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Grand Canyon R2R2R Experience: Char and Fred Thompson

“The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon – forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain.” – John Wesley Powell (Led the first expedition through the Grand Canyon)

The Grand Canyon

Over the last few weeks, small groups of excited TALON athletes have headed West to experience the epic nature of the Grand Canyon. As trail runners and ultra athletes, most aren’t satisfied with simply taking a few pictures at the edge of the South Rim…forget about it…these adventure seekers have headed out for a challenging day hike/run of 48 miles – the R2R2R.

R2R2R is shorthand for Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim and involves running/walking/hiking from one Rim (many start from the South Rim) of the canyon to the other…and back…within one day! While the majestic views leave many speechless, the challenge is significant and requires proper training and insight to create an environment of be-safe and bring-the-fun preparedness.

Per the Grand Canyon’s Website:

Over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. The difference between a great adventure in Grand Canyon and a trip to the hospital (or worse) is up to YOU.

It is not a stretch to say the Park services are not big fans of the R2R2R adventure.

Experienced Runners – Grand Canyon Newbies

“There were about 40 or so ultra folks from Texas.  All fit, ALL having trouble walking the next day!  I don’t recall the last time I was this sore and spent!  It was a blast!” – Char Thompson

A couple TALON athletes that recently returned from the trip include Fred and Char Thompson. This dynamic duo has been on-the-run (both road and trail) for the last 20+ years. By looking at past races, Char’s running sweet spot is in the 25 km – 50 km adventures and will dabble with the 50 mile (+) distances. Fred seems to frequently lace them up for the 50 km and will reach up to the 100 mile events.

The R2R2R team (L-to-R): Fred, Char, Jennifer, and Marlee

Char, Fred, and team began the R2R2R2 at 3:00 am on the South Rim’s Bright Angel Trail.  After arriving to the floor of the canyon, they hooked onto the North Kaibab Trail that guided them back up, up, up to the North Rim.

Remember Char’s racing sweet spot? Know thyself. With six miles left to journey to the top of the North Rim, Char made the decision to wait for the group at Cottonwood Campground to be ready for the long grind back up Bright Angel Trail. Char reflects on this choice, “This turned out to be a GOOD decision in many ways!”. Many of us wish we could be as wise.

Char, Fred, and company, took their last step out out of the canyon at 10:30 pm. Done…and oh the memories!

Q&A on the Adventure

Char and Fred were gracious in answering a few questions (and include photos!) about their Grand Canyon experience and share it with the Endurance Buzz community.

Fred appeared to be the honorary photography of the Thompson family. 🙂


EB: What attracted you to the R2R2R adventure?

[Fred] There was a group from Hill Country Trail Runners that did the trip last year and my wife and I saw their pictures and reports and said “that looks fun”.


EB: Nearly the entire route you are either climbing or descending. As a flatlander, how did your prepare in training for this component of the run?

[Char] Where we live does present some challenges when training for such terrain. We trained mostly at Sansom Park in Fort Worth (1000 feet elevation gain over 9 miles). It’s about the best there is within a 30 minute drive for us.

We did some back to back weekends. Saturdays would be 5-6 hours (our longest was almost 8 hours). Then 3-4 hours on Sunday.  We had some warm weather which helped. Personally, I knew I could do the distance of 48 miles but really was pretty clueless as to the magnitude of what I was about to attempt. Maybe ignorance was kind of bliss at that point!

[Fred] I didn’t really do any hill repeats or anything, but I have been doing some weight work in prep for Wasatch and I think that certainly helped.

Yep, that is the trail!

EB: As you took your first step down the trail, what thoughts crossed your mind?

[Fred] Finally!! We had taken the whole preceding week off and I think we were just happy to be running again. After that you’re just focused on navigating the irregular, technical footing presented by rocks and hundreds of erosion bars on Bright Angel Trail. Oh yeah, and mule poop.

[Char] Stay close to the mountain!

Char maintaining a close relationship with the rock wall. (I would too!)

EB: On a trail that can leave you quite exposed, were there any sections of trail that made the hair on your arms stand up?

[Fred] There were many sections. Wow became the word of the day once the sun came up. It created a bit of a problem, too, because we were taking so many pictures and lingering stops that we hit the river on like a 24 hour pace and we had planned on about 18 hours.

