Grand Canyon Packraft

Prelude edit: includes three minutes of scenery
Just the whitewater, please!

The Grand Canyon has never been on my trip wish list, mostly because I’m confused by it. Several aspects oppose each other. How can it be a wilderness experience if 30,000 people float through annually? How can it be the “Trip of a Lifetime,” when all of my friends get several invitations each year (granted, always in the winter). But mostly, I wasn’t very interested in traveling through wilderness with a ton of gear. I’ve been working to pull stuff out of my pack, not load more in. I’ve never done a big raft trip, but I’ve honestly heard more about partying in the Grand than about the amazing terrain. So, when Sarah Tingey sent an invite for a Grand Canyon trip, my first question was about raft support (“Nope”) and the second was about the party scene: “Hah! I think most of us were in bed by 8:15 each night last year!”

Like everyone else that has done it, I finished the trip totally impressed and looking forward to doing it again.

After complicated logistics for nearly everyone, we convened at the put-in: Sarah and Thor Tingey, of Alpacka Raft, Mike Curiak on hist 5th decent, Brian Blair with friend Josh Jacquot, Casey Orion, and the Alaskan crew, Tony Perelli, Becky King, and Shasta Hood. Our start date corresponded with the brief ‘government shutdown,’ but the State of Arizona funded rangers so that people could still raft the canyon. The ranger spent at least an hour going through our gear and explaining the regulations. The check-in process helped me understand how park management keeps the river and camps as clean as they do.

The canyon was immediately impressive, and stayed that way. My rusty geology brain tried to fire back to life, with limited success. Our pace prevented us from doing much hiking, but what we did do was wonderful, and I can appreciate the trips that take the time to do more hiking.

Nankoweap Granaries
The Little Colorado
Thor Tingey
Josh Jacquat, Brian Blair, Shasta Hood

The water was clean, green, which was an unexpected treat. The rapids became more difficult as we progressed down the river, giving us an opportunity to learn how the new boats (Gnarwals) handled, and to remember how to run big-water rapids. Somewhere in the “Roaring 20s” I concluded that the most important skill was being able to hold on to all your gear during a swim, and we were good at that. The options are brace, roll, or swim, and if your brace and roll suck (which mine did), then you are going to swim a lot. But the water is deep (won’t hit rocks during a swim), the holes aren’t sticky, and each rapid ends in a huge recovery pool. We were able to run the meat of every rapid, which was a wonderful surprise.

Thor Tingey
Mike Curiak
Mike Curiak
Becky King
Casey Orion, Brian Blair
Tony and Becky
Thor, Brian, Casey
Shasta Hood

Shasta Hood was the MVP of the trip. Shasta started college as a voice major, and continued with voice training after changing career paths. I take Shasta’s baritone for granted– an appreciated guest in bear country. So it was wonderful to watch everyone else get accustomed to Shasta’s booming melodies. The acoustics in the canyon were amazing, and it was exhilarating to hear Shasta behind me as a paddled into a rapid.

Shasta’s MVP status was locked in during his run of Lava, the most intimidating rapid on the river. After barely staying upright through two hard hits (the pourover and v-wave), Shasta completely stalled out on the crest of ‘Big Kahuna,’ slid back down into the trough and high-braced his way through an impossible 360-degree turn for a lateral escape. I had given him ~20 yards of space, and nearly forgot to paddle as I watched in shock as he stalled and nearly slid back into me. Check it out in the video.

Casey Orion
Thor Tingey
Tony and Becky in the Forager
Casey Orion below Lava
Brian Blair
Sarah Tingey
Casey Orion, Paddler’s Perspective

It was a wonderful group. We slept under the stars and a waxing moon. The quality of the rapids blew my mind. As promised, I got to go to bed at 8 each night and finished two books (1, 2). I was frustrated to miss so many roll attempts after feeling quite confident in the pool, but Thor, Mike, and Casey were nearly 100% with their rolls, which is really inspirational. I’m looking forward to putting more time into my technique, and I can’t wait for paddling season (four months away!).

Thanks to Sarah for the invite, Alpacka Raft for the amazing boats, Tom Wetherell (Suspicious Devices) for the firepan, and Ceiba for the shuttle.

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