Thursday, August 18, 2011

Grand Canyon Round III: Winter Self-Support

One of the greatest things about the current Grand Canyon permitting system is the “follow-up lotteries that happen throughout the year to fill unclaimed and canceled launch dates. The closer the launch date gets, the less people apply for it and the odds of winning are much higher. The toughest thing about these follow-up lotteries is that when you win a permit for a launch, you have one day to pay a deposit to claim your date. That means you have to figure out if you can throw together the trip almost immediately or lose your chance.

Another rule of the permit system is that you can only go once per year. However, I had been lucky enough to organize two previous trips on the Grand Canyon a mere six months apart (within the rules because they were in different calendar years). My first trip was in December of 2009 and then again in June of 2010; kayaking both times and having oar rafts haul our gear. After completing two raft-supported trips in such quick succession, I decided if I got another permit I wanted to put together a kayak only trip. Little did I know, but the opportunity would come sooner than I thought.

In the middle of the morning on October 29, 2010, I checked my e-mail to find that I had won another launch permit, this time for Jan 5, 2011. Unfortunately the e-mail notification had actually been sent the previous day, so I had until that afternoon to make a deposit to claim my permit or lose it. After a couple of hours and a lot of phone calls, I got commitments from three friends; Mike Tavares, Leigh Knudsen, and Ben Karp. With little time to spare, I paid the deposit and claimed our launch permit. Within a few days Brandon Hughett would also join the trip, bringing our group to a grand total of five. With the permit secured and the group established, we all turned our attention to the many logistical challenges we would have to overcome to carry everything we needed, for 226 miles, and comply with the many National Park Service (NPS) regulations. With just over two months until our launch, preparations shifted immediately into high gear.

The length of the trip combined with having to carry the gear required by the NPS made creekboats seem incapable of the task before us. In the past I had paddled my Everest for self-support (for up to three days), but this trip was going to be seven days. Perhaps on a summer self-support it could be done, but in the heart of winter, I knew I was going to need a different boat. At 10’ 2” long, with a gear hatch on the back, and a drop-down skeg to help power through the flats, the Pyranha Fusion seemed like it was designed for this type of trip. Even so, my first attempt at packing everything into the boat was an utter failure. I trimmed down and reorganized my gear and tried again with better results, but still didn’t fit everything. I had already considered that I might have to secure one dry bag on top of the hatch, but that was a last resort. To my relief, on the third try I finally managed to fit everything inside the boat.

I had every intention of paddling the loaded Fusion prior to the trip, but just never found the time. When we slid into the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, it was my first time to paddle the boat and the first time my Fusion boat has seen water. As we left the put-in behind and made our way downstream, everyone’s boats were riding low and we were all trying to adjust to paddling the most heavily loaded boats any of us had ever experienced. We covered a little over twenty miles the first day and set up camp under the kind of amazingly clear skies that can only be found in the desert.

On the second day, we woke up, ate breakfast, and worked to pack our boats as quickly as possible, but it was a process that would take us until the end of the trip to perfect. We finally got underway and started downstream, enjoying the rapids of the “roaring twenties”. A few miles into the day, I was finishing a medium sized rapid and starting to eddy out to watch the rest of the group come through. As I entered the eddy and started to turn around I was swallowed by the swirling eddyline. From what I remember (and what the others relayed to me later) the freestyle show went like this: a full mystery move, resurfacing in a back ender, rolling up as my bow was sucked down, upside down again, carped another couple of roll attempts… and swam like a fish!

The swim itself actually wasn’t bad at all. My IR drysuit kept me dry and the eddy current took me and my gear right to a small beach. I emptied my boat and did my best to laugh off the swim with the rest of the group. However, as I got back in my boat I realized I was missing one thing, our map. Having paddled the Grand Canyon twice before with no problems, swimming was far from my mind and didn’t seem likely. On this trip I was continuing a bad habit I had started on other trips… paddling with the map in my lap, just under my sprayskirt. When I swam, I grabbed the drybag that was in my lap, but never saw the map.

