Two Dudes, One Canyon: A New Hope

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Bright Angel Creek, running through Phantom Ranch

Day 3:

Breaking camp this morning was a somber endeavor, all the thoughts and worries of the night still swirling around in my mind. Once the boats were packed and ready to go, I told Dan to go ahead of me, I needed to stay back and send Charlotte some messages. The inReach Explorer I took with me uses satellites to relay the messages, sometimes you have to just be still and wait a few minutes for them to align themselves. The truth was also that I needed a moment to myself, I was going to tell Charlotte to just go hike and enjoy the Canyon, but not try to come down and camp with us that evening.

Needless to say, Charlotte was not happy about the idea of missing out on the experience of staying down at the bottom with us. She told me to wait until noon to make the final call, to just see how the day played out. This seemed reasonable, so I proceeded with that plan, a good bit relieved that defeat wasn’t set into stone like the walls rising around me. Let’s just see what these Stringers and two guys from Southern Illinois could pull off when the need arose.

I quickly got in my boat and then dropped the skeg and then the hammer. I caught up with Dan somewhere around Kwagnut rapid and told him the plan. If we could make it to mile 70 by noon, I’d tell Charlotte it was game on to come down. Otherwise, he and I would be continuing the boys club camping for the rest of the trip. With our 9 am start that morning, we could do this, I sure had the motivation, time would tell.

The miles were flying by and we reached the Little Colorado River after just a few hours. The Little Colorado River, or LCR, is a sacred place among several of the native tribes in the area. According to their lore, this is the place from which their people emerged from the Earth, the male LCR meeting the female Colorado and joining to create and give life to their people. There is a plan to develop this part of the Canyon and build an escalade capable of taking 10,000 people a day down to river level along with a restaurant and “boardwalk”. As you can imagine, most everyone who enjoys this place, hopes this will not come to fruition. Since the Navajo own the left side of Marble Canyon, which is where you are from Lee’s Ferry until this confluence, the only thing stopping this is them. Please help the “Save the Confluence” movement if you feel so inclined.

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The author taking a rare moment to relax

Up to this point, the river had been clean and clear, much like the Nantahala is when they are releasing from the dam. The LCR was running a very muddy brown during our stint in the canyon, most likely due to some snow runoff at the higher elevations. For the rest of the trip, we would have some chocolatey water, not the real “too thick to drink, too thin to plow” kind, but the clarity was gone. Without the brilliant aqua blues to peer at in the LCR, we floated on by, wondering what it might look like upon our next journey.

We stopped a few miles further downstream for our first break. I was trying to keep us on a tight schedule today, breaks would be strategic and timed, not purely leisurely like they had been until now. It was around 11:15 and we made it 15 miles, things were looking good. We got back in our boats after 15 minutes and kept the pace going.

When we hit mile 70 at noon, I was ecstatic, this was working. I stopped alongside the shore in this very wide open part of the canyon. It was a nice break from the sheer vertical and imposing walls of Marble canyon. You didn’t feel like you were in the Grand Canyon anymore when standing here, more like a river valley in the Rockies. The walls were still very much present, but more terraced and in the distance, not in your face.

I told Dan once again to go on down Canyon without me, it might take me a while to get these messages out and I could just crush the miles out sprinting to catch back up. Just keep going until you come to a rapid you don’t feel comfortable with is basically what I said. I sent Charlotte the message that we were making great time and we should be at Phantom Ranch by 5 PM. We would probably be there even earlier, but I wasn’t sure what it would be like with the bigger rapids towards the end, so I was a bit conservative with time as to not worry her.

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Dan being patient while I pour over the maps

With the messages sent and her replies of a mutual “We got this!” I got back in my boat, let out a little war cry, then pulled on that Twister for all she was worth. Times like this, when fully committed to the task at hand, when failure isn’t an option, fill me with the greatest feeling of power and resolve. They are one of those intangible gifts that kayaking has brought me, what inspire and keep me motivated when little else would.

