It is probably needless to say that there is something magical about the Grand Canyon, as nearly five million people visit the Canyon, in a way or another, annually. Still, when you launch on the chilly waters of the Colorado River with the sun burning on your back from Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, you do get the feeling of being somewhere untouched and ancient.
There are many different ways to enjoy the Grand Canyon. There is no way of conquering it, but the beauty of the Canyon can be appreciated by water, foot, wheels or air. For me it was natural to explore the 300 kilometres (188 miles) of the Colorado River by kayaking and rafting it. For many of us white water kayakers (check out here the list of the best kayaks) out there this journey is something you want to do at least “once in a lifetime”. However, the Canyon is easily accessible by water for non-kayakers and non-rafters also by joining a commercial operator’s rafting trip.
Staying at the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge in Marble Canyon, Arizona, the night before the launch on the river, I already sensed the adventure ahead. The heat, the red rock that surrounded us, the dust. Scenes that I had only seen in movies and which got more and more beautiful by day during the 14-day journey on the river. It was almost bit too much to digest while there and I have flipped through the photos time and time again wondering if I really did this journey at all.
Being totally disconnected from the digital world: no mobile phone connection or laptops, was one of the best aspects of the trip. There was no chance for glorious Facebook status updates, no Instagram “look how amazing this place is!” images, no Emails to remind you of the work left behind. Just you and rest of your team getting up with the sunrise and following the slow course of the river, the river which at times grows into roaring rapids of powerful white water providing cold wake-up calls and reminding of its strength.
On most days we left our kayaks behind and ventured off the water on small hikes and easy climbs in the side canyons. The sweat of the efforts was quickly washed away by refreshing, clean showers under waterfalls, wiping away some of the stilt that had stuck to our skin and hair after a violent storm had turned the river from blue to red on one of the first days of the journey.
It is hard to imagine now what it would have been like to be there in 1869, when a Civil War veteran Major John Wesley Powell led the first expedition to explore the Canyon with no knowledge of what waited ahead. The Canyon that is now so well known and mapped out that you can easily follow your progress, kilometre by kilometre, on a waterproof Canyon Guide. Despite the luxuries of cheese and crackers prior dinners, and fresh produce even on the last day of the journey, it is easy to be pulled into the history of the Canyon region. And it is not only the history of the “first explorers”, but the history of the Native Americans who have intermittently occupied the Canyon for more than 10,000 years.
Now that I am back would I do it again? I don’t really know. Most places I have visited I long to return to. But the trip to the Canyon was so unique, so full of experiences that can not be repeated that it would not be the same. But, it wouldn’t have to be.
Stay tuned for the “How to” guide for rafting the Grand Canyon coming up soon on Skimbaco!
All images: Gene17Kayaking
On this Grand Canyon trip I was working for Gene17Kayaking, an international white water coaching and guiding company, who had teamed up with local operator Hatch River Expeditions for the logistics in and out of the Canyon. I highly recommend both operators, Gene17Kayaking is organising their next trip in 2014 (suitable for both kayakers and non-kayakers) and Hatch River Expeditions runs regular trips all through the season.