The Rim to Rim to Rim Trail is a mesmerizing hike and a classic crossing of the Grand Canyon, one of the World's Seven Natural Wonders. Depending on which route you take, the trail can be anywhere from 44-47 miles or 71 – 76km. Mostly the Rim to Rim to Rim is started at the South Rim, either via the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail. From there, the hike takes you on an almost vertical journey down and leads you through beautiful scenery, along Earth's history, eleven layers of ancient rocks, to eventually reach the Colorado River! From there, you can climb back to the top via the North Kaibab Trail. And the beauty is that you will do this all in reverse again to end your hike up the South Rim via either the South Kaibab trail or the Bright Angel Trail. This trail will immerse you in the beauty of the Grand Canyon while being off the beaten track. Typically, the trail is hiked over a few days, just as Kyle and his friends did!
Are you as curious to hear Kyle’s experience as we are? Let’s dive into it!
*All pictures in this post are from Kyle's hike, thank you for sharing these with us to make the interview more alive and personal!
To start, would you be able to tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Kyle Thompson and I live in Charleston, Illinois with my wife, Chantel, and our two children, Ainsley (11) and Jack (9). We are a busy family! I am the Regional Superintendent of Schools for a seven county region in East-Central Illinois. It is an elected position that allows me to serve communities, school districts, families, and students in our rural part of the state. I have always loved sports/athletics, competition, and being outside. I spend much of my free time running, biking, hiking, and traveling.
How did your passion for hiking and the outdoors start?
I have always loved being outside. Whether it is 90 degrees or 20 degrees, I get outside whenever I can. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am not very good at sitting still or resting. We have a Lake Charleston trail system here in my small town of about 20,000 people. Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time hiking and running that trail with family and friends. Also, I have recently taken up traveling to and hiking in National Parks, most recently (before the Grand Canyon) visiting Badlands, Bryce Canyon, and Zion.
When we first came in contact, you mentioned that you recently hiked the Rim to Rim to Rim, what an amazing achievement! How was your experience on the trail?
My trail experience was incredible! Beginning to end, it was a life changing experience. The challenge that it presents with its elevation change, heat, and various terrains was part of the joy. It was very humbling. When we paused to look around, I was awestruck by God’s creation.
How did you discover the Rim to Rim to Rim and what was the reason to hike this specific trail?
I have researched Rim to Rim to Rim quite a bit over the past two years after connecting into some of the Facebook groups that pertain to hiking Rim to Rim (to Rim). I once read that less than 1 percent of the Grand Canyon’s visitors hike Rim to Rim, and even less return back to do it again. That intrigued me. It presented a physical and mental challenge that I wanted to try. As luck would have it, I turn 40 in December. I have never visited the Grand Canyon and I didn’t want to visit it like everyone else, I wanted to experience it for a few days. I pitched the idea to a group of adventurous friends and the rest is history.
The Rim to Rim to Rim crosses through the beautiful Grand Canyon – from the Rim to the mesmerizing Colorado River up the other Rim and back again! This trail certainly has its challenges, such as long climbs and descents and extreme exposure to the elements. How did you prepare for the hike?
As a regular runner, I did not do anything physically additional or extraordinary to prepare for the hike. The research I did provided me with the confidence to lead my group of friends on the adventure. I felt adequately prepared going in, and upon completion, there were only a few small things I may have done differently. I was physically and mentally ready.
Even though you had thorough preparations, did you come across any (major) challenges that you never would have thought about?
I don’t recall any major challenges that I had not thought about. The bridge to Ribbon Falls being down led us to improvise and find another path to the falls. There were a handful of times along the hike where we removed shoes and socks to cross the creek (or a water main break), but all unexpected challenges were manageable.
What surprised you most about the Rim to Rim to Rim?
There were long periods of time when my friends and I would go without seeing anyone else. The further we moved away from the rim, the less people we encountered, especially on the North Kaibab Trail. The various terrains were also a surprise as we walked in solid rock, pebble rock, dirt, grass, and even sand for a bit.
You hiked the trail with a group, and we would love to hear your experience on this?
Life is better with friends. I would not hike it any other way. I know it is possible to hike or run it alone, but to me, it would definitely be less enjoyable. I spent 4 days and 3 nights in the canyon with some of the best guys I know and I’ll be forever grateful they joined me. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Before starting the hike, you must have probably gone through your gear checklist a dozen times (yep, been there and done that). In the end did you take any gear with you that you eventually felt you could have done without? Or was there any specific gear that you wished you had with you on the trail?
Great question! Between the six of us, we were extremely well prepared as we coordinated many items so as to avoid traveling with anything unnecessary. Personally, I could have done without my sleeping bag. I didn’t need it while camping as the sleeping mat was good enough when it was 96 degrees at bedtime in late August. I had everything I needed for the hike, otherwise.
After this amazing achievement and crossing the Rim to Rim to Rim off your bucket list, do you have any other trails on your bucket list which you plan to hike in the (near) future?
I don’t have anything scheduled yet, but I wouldn’t mind returning to the Grand Canyon or hiking a 14er with my kids sometime in the next few years. I have also looked into the Inca Trail/Machu Picchu and even Mt. Kilimanjaro, so if I can put a group together for either of those in the next few years, I’ll do one or both of them.
For all those inspired by your story and experience on the trail, what is the one tip you would like to give them?
You can do it. Don’t let the confirmation email scare you once you obtain your camping permits. You can do it. Be sure to take the side hike to Ribbon Falls. It was the highlight of the trip.
Lastly, when our hiking-lovers want to know more and follow your adventures, where can they find you on social media (if you are, of course, happy to share this info 😊)?
After I joined the various Facebook groups (just my name, Kyle Thompson), I would occasionally reach out via Messenger to someone who had completed Rim to Rim to Rim or Rim to Rim with a similar itinerary. There were so many gracious people willing to help me plan and prepare for my own trip. I probably changed texts, emails, and even phone calls with a dozen individuals from all across the country. Thank you to those men and women who responded to my inquiries. I’ll be sure to pay it forward.
Kyle, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us, it was an absolute pleasure!
Thank you, Jay & Maud, for reaching out to inquire about my trip. For several weeks upon my return, I probably talked to somebody every day who asked about my Rim to Rim to Rim experience. I put about 100 pictures on my Facebook page (Aug. 31), along with a video (Sep. 9), if anyone cares to see the journey.
Do you have an amazing story about one of your trail adventures which you would like to share with the community? Please reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org as we would love to hear from you.
Jay & Maud