I keep cranking out the strokes, knocking off the miles and enjoying the new scenery this part of the canyon brings. The floor of the Canyon is now lush green, with rolling hills and the sweet scent of the grasses filling the air, conjuring up thoughts of Ireland inside me. My mind and heart have lifted and it seems that the very environment I’m traveling through has changed to reflect that, I love it.

Eventually I get to Unkar Rapid, a sizeable 5-6 on the Grand Canyon scale, and no Dan to be had or seen. I route on down the rapid, looking at the banks on the way and trying to listen for a whistle, just in case he ran it and things went south. Nothing. I keep on cranking down to the next bigger piece of whitewater, Nevills, same ritual, still no Daniel. I crack a smile a little bit, I like what is happening here, my boy got his Mojo back!

Finally somewhere above Hance, Dan appears in sight again. After exchanging a few smiles and high fives, we make it down to Hance and scout. This one is definitely in the category of harder to run in an oar rig than hard boat. I think the most dangerous part of it was the scout down to the rapid, the trail was covered in thorny vegetation and cacti. These things just beg to put pinholes all over your gear, be careful!

After uneventful runs through Hance, we begin to approach the Upper Granite Gorge, the heart of the Grand Canyon. I was really taken back by the way the Vishnu Schist, the metamorphic remains of a 1.7 billion year old mountain chain, emerges from the Earth. The wide valley and green rolling hills I had seen begin to elevate, or rather you begin to dive down, and their underbelly is that beautiful black rock. Plunging into this gorge gave me chills, this is where the magic would be the strongest, the whitewater too.

Entering the Upper Granite Gorge was different than entering Marble Canyon for me, gone was the feeling of claustrophobia, here was the feeling of wonder and excitement. Within just a few miles we came to Sockdolager, a long chaotic rapid that you can’t scout because the walls are shooting up straight from river level on both sides. I quickly gave Dan the beta to just stay left and we enjoyed the roller coaster waves down to the bottom. Grapevine was the next rapid on the menu for the day.

Grapevine would probably go down as my favorite rapid of the trip, for a few reasons. Firstly, it is just a really, really long rapid full of standing waves and laterals, big water at its best. Secondly, I enjoyed it for the way I was able to “scout”.

There was a small bunch of rafts parked on the river left side above the horizon line, their occupants were perched some 30 feet up on the rocks, surveying the inevitable fate that lay before them. It looked like a good deal of hassle to climb out of a kayak there and crawl up the rocks, so I did what made the most sense to me.

I yelled up there at them as I floated along, “What’s the line?!” They looked confused for a bit, but realized some silly kayaker really was going to let them determine his fate. They yelled back “Right of center!” I looked back up at them, a group of young men maybe 5-10 years my junior and jokingly replied “You’re not f@#king with me are you?!” They all laughed while one of them replied, “Not that you know!” I smiled, gave a little nod to infer “Good enough for me!” and lined that boat up right of center and peered down her. Far right looked bigger than I should tackle with everyone standing on the rocks, so it would be a right to left charge down that frothy goodness.

I eddied out at the bottom and saw them give a few fist pumps in the air to match mine. I waited in a turbulent patch of water while they and Dan, one by one, had great lines. It was 2:30, we were at mile 81 and nothing that should give us trouble waited between here and Phantom Ranch, we did it!

An hour or so later, we landed our boats at the Phantom Ranch beach and strolled down to see what this place was like. Quickly we found the bathrooms, which were downright luxurious feeling at this point. The next item on the docket was to figure out the camping situation, which was looking to be more difficult than I originally thought.

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Stashing gear in our “secret” spot at Phantom Ranch

The plan was we would find a somewhat hidden/secluded section of the river through here to camp at, since we technically weren’t allowed to camp in this corridor being boaters. The search was proving futile when we finally came up with the only real solution, I was hoping that Charlotte was able to get the Bright Angel Campground camping permit and we could camp under the authorization of that. Technically we would be covered and not camping on the beaches, but I wasn’t sure if boaters were allowed to use this “loophole”. Time would tell and there was still the matter of Charlotte showing up.

