My son Matt and I (age 35 and 65) will be hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim (r2r2r) in May as a continuous ultra-hike. This will be the farthest we’ve ever hiked in a day (42 to 47 miles, depending on the route), and we’re excited. Since you have done this hike in a day, we’d appreciate your advice. Do you plan your rest periods? What about pace? On a recent 30-mile hike with rolling hills in Maryland, we averaged about 3.3 miles per hour. Should we expect a slower pace on the r2r2r? What else do we need to know?
We have hiked in the Grand Canyon probably a half-dozen times and have done rim-to-rim (r2r) three times during the last 10 years or so. We are familiar with the potential temperature variations and know to plan carefully around calorie intake, hydration, and electrolyte replacement.
Although they’re not desert environments, we have dayhiked eight or so 14ers in Colorado, plus done hikes in northern New Mexico (Wheeler Peak), the Tetons in Wyoming, and extensively in Glacier National Park. Most of these dayhikes have been in the eight- to 20-mile range, with early-morning starts by headlamp.
In prepping for r2r2r, Matt and I put in three- to four-hour hikes every Saturday (12 to 15 miles) with weighted packs (up to 45 pounds), plus consistent cardio, core, and weight work throughout the week. Over the last three or four months, we have done two local 20-milers and a nearly 30-miler over rolling terrain. We’ll do another 30-miler about a month before our Grand Canyon date.
As to what we’ll carry, our overall intention is to go as light as we possibly can. On the Grand Canyon corridor trails, there is water every seven miles or so—Phantom Ranch, Cottonwood Canyon, North Rim, and a few places on the Bright Angel Trail. We’ll carry enough water to get us from one source to the next, plus enough for contingencies. We intend to use Hammer Nutrition’s product called Perpetuem for most of our calories, so we’ll carry powder to mix with water along the way. We likely will carry a bar or two plus a few gels as well. Beyond that, we’ll each probably bring a light windbreaker and a long-sleeve shirt.
I’ll also throw in a multi-tool and carry a satellite locator with GEOS capability—just in case.
That’s it! Any thoughts you have are welcome and appreciated.
Yes, I have both hiked and run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim (r2r2r) in one day—42 miles and over 21,000 vertical feet—and hiked rim-to-rim-to-rim over two consecutive days (that time combining all three corridor trails, making it 44.5 miles). Going r2r2r in one day is an enormous challenge, and spreading it out over two days, or hiking in just one direction in a single day is still a very, very big day. I’ve seen many r2r dayhikers struggling to finish because they underestimated the difficulty of it.
My downloadable e-guide “Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a Day” offers expert tips specific to the unique challenges of successfully and safely hiking or trail running rim to rim in a day, including preparing for it, the ideal seasonal windows, tips on strategy and direction to hike, gear, and all possible hiking itineraries combining the three corridor trails, the North Kaibab, South Kaibab, and Bright Angel trails.
Click here now for my expert e-guide to hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim!
It’s good that you’re already familiar with the Grand Canyon environment and the trails you’ll hike doing the rim to rim to rim (the North Kaibab and either the South Kaibab or the Bright Angel), and it sounds like you’re training seriously. I’ll focus on your questions and point out what I believe are key issues and strategies to think about.
But you can also see my training tips in my stories “Training For a Big Hike or Mountain Climb” and “Cranking Out Big Days: How to Ramp Up Your Hikes and Trail Runs,” as well as my feature stories “Fit to be Tired: Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a Day” and “April Fools: Dayhiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim” about my r2r2r, which both provide some info on how to plan this hike, but not nearly as much detail as my e-guide to hiking rim to rim.
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I always wear highly breathable but reasonably supportive, lightweight, low-cut hiking shoes or trail runners. In the Grand Canyon, you don’t need waterproof shoes, you need shoes with mesh uppers and no membrane so they’re very breathable. See my reviews of some favorite lightweight hiking shoes. The last time I ran r2r2r in a day, I wore the Hoka One One Speedgoat 3, and I’m not sure my feet have ever felt better on a huge day than they did in those shoes, but I also like the La Sportiva TX3.
I can help you plan this or any other trip you read about at my blog. Find out more here.
I think your water plan is smart. At a strong pace, you’ll reach water sources in intervals of three hours or less, so you likely don’t need to carry more than two liters at any time. Check with the backcountry office about water sources right before your hike. I always drink a lot at water sources, to fully hydrate myself before I start walking, reducing the amount of water I need to carry.
But I’ll tell you about one interesting situation we encountered on our r2r2r: It’s possible to get a case of hyponatremia, where your body takes in more water than it can absorb. (Basically, it happens when your body lacks enough sodium/electrolytes to bond with water molecules, so you end up just urinating the water out rather than your body putting it to use.) One of my friends on our r2r2r peed about 45 times—yes, he counted—about once per mile. He didn’t have any bad side effects, but keep in mind the possibility of actually over-drinking and not consuming enough sodium/electrolytes, especially in cool temperatures.
Click here now for my expert e-guide to backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim
or my expert e-guide to dayhiking rim to rim.
Regarding your nutrition plan: I haven’t used Perpetuem. If it works for you, great. I’ll just say that my experience on really long hikes is that, especially in heat, my stomach and G.I. system can get a little upset (as happened to me on an attempted 50-mile dayhike across Zion). You’re just really overtaxing your body. I also find that I have a tolerance ceiling for sweet foods (like chocolate), or energy bars, and some other foods.
A man needs about 250 calories per hour in endurance events. Experiment with the sorts of foods you like eating on the trail, but I like to include a diverse blend of sweet and salty—the latter particularly important to replace sodium your body’s losing. I carry foods like nuts, sandwiches, dried fruit, candy, and I plan on eating upwards of 4,000 calories.
Real food is heavier than powder, granted, but some variety may enable you to actually stomach what you need to consume, especially in the last hours of the day, when you’re most depleted and may find your appetite depressed if you don’t feel great. I also keep snacks within reach while hiking, so that I’m regularly ingesting calories in small amounts. (I like dried mangoes, which are high in calories per ounce.)
Check out my “Gear Review: The 8 Best Hiking Daypacks,” as well as my “8 Pro Tips For Avoiding Blisters When Hiking,” including the really helpful reader comments at the bottom of that story, and my “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier.” And see all of my stories about the Grand Canyon by scrolling down to Grand Canyon on my All National Parks Trips page.
Good luck. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.
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My son Matt and I completed our r2r2r hike. We started at 3:35 p.m. on Thursday (5/19) down the South Kaibab Trail (beautiful and steep). We got to the North Rim at about 1:15 a.m. and finished on Friday coming up the Bright Angel trail at about 12:30 p.m.
It was a long day and a heck of a lot of hiking. We had great weather throughout. (It was only about 90 degrees at Phantom Ranch.) The toughest part for me was the last 4.5 miles from Indian Garden up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim.
A big lesson for me is that no matter how hard you train, age makes a difference and one has to take that into account. (I’m 65 and my son is 35.)
See my five-level difficulty rating system in “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
In the end, other than fatigue, we handled the hike well.
Just as an FYI, Hammer Nutrition has a bunch of products for calories, supplements and electrolytes specifically for endurance activities—including detailed usage guidance. My sons and I have found their stuff to be excellent.
We both appreciated your thoughtful advice. Best of luck with your outdoor blog. It’s quite good.