Athletic Autumn Adventures in Arizona

Eighteen Liters. That's the magic number. Yes, it's probably the volume of beer consumed on my recent Arizona vacation, but that's not the true significance. It's also probably my lung capacity, but who doesn't have that going for them? No, the importance of 18 liters this time around is pack capacity. even as a mountain guide, and long-time expedition fiend, I'm almost ready to write off "vacations" that require a pack any bigger than 18 liters. It's all the pack you need for multi-pitch trad routes, approaching bolted sport climbs, solo scrambling, and traversing the Grand Canyon. As me and my little Black Diamond pack learned the past two weeks, 18 liters and some internet research is all you need for an impromptu multi-sport vacation to our nearby neighbor.

I had always kind of written off Arizona. Too far to seem convenient, too close to seem exotic. When some other plans fell through at the last minute, Arizona was the perfect destination. First stop Cochise Stronghold in the far southeast with my buddy Josh. Basically Mexico. And exotic because of it, I'd learn. Border Patrol checkpoints, blimps perpetually scanning the desert, and the very real possibility of mid-night water theft brought an international, (yet still very 'Merican...) feel to it all. A bunch of warm-up climbs, at a relaxing pace, got me acquainted with the area. Cochise combines the best aspects of climbing in the Western US: Desert climate and camping plus bomber granitic rock. Hard to complain. Cochise was full of outdoor professionals unwinding in the off-season. Unwinding with PBR, campfires, and a couple of hours of climbing per day. Our final route there was "Abracadaver" on the seldom summited Rockfellow spire. It's wild up there. Researching info for Abracadaver turned up this discussion on the top 3 routes in Arizona. Like all internet discussion, there was no solid conclusion. However, reading between the lines and taking a liberal interpretation, I chose to believe that Abracadaver was one of the top 3. And the SE Ridge of Baboquivari and Candyland on Granite Mountain were the other 2. Heck, we've come this far, why not do the best routes in the whole state?

Josh had to work, so I went solo to Baboquivari. It's a remote peak, unique in Arizona for it's mandatory scrambling from all angles. "Babo" has its own lovely trailhead campground. I pulled in after dark the night before my climb. The campground was deserted, except for a single Border Patrol pickup. A standard cab (read, 3 seatbelts max...) pickup. Seemed strange, but I passed out. Around 4 am at least 6 people came out of the woods, got in the pickup and took off. Weird, huh? Otherwise, my trip on Babo was uneventful.

I reunited with Josh in Prescott. Prescott is a sweet town, and happens to be the autumn home of SMG coworkers Viren and Julie. Viren and Julie put us up and showed us Prescott's Whiskey Row. Whiskey Row, and our vacation mentality, would conspire against much high-end athletic achievement... But we only needed to tick one more of (my version of) Arizona's top 3 routes. And Candyland was worthy.

But the real point of all this, the part of the story that makes this worthy of association with Sage to Summit, was my impromptu run of the Grand Canyon's fabled "Rim to Rim to Rim." I'm still reeling from the experience. If I had taken any more time to think about it, much less plan, I probably wouldn't have gotten it together. But I rallied from the drink-up-late and sleep-til-nine schedule and committed before I could think about it too much. I did some cursory research, consulted a client's who's run this thing 5 times, and dove in with my 18 liter pack.

In short, the Rim to Rim to Rim is exactly what it sounds like. You start on the South Rim, descend to the Colorado River, climb to the North Rim, and then reverse your tracks.
Beta for RRR is plentiful. I'd do a disservice to try and improve on the information readily available. A blow-by-blow account is beyond my abilities and recollection. Profound words on the experience aren't real handy to me. But I do have a few pictures and a hearty recommendation for this run! Check it out:

I like bridges and tunnels (both on trails, and as a euphemism for suburban residents of the Bay and New York Metro Areas) so you can imagine my delight here at the River:Hikers on route give some perspective. Near the North Rim:
And near the South Rim:

And last light:
A few stats and notes, in case you're interested:
-I started in pitch dark at 4:45am on November 6. It's steep downhill to start. I was picking my way, feeling real clumsy and slow. All of a sudden a group blasted by me, apparently with fresh batteries in their lights. 'Cause I changed mine and moved much much more quickly.
-Do your research on which water faucets are on. It's always changing.
-Weather the day I did it was perfect. T-shirt conditions the entire time. Temperatures were moderated by a thin cloud layer all day. Even if there were no clouds, I would have been climbing in the sun for a maximum of about an hour. The canyon walls blocked the low November sun.
-It's not your typical Sierra wilderness trail run. I filled water from faucets and listened to Pandora for much of the way. The North Rim is a paved trailhead and some hikers driving a car shuttle totally bailed out another RRR aspirant that day. Drove him the 6 hours back around!
-I ran about a third of the mileage (total mileage about 42. Total vertical gain, over 11000)
-I finished in just about 13 and a half hours.