It got to be 5 in the evening and still she hadn’t shown up. I got tired of just staring at the South Kaibab bridge, I told Dan, “I’m going up until I find her”….

-Raymond

 

Two Dudes, One Canyon: Darkness on the Edge of Canyon

Day 2:

First morning, waking up with just what you brought in your boat. After firing up the Jetboils, making some coffee and oatmeal, we started the boat re-load procedures. It was during this process that I really came to appreciate the simplicity of what I’d brought and how I’d packed it. Here is a quick breakdown of what I had and how it was stored:

Two Dudes, One Canyon: Gear Talk

Day two itself went on pretty well. The “Roaring 20’s” were loads of fun and seeing Redwall Cavern was quite nice. We walked inside to the back wall and took the cliché photo, then hung out there for a while on the rocks in the Sun. I was actually surprised it wasn’t bigger though. Recently I had traveled along Honey Creek in the Big South Fork Recreation Area and had completed the loop, which includes a massive sandstone cave. I actually thought Honey Creek cave was larger, or maybe just the scale of the canyon just made it seem that way.

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The classic Redwall group picture

After leaving the cavern, morale took a turn for the worse. It started when we were trying to find our position in the Canyon, which between Dan’s GPS watch and my book, we had been able to pretty much tell where we were up to now. My maps showed “Triple Alcoves” coming up and we thought we saw the alcoves just ahead. This led us to believe that we were making incredible time now. The stoke was pretty high for a good while and the mood was the best it had been on the river so far.

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Typical Day Two scenery

Those three distinct depressions present in the right wall we saw, were not the Triple Alcoves after all, that rapid we convinced ourselves was President Harding rapid wasn’t either. When we eventually got to a rapid with a giant boulder splitting the current, I realized we were wrong, like 9 miles and 1.5 hours wrong…

Upon learning of our error, we realized the miles and time to the camp we had hoped for that night simply weren’t going to happen. This crushed me pretty bad. We paddled on until a quarter ‘till 6 and then just had to call it. We were getting cold, light was fading, and it wasn’t going to do any good to stretch out a few more miles, the added stress would just make it worse. So, we made it to Dinosaur camp at mile 50 to end the day.

Quickly, I learned another important Grand Canyon camping lesson: rock shelves are awesome. Without rock shelves to lay out gear and bags, sand will make its way into everything. The first night on the Upper North Canyon, we had flat rock everywhere to sit things on, and very little sand got into things. This night I had to lay out my emergency tarps to keep the sand away, which was very inconvenient.

Night two was a quiet night at camp and Dan went to bed early. This night would be the worst night for me on the trip and probably the worst part of the whole Grand Canyon experience. For all but one night while out on the river, I never slept more than 3 hours. This night, I fell asleep around 10:00 PM, woke up at midnight and just stayed that way until 7:00 AM when I finally got out of bed. It was a horrible night, plagued with “what ifs”, second guessing, and trying to find the math that would equate to a good Canyon experience, but also would get us out of there on time. This was the second night now that I was overcome with doubt about us being able to pull this trip off, it was really getting deep down into my psyche now.

Sitting there in the tent, with my thoughts and the darkness getting the best of me, I even wrote a short poem in my head that, somehow, stuck with me.

                “In the night, that is where my demons await,
                Shackled by the darkness, I cannot escape,
                Tortured by the silence, I accept my fate,
                Here in the night, that is where the demons prey”

There is something I would like to state here about trips like this, something I think is very important, but often forgotten. The point of these adventures shouldn’t always be about having the most joyous and relaxing of times. Sometimes it isn’t until you are pushed way beyond comfort, up to the point of breaking, that you gain insights about who you are, what you are capable of and what really matters in this world. Just like with our bodies, which require breaking down of muscle tissues to grow and be stronger, I believe the same applies to our mind and soul. While you have to make sure that it doesn’t go too far, these trials should be appreciated in the fact that we will be stronger, more confident and hopefully wiser for the lessons we learn.

