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I’ve had a dream of kayaking the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon ever since my first year of paddling in 1996. Eighteen years is a long time to wait for something and over time my dream morphed from simply wanting to be invited on a raft trip, to maybe taking a play boat and surfing my way down the river. Eventually that dream became a larger than life quest for a really pure experience: something really worth the wait. I decided that there was no doubt any of those methods of river travel would offer a great experience, but honestly, I wanted to do the canyon with a pure and simple style. By style I mean avoiding all the chores of a normal trip with fancy meals and all the luxuries a raft can afford. I wanted to be responsible for myself, to travel light and fast. I wanted to be committed to the canyon in the hopes of a fuller experience: something worthy of my 18 year dream….

After my best season on the river in both freestyle and creeking, I was focused on raising my personal bar as a paddler. I was feeling really strong and having a blast in my boat. After a great day on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon with my wife Kathy and daughter Abby I got a call as I was headed into a restaurant for dinner. It was my friend Susan Cherry with an excited tone to her voice. “Peter do you still want to self support the Grand Canyon?” she asked. She went on to explain that her friend Ben had a permit and they were planning a one week paddle through the canyon in February. Susan and I have talked many times over the years about this type of adventure and I lit up at the opportunity. Decades ago when I was just a kid, she was the river office ranger in the Grand Canyon and loves the canyon more than anyone I know. Doing a trip with her like this was going to be very special and I quickly said I wanted in.

Over the next few weeks there were many conversations and our group settled in at six people all committed to paddling the 279 miles to from Lee’s Ferry to Pearce Ferry in 13 days: the perfect route taking me all the way through the canyon including the last 50 miles of the lower canyon that many don’t get to see.

As a group, we debated which boat to take but after a group demo of the Jackson Rogue, the choice was clear. The Rogue had everything we were looking for in Grand Canyon boat. First it had the space to pack all of our winter gear with enough room left for a half a month of food. Because we were covering so many miles each day, the comfort of the boat was a big factor and the Rogue didn’t disappoint. It’s stability and predictability was a great plus for the big water we anticipated, and it rolled with ease. The hatch in the back and the simple foot peg system in the bow made the daily gear storage quick and easy.

Did I mention the Rogue’s really cool drop down skeg? With the miles of flat water between giant rapids, the skeg transformed the turny whitewater design into an arrow. I even ran many of the rapids with it down and it seemed to help keep me on line when I ran right down the middle. I did break one skeg when I forgot to put it down and drug the boat onto the beach backwards. This was totally my fault and I had a spare that I easily installed at camp that night. I used the phillips head screwdriver on my multi-tool to remove one screw to replace the broken skeg. Super easy!

We had to carry all solid human waste out of the canyon just like the raft trips do. As a group, we decided on an individual “Groover” or toilet system that we would each carry in own boats. We crafted these ourselves using 6 inch PVC drain pipe that was sixteen inches in length with a cap on one end and a screw open clean out fitting on the other. This resulted in a water proof, reusable poop container that complied with park service regulations. The removable front center column in the Rogue proved to be the perfect storage location for our groovers. We split the center column and glued the mini cell foam to either side of the groover creating a new center column with the groover positioned between our legs balanced and out of the way so that the ends of the boats were free to store the rest of our gear.

The weeks leading up to our launch date were focused on balancing what I wanted to bring with what would actually fit in my boat. I practiced loading my boat in the living room at home until I finally figured out the combination of necessity and luxury that would serve me well in the canyon. In the bow I had two Watershed Futa stow float dry bags. These are conical shaped to fit the ends of a kayak. One held the food for the second half of the trip and the other all my clothes.

I’m a photographer, so in addition to all of the necessities, I had to bring my camera and have easy access to it while on the river and for side hikes. I carried a DSLR and small lighting kit in my lap in a Watershed Largo drybag. Between the seat and the bulkhead and below the back-band I had another Watershed Ocoee that held items I wanted quick access to during the day: lunch, sunscreen, lip balm, Goal Zero solar chargers,etc.

