Three-Day Grand Canyon Sprint
Can a team paddle 226 miles of the Colorado River in 72 hours?
Photos and words by Tyler Williams
The sheer length of a Grand Canyon trip down the Colorado River transforms river runners. From Lee’s Ferry to the first road access at Diamond Creek, the distance is 226 miles. Normally, that translates to 16 days of hiking and boating and plain ‘ol silly fun. Take less time than that, and you’re missing the point. The Canyon is a place to be explored, lost within, savored.
So when the phone rang offering a spot on a three-day kayak trip through the Canyon, my initial reaction was respectful decline. Then something happened in the next minutes, as the logistics were explained, as the mathematical possibilities unfolded, as I reflected on my own ticking clock of this lifetime, and I said “okay.” The lesson here? Sometimes you just shouldn’t answer the phone.
There will be five of us launching on the back of a short-lived 37,000 cfs high-flow release, intended to re-distribute river sediment from this summer’s colossal flash floods. Our plan is to paddle steadily from morning to night, with stretch breaks every two hours. That is roughly eight hours of paddling per day. If we can make 10 miles per hour, we’re golden. As trip leader Justin Salamon told me over the phone, “It all works out on paper.” We got a good laugh out of that.
Between the five of us, we’ve accrued more than 400 Canyon trips, so there should be no mistaking our progress, or lack of it. Justin, river manager at Canyon Explorations, completed a 6-day kayak trip through the Canyon in 2011. Also on that mission was Dave Dill, who like Justin is a product of Colorado’s Arkansas River. Mongolian river explorer Pat Phillips and I have been training daily on a nearby lake. Still, we’ll all be chasing Harlan Taney, who made a bid to break the 36-hour speed record one year ago, before being forced to abort with an injured elbow. If anyone knows what we’re in for, it’s Harlan.
During his attempt, Taney paddled the first seventy miles solo, in the dark. The blazing fast but unstable EPIC kayak he used will be under him again this time. I’ll be in my trusty Prijon Yukon-Expedition, probably the perfect boat for a 3-day Canyon trip. The rest of the team plans to run Liquidlogic Remixes.
Conceptualizing our pace shatters any ideas I have about pacing through the Canyon. South Canyon, a typical second night’s camp, will be our first lunch stop. Phantom Ranch comes on the morning of day two, Deer Creek Falls should pass by that afternoon, and Lava might offer a mid-morning scout break on our third day. It isn’t the way I’d recommend seeing the Canyon. Nonetheless, I have a feeling it will transform us just the same.