Beyond just trip logistics, there was a bigger issue weighing on me this night, that was Charlotte (my wife). She was going to hike down that next day to meet us at Phantom Ranch. I had to figure out how that could/would/should happen with our delayed progress. We were 38 miles from Phantom Ranch at the moment, a distance 25% greater than we were able to cover on day two, and there were these things called Unkar, Hance, Sockdolager and Grapevine that still stood in our way. Charlotte would be hiking down late in the day, with basically just food and a sleeping bag. Making this a loop would be a challenge at best with an early start, her “launch” time would have her at Phantom Ranch for the night regardless of whether or not we showed up.

I was torn about what to do, so my night was spent debating asking her to abort the mission or to risk it and put the potential harm onto her? It didn’t take long for me to realize the only real course of action would be to tell her to not try make it down. I’m no stranger to putting myself in harm’s way, going kayaking, often solo, down flooded rivers or class IV-V happens more often than the people who love me wished it would, but asking someone else to do something similar was just out of the question.

The night drug on relentlessly, but like they say, the sun will rise again. I hoped its arrival would shine some light on what I should do next…

Two Dudes, One Canyon: Gear Talk

Going on a 7 day self-support kayaking trip is going to be different than those 21 day raft excursions that are so popular. You can take that whole living like a king notion and having steak dinners and just throw them out the window or leave them in the truck at the put-in. Efficiency and “KISS” a.k.a. keep it simple stupid were the goals I was shooting for, outlined here is my try at that.

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Be sure to to do test packs at home before you go. You’ll get better at the packing process and have far fewer surprises and frustrations when out there!

Here is a breakdown of what I took, where and how I located it within the boat and finally thoughts on what I wish had brought and wouldn’t take again. I will start at the bow of the boat and work my way back to the stern.

  • 2 Watershed Futa dry bags in the bow, one contained a Mountain Hardwear Optic 3.5 tent and the other my clothing. Clothing consisted of a lightweight poly long sleeve shirt, one cotton sweatshirt, one fleece long sleeve shirt, one pair of cotton sweatpants, fleece gloves, down booties, and 4 pairs of socks/underwear.

The Futas are made to fit in the bow and these are items I wouldn’t need to access until camp. It was easy to unscrew the bolts on the footplate, remove it, and then pull the drybags out, allowing me to immediately get to the tasks of getting dry and establishing shelter. The Watershed Futa has a feature where it acts like a float bag, there is a tube with a valve with which you can inflate the bags. I on the other hand, chose to use this a vacuum function and stuffed them full and then sucked the excess air out. This allowed them to fit into the bow easier and with less friction, which combined with constant sand in the boat, helped me feel like the abuse on the dry bags was lessened.

  • 1 Watershed Goforth dry bag tote which functioned as my “miscellaneous” bag. It had the GravityWorks water filter, Jetboil Flash cooking system, 3 100g cans of fuel, an electronics bag with 16 AA batteries, battery powered USB charger, headphones and cell phone, headlamp, two plastic bags of oatmeal, two small bottles of Jack Daniel’s, a bag of instant coffee packets, breakfast waffles, bag of gummy bears, bag of assorted chocolates, oral hygiene kit, and my plastic silverware.

This sat in between my knees where the front pillar normally would go, which I left at home. It was nice to have a single bag that I could grab easily and walk away with and have the ability to take pictures, filter water, make coffee/food, etc.

The Groover acted as the rear pillar of the boat with the top and bottom of the rear pillar glued on it. It never had to be taken out of the boat with the manner in which I used it. I used “doggie” bags to collect my waste (lavender scented, which my wife was happy about) which I put into the Groover by hand…. This was well worth the inconvenience if you can stomach the process required. A 3” foam plug separated the waste from the tissue paper and hand cleaning kit.

