Archive for the ‘Trip report’ Category

Stretching The Kayaking Legs: Jhomolhari Trek, Bhutan

We offered this 7- day trek in 2015 and will be doing a longer variation over 9-days in the fall of 2016.

Please view our photos and other blogs on last years Bhutan season here and here.

Dirk_hike_sunburst

Every now and then it’s just good to get out of the kayak and stretch the legs. Even better is when that includes a chance to walk among the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan. In the fall of 2015, between guiding our Class III and Class IV+ kayaking trips, I had such a chance.  These kayaking trips had been scheduled a week apart to accommodate Mike and Thelma. They wanted to add a trek after the Kayak and Cultural trip so they could see some of the mountains up close. Dirk and Claudia planned their arrival ahead of the Class IV+ group in order to join the trek as well. Our good friend and outfitter Yougs suggested the Jhomolhari trek via Bonte La and Takhung La (both names for passes) to fit our time frame. We would be walking a loop, starting and ending near the ruins of Drugyrl Dzong, the fortress that was once one of Bhutan’s first lines of defense from invaders to the north.

Jhomolhari_East_sunrise

Jhomolhari is Bhutan’s 2nd highest peak at an elevation of 23,989 ft.  It is also the source for the Paro Chu, a river we paddle on all of our trips.  Getting closer to the source of this familiar river would be a treat and a chance to see if any runnable sections lay above the end of the road.

We were a group of 5 trekkers with a support staff that nearly tripled our numbers. Karma, our lead guide was assisted by Arnjun. Tashi was our cook. Kencho and Sangay helped Tashi and did the sprint each day from camp to where we would lunch, after packing the previous night’s camp. Throw in a string of 14 horses and two horsemen to carry all the camp gear and you have a Bhutanese style trek.  Unlike Nepal, where porters are almost exclusively used to move equipment around, Bhutan relies on horses, mules and yaks. Yak herders have long roamed the hills and high pastures of Bhutan’s Himalaya, moving their animals with the change of seasons. Since we were there in late fall, most of the yaks were already at lower elevations.

Snow_Jhomolhari_trek_Bhutan

It was raining lightly as we started our trek near Gunitsawa, located not quite at the end of the road that we had taken from the town of Paro. We walked among colorful farm houses with fields of potato, red rice and wheat being harvested. After crossing a small bridge at the town of Sharna we left the road behind and found ourselves in a forest of Oak, Rhododendron and bamboo. This would be our setting for the first day and a half. Camp that first night was nestled in the trees along the banks of the Paro Chu.

Paro Chu_Trek_Blur

On day 2 the trail became a bit more technical than the first day.  There were numerous rocks that required us to pay close attention so as not to  twist an ankle.  The trail also gained elevation.  Before noon we passed by a junction that, had we gone left would have put us on the old trade route into Tibet, just 8.5 miles away.  Our trek for the next few days would be quite close to the border.  On more than one occasion we encountered other trekking groups on their way down the trail.  They gave us reports of poor weather they had experienced and said that the recent snowfall had made a key pass impassable. Karma had us push on. At days end and numerous bridges later we found ourselves at Soi Thangthanka, a developed camp we shared with another, larger group. The weather had clouded over so our opportunity for first views of Jomolhari had to wait until the morning.

Jhomolhari_Thangthanka

Day 3 dawned cold and crisp with clear skies. We were treated to alpenglow on the south shoulder of Jhomolhari and looked forward to views of the other mountains we would pass during our walk that day.  We broke out of the forest and into the open, continuing to parallel the Paro Chu river. We passed through a military checkpoint that sports a phallus-shaped wind vane – I doubt it’s military issue. Throughout our hike we encountered other trains of horses, much like the ones that accompanied us, that were either supporting other trekking groups on their way out or were returning empty after packing goods into the small villages located along the way.Chorten_Flags_sunburst

An hour or so from what is known as Jhomolhari Base camp at Jangothang and our third nights camp, the trail passes alongside and through several small villages. It has been a goal of the Bhutanese government to supply electricity to all settlements, regardless of their remoteness.  Along our route we saw newly constructed power poles that had been carried in section by section under human power. I tried hefting one of the sections we found along side the trail and couldn’t believe the distances they were being carried. Other strides the Bhutanese government is making to improve life in these remote areas include the construction of better schools and basic health units, such as those we found in the village of Dangochang.

