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Thoughts on Paddling Grand Canyon for the Fourth Time

Paddling Grand Canyon

Our resident paddling expert, Daxton Bacalman, just headed out west to start his fourth paddle through Grand Canyon. We asked for some thoughts and for him to write down his packing list for us. If you’re asking yourself what to pack for paddling Grand Canyon, you may want to jump straight to the Grand Canyon rafting gear list. We’ll follow up with Daxton when he gets back as well.

Paddling Grand Canyon

In its journey to the Gulf of California, The Colorado River traverses the broad escarpment of it’s namesake, the Colorado Plateau. This high desert region of the Four Corner’s area is known for its fantastical sedimentary rock features—hoodoos, slot canyons, goblins, narrows, reefs, and natural bridges. With 10 National Parks and 17 National Monuments, the area is home to the greatest concentration of U.S. National Park Service units in the country—a veritable playground for any outdoor enthusiast. The most prominent of these, Grand Canyon National Park, is a 277 mile long, up to 18 mile wide, and one mile deep chasm that has been efficiently carved by the river’s meandering channels. I doing so, it has exposed brilliant layers of rich sandstone, some of which date back 2 billion years. Ever since John Wesley Powell accomplished the first successful journey through the canyon during the summer of 1867, the Colorado River, a roiling ribbon of water deep within the canyon’s walls, has remained the main artery of adventure with which to view this magnificent landscape.

Paddling Grand Canyon
Feature photo: Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo by Mark Lellouch.

It is one of the most sacred places on earth, from the history of it’s Anasazi inhabitants whose presence can still be felt, to the determined pioneers like John Wesley Powell whose grit and determination set a precedent for modern paddlers. It is a place of adventure and escape.

The Canyon’s lure remains magical—a place of pilgrimage for hikers, geologists, archaeologists, paddlers, and virtually all outdoor enthusiasts—for anyone that seeks to become entwined in the rich human and geologic history found within its steep walls. Rock/Creek’s own Daxton Bacalman, store manager at our Riverside SUP and kayaking store, is one such devout adventurer. He is returning for 21 days this November to paddle, what he calls “the big ditch”, for the 4th time. The end of the bustling motors of the summer tourism season have come to an end and the canyon begins to settle into its own, more relaxed, rhythms of winter. This, Daxton believes, is the perfect time for adventure.

His relationship with the Grand Canyon is one of simultaneous child-like enthusiasm and matured mutual respect. His first trip, after attending Colorado Mountain College in 1996, was as a river guide. He was hooked. Awestruck by its pure power and beauty, Daxton returned in 2007 for his honeymoon, and again in 2011 to welcome a military friend returning from Afghanistan. He believes that “it is one of the most sacred places on earth, from the history of it’s Anasazi inhabitants whose presence can still be felt, to the determined pioneers like John Wesley Powell whose grit and determination set a precedent for modern paddlers. It is a place of adventure and escape.” He notes that nothing compares to living like a nomad and moving your life downstream daily—living with the river’s movement. To paddle the river means to surrender to it—to flow with it, listen to it’s unique voice as it sings about a lost history within the brilliant painted colors of the canyon walls. They are colors that cannot be described but only experienced by traveling within its walls—the various hues of purples, pinks, oranges, and reds. The sandstone painted by the desert sun and the turquoise waters that are tucked within the river’s cascading tributaries resonate with spectacular vibrance. “Yes, it is a lot of work,” Daxton says. “But it is also clarifying and peaceful. To camp along the river’s sandy shores, listen to its song and view that sliver of shattered silver in the indigo night of the sky above you. It is this experience that makes you realize what truly is important in your life…and that is why I continue to return to this place!”

Daxton is going with a group of 16 people—all experienced and well-seasoned paddlers. They will be traveling 230 miles in 21 days with 5 rafts and a handful of kayaks. They organized their expeditions through a friend at Ceiba Adventures out of Flagstaff, AZ. Per Daxton, it is a true adventurer’s rafting company, with all the river gear and knowledge necessary to outfit the trip of a lifetime. As far as the kayaks being used, they are taking Pyranha Loki, Dagger Axiom, and Dagger Nomad. Daxton says he will be paddling both a Liquid Logic Remix and Dagger Axiom, stating that he prefers a “fun, slicey boat that I can use on the boils for stern squirts, something fast for surfing, and something comfortable for the long and flat water stretches.” With heavy duty rafts and various play boats, it is definitely an armada of pure paddling fun.

Needless to say the gear is essential. But Daxton is quick to point out that these raft trips are very similar to car camping, or more aptly, “barge-boat camping…because there is no reason to be a minimalist when you have a raft!” Extended rafting excursions are not about speed, weight, and the efficiency of gear. You are surrendering to the movement of the water, to the flow of it’s current and its strength, therefore, let the water bare the brunt of your weight. Comfort is key to life on the water. Daxton quips, “Be comfortable…bring a stuffed animal if it helps you sleep better, bring LED party lights…hell, a Christmas tree and decorations if you want! Basically, whatever items you need to make your experience that much better!” A checklist of gear that Daxton gave the crew for his trip is published here.

Historic paddling photo grand canyon
Georgie white triple rig raft tied to beach in the inner gorge near mile 148.5 – colorado river. April 1964. Nps photo.

Daxton is quick to point out that such a trip is, “not about conquering the river or ticking the grade of a rapid, but rather an attempt to re-connect with that sense of wilderness adventure, with our ancestors that lived within this sacred ground as well as those pioneers of preservation that have worked tirelessly to protect these waters for so many generations.”

It is the quintessential adventure of wilderness, of wildness, of the human bond with our natural world. In essence, a trip through Grand Canyon is a trip through time, an adventure in natural observation that ignites the soul and re-kindles the senses—connecting one, not only with the history of a place, but cultivating a reverence and awe for that which is wild. And that is what keeps us going back, that is what keeps us going out, and that is what fuels our continued desire for adventures. Go play, get outside.

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Visit Rock/Creek’s paddling store, ski shop and outlet at 1530 Riverside Drive in Chattanooga, TN to outfit your next adventure! We also have friendly online support staff that can get you outfitted for your next adventure. Give us a call or live chat over at rockcreek.com Be sure to ask for Daxton (sometime next month) and ask him how his trip went. Do us a favor and share this list if it was useful to you.