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The Groover, shown here, acting as the rear wall.
  • 1 Sea to Summit 35L bag with my 35 degree sleeping bag, it went to the right side of Groover.
  • 1 mesh bag with 4 piece Werner breakdown, tent poles, REI chair, and Groover wrench, this was on the left side of Groover.
  • 1 Sea to Summit 35L bag with portable propane heater and Sea to Summit sleeping pad. This bag lived directly under the hatch opening of the Stinger.

Dehydrated food and orange tarps were simply stuffed into the stern wherever they would fit.

Food went as follows daily:

  • Breakfast: 1 Rip Van Wafel and one serving of Power Oatmeal. I would also make a packet of instant coffee following this.
  • Lunch: A Met-Rx protein bar
  • Dinner: A Backpackers Pantry Dehydrated meal with single serve chocolates or Haribo Gummi Bears for dessert.

Adult beverages: 2 pints of Jack Daniels Cinnamon Whiskey

I also packed a 7 servings of dehydrated mashed potatoes and dehydrated chicken. My original intention was to have this at lunch, but the way I felt while paddling and our time constraints led me to never touching this.

I was definitely in a caloric deficit for the entire trip, but this never bothered me. I had wanted to lose a bit of a weight on the trip, I think I might have accomplished leaning down. I’m a naturally warm person to begin with also, I never seemed to suffer from being cold due to my metabolism being slower.

For a safety backup to the signalling mirror and for a means of communication, I brought along an inReach Explorer by Delorme, now by Garmin. It was incredibly useful for maintaining communication with the outside world with its ability to text and send emails. There are going to be a range of mindsets about “disconnecting” while down there, but I really appreciated being able to let my folks know I was OK and the getting words of encouragement and affection from my wife.

My river kit consisted of the following:

LiquidLogic Stinger XP: The Stinger XP was a great boat for a trip like this, it has the features you want for overnighting out of and dealing with flat water and boils. I wouldn’t ever want to take a boat down the canyon in such a short time without a skeg. Think of the difference between a mountain bike and road, you get much better energy transfer with each stroke and it requires less effort to stopping lateral veer. The rear hatch was nice, but not very dry. In water as big as this, it will find its way into the hatch, there is just no way around that. Just make sure your drybag openings are securely shut and they are in good repair and you should be good to go. I won’t bother describing boat handling, once you put 40-50 pounds of kit in it, it will act differently than anything you’ve ever paddled.

Kokatat Gore-Tex dry suit: The standard by which all dry suits are measured. As gross as this might sound, I wore my unionsuit every moment for the first 6 days, it never got wet. I wore the same socks for the first 3, they never got wet. Make sure you wear neoprene socks over those booties, that will help keep sand damage to a minimum.

G’Power Twister Sickline w/Qnect: Hands down my favorite piece of gear. This is a Polish slalom paddle designed to handle the rigors of creek racing, i.e. Adidas Sickline in Austria. It is a bit aggressive in its handling, requiring a forward stroke with good technique so that it doesn’t bite you back. The best thing though is the Qnect system, this allows you to make it a two-piece, adjust the feather and even adjust the length. Mine was setup with a length of 197 when fully closed and goes up to 202 safely when asked of it. When I would think to do so, I would set the stick to 200 and really appreciated the extra power and leverage.

Check out TCGSport’s online shop if interested in these awesome sticks

G’Power Twister Sickline at TCGSport

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The unique Qnect adjustment system from G’Power Paddles

Rounding out the gear were the standard Astral Green Jacket, Shred Ready Standard helmet and IR Klingon skirt.

In the end, I brought too much food. Doing so much paddling, I found I never was very hungry during the day. I wound up bringing about 7-8 meals worth of food back home with me. I also never truly needed the heater I brought, but it was nice to have psychologically, just knowing I could get warm if I wanted to.

I really wished I had brought a sponge and a copper/steel mesh bag. With the way the hatch leaked, it was hard keep to keep the water from filling up the boat. As one can imagine, draining a boat this heavy is not an easy task and you don’t want to paddle with any more weight than you have to.

