Saturday, October 13, 2012

Grand Times on the Grand Canyon with SWA

Oh, damn, perfect conditions and we forgot the water skis!  An amazingly calm morning in the heart of Marble Canyon.

Small World Adventures just got off the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, and we couldn’t have asked for a better trip!

The Crew chilling out below Vasey's Paradise.  From left to right: Eric, Oliver, Ina, Thomas, Rudi, Rae, Guy, Darcy, Valentine, Dave, Paula, Nina (Ursula is off to the right doing her own thang)!

Our amazing group was comprised of all kinds of fun and interesting characters; all super nice people and all willing to pull their weight (and more) around camp. 

Sunset over camp below the Roaring 20's.  Yet another sweet, sandy beach to kick back on for the evening.

We had a crew of 8 from Austria, 2 from Montana, 1 from L.A., 1 from D.C., 1 from Norway and 1 from Colorado.  Needless to say, we were a diverse group who came together to help each other celebrate the trip of a lifetime!

Brad, Ursula and Ina taking advantage of the shade after hiking up the steep trail to the granaries at Nankoweep

It’s hard to put down in words what a 225 mile trip through the Canyon is all about.  It’s an unforgettable experience that I’m sure changed each and every one of us (yes, even those who have been down many times) in some way.

Sue enjoys the calm before the storm

For me, the most special part of a journey down the G.C. is just getting away from it all.  14 days without a cell phone, without a computer, without newspapers, Television, Facebook, etc…is just pretty damn awesome in my opinion!

 The family that drinks gas-powered Margaritas together, stays together!  Ursula and her 3 kids--Ina, Paula and Valentine enjoying life and each other at the camp below Lava Falls.

On all of Don and my other travels with a kayak, I constantly feel the need to “check in” and so we spend countless hours looking for internet cafes, or places where our phones work all so I can read a few emails, write some blogs, and post some crap on Facebook!

Eric, Sue, Rae and Nina enjoy a tranquil morning with awesome sights like Vasey's Paradise and Redwall Cavern 

It is certainly liberating to be “stuck” at the bottom of the Big Ditch with no hope whatsoever of getting online.  I love it!  All the stress of office work just melts away as we shove off from Lee’s Ferry. 

Even though the light sucks in this photo, I love it!  Rudi leads his sons--Oliver and Thomas--through their 2nd lap of Hermit.  Rudi is looking good, Oliver is catching big air off the top wave, and Thomas is grinning big as he drops in behind his big bro.

By the time we’ve hit House Rock rapid I’ve forgotten all about emails, blogs and Facebook.  And, by the time we are in the middle of Lava Falls, I can’t even remember that anything exists beyond the Grand Canyon. 

Valentine and Paula move in for a closer look at the "Desert Varnish"

It’s a great exercise in letting go, disconnecting and truly just living for the moment.  This is pretty easy to do when life is simplified such that it is on the G.C.—eat, kayak, eat, kayak, hike, eat, sleep, wake up, repeat. 

Thomas is not afraid to dive head first into a cool "douche" in 3 Springs  

The act of disengaging with the cyber world also creates the opportunity to ENGAGE with your fellow humanoids.  It allows us to sit down and have real conversations with people when we aren’t distracted by incoming text messages, or the TV on the background. 

Arrrrrg.  Beware of Jay the pirate

It’s amazing the things you can learn about people (including yourself) when you just kick back and listen to someone!

Dave definitely claiming the best; and BY FAR the longest surf of the day.  And, he did it without a paddle to boot.  Well, someone had to show those youngsters in their playboats what was up!

I think for many people on the trip, this whole concept of being cut off from the rest of society was a new feeling—or at least being cut off for 14 days straight.  But everyone dealt with it extremely well. 

Getting up close and personal with Deer Creek Falls.  Once they got their GoPro situated, the Austrian boys dove right in for the UBER DOUCHE directly under the falls

It wasn’t until the last day of the trip as reality was starting to creep back into the minds of the paddlers that I heard few comments like, “I wonder what’s happening in the outside world.” And, “I wonder how many emails I’ll have waiting when I get back to the office.”

Don feeling at peace since he's forgotten to worry about whether he has more friends than Larry on Facebook

The ability to forget all this and just focus on the canyon is a gift that I don’t think any of us appreciated fully enough until we got back to our “real lives.”