School_trek

Our camp that night was located at 13,382 ft. and we were all feeling a bit winded as we dropped our day packs alongside our already erected tents. The crew had arrived ahead of us slow moving chillips (foreigners) and greeted us with hot tea and snacks. The clear skies we had experienced at the start of the day had turned to clouds that obscured Jhomolhari’s eastern face, the iconic view from this camp. Again, we would have to wait until morning for clear views.

Jhomolhari_Clouds

Perhaps it was the anticipation of mountain views or just the altitude, but I was restless and awoke before sunrise. I was treated to a moonlit Jhomolhari that then spread to golden light striking the face of the peak. We took it all in as we sat in the cold and ate our hot breakfast.

Jhomolhari_basecamp_Tent

Today we would be laying over and it was up to us how we spent our time. The goal was to acclimatize and we could do this by resting in camp, hiking to a glacial lake located up valley, or ascending the ridge behind camp that could potentially yield spectacular views of Jhomolhari and surrounding peaks, as well as a chance to see wild Blue Sheep. We chose the ridge.

My altimeter read over 15,500 feet when Dirk and I stopped at our high point to look across at the east face of Jhomalhari.

Dirk_Jhomlhari

We could see that the others had stopped below and were resting. We dropped down to join them and take in the views of the surrounding peaks and the climb up to the hanging valley and lakes we would do tomorrow.

Resting_group_ridge

During our slow but steady walk up the ridge we did indeed stumble on a small herd of Blue Sheep lounging and grazing as we passed!

Blue_Sheep_Ridge

Day 5 after crossing the Paro Chu for the last time we ascended switchbacks that took us to the hanging valley we saw from our high point the day before. The trail then eased up as we paralleled the lakes to the end of the valley.

Lakes_trekker

Just beyond we could make out the trail cutting through the snow. This is the area that had turned back the groups we saw descending on our second day of the trek. It had been three days since we saw them and the weather had been stable.  The snow we encountered wasn’t much more than a couple of inches deep and was no problem for us . More importantly, the pack horses could get through.

Horses_snow

Hiking up many hours with over 2600 ft of elevation gain, we arrived at Bont La, a pass located at 16,039 ft. and our high point for the journey.

Trekkers_Bonte_La

Group_snow_Bonte la

Despite some scattered clouds, the views throughout the day were spectacular and gave a taste of what it might be on a totally clear day. Rugged, massive peaks, valleys, creeks and waterfalls all made up the landscape.

Trekkers_view_Yaksa

Once over the Bonte La we began the descent toward Soi Yaksa. We would loose all the elevation we had gained that morning and then some. We arrived in camp at 12,464 ft. nestled in a clearing surrounded by trees.

Another pass awaited us on day 6. We reached Takhung La, 14825 ft. shortly after lunch. To get there we climbed above tree line and contoured along a long valley running east-west. We then turned south into a side valley, walked toward its end and turned west again to begin ascending. I am told that on a clear day one can see Kangchenjunga, the 3rd highest mountain in the world which straddles the border of Nepal and Sikkim, India west of us. The clouds obscured our view.

Thombu Shong is a pasture and sometime yak herder camp. Here we spent our 6th and final night of the trek.

Our final day we had only 656 ft. of elevation gain to reach our final pass of Thombu La. From there we traversed out along a beautiful ridge from which we began a descent that ate up some serious elevation.  We could see the lush forest of the Paro valley below us. We arrived in time for lunch, tired and full of good times and good memories from a wonderful trip.End_Jhomlhari_trek

Many thanks to our Bhutanese staff who treated us like kings and queens. They arose long before we did, and greeted us with a hot cup of tea and a warm smile each morning -delivered to our tent. They cooked for us, packed our gear and shared stories of the landscape and their customs. It is the warmth and gracious hospitality of these wonderful people that keeps us coming back. We hope you join us October 27- November 5, 2016.