On some rivers, loosing the only map, 30 minutes into the second day of a seven day trip would have been a major concern. However, my only real worry was making sure we were keeping an appropriate pace to meet our shuttle at the take-out on the correct day, but we did have several things in our favor. This was my third trip and Leigh’s second and we remembered the approximate mileage of some of the major rapids and landmarks. We also knew that because of our fast pace, we would be passing other groups who we could talk with to gauge our progress.

After finishing up the rapids of the roaring twenties, the rest of day two mostly consisted of paddling hard through a lot of flat water. By the end of the day, we had only covered around thirty miles, short of our needed average of thirty-three mile per day. Since we had only covered around twenty miles on the first day, our deficit over the first two days was now around fifteen miles. That night around the fire, there was some discussion that perhaps our planned seven-day descent was overly ambitious. Perhaps we would have to use our satellite phone to delay our shuttle. Perhaps Ben and Leigh would have to change their flights. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. The plan was ambitious, but I was still fairly confidant that the faster sections of the canyon, which were still ahead of us, would allow us to make up the mileage and finish on schedule.

Over the next four days, we paddled from around 9:00 AM until sometime around 4:30 PM each day and usually stopped for a lunch break sometime around noon. We were now moving much more quickly and efficiently, on and off the water. Some days we covered up to 45 miles, more than making up for our slow pace the first two days. By the time we set up camp on the sixth day, we estimated that we were only around fifteen miles from the take-out at Diamond Creek.

The following morning we quickly knocked out the remaining mileage and were busy unpacking and sorting our gear when the shuttle driver arrived with Brandon’s truck. We loaded everything and began the rough drive up Diamond Creek road, back towards civilization. As we started back towards Flagstaff, I couldn’t help, but reflect on the three distinctive trips I had made down the Colorado River in the previous fourteen months. Cumulatively between the trips I had spent three nights camping at Lees Ferry (the nights before the launches), thirty-two nights camping in the canyon itself, and thirty-five days paddling the Colorado River. It was a fun scorecard to add up considering that I had once thought of the Grand Canyon as a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing. Each of the trips was very different and each was fulfilling in different ways.

Our self-support trip turned out to be everything we had wanted it to be. It was challenging logistically to carry everything we needed for a week on the water. It was challenging physically to cover so many miles each day (especially in the limited daylight of winter). It also felt much more like a normal river trip because we got to run big rapids every day. The lazy pace of a raft-supported, booze cruise is also nice. However, I couldn’t help, but feel that the nature of our trip could be considered the most pure way to descend any river. Just five friends, hauling everything we needed in five kayaks. In retrospect, even the loss of the map added to my enjoyment of the trip. Instead to having specific campsites in mind and looking at the map all day to follow our progress, we just paddled downstream. Each bend in the canyon contained surprises for us and each day we had to find a random campsite and guess at our mileage.

At the end of my previous trip, I had wondered if I would ever paddle the Grand Canyon again. However, this time around, I knew that I would be back. As we left the canyon behind, I promised myself I would be even more diligent in monitoring and applying for future permits. The Grand Canyon is a place that is simply too grand not to go back again and again.

Until Next Time...

-adam goshorn

kayak session

Friday, August 12, 2011

Alabama Winter Update

As a longtime fan and occasional contributor of LVM, I was sad to hear it was going to draw to a close. However, all things must end at some point and now that LVM is no longer a business, I see no reason not to put the segments that I have contributed online for all to see. The following segment was originally filmed for and featured in LVM #35: Love Thy Self.

If you'd like to see more winter footage from these two runs, click HERE to check out the video Winter B-Roll, which is all the extra footage I didn’t use in the LVM segment.

Last winter Charlie Mix and I also filmed a cold snowy day on Little River Canyon and I put it together into a video Winter Weather Advisory, which can be seen HERE.

Until Next Time...

-adam goshorn

kayak session

Friday, August 5, 2011

Gand Canyon Journal: Round II - Summer

Photos by everyone on the trip, but mostly Joey Jarrell

Six friends and I awoke before dawn to float the last few miles to the take-out of the Colorado River at Diamond Creek. It was December 18, 2009 and it was the completion of my first trip through the Grand Canyon (see trip report HERE). Chris Gallaway produced a mini-movie about our winter 2009 trip and it is one of the segments featured in the new DVD “Coming Home” from Rapid Transit (see trailer and ordering info HERE). Less than six months later I found myself back at Lee’s Ferry about to spend another two weeks this incredible place. The following is my day-by-day record of our June 2010 descent.

