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This past November I had an opportunity to check an item off of my “bucket-list” and it was, as hoped, SPECTACULAR! Accompanied by my boyfriend, Dodge and two other friends, I completed my first self-support kayak trip through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Due to work-related time constraints, we decided to do our trip in 11 days and we also chose to pass Diamond Creek and paddle the entire length of the Grand, ending in Lake Mead and taking out at Pearce Ferry. Our trip spanned from November 21st through December 1st.   Based on timing and mileage, we had to paddle around 27 miles each day which made for a different Grand Canyon trip than I had ever done. Oh, and I was carrying all of my own gear for the first time making my kayak much heavier then I was familiar with.

This was my fifth trip down the Grand Canyon, my dad took me for the first time for my sweet 16th birthday, I know, best dad EVER! I have kayaked on each of my trips, but always with raft support. So, in order to prepare for this different type of trip, I took a couple of brief and nearby self-support kayak trips in order to test out the new gear and equipment and to get a feel for paddling a heavier and overall bigger boat. My initial impression of the Karma RG was that it was amazingly responsive and normal feeling despite the length, the added weight of gear and the drop-down skeg. My first “test” was to roll my boat fully loaded and with the skeg down. It was easy, maybe a little bit slower and definitely a little bit heavier feeling, but was no problem. The next “test” was to compare the boats tracking ability with and without the skeg engaged. It took me about 1 minute to realize the value of the skeg if for no other reason, for the energy preservation that was a direct result of not having to make constant micro-strokes to adjust my direction in order stay straight. When paddling the Karma RG with gear in it I use the skeg about 95% of the time, only pulling it up for the big rapids where I may need to make quick direction changes and then dropping it back down before the rapids end in order to track through the tail-end of the rapids and to maintain downstream momentum.

I have paddled the Karma for the past 8 years as my primary creek-boat and I found the Karma RG to have an extremely familiar feel. The power, maneuverability and responsiveness were not lost in making the larger Karma RG and it was a relief to immediately feel comfortable in what was expected to be quite a different boat. I have consistent aches and pains in both my knees and my back and found the JK outfitting to be, as with all of their boats, extremely comfortable, supportive and easy to adjust as needed.

As far as packing the boat, I had 2 Watershed Futa Stow-float bags that went into the bow, one on either side of the bulkhead. In order to avoid holding a bag on my lap each day, I also had a Sea to Summit Solution Access Deck Bag that I was able to attach directly onto the JK factory’s bow deck rigging making the attachment bomber and my confidence of not losing the bag or its contents great. For packing the Stern’s Dry Storage Hatch, I found it necessary to use multiple small dry bags, the largest being 10-liter. Dodge and I also found it comforting to use a 4-foot cam strap wrapped tightly around the outer-rim of the hatch’s lid in an effort to keep water out and the lid on. Each afternoon we would find anywhere from a sponge full of water to more than a gallon of water inside of the hatch, I was never able to identify exactly where this water was coming in from. I would lay the camp-tarp that I brought along with the collapsible bucket in the bottom of the stern-hatch and would load all of my dry bags on top of these things which successfully kept my bags out of the water that collected inside of the hatch.

Now, to get into the nitty gritty and the information that I was specifically seeking prior to embarking on my own 11-day Grand Canyon expedition.


Dodge and I had decided that we would cook and plan meals together and that we wanted to eat as few commercial dehydrated meals as possible, sticking instead to easy and lightweight meals that were lower in sodium and high in nutrition. We had things including but not limited to; macaroni and cheese, summer sausages, quinoa, couscous, tortillas, nut-butters of all varieties, cheese, crackers, ramen, our own mix of dehydrated vegetables which we pre-mixed into the grains and sorted and bagged per each planned-meal. We also ate a couple of Tasty-Bite Indian meals, these are pre-cooked and vacuum sealed in foil pouches and can be heated by submerging the sealed pouch in boiling water. This company also makes seasoned rice that we supplemented our Good to Go dehydrated meals with (we liked the Pad Thai and the Thai Curry best). We had also pre-made chili and a quinoa and bean salad that we ate on the first few days of the trip. The quinoa and bean salad lasted us through 3 lunches and we would dump it into a tortilla with a sheet of nori and would share a packet of mayonnaise and one of mustard too. Because of the cooler temperatures and the limited direct sunlight, we were able to keep food for longer than expected including fresh cheeses and sausages throughout all 11 days of the trip. We brought tons of snacks including nuts, peanut butter filled pretzels, chocolate bars, jerky, candy (but I could always use more candy!), hot apple cider, hot chocolate, miso packets, chicken soup packets and we had dehydrated a bunch of fresh fruit on our own while it was in season and at its sweetest throughout the summer and fall. We ended up having brought too much food and could have lasted another 3, maybe 4 days on the river we figured. Some things that we brought that we didn’t eat; oatmeal, granola, tuna fish pouches, dehydrated milk, freeze-dried fruit and tea. At the end of the trip, due to removing all of the unnecessary trash and packaging prior to departure, Dodge and I had only 1 gallon-size zip lock bag of trash between the 2 of us. We also brought oil, butter and fresh garlic along with a pretty complete and kickass spice kit which made every meal more enjoyable. Additionally, we raided the local grocery store’s deli, filling our pockets with individual packets of mustard, mayo, relish, salsa, hot sauce and ketchup which we added to almost every meal, in some capacity too. We had a Sea to Summit 2.8-liter collapsible pot and the 8” X-pan that we used with the MSR Wind-Pro II stove. Dodge also brought his Jet Boil stove for making our morning coffee and chai and that type of stove boiled water exponentially faster than the other cooking system that we had with us (we did dishes with hot water every night as well).


