Rafter Wins a Rematch with the Grand Canyon’s Lava Falls 37 Years Later

Bob Gaar on family, whitewater, and paddling with type 1 diabetes

Bob Gaar on the Grand Canyon.
Bob Gaar on the Grand Canyon.

Superman has Lex Luther. The Road Runner has Wile E. Coyote. And Bob Gaar? Gaar had Lava Falls on the Colorado River. Lava Falls was Gaar's nemesis ever since he partially paddled it 34 years ago. Gaar began paddling, then swam. So, returning to the whitewater was Frazier versus Ali II. And did Gaar swim again? No, it went swimmingly.

Gaar said, "Well, I was surprised that I did not flip and felt vindicated after my swim 34 years ago. My line and the run was exactly like I had pictured it mentally during the previous three days."

Gaar, 61, a mechanical engineer who lives in Atlanta, GA, had his family to witness his moment. Lynn, 62, and their sons Taylor, 32 and Clayton, 28, joined three other families to form a team of 16 in five commercially rented rafts and four kayaks.

The Gaar family.
The Gaar family.

"All four of us had done the Grand Canyon earlier. It was on Lynn's bucket list was for the four of us to do it together."

The parents had the pleasure of watching their sons excel in and out of boats.

One thing that just really struck me was watching our boys be so skilled and capable. They were also thoughtful, so considerate of the rest of the group. I've been amazed by how our boys are better at so many things that I've done all my life. When Lynn and I talk about our boys, there's a mix of a little pride in how we raised them, but mostly fortunate to have such good luck. They say it's better to be lucky and they're right."

Luck with their sons wasn't the only luck in the canyon.

"That's true of kayaking too because getting through a hard rapids has luck elements."

Lynn in the Grand, 1981.
Lynn in the Grand, 1981.

However, Gaar wasn't lucky enough to paddle the whole three weeks. He had to settle for two, the latter half of July, and hike to the group.

"I hiked down from the South Rim. It was 5,000 feet of elevation and seven miles of trails. I couldn't take the whole three weeks off."

Still, Gaar squeezed some serious excitement into the two weeks beyond the whitewater.

"Four out of 16 sites had rattlesnakes."

There was also the flash waterfall and rock slide.

"We were camping one night and it began raining. It was the remnants of a hurricane that was passing through the Southwest. We ended up with a flashflood waterfall about 100 feet away from where we were camping. All night long, we weren't sure whether we were going to be flooded out or not. The waterfall wasn't that loud, but the rock slide that occurred about an eighth of a mile upstream was deafening. It lasted long enough that walked out from behind the trees and saw the dust cloud."

And whitewater, rattlesnakes, and a rock slide weren't the only excitement.

Uh-oh.
Uh-oh.

"I had a young family member secretly, completely shave my head using the shears from the kitchen utensil ammo box. My hair gets greasy on the river and it just made it easy to care for. I got up in front of the group with my guitar and played and sang the songs that my brother-in-law played at our wedding 37 years ago. My wife came up to kiss me, got two feet in front of me, and I pulled my hat off and said, 'Kiss me!' She just about died laughing."

On Gaar's first Grand Canyon trip, his greatest challenge was Type 1 Diabetes.

"I was dealing with outdated insulin management and paddling by the seat of my pants."

Improved technology made paddling with diabetes easier this time.

"The Pelican Box is a waterproof container that kept my continuous glucose monitor dry and my monitor worked amazingly well for the entire trip."

–If you want to learn more about extended paddling trips with Type-1 diabetes, click here.