Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Double Down the Grand



In front of our double kayak, a wall of water reared up so high it seemed as tall as a building, and that building was toppling on top of us. In the bow seat Jill disappeared into the crashing carnage, with a lurch she re-appeared, not that I witnessed this, myself now being swallowed up into the frothing torrent and then being spat out with disdain. Blinking the water and grit from my eyes I could see the next wave coming, though noticed I could not see the bright yellow double sea kayak, which Jill and I sat in, it was still submersed in the turbulent water, rearing and jumping about us. Both of us slammed through the next wave and where paddling hard while white water exploded everywhere; or should I call it “brown water”?

Really there was so much silt in the river from the rains; the Colorado was living up to its name sake meaning “the color red” and its rapids made our 22 foot kayak feel like a tiny toy riding a chocolate milkshake in a blender.  Looking down stream danger was lurking, my voice erupted from my mouth like an angry lion tamer, “RIGHT PADDLE, RIGHT, RIGHT!” Jill quickly started paddling forward on the right as we steered the vessel left of a large hydraulic, missing it’s gnashing recirculating frothing mouth in the river… barely. Suddenly with no option we hit a large wave side on, I threw my weight into it to brace, we struck it and I was engulfed in brief darkness as the boat was swallowed up yet again and then spat into the eddy. In order to counter the wave impact, I had the boat leaning downstream; as we unexpectedly shot to the side of the main flow a whirlpool grabbed the nose of the kayak spinning us in the same direction capsizing us. I tried to brace the boat on its side and initiate a roll, though I noticed Jill lifting her head to the sky, Jill didn’t know how to roll, I wasn’t able to yell to her to keep her head down before we capsized into the dark gloom of the silty river.

www.kokatat.comJill Brown and I have Just returned from a unique “Self Support” adventure down the famous Grand Canyon, together in a 22 ft fiberglass double sea kayak, we completed what has been called a world first self support journey. Over 11 days we traveled down the main 227 mile section of the river from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek carrying all the supplies we needed in our kayak with no Rafts following for safety or support, however journey was not a solo vessel journey, we where members of motley crew of 7 other keen paddlers in a mixed bag of vessels from white water creek boats to Single Sea Kayaks and white water Expedition Kayaks.

This adventure was not intended to be a world first adventure; it started a year ago as an idea of how to bring someone down the Grand Canyon, on a self support kayak trip, who could not paddle their own kayak. I had been invited on the trip by friends, and it was to have no rafts, thus all the kayaks had to be able to carry all their own food and gear in the kayak. As this trip was to be my third trip down the Grand Canyon (my first being possibly the first self support single sea kayak trip done in 2013 more here ), I felt that a double sea kayak would make a great vessel for navigating this Iconic American white water river, after all they take wooden dories and Large Rafts down it.

I managed to find what I felt was the perfect double sea kayak, it was a fast expedition touring boat, was maneuverable and could hold a lot of gear, allowing two people to live out of it comfortably, it was designed to handle rough seas and large surf launches and landings on the coast, so I had a good feeling it would handle the huge waves on the Grand.

Our Crew

Camp at night
Double kayaks are often jokingly called “divorce boats” and ironically I went through 3 expedition partners during the planning of this trip before finally the last one, with only a weeks’ notice, committed and stuck. Jillian Brown is a brave friend of mine from Squamish BC Canada, who had expressed interest in the trip when I was telling her about it during the lead up, with a last minute partner cancellation, I threw the option at Jill and she was in. She had not paddled on rivers any bigger than class 2 in a canoe, and though she was a sea kayaker, she did not know how to roll. Though I felt strongly that all that did not matter, in fact that was exactly what I wanted, to be able to share this journey with someone who was not experienced enough to do it on their own. On top of it Jill was a professional photographer, and was able to help me document this awesome trip, for good or bad.
More on Jill and her photos at www.instagram.com/jillianabrownphotography/

On day 4 we found ourselves upside down a the bottom of a rapid, it wasn’t even one of the big ones. we had made it this far OK, though now I was slightly questioning what we where doing, as we swam awkwardly through the next small rapid and worked the boat to the side of the river, with help from Kevin in his white water kayak towing the double as we swam with it. as we emptied the double like a big canoe on the shore, there was time to process the problem, and basically I realized there is no reason to try and cut out of the rapids early in this vessel, it is fast enough, long enough and heavy enough to punch through all but the biggest the river has to give, so we just need to choose the raft lines and stay on line all the way through the "Gnar". 11 days later we had made it through all the biggest and baddest and had not flipped again... well... we almost flipped on "Granite" rapid, but managed to roll back up with the help of the next wave; and we certainly took some huge hits, with Jill left pretty battered by the end of the trip after being the first one in the kayak to impact, and always going the deepest and hardest into the rapids. It was a solid journey, and gave us a taste of what John Wesley Powell may have gone through with his wooden boats some 150 year earlier.