June 12 - Departure
Joey and Emily departed from Atlanta in Joey’s car, while Vitaly, Shannon and I left my house in Alabama in my truck. We rendezvoused at a gas station outside of Memphis, Tennessee and continued to drive west all day, through the night, and onward in the morning.

June 13 – Flagstaff
We arrived in Flagstaff in the middle of the day and shortly thereafter were united with John, Amber and Leigh. Our eight person crew was finally together and we spent the rest of the day methodically completing the many preparations for the trip. We picked up the food containers and coolers from rental outfitter. We bought all the perishable food items and block ice for the coolers. We then took over a section of the grocery store parking lot and packed all of our food for the next two weeks. When the food packing was compete, we hit the town to celebrate the adventure to come and for a gluttonous “last supper” (Thai food!) before two weeks on river rations.

June 14 – Rig Day
After the inevitable last minute errands around Flagstaff, we were finally on the way to the river late in the morning. We arrived at the put-in at Lee’s Ferry in the middle of the afternoon and spent the next several hours rigging and packing the three, 18’ oar rafts that would carry our belongings for the next 14 days. That night we camped at the put in (river mile 0.0) excited for the trip ahead and ready to leave the logistical hassles behind.

June 15 – Launch Day - River Day #1
Time rarely seems to move slower than the last hour before the start of a big trip. Sitting through the orientation with the NPS Ranger is certainly one of those times. As soon as it was over, we hurriedly shoved off from shore with ear-to-ear smiles on everyone’s faces. Joey, John and I were kayaking and the other five members of our group we split among the 3 rafts. As we drifted downstream, passing under Navajo Bridge, I felt an immediate sense of relief at having jumped the logistical hurtles to make the trip happen and knowing that for the next 14 days we could all focus on the river and the canyon that surrounds it.

Our first river day we covered an easy 12.1 miles, including the first named rapids (Badger and Soap Creek). For everyone rowing the rafts, it was their first-time rowing and below Soap Creek Rapid it was clear they were impressed and a little intimidated by the size of the water. That night we camped at Brown’s Inscription (mile 12.1) and celebratory drinks and passing around John’s guitar kept us up late, just happy to be exactly where we were; in a beautiful spot with two weeks of adventure ahead of us.

June 16 – River Day #2
Day two was Emily's birthday and it also turned out to be the hardest day of the trip. We covered only 8.6 miles and encountered extremely hard headwinds and one of the most challenging raft lines of the trip. On my winter 2009 descent, high water had allowed our rafts to skirt House Rock Rapid and avoid the big holes on the left. However, at the low summer flow, avoiding the holes in the rafts was impossible and they were forced to run the meat. All three raft lines looked capable of producing a flip, but it was the third and final raft that got tossed.

Shannon was at the oars and Amber was riding in the bow when they entered the hole slightly sideways and immediately flipped. Luckily everyone, except me (I was videoing from above), was at the bottom of the rapid and could quickly jump into action. By the time I got in my boat, ran the rapid, and eddied out at the bottom, Shannon and Amber were safely on shore and the overturned raft was being positioned in the shallows. In less than 15 minutes we had the raft righted and decided to stay put and eat a leisurely lunch.

By the time we ate and got moving again, the headwind we had experienced in the morning had developed into the hardest wind I have ever experienced on a river. It was clear the rowing was going to be extremely difficult and we loaded all the kayaks onto the rafts so we could all help row. The rest of the afternoon I rowed constantly into the wind as hard as I could and made extremely slow progress. By the time we reached North Canyon Camp (mile 20.7) my hands were badly blistered and the groups spirits were at an all time low.

June 17 – River Day #3
Waking up on day three, we were relieved to find that the previous day’s torturous wind has subsided. We covered 23.3 miles through my favorite section of the canyon. Highlights from the day included Stanton’s Cave, Vasey’s Paradise, Redwall Cavern and the proposed site of the Marble Canyon Dam. The great scenery, fun rapids, and relatively ease of the rowing rejuvenated the group from the previous days perils and there were smiles all around that night camping next to President Harding rapid (mile 44.0).