So we had a brief group meeting and agreed to lighten up on the picture stops. Everywhere you turn is something amazingly beautiful and it is continuously changing as you progress. That is what is incredible–the diversity of the terrain, rock formations, and flora throughout the journey. The views from the North Kaibab Trail are particularly spectacular.

[Char] There is so much beauty in the Grand Canyon. Take my breath away? Yes. Hair stand on end? No. I kept close to the mountain.

EB: Since you don’t have an aid-station every four miles to load up the hydration pack and grab some tasty brownies, how did you manage hydration and calorie needs across an entire day?

[Char] I think I did really well with nutrition and hydration. We did put a lot of thought into this. Once we determined the approximate time it would take, we then had to figure how much we would need. Water is available in several locations except on the difficult climb to the North Rim (12-14 mile round-trip).

Fred and I both had 100oz. hydration packs. As the day warmed up, I found it necessary to fill my hydration pack and top it off at every chance. The hotter it got, the slower I moved. I also had 15 Gu’s ( I did 9), turkey wraps, peanut butter crackers, e-caps, and Powerbars. I also had plenty of papaya ( I gave most of it away).

It is kind of tricky as you don’t really  have an  option to buy anything (Phantom Ranch Catina was closed when we were got there the second time. NO Lemonade. Very disappointing!)  Plus, what you take, you carry. I was pretty tired of the pack the last two miles. Still, glad I had what I did. I don’t think I would change anything here.

[Fred] I can assure you one of your main focus points towards the end is getting that pack OFF.

Char and Marlee testing balance skills while wearing full packs.

EB: Any big critters? What animals did you notice along the route?

[Fred] Nothing unusual except for a baby owl that was trying to learn to fly. Saw bats, squirrels, and lots of lizards and ravens, but no condors which have apparently been reintroduced.

[Char] It was dusk and a couple of kids first thought the baby owl was a big frog!

Utah Agave

EB: How busy of a trail was it on you day? Did you feel like the only ones on the trail or are you frequently crossing paths with other runners/hikers?

[Char] At 3:30 AM it is pretty much you and whoever else is crazy enough to be out there! Later in the morning, we did encounter hikers coming up heading back to the South Rim. Not real busy and we never saw the pack mules.


EB: As you took your last step off the trail, what thoughts crossed your mind?

[Fred] Finally!!! There were no crowds applauding our exit or post-race party so the prevailing thought was to get out of the cold wind and back to our room.

[Char] I Thanked God that I made it!  My second thought? – I am taking this damn pack off!

Jennifer, Fred, and Marlee

EB: When you reflect on the experience, what are some of your strongest memories?

[Char] I am still in awe of the grandeur.  It is so much bigger than I ever imagined.  Experiencing this with Fred will always be a special memory for me.

[Fred] The enormity of the accomplishment. Flying back down North Kaibab Trail (a lot more fun than the upward grind). Sharing the experience with friends Jennifer and Marlee and my wife Char. All of us pitching in to help each other through various ailments and down patches, and having to say goodbye to Char upon her decision to turnaround at the base of North Kaibab and not realize her ultimate goal. That was heartbreaking, but definitely the smart decision.


And finally 🙂 … EB: What three tips would you share with someone interested in the R2R2R experience?

[Char] Read the reports posted by others that have done this.  There are also some really good write-ups on the Internet.  By a book or two.  It really is quite an experience but nothing to take lightly.

[Fred] It’s probably harder than you think, you have to get out the same way you got in–on your own two feet, and bring the camera.

What an adventure!

Special thanks to Char and Fred for sharing a glimpse (in word and photo) of this special experience in the Grand Canyon.

More info: R2R2R Resources (various links to information I had found for the Grand Canyon adventure)

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

2 Responses to “Grand Canyon R2R2R Experience: Char and Fred Thompson”

  1. on 19 May 2011 at 12:15 pm Dylan

    I did this about 2 weeks ago. I managed to make it the whole way but it was a beast of a run. As hard you think it will be going in, it’s probably harder than that. Coming from MN, the 105 temps in the canyon really took a lot out of my group.
    We even had one guy that had to drop at the North Rim.

  2. on 23 May 2011 at 11:06 am David Hanenburg

    Dylan – Huge congrats to you. As a MN guy myself (back in the day), I can understand the additional temp challenge.

    How did the guy at the North Rim get back to the South side?