May 11, 2011

Grand Canyon

My 2011 Grand Canyon trip began with an email I got while I was down in Antarctica over the kiwi summer. "Would you be interested in joining the Alaskan/Kiwi team on a GC trip in April?". Umm, is a seal waterproof... yep!

My daily beauty routine

Flash forward the rest of my Antarctic season, kiwi summer, Buller Festival and things were all on track. That was until I scored a nasty case of pneumonia two weeks before I was due to fly. Stink. The Dr's gave me 4-6 weeks to recover... Hmmm, not really an option. Ten days serious couch time had me fit enough to make the drive from Murchison to Mum's home on the farm. A few home cooked meals had me ready to tackle to flight to California. Check. Next challange, drive 1200km's to Flagstaff. Luckily I own the best 1990 Subaru Legacy in the continental US. Three red bull’s and a foot long sub later I pulled into Flagstaff 11 hours and 30mins later... Possum Bourne would have been proud.

Let the Grand Canyon adventure begin.

We teamed up with Ceiba River Outfitters for all our river kit. Six oar rigged rafts, four kayaks and sixteen folk made up our team for our three week, 360km journey down the Colorado.

The scene at Lee's Ferry was pretty funny. To the untrained eye it may have looked like we knew what we were doing, the reality. Most of us had barely sat in a raft, let alone rowed 300+km in one.

Our last hurdle before finally being set free was the mandatory ranger briefing. Yes ma'am, no ma'am, three bags full, etc.... and we were finally set free to cast off into the current and down stream…

With Lees Ferry behind us we drifted on down stream and began the slow transition into Grand Canyon time with the aid of a few tecate’s…(cheap Mexican beer).

Our first few camps were about finding our team groove with life on and off the river.

Strip the rafts of the all the group and personal gear. Set up the kitchen, sort out the hand wash stations, find a home for the groover (toilet) and you’re good to go.

Morning rush hour

As soon as that is all sorted its time to kick back and recover from the temporary hustle and bustle with a beer in hand. The nightly camp routine was to set camp and go and explore, take photos or just chill on the raft and listen to some sweet tunes.

We split our team of 16 into four cooking groups. This way you would only have to prepare a breakfast, lunch and dinner once every four days… good times.

Life on the canyon is governed by the rise and fall of the sun. Our early risers (Stefan the German) would be up at 5.30am and making the first pot of coffee. Breakfast was on the table (so to speak) by 8am. Rafts were then packed and we were in the current by 9am, usually just in time for the first of the mornings rays to hit the river. If the day was to be hot and mellow then it wasn’t uncommon for first beers to be making their rounds by 9.15am… bliss!

If the Canyon required a little more focus then we would have to wait until we made camp that evening, at 2pm. Such is the burden of life on the canyon. Start early, finish early and avoid the afternoon’s up canyon winds.

Most folk think the Grand Canyon is about running big white water. In actual fact it’s 200 miles of flat water mixed in with 26 miles of rapids.

Moonset Grand Canyon style

The Grand (or GC to it’s friends) is actually all about the side hikes (you don’t tramp or walk in America). Be it a full day, half day or just an exploratory scramble out the back of camp. The flora, fauna and geology make for amazing excursions from your temporary home on the banks of the Colorado.

There is always something different on offer. A steep scramble to an amazing view, a bouldery climb up a narrow slot canyon, critter hunting or gentle walk to an ancient petroglyph.

Our days on the water weren’t without excitement. Having never rowed and oar rigged raft meant there was a little learning, experimenting and figuring out how to move a 8ookg beast around the river.

In our 200+ mile trip we had one flip, a couple of surfs and two broken paddles. Not bad for a bunch of rookies… or so we thought.

No bueno Wayno's raft gets a rinse

Turns out our good fortune through collective experience was not gifted to others on the river.

I don’t know what day we hit bedrock rapid (thinking about half way because I only had six dozen tecate’s left) but we came upon a team that had wrapped one of their rafts. We you stick your 800kg raft on a rock in the middle of the Colorado you’ve got yourself a major problem.

We spent a few hours trying to pull it off using a bunch of mechanical rope systems but no luck. As a last resort Zak and I swum out to the raft and stripped it of all the gear so they could at least make camp. The team ended up calling the National Park Service who then flew in with a petrol winch system. All on the team’s dollar. Sucked to be them.

It was about then that we were thinking we had had ourselves an interesting trip… not so.

Lava Falls is considered ‘the’ big rapid of the trip for rafters. The stuff legend is made of. Some would even say that you haven’t rafted the canyon until you’ve run the right line on Lava Falls.

As we pulled into the right scout, a team was finishing their scout from the river left bank.

We had met them at camp the night before. They were a local team from Flagstaff and had all done between 2-24 trips each. Sweet, we get to watch the veteran’s run Lava. Perfect.

Jo Parson's (Riley?) boofing the bottom wave at Hermit

The first surprise came as the lead raft pulled left to line up the less intimidating shitty ‘left line’. At 16000 cfs (cubic feet per second) a lot of the rivers flow pushes dangerously to the very very big pour over in the middle of the river. They elected to play follow the leader, following the line of the raft in front of them.

Dan and Melissa keeping the bow down

Raft number one cleaned the line and was within a foot of the aforementioned very very big hole. The second raft didn’t make the cut and dropped squarely into the meat of the hole and proceeded to flip. The third raft managed to push far enough right and avoid the hole. Rafts four, five and six were not so lucky. They weren’t even paddling to avoid the hole any more. None of our team could believe their eyes. This couldn’t be happening. The seventh raft managed to make it through but the eighth raft suffered the same fate as most of the team, dropping squarely into the hole and landing on top of the two rafts being re-circulated in the hole, and flipping. Never have any of our team seen such wide scale carnage on the river… ever!


doing my best to keep things under control mid lava

The idea with Lava is to follow the river right eddy line into the top of the rapid. This will put you into the best position to the pull left and clip the edge of the really really big pour over hole in the middle of the river. This sounds easier than it is because getting ‘lost’ is an easy thing to do when you’re paddling at a dead flat horizon line.

After clipping the edge of the pour over you should hopefully have enough momentum to move further left and away from the BIG lateral (diagonal crashing wave). From here, square up as best you can for the two big V waves and then hit the bottom wave square as well.

Dropping into Lava could really only be described as chaotic. I could to run first and test our right line theory… After many hasty and corrective strokes the flagship made it to the bottom in on piece.

Despite the previous teams carnage, our six rafts and solitary kayaker (Mary) made it through relatively unscathed. Stefan the German decided to leave his raft part way through only to have his ballast, Haven, take the oars and finish the job.

Our celebrations were short lived as we made the call to push on down stream to help the other team.

Post Lava Falls life settles back down for the remaining days on the river. We made a point about drifting the riverscape as much as possible. Mile after mile of stunning scenery are on offer for lucky river runners. Amazing!

Doing justice to the GC just isn't possible. It is a must do for any outdoor enthusiast, even if you aren't that enthusiastic about the outdoors...

Permits need to be applied for during the month of February only. Make it happen.

Awesome things for the canyon:

· Lots of light beer. Larger’s are the goods. Tecate, PBR or even MGD’s will hit the spot. 12 dozen for 21 days = 6 beers a day. Perfect amount.

· Moisturiser. Life in the sun and sand is tough on the body.

· Sounds. I took a little battery powered Ipod system and it proved to be the best item ever.

· Makers Mark. Two bottles were enough, three would have been better.


Wayne Johnson said...

Wicked !

Anonymous said...

What the??? am I doing in Vaxjo. Happy some people enjoy Terra Mater! /Y