Thursday, February 4, 2010

Grand Canyon

Wowsers. In probably the best possible way to start the New Year, myself and Jeremie Drouin from Terrace BC flew to Arizona where we met up with a crew of Irish kayakers and paddled 14 days down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Ohh yeaaa!

After a few days of scrambling, including lost bags, people and brain-cells we drove to Lees Ferry on the 1st of January where we were to put on the River the following morning. Our outfitter for the trip was Moenkopi Riverworks and huge thanks to Brady and Kurt for getting everything all set and for the entertainment before putting on. Ever tried to light a rock on fire? Ask me about it sometime…

For the first day or so on the river we were still getting used to the daily routines but with James as the ringleader, we were a well-oiled machine in no time.

Typical day went as follows:
-breakfast crew up @ 7ish
-breakfast 8 ish
-pack up and on river by 9:30
-approx. 20ish miles paddling per day
-hit camp early evening
-dinner (we ate like kings)
-settle down for a beer or 10 around the fire

The thing that surprised me the most (other than of course being at the bottom of the Grand freakin Canyon) was how well we ate on the trip. This was my first raft supported trip and let me tell you, none of us went hungry. I’ve been on plenty of multi day kayak trips but it has always been carry-your-own-gear trips so this was great. Imagine paddling 25 miles thru unbelievable settings, surfing with your mates and dropping into massive holes throughout the day, and then sitting down to a steak and potato feast on a deserted sandy beach in the sun surrounded by mile high red canyon walls. Ahhhhh…. life is Good!

There certainly are some flat sections on the Colorado River, but when the rapids came they were big and pushy. Although some could seem a little intimidating, all the rapids were pool drop style so as long as a person has a confident roll and doesn’t mind a little down time, they wont have any problem. There were three of us in playboats on the trip (myself, Jeremie, and Declan O’Donnell), and the rest were in creekboats and rafts. We found a couple great surf waves during the 14 days on the river and almost everyone got a good hole kicking at some point on the trip. A couple drops that really stood out were Badger Creek Rapids (mile 8), Grapevine Rapids (mile 82), Granite Rapid (mile 93), Hermit Rapid (mile 95), Crystal Rapid (mile 98) and Lava Falls Rapid (mile 179). There were numerous others, but it would be impossible to list them all!

Instead of using the standard river rating system (Class I – VI), the rapids on the Colorado are rated on a scale of 1-10 with 10 the most difficult. Lava Falls is probably the largest rapid on the river and it is rated as an 8-10. Good times. The width of the river ranges from 76 feet (at Granite Narrows mile 136) to approx. 750 feet (mile 193), and the average width is approx. 200-300 feet. The river can reach speeds of 10-15 m.p.h. at the steeper rapids but for flat sections can move as slow as 3-4 m.p.h. In the 14 days on the river, we covered 226 miles and dropped somewhere around 1,500 vertical feet.

On top of running some juicy rapids, we also had the opportunity to do some hiking on our layover days, checked out Redwall Cavern mile 33, did some exploring and sketchy climbing up Tapeats Creek mile 134, and went swimming in the warm indigo waters at Havasu Creek mile 157. All in all, truly unbelievable trip and I feel privileged to have shared it with such a good group of people. Im sure as soon as this post is published I'll remember at least 18 more great things to say, but seriously, this trip beats all expectations and every paddler should have the opportunity to do it at some point in their paddling careers. In the words of Fran, “Ill be back for Lava!”.