Having a steel/copper mesh bag would have been nice too, from a pest control standpoint. I wasn’t sure sometimes if the rodents or ring-tailed cats were going to destroy my drybags or not and hanging them up on the shrub like trees was very difficult.

Remember to take quality gear down there, once in, you ain’t coming out of there for a while and you don’t want a tent, sleeping bag or a drysuit full of water. Also practice that packing ritual over and over before hand. Every moment you are trying to solve the puzzle of where and how something will go in your boat is a moment you could be playing in Deer Creek falls or hiking up a side canyon!

 

 

Two Dudes, One Canyon: “We got this! I think we got this….”

Day 1:

First night of the trip was spent getting food at Marble Canyon lodge and camping alongside the river, just downstream of the launch ramp. We setup everything on this cold night, in the dark, awaking with frost on the tents and all the gear. It was peeking out the tent, this morning, that I saw the Colorado River for the first time.

After a few minutes of packing up, NPS Officer Pressey approached us and began discussing the inspection/orientation procedures. A quick breakfast was had, I even took a work call and helped our retail store out with an issue on my computer, packed camp and on down to the ramp we went.

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“Raymond, can you restart the Point of Sales server?” -Outfitters Store Manager “I’m at Lee’s Ferry, about to launch for the Canyon! ….give me a second….”

We laid out all of the required pieces of gear she needed to see; firepan/fire blanket, spare PFD, signal mirror, orange tarps, spare paddle, food strainer, hand cleaning system and “groovers”, or human waste management systems.

Following this was a 30 minute talk about Canyon decorum and “how not to die”. Dan and I, both having been river guides, knew the kind of speech well, it was quite similar to the speeches we have given hundreds of times to guests, but with a deal of Leave No Trace added in. It was after she finished and said “Good luck!” that I had one of the more nerve racking moments of the trip.

Dan had never fully packed his LL Stinger XP and he was figuring out how to do it on the spot. At least the truck was still here should he come to realize the volume of the Stinger was less than the combined volume of his gear. It took an hour or so, but finally around noon, it pretty much was all in there one way or the other, with a little bit strapped on to the top of the back hatch. First hurdle of the trip down, but with enough kit and food to do a 3 week trip, I hoped he wasn’t floating at armpit level!

At this point I was chomping at the bit to make some miles. This was the Colorado we were on and this was the Colorado through the Grand Canyon! Kayakers know there are many more intimidating places to boat; Stikine, Yarlung Tsangpo, Susitna, Congo etc. but I would argue amongst the masses and the non-lifestylers, this is the most fabled piece of whitewater on the planet. I knew I had prepared more than most who have done this and my whitewater ability far exceeded what was needed, but still, it’s the Grand Canyon and you don’t know until you KNOW.

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Lee’s Ferry launch ramp

After a few miles we approached our first bit of a horizon line, a rapid not even listed in the guide book. I drifted towards the lip, quickly spotted a wave train down the left and just proceeded on down, not thinking much of it. Dan was a bit behind me, maybe a couple hundred yards and I expected he would make the same quick recon that I did and be down here shortly below the rapid. I was surprised when I saw him out of his boat.

Over the years of paddling in the Southeast, the Cumberland Plateau and I have become great friends. The Canyon Lands of east TN are a very familiar place to me and I’ve ventured down many of the ripples in the fabric of the land they make. I believe having done this helped tremendously in boat scouting rapids like this, Dan however, isn’t nearly so versed in the pool drop nature of Plateau country and the horizon lines they bring. Had I not spent so many days out on the Big South Fork, Caney Fork, and Island Creek and so on, I might have been on that shore with him.

Following a 15 minute scout, he chose the line I that was trying to describe with hand signals and met me at the bottom. Quickly I learned that I would need to help him decipher these puzzles until he became better versed in the game.

We got to Badger shortly after, the first real rapid down there and both of us were at the horizon line. I peered over the edge, saw a left to right line that looked good and went for it without getting out. My logic was that he would see my line, get the drift of what needed to be done and we’d be on our way. At this point, that wasn’t working yet. He got out and scouted again and 20 minutes eventually found his way down to me.