June 18 – River Day #4
Day four we got started earlier than usual and quickly made our way to Nankoweap by mid day. After a quick lunch, the rest of the group hiked the steep trail up to the Nankoweap Gainaries while I dozed in the shade of some small trees. After their return we continued on the camp at Sixty Mile Camp (mile 60.2) bringing our total mileage for the day to 16.2.

June 19 – River Day #5
From Sixty Mile Camp it was a short float in the morning down to the confluence of the Little Colorado River (LCR). We were hoping that by arriving early in the day we might avoid the crowds while we explored the LRC, but even with our early arrival there were already two commercial trips at the LCR and another would arrive while we were there. The crowds were a far cry from the solitude I felt during my winter 2009 trip, but floating down the LRC in swim trunks and t-shirts highlighted the benefits of a summer trip as well. By the end of the day we had covered 16.3 miles and camped at a beautiful spot named Papago (mile 76.5) just upstream of Hance Rapid.

June 20 – River Day #6
Day six began with a short float and a long scout at Hance Rapid, one of the most technical rapids of the trip. Unlike most rapids in the Grand Canyon, Hance actually has a lot of rocks to avoid, but everyone made it through unscathed and we pressed on arriving at Phantom Ranch early in the afternoon. We all hurried up to the lodge and scribbled out a few postcards, then returned to the boats to top off every water jug we had, since it would be our last easy access to potable water. That night we camped at Trinity Creek (mile 92.1) bringing our total distance for the day to 15.6 miles.

June 21 – River Day #7
Day seven was the single day containing the highest number of large rapids. We covered 22.8 miles containing lots of classic Grand Canyon rapids, including: Granite, Hermit, Crystal, Tuna Creek, Sapphire, Serpentine, etc. We made camp at Upper Garnet (mile 114.9) which I had also camped at during my December 2009 trip.

June 22 – River Day #8
Day eight we packed the boats and made our way down to the beach just upstream of Elves Chasm by mid morning. Just like at the LCR, we were hoping by going early in the day we might avoid the crowds at this popular hike, but again, two commercial trips were already there. The result was that rather than enjoying the beauty of the place, I found myself standing in line with 50 other people all waiting to get up to the main falls and pool at Elves Chasm. Unfortunately, the crowd spoiled the place for me and made me wish we hadn’t stopped at all. By the end of the day we had covered 18.8 miles and camped at Talking Heads (mile 133.7).

June 23 – River Day #9
On day nine, John, Joey, and Vitaly awoke predawn and paddled kayaks downstream and across the river to the mouth of Tapeats Creek. They stashed the boats and began the long hike up the Tapeats drainage, then crossed over to come down Deer Creek, where we would meet them later in the morning. The ladies and I all slept in and then fixed a huge breakfast burrito bar and ate our hearts out. We took our time packing the boats and then began making our way downstream, stopping to retrieve the kayaks from the mouth of Tapeats Creek. Shortly thereafter, we passed through the narrowed point on the river (a mere 75 feet wide!) and proceed to Deer Creek Falls.

The timing couldn’t have been better. The hiking crew reached the top of Deer Creek Falls in time to see us rowing towards the beach at the base of the falls. They came down to join us just after we tied up the boats. Prior to leaving, we talked with some of the commercial guides who were with the other trips at the falls. They all told us they were planning to go to Havasu Canyon the next morning, which had been our plan too. However, we quickly decided that we should try to get to Havasu today to perhaps have it to ourselves. It was a good decision and when we reached Havasu about 6:45 pm, we were the only group there. We explored and enjoyed the canyon for about an hour before continuing a short ways downstream to camp at First Chance (mile 158.3), bringing our total mileage for the day to 24.6.

