Within the first few days of joining the ranks of amateur river rat, a.k.a. raft guide in training, I had heard about the Grand. And the stories continued to grow for a number of years until I put it out of mind as too long, too much rafting, not enough class V, blah, blah, blah, but even then I knew that these were mere excuses for not getting invited on a permit that would work. Then I had kids and I just kind of conceded that I wouldn’t go until they were old enough to come along.
Then the permit system changed for the better and all of the sudden I was getting invitations. But in a twist of karmic retribution, some of the excuses had become reality. The time off needed was too long, even for the self/semi-employed, and it still kind of sounded like A LOT of flat water.
Through the years I had heard about a different way to see the Grand. One that seemed more appropriate for a paddler of my persuasion. Pile everything into a kayak and forget about the rafts. There was always a lingering doubt though how awesome that would be, since it seemed like an exercise in getting down the canyon as fast as possible paddling a sea kayak. It sounded like fun but almost a waste of the permit. If I only wanted to spend five days out, I could do any of the Idaho classics and do it without paddling 200+ miles of flat water.
Then I saw some pictures of the Remix XP/Boyce Greer inspired trips. Woody couldn’t say enough about the experience and it was to become an annual sojourn. Two weeks on the water with all the luxuries you could want all wrapped up in a crossover boat that can store it all and run the good whitewater with ease.
I badly wanted in now, but again the timing just wouldn’t quite work out. Finally, WSR co-author/amigo de kayak Kyle McCutchen and his lady friend scored a permit. Yes, it would mean missing Thanksgiving with the family, but I eventually got the go ahead for the trip of a lifetime.
The foundation of modern day river running can in many ways be traced to John Wesley Powell’s expeditions down the Green and Colorado Rivers. The spiritual epicenter for the native peoples of the southwest can also in many ways be traced to the Colorado River. For many tribes, their ancestors are believed to have originated in and around the Grand Canyon. It is at this intersection of ancient faith and modern day river exploration that a lucky few find themselves coursing one of nature’s finest temples fondly referred to as The Ditch. After a trip through the canyon I do have the distinct feeling of being one of the chosen ones.
It’s a place where cultures and values collide, from dams versus wilderness to early European settlers versus native tribes. This collision of sorts is played out across the landscape and across time, and though the canyon bears the scars of these battles, its significance and sanctity remain. From the clear water put-in, on over 20,000 cfs, in November, to the reservoir scarred landscape below Separation Canyon, the river did not hide its influences by man. Instead it embraces them and encourages visitors to look deeper into its history and understand its role in the civilizations that have inhabited the area, including our own.
All of the sacredness truly does remain. Spiritual vortex or not, there is no question that the canyons numerous springs and oasis’ provided some of the most habitable and stunning environments in all of North America for native people. The longevity for which human life has thrived in the area is palpable. The air you’re breathing just seems to be filled with the spirits of an ancestry that goes back possibly to the dawn of humankind as we know it. Waking up on an expansive beach deep within the canyon brings an excitement that only the promise of a day full of playful big water rapids and exploration of wild places can. Every night by the firepan is encircled by an endless sea of stars framed by the jagged edge of the canyon rim. The whiskey tends to flow freely.
The rhythm of river life takes over and the ritualistic packing and unpacking of your boat becomes a dance all its own. Especially if you bring an iPod and one of those fancy waterproof boom boxes. The self-support dynamic is something I’ve grown to long for between wilderness excursions and the Grand is the longest I’ve been lucky enough to sustain the feeling. One or two nights in the Clarks Fork Box will forge an unbelievable trust and bond of friendship in people you barely know, but two weeks in the Grand breeds a surreal closeness that captures the imagination.
What if all the nature haters I’ve known in my life were forced to spend two weeks on the Grand? Would they come out changed people on the other side? OK it might take a month in rafts cause most nature haters don’t kayak, but the Canyon makes you see things from a different perspective. The raw power of nature’s scalpel, to shape and forge the incredible landscapes hidden within this Grand Ditch is mind blowing. It’s impossible to capture, but these photos are my attempt to bring something home with me. To remind me that powers greater than my own, greater than all of man kinds combined, are out there, are right here, and that no amount of indoctrination can hide them in a place like this.