I was very reluctant to take up my friend, Steve’s invitation for a packrafting trip in the Grand this past month. In fact, I tried almost everything to get out of it. I have an incredibly deep rooted fear of water. I hate it. I have had so many scary moments in water-being swept down stream in a cold Sierra Creek losing my trekking poles during my PCT thru hike, falling out of a raft on the Arkansas River in Colorado during a training class over a decade ago, and being always afraid of what was beneath me in the ocean and other bodies of water that I had been in during family vacations and such.
I was up the entire night before our trip was supposed to start, I didn’t sleep at all. This is a very common thing for me, I don’t sleep. I am too anxious to sleep and it does not matter how exhausted I am. I texted Steve around 6 am that morning and told him I couldn’t go into the Grand being sleep deprived, being anxious and all kinds of stressed like I had been for months leading up to that trip. He told me it was okay if I didn’t go and that he would be Flagstaff in a few hours if I changed my mind. I hadn’t even gotten my groceries for the trip, I needed to take Zoroaster to the dog sitter. I was a mess, I was exhausted, my eyes burned from the fatigue and my brain was all over the place. But, something inside of me forced me to run to the grocery store, take Zoroaster to the sitters and go on that trip. Steve and Kieran arrived at my house around 10 am and I loaded up my gear, not knowing that this very trip would change my life. We drove the two hours to Lipan Point on the South Rim, I met all of the other guys that were coming along (Dave, Donald, and Brian) They were all very nice and that made it easier to focus on rest of the day. We loaded the lose gear into our packs, we talked for a bit and within an hour or so we were all headed down the Tanner Trail. I could feel my body wanting to shut down, fall over, I was tired. So tired. My pack was extremely heavy, way heavier than I am used to carrying in the Grand. The Tanner Trail is beautiful, open views of the Canyon, rocky trail sections, jagged buttes, and views of many of the summits I have stood on top of. Each mile I felt more tired, more, wasted. By the time we reached the final mile or so I began to hallucinate, my footing was clumsy and my entire body was done. We arrived down on the beach before sunset which allowed for us to get our tents up and setup camp for the night before it was dark. I ate and made some small talk with the guys, but, I found myself tucked into my sleeping bag early. I was proud of myself for overcoming being sleep deprived and for going on the trip. I have unfortunately learned how to push myself physically and mentally when I am sleep deprived because that’s just how it is, I don’t sleep, but, I always desire these big adventures and physical challenges, so I have had to learn how to endure the torture of sleep deprivation and how to put it aside and get what I need to done. The stars that night were epic, they were like diamonds in the sky incased in canyon walls with the relaxing sound of the River echoing throughout the beach. It was paradise. It was perfect. It was everything I loved. I fell asleep and was able to get a few hours of solid sleep. In the morning it was cold, we waited until the sun warmed up the beach and then got ready to head out. The guys decided to put in at Tanner Rapids (River mile 69) to begin our trip. I had never been in a packraft before and I was fearful beyond my normal level of fear when I am doing dangerous things in the Grand. I am no stranger to dangerous activities(scrambling in the Grand, climbing, hiking off trail, etc), but, adding water to the picture made me feel so much more scared of the Grand, the place I so love. I felt so intimidated. I was so damn scared. I asked all the guys whether or not I should attempt to run Tanner Rapids, most said no way or sure, you’ll be fine. I hiked over to see the rapids and get the down low on how to nagivate them- come into the tongue and then paddle left I was told. I kept anxiously asking the guys what I should do and finally I made my decision. I was going in. I was going to paddle Tanner Rapids with absolutely no experience and extreme terror.