We brought a Katadyn 6-liter gravity water filter and a 5-gallon collapsible bucket for settling water in. The gravity filter was completely awesome and worked really well and was easy to use too. We each had a 6-liter dromedary and a 32-ounce water bottle and Dodge also had a 2-liter dromedary. Dodge and I filtered water every other day or so and we felt blessed to have clear-green water throughout the entirety of our trip making life overall much easier. We did bring alum powder for settling sediment in case the water was muddy and were lucky to never have to touch it!     


A Garmin inReach was borrowed from a friend and put our minds at ease while on the river and we also carried all of the safety and rescue equipment as required by the National Park Service.


We purchased a Coyote River Gear Breakdown Aluminum Firepan which Dodge and I divided between the two of us to carry as well as a full size fire blanket per the Grand Canyons rules and regulations. We only burned 2 fires using driftwood we had found and carried all of the ash out in the plastic containers that we brought our nuts and peanut butter filled pretzels in and after we had eaten them.


Each of the four of us had made our groovers out of 4” diameter PVC pipe that were roughly 22” long. This size fit nicely in the hatch of the Karma RG, directly against the piece of foam that sits behind the seat. Personally, I used dog-waste bags that I would double-bag and drop into the tube that was double-lined with trash bags. I got scented waste and trash bags, which I normally do not like, but helped to mask smell when the groover was opened. I made a small “kit” that I was able to keep in the groover-tube until morning 10 which included dog waste bags, flushable wet-wipes, hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap and Clorox wipes. These groovers were a sufficient size for each of the four of us (save for one groover-poach) for the entire 11-day trip. Some of the others used the Wag-Bag toilet system and dropped those into their double trash-bag lined tubes as well. These guys quickly discovered that in order to save space inside the groover, all additional trash and packaging had to be thrown into their other trash, versus into the groover.


Some things that I brought and did that may seem excessive to some, but that I found necessary were:

  • A Helinox Chair Zero I was not willing to spend my camp time sitting on the ground and this chair was compact and lightweight and absolutely perfect.
  • Tarps. I brought a tarp, plus a standing mat as well as a cockpit cover which I found to be crucial for keeping my gear, dry bags and myself out of the sand. I would pack my tarp and cockpit cover in my boat last so that they would be the first things that I would pull out of my boat and then would unload all of my dry bags onto them. We also used a tarp for our kitchen and did all of our food preparation and cooking there, which minimized the sand consumption considerably.
  • Tenacious Tape was the most used item in our repair kit – definitely bring some.
  • We stayed at a couple of camps that had mice, lots of tenacious and hungry mice… As soon as the sun went down it was time to pack up everything into the boats. Dodge and I each had an NRS dry bag chewed through by mice at the same camp. These bags each contained extra warm clothing, and had never contained food which led us to believe that there was something about the material of the bag that the mice liked to chew. My custom ear-plugs were chewed as well as one of our Sea to Summit collapsible cups. Protecting our gear against the wrath of mice proved to require on-going diligence and action. I would store everything that I could inside of the stern’s Dry storage hatch and the rest of my gear would go into the cockpit of the boat which I would cover with my cockpit cover and then would pile the dromedaries on top of that. I would also ensure that my boat was sitting out in the open, not next to a bush or rock that a mouse could climb and hop from and would double check that there were no straps or gear hanging off of the boat, making a nice ladder for a mouse. I had only my essentials at my tent and left everything else inside of my boat for safe overnight keeping.

This was an exceptionally special and unique way to travel through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and I would jump at the opportunity to do it all again. It definitely took a couple of days to become familiar with the packing process and it was always a process because every single item had its very specific spot inside the boat, but I became faster and more efficient as time went on. In hindsight, I believe that the “ideal” way to do a Grand Canyon trip of this kind would be to take more like 13 or 14 days total and to take out at Diamond Creek. I figure that this timing would provide more ample time for exploration and side canyon hikes. Due to the fact that we had to make around 27 miles per day we were left with limited time to spend in the classic side canyons and we were unable to make some of the hikes and stops that had been deemed “necessary” on past trips. I will be back, I am certain of this, and I hope that it will be as a self-support kayaker because nothing compares to the self-satisfaction that comes from getting myself and all of my equipment through 280 miles of the breathtaking, challenging and iconic Grand Canyon.    

My boat and all of its contents at camp 1:   

– Ali Wade