would allow access from the rim. For as long as I've been a runner - road, trail, ultra or otherwise - the canyon has always stood as an "ultimate experience" for runners. And my desire to experience a run that stands in contrast to mountain running in every way further interested me.

I recently finished Kevin Fedarko's "The Emerald Mile", an amazing account of the legendary 1983 speed run of the Colorado river in a dory. I finished the read just as Lyssa and I were preparing to go on our annual road trip and the book had done it's job of renewing my curiosity, so last week Lyssa and I spent the last few days of our annual trip at the "big ditch". After some research, I discovered that there was a lesser used trail that traveled from the south rim down to the river, ending at that very first major rapid, Hermit, that I experienced a few years ago. Aptly named the Hermit Trail, the excursion takes you down 4,200-ish ft in 9-ish miles to the river.

From March 1 to October 31, the only way to get to the trail head is by tour bus, so Lyssa and I hopped on and enjoyed the 40 minute tour to the end of the Hermit's Rest road where the trail begins. After telling Lyssa how long to give me before worrying, I headed down the trail and immediately realized I misjudged how long the run was going to take me.

For everyone's future knowledge, the Hermit Trail is not a fast, buffed out single track. It is not Bright Angel, or even the Kaibab Trails. It is true, rad single track covered with tons of talus, loose volcanic rock and very steep stone steps. The trail also has a very curious flow to it. After the initial drop of what I'm guessing is 1,000-ish ft, the route levels off and moves along a shelf for some miles before dropping again. The biggest drop starts a little over 5 miles in at Cathedral Stairs (which is very steep and very loose), where you plummet 2,000 ft down to the river. The last few miles are through a wash that eventually drains into the Colorado.

I took my time on the way down, soaking in the views and chatting with a few groups of hikers that had camped at the canyon floor the night before. After tagging the rapid, I turned around and blew up hard. The canyon punched me right in the face. As it turns out, it's pretty hard to run downhill for a long time first. I just tried to enjoy the ride and was really happy when I finally made it back up to the rim. Surprisingly, the upward journey only took me 20 minutes longer than the run downward, for a total time of 4 hours and 21 minutes of "happy time".

The truth is that the canyon is chalk full of lesser-used routes begging to be explored. Just remember to give the canyon the respect it deserves as you play among it's shelves.

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