I suited up, we got all the rafts ready. Steve went down to be ready to play safety and I went with the other guys to put our rafts in. I got in my packraft and started paddling, my fear began to increase, my anxiety was raging. After a few minutes we all headed towards the tongue of the Rapids, I remember looking back at Brian and asking if I could get out. I was terrified. There was no turning back. I could hear the Rapids screaming in front of me. I was told to follow Kieran and I did. I paddled up and over a few big Rapids, clenching my paddle for dear life. I was so scared, but it was so exhilarating, so exciting, then all of a sudden another rapid hit the side of my packraft and I went overboard in the Colorado River, swimming, being bashed into rocks and bouncing up and down in the water. I was terrified, but, I did what I was told to, I held onto my paddle and did not let it go. I saw my boat float away and after a few minutes when I could finally see the Canyon walls around me and I knew that I wasn’t going to drown, I actually became amazed at how beautiful the view was from the River. How even though I was terrified, I felt a sort of peace I had never felt before in the Canyon. You probably wouldn’t have thought that was what I was experiencing because of all the little girl, horror movie screaming that I was doing 🙂 I handed my paddle to Kieran when he paddled near me and attempted to crawl in his boat. But, Donald came by and I grabbed his tow strap on his boat and I was towed to the shore on the North side. I remember getting out of the water and just releasing everything and every emotion I had from that swim. I was cold. I was terrified, but strangely calm at the same time. Donald left me there on the shore and went to get my packraft so he could tow me back to Tanner Beach where everyone else was. When I was finally alone sitting there on the rocks and looking at the beauty around me, I started to cry, I wanted to call my parents. I remembered why I hated water and how powerful it was. How scared it made me. Donald came back and towed me across to Tanner Beach and then we all took a break. After about 30 minutes, we packed up our rafts and headed towards Unkar. The water for the rest of the day wasn’t crazy like Tanner Rapids, there was some “riffles” but I stayed in my boat and enjoyed the views. I felt so humbled, so small- I was a speck in the Colorado River at the bottom of the most Grand place on earth. Everywhere I looked there was wonder, beauty, magic. I could see summits that I had climbed from a different view, I remembered all of the moments that I had spent in the Canyon, moments that encompassed every emotion and challenge, moments now gone that are only etched in my heart. I had a smile the entire day. I was like a little girl on Christmas morning, it was overwhelming. It was a completely different perspective of the Grand. A perspective I fell in love with that very day. I was hooked. I was stoked. I was terrified as hell, but at the same time, I was so intrigued and happy. I knew then, that packrafting was in my life to stay. We arrived at Unkar and set up camp, we hiked up to see the ruins and as we made our way back to camp the sunset turned gold, the glow on the Canyon walls was magnificent. The views couldn’t have been more magical. We ate dinner, laughed, talked about life, ate more food, and prepared for a cold rainy night. The sky turned dark, the stars faded away, the temps dropped and it eventually started to rain. I slept alright that night- between the pidder patter of rain and the sound of the River it was a beautiful concert of sound. In the morning, we were all slow to get going, the sun seemed as though it would never come out. It was freaking cold. We could see the snow on the rim and then it started to snow on us 🙂 Yay, snow on a River trip 🙂 It didn’t last too long and though it didn’t really ever warm up, we had to get going. We had to paddle to Hance, our destination for the night. We got into our boats and head down the River. The wind found us and began to challenge us and make every single paddle harder. I was just worried about falling out again and not knowing what was ahead on the River. I became better at paddling that day, I started to find my groove. I was so cold though and so was everyone else. The wind made the cold worse, but, the views, oh my goodness, the views. Not even the coldest day could take away the amazement of that place. I was mostly smiles and a little bit of shivering. We decided to pull over and warm up at 75 mile canyon. We needed to warm up and eat something and assess the rest of the day because of the cold weather. We pulled our boats onto shore, we left our gear tied to the boats and found a nice break spot to eat and put warm clothes on. We then decided to not paddle the Rapids there and instead portage our boats down River.