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.” John Wesley Powell

The journey was breathtaking in scenery, wonderful in weather, and unbeatable as far as friends and fun, the double sea kayak proved to be a great option for journeying self supported on the grand Canyon, and I would most certainly do it again. Though no damage was done to the kayak, a plastic one may be a better choice for anyone looking to follow in our paddle strokes.

Here are some more images from our adventure, and a log of our days, stay tuned for a full story coming soon in a publication near you.
Jaime Sharp

More Photos and the Trip Log 


Day 1 19.4 mile camp Feb 11th
Jill's birthday 
Training day, 
After a painfully long ranger brief and gear check, where our Canadian coast guard approved pfd's failed and we got a hard time about our fire pan being 2 and a half inches deep instead of 3. We where finally on the water just after lunch.
Tried rolling the double, it didn't want to happen easily, so I thought we best swim and see what we where dealing with, for worst case scenario. It was a pretty swamped kayaked, and even with mike helping empty over the front of his kayak, we only managed to empty the front cockpit. Got Jill in and secured her with a spray skirt. Then I climbed in the rear and started pumping out water from a completely filled cockpit. Eventually got it empty and underway again. It is a real hassle to empty the boat, and to try and roll, so best we keep it up right!!
Double handles well in the rapids, we move quickly and plow through holes and waves alike. Side ways is not good, and steering is hard without rudder. Rudder works well in the rapids. Jill ofcourse takes the brunt of all the rapids and is often submerged, only the biggest rapids bury me and often I am only splashed in the face.Dani and Heather swam Badger (the 1st big one) but we all made it through Soap Creek and House Rock. started to rain this night.
Started to rain lightly that evening. 
Dinner tuna melts in the Dutch oven
Desert chocolate brownies in Dutch oven

Day 2 camped at mile 44 Feb 12
Today was the roaring 20s, camped at mile 44 , President Hardy, Neil's sock roasting camp, rained all day.
Butter chicken 
Roasted banana bread with chocolate

Side Canyons abound with many adventures to be had.

Day 3 Feb 13 Camped at mile 66, palisades creek
Today was a slower kayak day. Camped at mile 66, palisades creek.  Dani is not managing the river well and has Damaged her kayak again.
Banana bread in Dutch oven

Day 4 Feb 14 Camped at clear creek, mile 84
This day had more action with unkar, nevils, Hanz, and sockdolager rapid. Camped at clear creek, mile 84, where we walked over all those slippery rocks to get water in the creek.  Danny has damaged her boat yet again, and is now considering hiking out tomorrow from Phantom Ranch.
Steak and mash potatoes
Choc Almonds for desert 

Day 5 Feb 15 Ego Beach camp, mile 98.9.
Today we said goodbye to Danny at phantom ranch. She conveniently  meet a hiker who was from flagstaff hiking out that day and driving back to Flag that night, who was also happy to hike out with her and help carry the sea kayak, even if it meant finishing up at 9pm in the dark. Awesome. She loaded up three satchels of stuff at phantom ranch to be muled out at $73 a satchel, and started hiking . We pushed on with mike, now only a group of 8, to hit the big four of the furious day 5. Horn, granite, hermit and crystal. Hearts where racing and times where pumping and we powered the double through all of them. Horn the line was enter river center on the right edge of a big hole and then drive hard left before being swept into the next hole,  we hit our entry line though couldn't get all the way left, Jill stayed out of the hole, I nudged through it sideways with an explosion of white water engulfing holding the stern and allowing the double to pivot and straighten Into the rest of the rapid and power through the big waves.

Granite was one of the longer big rapids yet, we lined up center right and powered our way through the continuous wave trains, a lateral wave off river right pounded us, I tucked hard into it, but something grabbed us and ripped us left and almost capsized us. I manged to get in a high brace and held the double up a bit,then with help of a buffeting wave the boat  came back upright, and we Plugged through the rest. Our center hatch had popped open a bit as on Hans rapid, and allowed some water in. We stopped and pumped out.

Hermit was more intense than I remember, but the line was simple, straight through those enormous waves. In we went each wave bigger, climbing high, dropping deep, climbing, climbing, climbing the next, exploding off the top and down into the trough, then the last big one, a continuous breaking wave, swallowing the 23 foot kayak whole, holding us stationary for a brief second then spitting us out into the smaller tail waves that where still quite large. Eddied out and watched the next group through.

Crystal was next, we didn't scout, just ran center left of the big hole at the top and drove right between the next hole and the rocky boulder garden near shore. Safely we all pulled out at a beach in the lower eddy and made camp in a very cool location.  Dinner was chicken sausage Alfredo pesto with cream fresh, then a vanilla apple cake in the Dutch oven for desert.ended at camp just below Crystal and Lower Crystal or Ego Beach camp, mile 98.9. 
Great epic day. I am so glad the double got through. Tomorrow we aim for 30 miles all the rapids are a bit tamer than today, until we hit lava in a couple of days. 
Cream fresh pesto pasta
Vanilla apple pie 

SealLine Dry Bags doing what they do best www.seallinegear.com

Day 6 Feb 16 Camped at Randy's Rock, mile 127
 we started with Tuna rapid (6) and went through all the gems, side stops at Wheeler boat, Shinumo Creek, and Elves Chasm. Camped at Randy's Rock, mile 127 with the overhanging Tapeats. 
Dinner was steak and mash potatoe,
desert chocolate almonds. Pre cooked pancakes for breakfast. 

At the Granaries, Nankoweap

Day 7 Feb 17 156 mile last chance camp
Started with rain, great day on the water chewing up miles and enjoying the great rapids.
Hiked deer creek, toasted to Judd's dad who died five years earlier and his ashes had been spread here. Judds dad had done the Canyon 5 times in his life.
Ran upset rapid and got a great line, with me kissing the whole at the end to swing the double back straight into the rapid. 
Meet Allen Yip from NZ randomly at ledges campsite, he is moving to Squamish this summer. Spent 30 mins talking while the rest of group headed to camp. Powered the double down steam eating up the 5 miles and arriving at camp about 5 mins after the others arrived. camped at 156 mile last chance camp when that bigger group had taken the Ledges already
Dinner was Mexican lasagna in the Dutch oven with chocolate for desert.

Entering Lava

Day 8 Feb 18th Camped at 182 mile? Upper chevron
Today we hit Lava! Visited havasu river, it was blue and not brown which was awesome. Loads of fish in the river. Paddled down stream to national canyon for lunch and a hike up the stream to collect water. Then we hit lava. Went past the volcan rock where some of us touched it others didn't, then soon we where scouting lava from the right hand side. It was big and chunky, though no worse than any other rapid we had hit already. Judd and Neil went first and then Jill and I in the double. We hit our entry line good, juts touching the right of the entry hole, and the. We slammed through all the features of lava. Getting swallowed by the hole at the end, but spat out. We where solid the whole way through not once feeling like we where going to tip.
Ryan heather and Kevin came next. Heather swam though the rest where fine. Made it to camp just before 6pm. Great day, now it is all easy from here out. Stoked the double has been so solid through this whole river, I was a little worried at the start, now I feel super confident in the boats abilities. The 

Kevin adding some flair to his waterfall jump
 Day 9 Feb 19Camp at 215?
Long day, bit of rain, stunning evening light on Canyon walls. Lunch at whiltemotr çanyon?
Day 10  Feb 20 camped at 220
Before leaving camp we meet up with the 3 guys "through hiking" the Grand Canyon. They where on their last 10 days. Of the 3rd 30 day section, they had some interesting story to tell and we wished each other well.

Our group had stayed in camp today until 1pm, the. We blasted down to our last camp for the trip by 4pm. Then it got fun, with us getting a bunch of beer of another rafting group, and then us all drinking the last beers we all had and dressing up and getting our nails painted pink. Fun night, thankfully not enough alcohol to get hangovers. Stunning starry night. We had done it, we got a double sea kayak down the Grand Canyon, through all the big rapids. 

 Day 11 Feb 21st
Pulled off at diamond creek mile 226
At 10.20am. Dan was there to meet us. What a trip
Dan Jill and mike drove back to canada with the double on top of the van.

Jaime checking the tie down on the double for the rough road out at Daimond Creek Photo by Jill Brown
Day 16 
On my flight back to NZ I flew Phoenix to la on the same flight was one of the through hiker guys from the Grand Canyon, he recognized me and said "Hi" then Told me that day after we had seen them, his brother fell down a slot Canyon and fractured his arm and needed to be heli evac'ed, it took 18 hours for the chopper to arrive. The 3rd guy with them left as well as mentally it broke him, the one brother then hiked on alone to exit the Canyon at diamond creek a few days later. they where all so close to completing Hiking he entire length of the Grand Canyon together, bummer. and what Small world that we ended up on the same flight.
Jill and Jaime at the end of the Double Down the Grand journey.

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