Arrive at Lee's Ferry, inspection, preparation
For 150 years, the Grand Canyon has been a symbol of adventure. Almost anyone who paddles a boat on rivers has dreamed of taking theirs through the intense rapids and idyllic backdrop of the grandest of canyons. In January 2016, I got my chance. Most trips take 3 weeks from start to finish, and float in relative comfort on large rafts with abundant supplies. Our crew, however, would take less than two weeks and carry only what we could fit in our own kayaks. 13 people, 13 small boats, 13 days, 280 miles. Curtis England was the permit holder and mastermind of this trip. Big thanks to him for rallying the crew and leading the charge!
Stoke was high during our prep day at Lee's Ferry, the launch site for Grand Canyon river trips. Packing and repacking, ranger inspection, repacking again, and finally taking some time to relax as a prismatic sunset poured over snow-capped cliffs and still water. As the day closed, we couldn't wait for what the next would bring.
Our crew set out to take on the rough river through Grand Canyon, living on only what we could stuff in these boats. We would have huge rapids, cold nights, rainy days, sickness, and fatigue, but also sunshine, laughter, thrills, campfires, and the trip of a lifetime.
Floating under Navajo Bridge was like exiting a monumental gateway, leaving civilization and steel for wilderness and water. We didn't know exactly what lay ahead, but we knew we were going to love it.
Thanks Loreah Winlow for photographing this stage of the journey.
Getting broken in
We made our first pyramid inside Redwall Cavern at river mile 33, which was our lunch stop on day 2. This iconic landmark perked our spirits after a tumultuous night and morning. Heavy rain in camp got us all wet on our first night in the canyon. Then we had a few out of boat experiences as the crew adjusted to paddling heavy boats and big water. So what to do? Saddle back up, down your booty beer, laugh it off and keep going. Go team!
On Day 3 we were jolted awake by the sound of rockfall close to camp, as the Grand Canyon apparently got a little bit bigger. Moving on with the day and many more miles paddling, we visited the famous Nankoweap granary ruins, then the Little Colorado confluence, which was blue as could be. We all played and giggled like little kids.
This day had some significant rapids as well, but we were getting to know the river better and dialing in our technique. Big rapids were becoming more fun than than difficult.
More mind blowing
Day 4 highlights were a dawn hike to Hilltop Ruins and Unkar Overlook, not to be missed if you camp at Carnedas along the Escalante Trail. Hance was the big rapid of the day, and a few of our crew found spicy lines, but all ended well.
This was a short mileage day, finished with plenty of time for a relaxed side hike up Clear Creek.
Pictured here is a contorted waterfall that drops through the Vishnu Basement Rocks, granite layers that have been transformed and weathered for billions of years and are some of the oldest exposed rocks on Earth.
Big Rapids Day!
All the rapids in the Grand Canyon are big, but one section deals particularly rowdy and technical obstacles: Upper Granite Gorge, the deepest part of the canyon where you are nearly one vertical mile below the North Rim.
One of these, Granite Falls, really put me in my place. I was feeling like a boss after stellar lines earlier in the day, but the big lateral waves on Granite's right side turned me around and smacked me down hard.
Alex bucked up and went first, showing us all how it's done by charging those huge waves!
Day 6 was a marathon day. 26 miles on the river, with fantastic rapids called "The Gems," hiking in the narrows of Blacktail Canyon, and scrambling into the waterfall in Elves' Chasm. But this was the roughest day for me. I was some kind of sick the whole trip, and Day 6 was the worst. Because of events I won't detail, I had been up most of the night before, which was also the coldest night of the trip so far.
Paddling and hiking were exhausting, but I could never deny how lucky I am to be here, and how happy I am to be kayaking the Grand Canyon, no matter how miserable I feel at the moment. Though I'm not sure I joined in on our team's recurring "best day ever!" cheer that day.