After an hour or so we began to find the motivation to portage our boats down the beach and then we headed back to our boats to start the tiring process. My boat was gone!!! GONE! NOT THERE! I asked Brian if he knew where my boat was, he said that he thought Steve had carried it down the beach for me. So I started hiking down the beach and ran into Steve. I asked him if he had portaged my boat down the beach, he said no he hadn’t. My loaded boat was officially missing. We all kinda freaked out and ran up and down the beach thinking maybe it got stuck in the rocks somewhere. I felt terrible, I had lost the boat Steve let me use. We were all looking for it when Donald noticed it was up River tipped upside down. The wind had taken my fully loaded boat and blown it up River. Thank goodness I had strapped my life vest to my pack on the boat. Donald kindly paddled up River to recover my boat, everything was perfectly attached to it still, just all wet. When my damn boat finally came back we all portaged our gear and boats down River. We were all exhausted and cold and stressed from the events. But, without events such as that, the adventure isn’t complete. We then hiked up 75 mile and enjoyed the twists and turns of the walls and the beauty that trapped us down in there. Everywhere you looked you could climb or explore, you could get lost within its slots and live down there forever, if you wanted to 🙂 After our hike, it was time to get back into our cold wet boats, at least we had all of our boats now 🙂 it was around 2 more miles of paddling before we reached Hance beach. The water was calm and the wind came in and out. The sun began to set above Hance Beach lighting up the summits of the towering temples with the last of the daylight. The day was coming to an end, we filtered water, we dried everything out, we ate, we laughed, we talked about future goals and Grand dreams. We talked about how we were dreading the 6.5 mile hike up to the Rim with our heavy packs. We talked about our trip, about the memories we had created in only a few days, memories with strangers, who were now friends. We talked about what a wonderful life it is to be lost in the Grand, to be able to adventure and live life to the fullest. We ate more food and then all headed to bed. The wind echoed for awhile on the beach, the cool air and the Canyon vibes put me to sleep. What a day it had been.
In the morning, we packed up pretty early and got ready for the hike out-4,000 plus feet of climbing in 6.5 miles with ridiculously heavy packs. The going was slow up the New Hance, we all had a rough go getting to the top. The hike isn’t usually hard, but with the added weight of packrafting gear it made it more challenging. I brought 5 liters of water and was out around mile 4. We stopped around 1.5-2 miles from the top and feasted on the rest of our food. It was like a Thanksgiving dinner- tortillas, avocado, apple, candy, bell pepper, hummus and pretzels, gum, chocolate, peanut butter- that gave us all a little bit of a boost. I took a million breaks along the way up, always being impressed with where I was, what I could see. Even though I had seen it many times before on that very same trail, it never get old, the shadows, the colors, the feeling is new each and every time I see it because I am different each and every time I see it, different because of my experiences in the Grand, because every experience in that magical place changes me, inspires me, makes me see the world and life differently. It is a true blessing. It is all the magic I have ever needed in my life. It is all of my dreams and all of my aspirations. It is my heaven. It is the greatest gift I have in this world. As we got closer to the Rim the trail became snow and the warmth of the day faded off. I was pretty wiped when Donald and I got to the top. Steve was there waiting for us. Steve and Donald went to get the other car which was at Lipan Point and I waited for Kieran, Dave and Brian to finish the hike. I sat there alone on the rim next to the road on my pack, looking at the yardsale of gear around me, thinking about what I had just done, what I had overcome, the fears that I faced dead on, what I had learned and what I had almost missed out on because I was nervous and scared. I was so proud of myself for making the trip, handling a terrifying experience with grace and pushing through it. For learning something totally new and scary for me. And then, my mind and my heart filled up with ideas for future trips, of what raft I would buy, of when I could be back on the River. I started to miss the River, I started to miss the views and perspective of being on the River. Then, my hunger and fatigue kicked in and I became really cold. I changed out of my wet sweaty clothes and put warm clothes on. A few minutes later I heard Kieran cheering as they arrived at the top. Kieran, Dave and Brian were out and everyone was safe, that’s always the main goal of any trip. We ate pizza outside of the Park and then headed home, filled with inspiration for adventure, new friendships and a handful of great memories. This trip was a big deal for me, I cannot tell you how many opportunities I have refused because of my anxiety, because of my worries. I have kept myself from many things because of my struggles with anxiety and I am so glad I did not do that this time. Another wonderfully, crazy and perfect adventure in the books.