Earlier this year in September, when one of my best friends asked me to join a group of folks who were rafting down the Grand Canyon, I didn’t instantly jump at the chance. Stressed for money as I prepped Cat2Fold and my bank account for another winter spent sailing around Western Mexico, I needed to work as much as possible. As time passed, it became obvious to me that an opportunity like this doesn’t come around often, and when I thought about the chance to run the canyon on my paddle board, I decided that I really couldn’t afford NOT to go! Unfortunately, I would also need to buy a new, inflatable style paddle board, because my old fiberglass board was just about toast, and a trip down a river like this would surely end its’ life prematurely.
Without a lot of time to spare, I shopped online for a suitable board that was not too expensive, and could be shipped to me in time for the trip. It was hard to make the final decision, but I ended up with a Wakooda GT150. This board is 12’6″ long with a nice pointy and upturned tip. It also comes with a plethora of d-rings already installed around the upper edge of the board which come in handy for many things. I added a line around the perimeter of the board, through the d-rings that I could grab a hold of should I end up in the water.
“Should I end up in the water”…HA!!! With absolutely no river running experience, end up in the water I did! I fell, or jumped in the water at least 10, if not more than 20 times per day! Over the course of 20 days (I took one day off and rowed a raft), that’s between 200-400 dunks into the murky Colorado river! My first few days, my body was killing me! Super achy hip flexors, forearm and inner thigh chafing like you wouldn’t believe, and swallowing gallons of river water (mostly through my nose) had me questioning my desire to continue on aboard the S.U.P.
After the first week of adapting to this new sport, my body was feeling better and I was getting pretty efficient at pulling myself back aboard. Not only that, but I was starting to feel quite comfortable swimming through big rapids holding onto my paddle and the board. Yes, I swam through ALOT of rapids. Even the ones that I would make it through, I would often get thrown into the murky water when the huge boiling eddies and down currents would grab my board and try to suck me down! It’s hard to explain the power of these boils on the Grand Canyon until you experience them for yourself!
We were a group of 13 folks mostly from the Jackson Hole area with a few friends hailing from different parts of Colorado. There were 4 rafts (3 big 18′ rental rafts, and one 16′ Aire owned by the trip leader, Paul) and a couple of inflatable duckies, and my Wakooda S.U.P. The duckies would be inflated and deflated as the desire struck people to run with them or just be on a raft. My S.U.P was only deflated the one day that I rafted. A day with 4 large rapids that had my buddy Josh concerned for my safety. Having nothing to prove, and not wanting to make the group deal with an injury in this extreme environment, I gladly spent the day share rowing a raft with Dr. Brian.
Day after day, camp was set up and taken down. Rafts unpacked and re-packed. As you can imagine, it took us a few days to get our systems dialed, but after week or so, our team was a well oiled machine! Being in a National Park meant there were lots of rules for everything! Where to pee, brush your teeth, bath, wash the dishes, where to camp, etc… Leave no trace means hauling every last item that started the trip with us at Lee’s Ferry all the way down the 226 mile long canyon to Diamond Creek, including all the food that has been consumed and reintroduced into the world as shit. Yup, that’s right. You have to haul all your poop in rocket boxes with you the entire way. So, as 3 out of the 4 rafts were actively loosing weight throughout the 3 weeks, one raft was actively gaining weight and adding an aroma to the air that was not particularly desirable, with many cans of excrement cooking in the Arizona desert heat!
The rental rafts came from a company called Pro River Outfitters. Not only did they supply 3 of the 4 the rafts, they also supplied all of our food, recipes, menu, cookware, stove, tables, coolers, and water filter. And the food that we ate was nothing short of Amazing!! I highly recommend using these guys if you ever plan to do a non-guided trip down the canyon. In hindsight, since I drove nearly 300 beers back to Jackson in the back of my truck, we should have brought more booze and less beer. In fact, we nearly had a mutiny on day one when the non beer drinking half of the group voiced their concern (rightly so, imho) with the nearly 1600 beers we had stuffed into every available space on every raft making space a a bit tight… not to mention how heavy the rafts were. We did, however run into some desperate young men offering to pay us $5 per beer (all of it cheap yellow beer) during the last week of the trip. We didn’t take any money, but they did help us with our “burden”.
In camp, especially during layovers, there was lots to do. Forget the daily chores we all had to do, we had beer to drink, horseshoes and Bocci balls to throw, guitars to play, stories to tell and more hikes through mind blowing side canyons and waterfalls to frolic in than you can possibly imagine! Being on the river in the Grand Canyon for three weeks was like being on another world! Speaking of another world, check out this guys’ title…
“Dr. Brian M. Hynek- Associate Professor and Director of the CU Center for Astrobiology Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics Department of Geological Sciences”
Ummm…Yeah. So we had along someone who could tell us the geologic story the rocks were showing us, and the story changed everyday we cut deeper and deeper into the canyon with different rock formations appearing from different eras. Not only was he a great geologic resource to have along, he was a heck of a good time (as were most of the group)!!!
So, with a trip down the Big Ditch under my belt, I can honestly say that if you ever get an opportunity to get on one of these trips…GO!!! Do not be too busy, too poor, too scared, too distracted, not interested, etc… This trip was not officially on my bucket list of things to do. I chuckle now, thinking that I was almost that guy who was too busy and too broke and too distracted to go. And, as someone who has skied, biked, and sailed in some of the most AMAZING places on this earth, I am absolutely thrilled to have had the opportunity to go down the Grand Canyon. I would do it again in a heartbeat! And I would do it again on my paddle board (including the section where I took the day off). So, if anyone out there reading this is planning a Grand Canyon trip and you have spaces to fill, I know a strong, long, handy, smile wearing, guitar playing, energetic, paddle boarding, fun loving, adventurous dude who would add positive vibrations to any group out there.
ROCK ON! AND F@CK YEAH!!!!