Have you ever found yourself excited for an upcoming trip and at the same time completely ignorant of what you would actually be facing? This is the situation I found myself in when I signed up for a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 2013.
In 2012, a group of friends had placed their names in the lottery for a permit to raft through Grand Canyon National Park and were able to secure a 3 week window in mid-November. To give you some context, this group of friends also had extensive whitewater experience and had guided throughout the world. On the other hand, I had barely paddled a canoe and my outdoor expertise consisted of short hikes and car camping. But being an avid photographer I jumped at the chance to fill one of the spots on the raft, thinking that most of my days would be filled documenting scenic landscapes and picturesque rapids. I had no idea of what would fill the time in-between photos, or how it would change my awareness of what could happen if you step out of your comfort zone.
A year and half of planning and prepping had come to pass. I said goodbye to my wife and kids and headed out on the trip of a lifetime. Once at the put-in, staring down the river I was awestruck and excited, but at the same time lost. What the hell was I doing here, and how was I going to survive the next 21 days?! This feeling lasted for the first week, as I learned the routine of breaking down camp, rigging the rafts, paddling like mad through level 3 and 4 rapids, then setting up camp. Wash, rinse, repeat… It wasn’t until I settled in to this rhythm that I realized where I was, and how beautiful the Canyon looked from the bottom up. Day 6 saw us take our first daylong hike, leaving from camp and hiking as high up the ridge as we could. This would be the first of the trail explorations and slot canyon hikes that would occur on a daily basis from that point on. Trail hiking then led to bouldering expeditions up dried up riverbeds and canyon walls. Each of these ventures was something brand new to me and part way through the trip I began to crave them. I would rush to set up camp at the end of the day so I could explore with whoever was up for it after a long day of paddling.
One of the most rewarding things about these hikes and climbs was the new perspective you’d achieve on the Canyon and your surroundings. It was also a means for me to discover what I could do physically by pushing my limits and trying new things on a daily basis. Scaling up a 20 foot wall to find a perch to take in the awe-inspiring beauty around me was incredible, and I knew I had to make changes to my life when I made the trip back home to Peterborough.
Day 21 found me in a similar mindset as day 1 at the put-in - lost. I missed my family immensely, but was so torn by having to leave. At the take out there was still more river to run, more rapids to shoot and more hikes and climbs to explore. How could we be ending the trip if we weren’t at the end of the river? It was then that I realized that the trip may be over, but the adventure didn’t have to be.
In the following years I have tried to pass along everything I learned to my wife and girls. We’ve become avid campers and look forward to our exploring trips, whether it’s camping and hiking in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park or heading out of town to explore coastlines and forests. My goal now is to instil a love of adventure in them and eventually plan a family trip to the Grand Canyon to share my experience with them.
Contributed by Duane Hansford
Duane is an avid photographer and lives in Peterborough, Ontario. He is a regular contributor to the Spark Photo Festival. To see more of his photos, visit http://www.redbubble.com/people/duaneallan/portfolio
Further Information about Duane's Canyon Adventure:
The group submitted their trip to Grand Canyon National Park for a rafting permit and spent 21 days in the canyon. It was self-guided and they flew from Ottawa to Phoenix, Arizona. Gear was purchased at Wildrock Outfitters in Peterborough.
PTBO --> DESTINATION
- 7 hours by air
- 12 hours by land
- 21 days on the water