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Seven Days Self Support in the Grand Canyon

Why is kayaking through the Grand Canyon so special? Here are a few reasons: the sky is bluer, the stars are brighter, friendships are stronger, laughter is louder, the shade is cooler, the sun is warmer, the river is larger, the waves are taller, the holes are bigger, the breeze is stronger, the hikes are steeper and the flow is faster. The list is endless. Plus, the scenery will blow your mind!

The Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyon is an amazing place. 225+ miles of desert canyon wilderness await you. Paddling the Canyon is a pilgrimage for most. You are always a bit different after reaching the take-out. Your muscles may have gained strength, but your conscience comes away a bit humbled. A Grand Canyon trip is full of wonder.

I just completed my eighth journey through those immense canyon walls. Every trip has been a wonderful experience. For me, nothing demonstrates our place in the world as well as a Grand trip. When you’re in the heart of the canyon, a vertical mile below the rim, you get a glimpse of the big picture of our world. Surrounded by layers of sandstone and limestone 5,000 feet tall, that have all been systematically deposited, puts time in perspective. To really understand the grandness of the world, travel a mile deep.

On a past trip, a geologist joined us. He offered a daily lesson. He taught us about the Great Unconformity and the uplift of the land as the river carved out the canyon. He spoke of the lava flows that probably created a 1,000 foot waterfall. Standing at the base of a cliff he got really excited and called the whole group over. We were standing in front of a 150 foot tall face of limestone. The limestone had a horizontal layered pattern to it, much like a flat version of tree rings. The layers were about an inch thick. He explained how each layer had been deposited annually when this was a shallow sea floor, one layer on top of the other. Keep in mind, we are over 5,000 feet below the rim at this point. It was hard to imagine the 5,000 feet of rock above us had yet to accumulate. As we looked at the polished layers of limestone he pointed out a layer that was broken and chundered. The layers below and above this chundered layer were smooth and even. As he pointed to it he told how this was likely from an ancient hurricane. When that specific layer was deposited, this was the floor of a shallow seabed; a hurricane passed through and damaged the shallow ocean floor. Afterwards, centuries of layers of limestone were smoothly deposited on top. Eventually, another 5,000 feet of sediment was deposited on top of that. The canyon is one of the few places on earth where you can see the magnitude of time, represented by the slowest and the most dynamic processes.

The philosophical thoughts a Grand trip provoke must be saved for the night hours. Daylight is filled with hiking, cooking, packing, scouting, paddling, exploring and constant smiles. There is nothing like bombing through a big rapid with all of your buddies surrounded by such amazing beauty. Or, going on a side hike and finding a waterfall you never knew existed. Every second is an adventure. Every rapid, every side canyon and every view offer sensations that are unique to the Grand.

We launched on December 17th and finished on the 23rd. We paddled kayaks with no raft support. Seven days on the water and we still managed many of the traditional hikes: Silver Grotto, Redwall Cavern, Nankoweep Granaries, Buck Farm Canyon, Phantom Ranch, Deer Creek Narrows, The Throne Room, Elves Chasm, Fern Glen Canyon, Matkatamiba and Havasu.

Our trip was during the shortest days of the year, so daylight hours were packed full of action. At night, telling stories around the fire, watching shooting stars and learning the constellations kept us busy. Pegasus, Perseus, Gemini, Aries, Andromeda, Auriga, Cassiopeia and Orion floated overhead.

There are a million reasons why kayaking is so special. Trying to describe these reasons to someone who doesn’t paddle can be difficult. Fellow paddlers need no explanation. We already know the wonderment of kayaking that is difficult to describe with words. A Grand Canyon trip is the same. The Canyon is amazing for a million reasons too. Go and experience it for yourself. Paddling the canyon is a must for all whitewater kayakers who enjoy camping.

Leave the rafts and fancy meals at home. They seriously cut into your adventure time. Pack your camping gear into a kayak and you’ll enjoy the trip much more. Plus, being self contained is so rewarding. Try the Jackson Rogue. It will do the job for you.

Off season trips are the best. Avoid the heat, motorized rafts and crowds. October, November and March are ideal months for a self support trip. The weather is mild. Pick up a copy of Tom Martin’s “Day Hikes from the River” to help plan your trip. The kayaking is great, but the hikes are just as much fun. You’ll see lots of Big Horn Sheep, Ring Tailed Cat and maybe a Condor or Bald Eagle or two.

Self Support trips are inexpensive, easy to plan and more enjoyable than raft trips. You can easily cover the miles without rafts involved. A ten day trip would be perfect.

So, apply for a launch date with the park service, shove your camping gear in a Jackson Rogue and enjoy one of the best multi-day whitewater trips in the world!

Jeff West