June 24 – River Day #10
Day ten started off a little slower than most days. We were pleased with our mileage the previous day and even with a late start we managed to easily cover 19.7 miles. We stopped for lunch at National Canyon and hiked up it about a mile to where it emerges from a tighter slot canyon. A commercial trip arrived at National Canyon for lunch as well and told us that they had planned to have lunch at Havasu, but it was so crowed that they couldn’t even get into the eddy and had to bypass it all together. It was disappointing for them, but we felt even more validated in our decision to go to Havasu late the previous day. After feeling crowded the whole trip, we had finally managed to miss the crowds and have Havasu to ourselves. The rest of the day we saw a lot of big horned sheep (more than the rest of the trip combined!) and camped at Above Anvil Camp (mile 178.0).

June 25 – River Day #11
Day eleven was a big one for our group. All of our rowers had been getting better and stronger throughout the trip and it was time for them to meet the Grand Canyons largest rapid. We took a long time to scout at Lava, but everyone finally worked out there planned lines and who would row each raft. Joey and John paddled through first (in kayaks) so they could be at the bottom in case we had a raft flip. The potential was certainly there for a flip, but one by one our three rafts came through with good lines and no problems. The previous ten days had taught them what they needed to know to pass this final exam!

From Lava we continued downstream to Whitmore Wash where we stopped for lunch and a short hike up to view some pictographs on the canyon wall. After lunch we continued to Fat City (mile 192.2) where we camped, bringing our total mileage for the day to 14.2.

June 26 – River Day #12
Day twelve brought a bit of a strange mood over our group. Everyone’s spirits seemed to have been dampened by the fact that we were past Lava and there were no more major milestones left between us and our take-out. We covered 13.5 miles so quickly, that we set up camp at 205 Mile Camp (mile 205.7) in the early afternoon, leaving us to cook in the heat for hours before the sun finally dropped over the canyon rim. However, it was also Joey's birthday, so we had to do a little celebrating as well.

June 27 – River Day #13
On day thirteen, another surprisingly fast 18 miles brought us within few miles of the take-out by early afternoon. With only a couple camps between us and Diamond Creek, we didn’t want to risk going to far and having to crash an already occupied camp. We set up camp at 224 Mile Camp (mile 223.7) early in the afternoon and for a second day in a row spent the rest of the day trying to move with the shade and struggling to stay cool. Our only solace was that we knew that we could easily make it to the take-out the following morning with plenty of time to sort and de-rig before our scheduled pick-up.

June 28 – River Day #14
We awoke fairly early on day fourteen, packed up, and proceed downstream 3 miles to the take-out at Diamond Creek (Mile 226). Our shuttle drivers arrived as we were working on the tedious task of de-rigging and sorting all our gear. With-in about an hour we were bouncing our way up Diamond Creek Road and back towards pavement, traffic, and everyday life. Our group spent on final evening together, beginning with a big dinner at Flagstaff Brewing Company and followed by a slideshow of photos from the trip.

June 29 – Departure
The next morning I awoke around 5:30 to drive John and Amber to meet the shuttle that would take them back to Phoenix to catch their flight home. Later that morning Joey, Emily, and Leigh would pile into Joey’s car and Vitaly, Shannon and I would load into my truck, for the long journey home. Rotating drivers we made good time and were back in Alabama by the following evening.

June 30 - Home
Our arrival home brought mixed emotions for me. I was glad to have safely completed another great trip and I was certainly looking forward relaxing for a few days. However, knowing trip was over and not knowing when my next adventure would be, brought on an all too familiar feeling. I momentarily felt it at Diamond Creek and managed to push it out of my mind, but it was a feeling that would return. Shannon and I jokingly call it P.E.D., Post Expedition Depression. Depression is probably too strong a word, but I can’t think of a better one to describe the downcast feeling that occurs after a big trip is over and I’ve returned to day-to-day life. I’ve talked to many friends and acquaintances that have experienced it as well. Maybe we just have a shared urge for travel, but it is something that seems to happen to many of us after a big trip and the only cure seems to be planning the next trip. So, I try to do at least two big trips a year, usually one in the summer and one in the winter. So the cycle continues.

Here's the video of our trip...

I had know idea at the time, but seven months later (January of 2011) I would be back at Lee’s Ferry putting back on the Colorado for a 6-night, kayak only, winter descent. Stay tuned for a report and photos from that trip in the near future!

Until Next Time…

-adam goshorn

kayak session