At Soap Creek rapid further down the line, we both got out and scouted, I hoped maybe that would help save some time if we discussed it together versus him scouting alone. It might have been a little bit quicker, but it was still 15 minutes or so.

I detail all of this out because it points to a very important aspect of a trip like this. You have to make it downstream; aborting isn’t really an option, portaging really isn’t an option and you are on a deadline. Time is a very valuable and finite resource, you don’t just get more of it. As the trip leader, I’m running calculations in my head the entire time, such as current speed, time needed to break camp, time needed to pack boats, to rest, to scout. It was early in the trip, data collection was still limited, but early conclusions led me to begin to worry. At the end of day 1, we had only made 20 miles and we only had 6 more full days to get down to Diamond Creek, 206 miles downstream. Tomorrow we would tackle the “Roaring 20s”, one of the more continuous stretches of whitewater on the river and as big as anything we paddled this day.

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Dan, unpacking his boat and setting up for his first ever kayak over-nighter. He went big for the first go around.

Camp that night was fairly quiet, it was a nice spot on North Canyon. I think Dan fell asleep almost immediately, but for me, it was the beginning of a frustrating occurrence. For all but one night on this trip, I would get less than 4 hours sleep a night, sometimes as little as 2. Laying in the dark, surrounded by the immensity and gravity of a place such as this, with my mind unable to relax, proved to be my greatest challenge. It wouldn’t be the chaos of the rivers rapids, but the chaos of my own mind and thoughts that I would be tackling the hardest.

-Raymond

Two Dudes, One Canyon!

In January of 2016, I randomly applied for a Grand Canyon permit, with no real plan or thought about how to do it at all. I figured, for $25, it would be a cool option to have at the least for the upcoming Winter. I knew that the Winter dates were the easiest to come by, so that is what I applied for.

Less than 10 days later, an email came in saying “Congratulations!”. Then it was “Oh, I really might have to do this…”. My first thought and the thought that always came to me about GC trips was that I never wanted to do it without Charlotte. It just seemed too…grand of an adventure to not have the memories shared with her. So I started plotting a raft trip.

Quickly I realized that the time frame of 7-10 days I wanted to do this trip in was not going to happen with rafts, so the plan quickly switched to kayaks. Just as quickly as the planned changed, so too did my thoughts about my class II-III capable kayaking wife going down as well.

When talking to folks about the difficulty of the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, you get a very wide range of opinions. To hear some, you’d think it was the Nantahala or Big South Fork, others were looking at me and saying they wouldn’t take anyone besides a big water Class V boater down in Winter. I just kept thinking, well which is it?!

This is also a time to mention one particular caveat of this trip for me, that is I didn’t want anyone on the trip who had ever been before. I was included in this criteria, I hadn’t in my life even seen the Colorado from a car, overlook or hike. The first time I would actually see the river was waking up the morning of our launch date at Lee’s Ferry and looking out my frost covered tent.

Just like the various opinions of the difficulty of the whitewater, people have had various opinions on my desire to go down with no more than a guide book and 5 senses. I can understand the different thoughts about the matter, we each have our own appetite for risk. For some the certainty of knowing the person telling you what to do or whom you are following has done this very thing before is quite comforting and necessary. I didn’t want to go on this trip to feel comfortable or coddled.

I wanted to go down there and test my own skills, experience, judgment and mettle. Not ride the coattails of someone else and rely on what they brought to the game. This was going to be MY game…well with the help of things like a very detailed map of the river, satellite technology and modern boating equipment. I was never going to be John Wesley Powell, but I was certainly going to make this more than a long trip down the Ocoee.

In the end, Charlotte ended up changing course for the trip, we found another inventive way for her to share in the experience. It would just be myself and Dan Keith, one of my best friends and a guy who helped get me going in WW kayaking.

A crew of two it would be then…Two Dudes, One Canyon!

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Test run of my overnight setup on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland