Everyone recognizes the iconic beauty of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River from photographs, or has read about it’s awe inspiring landscapes, but few people get to truly experience the incredible place. Each year hundreds of people apply for private permits for the Grand. My dad had been on a waiting list for a permit since 1997, this was before The Grand Canyon National Park transitioned to their current permit lottery system. After years of waiting, in 2015 he was finally awarded an 18 day private permit. He planned meticulously for two years and calculated everything that would make this trip a one of a kind success, which included inviting fifteen friends and family along for the ride. Finally, on September 17th 2017 we launched five gear boats and six kayaks from Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River.
After six months of traveling between New Zealand and Canada I was back home and ready to embark down the Canyon. My sister Marias, who was only sixteen and in her junior year of high school, took three weeks off school to make it happen. While missing three weeks of high school to be on the river would have been my dream, my sister’s personality and passions had always differed significantly from mine. This would be her first big river trip and only third time in a raft ever. Prior to this trip we shared very few interests; mine oriented outside and hers focused more inside. Very rarely could we ever find common ground.
Since being home, friends have asked me about my trip. I find it challenging to put the amazing campsites and fun whitewater into words. How do I describe the experience? I think of all of the tangible things in photos and books that you expect to see down there. However, what stands out most to me is that I got to share this trip with my sister. I love to tell people how my little sister excelled and loved her first big river trip, and earned herself her own River Name amongst my best friends, she is now better known as “The Bad A$$”.
September 26th Grand Canyon of the Colorado River
It’s day number nine of the trip and my good friend Quinton and I are approaching Serpentine, one of the Colorado’s biggest rapids. The rest of our party is behind us, and in their lead are my dad and sister on an 20ft fully loaded NRS raft. Marias is rowing and my dad is standing in the bow trying to get a good view of the whitewater downstream, ignoring the river map in his hand. Marias is new to rafting and just getting the hang of reading whitewater, so she relies on my dad for guidance in rapids.
As Serpentine gets closer Quinton and I spot a large horizon line on river right and decide it’s a good boof, as we are in kayaks. He runs it first, taking a big stroke and landing with a flat hull, then sails away from the drop. I follow going a tad more center and bottom out on rock, then plop nose first into a large pour over. I try to surf out of the feature on the shoulder but get swallowed by whirlpools, then do a few mystery moves in the eddy line before resurfacing downstream. I can see Quinton has already eddied out and is waiting to spot the rafts coming through next, so I catch the same eddy and we laugh about my terrible squirt boating.
“Oh dang, look at your sister!” Quinton suddenly says. I look upstream and see what’s happening. My sister was taking the same line we had, a maneuver not ideal for a raft full of sinkable gear, and was frantically trying to change course. Just as we’re exchanging worried looks, Marias straitens the raft and runs the drop dead center, having a far better line than me with perfect boof strokes on both oars. My dad stood in the bow waving his hat, ecstatic for her. My heart filled with pride as she rowed by, finishing the rest of the rapid in style and earning her River Name “The Bad A$$”.
River trips are really all about relationships built through experiences presented to us on the water. What made this trip so special was spending 18 days with friends, family and even strangers. Most fulfilling of all for me was seeing my sister grow and finding common ground with her. She continued to row every major rapid on the Grand, including Lava Falls, and is now totally inspired by whitewater. I’m so proud of her.