Eric telling Ina to stop trying to eat the Great Pumpkin

Now, not everyone may have enjoyed being cut off as much as I did, but I know the trip was immeasurably special for every one of us in some way.

Dan and the gang enjoying the views from the Havasu trail

For some running the huge whitewater was a highlight.  A few people told me that they’d never run anything THAT BIG before in their lives and likely wouldn’t again.  What an amazing feeling to battle the seemingly endless breaking wave trains in the Roaring 20’s, ride the humongous waves at Hermit, or punch the formidable lateral at Lava! 

Party time!  Jay entertains "the kids" while Sue and Katrina kick back and enjoy an icy cold margarita!

For others, seeing the Canyon’s geology was the highlight.  The ever-morphing but always impressive shape of the canyon kept us captivated throughout our days.  One great thing about the trip is that the canyon itself is constantly changing.  No 2 days look alike as you move through Sandstones, Limestones, Shales, Granites, Basalts and much more. 

Best Trip Leader ever--Larry!  Best Baggage Boatman ever--Dan!  Best New Kayaker ever--Katrina!

Just before Lava Falls, boaters can start to see evidence of a massive lava flow that poured over the canyon rim filling gullies, capping rocks and crossing the river.  In places, it looks as if the lava were literally frozen still in a split second as it now stands suspended in mid-cascade down the canyon walls. 

Lunch time kayaking lessons.  Guy teaching Katrina everything there is to know about the wet exit

As John Wesley Powell wrote in his journal at the part of the canyon—“What a Conflict of Fire and Water it must have been!”  Day dreaming about the forces of nature at work to create the landscape we now float through is a worthy reason to do the G.C. in and of itself!

Oliver admiring contrasts as Havasu Creek joins the main river

And for some, the highlight of the trip was pulling into any one of the perfect sandy beaches that we called home each night.  Once the rafts were unloaded, people could set their minds to relaxing alongside the river and waiting for Jay’s “Supper time” call, wondering what kind of magnificent food he and Don cooked up tonight? 

Perfect place for a bow stall!

I know a few of us loved throwing away our watches and just living by the sun.  Get up when it gets light, go to bed shortly after it gets dark.  And, yes, I'm only 34 years old, but I fricking LOVE going to be at 7:45pm!

And while I know that Valentine, Ina, Paula, Thomas and Oliver didn't necessarily love the whole "live by the natural cycle of the day" thing, I do believe the highlight for them was Jay’s “chain saw blender,” or being able to share such a special trip with their families.  

Nina and the "Devil Boat" make their way through President Harding Rapid

For Jay, the highlight (besides impressing everyone with his blender) was probably the fact that everyone started to call their solar showers “douche bags.”  Not really as bad at is sounds, it all came about because they learned that “douche” means shower in Norwegian.  So, from that moment onward, Jay had the pleasure of yelling each day, “Get your damn douche bags off my raft!”

Eric, Paula, Oliver, Rae, Ursula, Dave, Nina and Darcy gather around Larry's raft to hear about the Marble Canyon Dam Site.  But, thanks to David Brower and the Sierra Club, Marble Canyon ain't no lake!

Each of us has different reasons for loving the canyon and for fighting not to loose our wonderful memories from this trip. The Grand Canyon will impress upon us for many years to come, and we are all thankful for that!

I can't wait until the next time I can watch the sunset on the Grand
Now, the SWA crew is heading back to Ecuador to begin the next adventure.  See you south of the equator!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Can't Wait to Get Back to Ecuador!

Chris T. Enjoying an "fluffy" run down the Oyacachi River

Don and I leave in 6 days for Ecuador, and instead of packing, I’m blogging!
After getting over the initial home-coming from the Grand Canyon and realizing that, “oh crap, we leave really soon and I have SO much to do,” I’m now super stoked to be getting back to Ecuador.  

Don't under estimate the Ecuadorian jungle--it's thick out there!

I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over North America and the World in the pursuit of paddling; and sure, there is excellent whitewater in other places in the world—California, Washington, B.C to name just a few—but none have the complete package like Ecuador does.  Ecuador has great boating, a super friendly and laid back culture, monkeys, rainforest and just all and all good living.