In the rear hatch I had two more Watershed drybags: an Ocoee and a Chattooga. The larger Chattooga fit great horizontally and contained my camping gear including a feather light MSR Carbon Reflex 1 person tent, a tarp, a 30 degree down sleeping bag and my wonderfully compact, warm and comfy Therm-A-Rest Neo-Therm sleeping pad. In the Ocoee, I kept my kitchen kit with a GSI aluminum pot, a Snow Peak Giga Power stove, an insulated mug and other small utensils, a Black Diamond headlamp and extra batteries. Also in the rear hatch was a Werner Sherpa 4 pc. breakdown paddle, a fREI Flex lite chair (this was sweet), extra fuel, food for the first half of the trip, a pin kit, a Pure Hiker water filter and a little group gear like the legs to our breakdown fire pan.

One of the best features of this systematic approach to packing is that I could just take one bag to my tent location and set up camp, and then grab another bag for dinner. I’d select my dinner choice from the food bag and leave the rest in the boat. This was especially convenient the few times when we cooked and ate further away from our camp. One night I discovered a cool ledge high above camp and we all cooked in a place we coined the lido deck because of it’s amazing view. By minimizing the amount of gear I unloaded each night, my morning routine was pretty quick and efficient.

All of my gear weighed in at 100+ pounds and the Rogue 10 handled it with style. The boat, while significantly heavier, paddled a little slower but was still very stable and rolled easily. If anything the extra weight helped it push through holes and waves. I felt like I could punch through almost anything!

We averaged 23.3 miles per day which was a pretty comfortable pace for me. The current pushed us along at 4-5 miles an hour, and with our early morning starts, we had enough time to get our paddling in and either do some side hikes or get to camp early. Taking out at Diamond Creek is very popular but you end up missing the end of the canyon and some really fun rapids. I wanted this experience to include the canyon in it’s entirety. Our last day from Bridge Canyon to Pearce Ferry was a whopping 45 miles. We had planned to divide this distance into two days, but after finding the few camps on this stretch occupied, we pressed on for a big grand finale. Even with the flat water and a few hours of strong headwinds on the last day, I’d still do the Diamond to Pearce section again. If you want to put in at Diamond and paddle to Pearce Ferry, permits are easy to get anytime and this is a great test run to see if you are ready to self support to the entire Grand Canyon.

Everyone talks about how great the side hikes are and I totally agree. Because we were on a 12 day trip, we didn’t have time for layovers or to linger too long in any one spot. Even with our time constraints, I feel like I got to see what I wanted and didn’t really feel rushed. I love exploring the Silver Grotto with it’s slick rock and cool limestone slot canyon. Red Wall Cavern was amazing and although I’d seen so many pictures of this place it was still truly spectacular. We had the gift of seeing the Little Colorado with emerald blue green water that is very otherworldly. Deer Creek falls was cool but I really liked it most once we hiked up to the Patio. If its hot this is a great place to find shade and just relax on the clean smooth slabs of rock. Elve’s Chasm was a neat waterfall and fun to jump off into the pool below. I think my most favorite though was Havasu Creek. We paddled up through a slot Canyon on glowing turquoise water to a small waterfall then hiked up further. This was the one place I wish I’d had a little more time to photograph and explore. Travertine Canyon offered a really great waterfall also.

I used a Garmin Fenix GPS watch on this trip. I preset waypoints on my computer at home then transferred these points into the watch and set proximity alerts. has these points for download on their site. When I’d get to a quarter mile of a rapid, camp or point of interest the watch would vibrate and make a tone alerting me that something is near. This was really cool as I didn’t spend hardly any time with my nose in the guide book but knew when something was coming up or we were at a great side hike. I used the Goal Zero 10 plus and Nomad 7 solar panels to keep the watch charged along with my GoPros.

After an 18 year wait, the Grand Canyon delivered the experience of a lifetime. I really loved being self-reliant and paddling self support with a small group of friends all in kayaks. It offered wonderful freedoms and speed that rafts just can’t keep up with. I also enjoyed going light with a small, light camping/cooking kit making camp chores fast and easy allowing for more time in my boat to explore the canyon. The Rogue 10 was a great choice for this trip giving me all the space I needed in a very capable package. Although the rapids are big, the canyon is bigger. There is so much to see and as with

most things how you make the journey is just as important as the destination. So go online, apply for a permit and take only your kayak for the experience of a lifetime.