Tarquino leads a crew into "Menage-a-Rodeo" on the Cosanga River.  The take out for this run is at SWA's riverside lodge, so even if you get a little rodeo action, you won't have to wait too much longer for your take out beer!

Just a quick count of Ecuador’s awesomeness:

In the Borja Valley alone there are more than 150 kilometers of whitewater spread between 6 major and “classic” rivers and a handful of lesser known rivers.  Borja, site of Small World Adventures’ riverside lodge, has seen quite a few changes since Larry first recognized the valley as the boating Mecca of Ecuador, but all and all retains its sleepy farming town charm.  The heaviest traffic on the road to the lodge is still farmers walking down to tend the cows and the biggest “noise pollution” is all those damn Inca Jays and Oro Pendula birds singing their distinctive songs.  

 I still haven’t gotten tired of a lap down the Oyacachi, then a quick stop in the town of El Chaco to stock up on beans, rice, fresh tomatoes, avocados, pineapples, bananas, and berries, then back to the lodge in time to enjoy a cold Pilsiner on the porch while watching a myriad of brilliantly colored hummingbirds compete for the flower nectar. 

Larry doing a little silhouette art during the Fiestas de Borja

Then, branching out to Tena, where we spend at least 2 of our days with all of our trips, you bring the count up to over 300 kilometers of whitewater spread amongst Class II, III, IV, and V rivers.  Those heat-seeking people in the world will love Tena!  The air temperature is a pretty constant 80-85 degrees (that’s roughly 25 degrees Celsius) and the water is warm enough to break out the shorty paddling top (you can get away with just a rash guard if you don’t mind the extra water in the boat)!  While our lodge is in the transitional forest around 5,000 feet in elevation, Tena is true jungle and will have you thinking of Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear in no time! 

 Jason has blurry vision in Tres Huevos on the Upper Jondachi

You don't always get to choose which kind of day it will be, but Ecuador offers the chance for a chill, "controlled" ay on the river, or an epic adventure.  Adventure-seekers, you'll have no problems finding your thrills in Ecuador.  And, for those of you who choose the normal outing on the river, you'll more often than not get it; but don't be too surprised if Ecuador throws a bit of craziness at you every now and then just to keep you on your toes!   

Whichever kind of day you get, once you are done paddling all this amazing whitewater, Ecuador offers you a laid back, warm and welcome lifestyle I’ve found no where else in the world.

 Darcy stares into the maw at the "Tunnel" #2.  Adventura Maxima!

Want to drink a cold 20 ounce Pilsiner or a Coca-Cola out of the bottle with the locals at a roadside bar?  Or an Orange Fanta with the kids?  No problem!  Even if you don’t speak Spanish, they’ll love communicating with you in whatever means possible.  Charades-like sign language is a favorite and you are guaranteed to come away smiling.

Larry watches on as the "Sheriff of Nottingham"styles Pica Piedra Rapid on the Quijos

Or perhaps a solo walk at dusk is more your style, watching the innumerable bird species get active.

There are awesome, curious animals in Ecuador too.  This guy was trying to hitch a ride on our Sprinter.

Need a break from kayaking and want to climb a 20,000 foot peak, hit some hot springs, go surfing in the Pacific Ocean, look for Pink River Dolphins in the jungle or visit the Galapagos?  Also no problem!  Ecuador, while only the size of Colorado (or just slightly smaller than Germany), it pretty much has it all. 

The kids love to play on the river too

So, I asked myself throughout our travels, what’s not to love about Ecuador?  It’s kept Larry happy for 20 years now, Don for 17, me for 11; and the country captivated Guy so much in his few weeks of traveling here in 2010 that he just couldn’t hold back and had to have a piece for himself!

A crew of solid boaters hiking into the Cheesehouse section of the Quijos River

So, even though life is frantic now and I’m rushing around answering emails, buying solar lights for the lodge, packing my personal gear, I know that in less than a week, I’ll be chilling on the front porch of Small World’s lodge.  I’ll probably just have paddled the Papallacta or Cosanga and I’ll be basking in the knowledge that I still have 5 more months of the good life!

 Ecuador is so pretty, you can get stellar photos out the window of the moving van!