Tashi Delek.

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

 

Mary Looks Back On The Class III Kayak And Culture Trip Oct., 2015

 

Bhutan Class III Kayak and Cultural Trip 2015

 

How to determine how many images to post? No amount of pictures can tell the story. But here is a taste of my story.

The flight into Bhutan is itself an adventure. Views of the Himalayas, tallest mountain range in the world! Views of the pine needles, so close to the wing tips it seems you could reach out and touch them as the plane drops in preparation for landing! These are 2 of the many reasons to be happy to be on the tarmac in Paro!

We kayak on clear, cold, pristine rivers winding through stunning valleys. In our effort to see as much of Bhutan as we can in our twelve days, we hike through villages, we boat, we drive to the next monastery. Some days we join the locals in religious festivals. Karma, raft guide for those on the land tour and cultural guide for all, has a knack of assimilating us into the local activities. If there’s something going on, we’re in the thick of it! Fresh popped rice anyone? The shadiest spot to sip the coldest brew in town? Nuances of Buddhist imagery? He knows it all. Buffet lunches arrive riverside as we finish our day on a new run. How does he do it?

The road travel is at times as exciting as the flights. A landslide? No worries! After a few hours mingling with the Bhutanese (who are picnicking as they wait for the road crew to cut a new mountainside road) we are heading toward a new adventure! Like visiting the Takin Reserve. (That’s the muskox-like national animal of Bhutan.) Or hiking in search of the black-necked crane that overwinters from Mongolia. Or taking time to visit to the School of Traditional Arts. Then, shopping anyone?

Beyond Karma’s magic, there are so many serendipitous events that occur as to be inexplicable! As I said earlier, no amount of pictures can tell the story. You just have to come and experience the adventure of Bhutan for yourself!

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

A First Descent In Bhutan- The Sonam Section Of The Kuri Chu

We’re planning a repeat of this section and all the classics across Bhutan Nov 6- 27th, 2016. We hope you’ll consider joining us.

 

Cup o Joe, Ben scouts his first rapid of the day, day two.

Cup o’ Joe, Ben scouts his first rapid of the day, day two.

It was 3:00 PM, late November in eastern Bhutan. Day 1 of the first descent of the Kuri Chu. This was the hour we told ourselves we would start looking for camp. These deadlines are often better in theory than practice as we found ourselves in a section of canyon with near-vertical walls. Below us was a horizon line spewing mist. It wouldn’t be long before the low-angled sun would slip behind the ridge. It was beginning to look like we might be late for dinner.

Just beyond the horizon line we could make out a spot where the entire river, all 4500 cfs of it, flowed through a gap not much more than 15 feet wide. This narrowing we expected from our Google Earth review of the river prior to the trip. We weren’t worried about it because we knew that it sat in a pool. It was this rapid that sat between us and that pool that was a surprise to me.

We were a team of six made up of one Canadian, one Bhutanese and four from the U.S.. Thinley Thoben, Ben Morton and I were guiding Sarah Cunningham, David Lech and David Focardi. This was Sarah and Thinley’s first multi-day and the 1st time some in the group had done a first descent. I had become aware of the river in 2010 when I floated past its confluence while doing a multi-day river trip on the Drangme Chu, a drainage to the east. Curious to learn more about the Kuri, I had asked our Bhutanese outfitter, Ugyen “Yougs” Dorje what he knew. He gave me three important pieces of information: it hadn’t been done, he could get the permit and I was welcome to put together the first trip.

Our team L to R; Thinley Thobden, Ben Morton, Phil DeRiemer, David Lech, Sarah Cunningham, David Focardi.

Our team L to R; Thinley Thobden, Ben Morton, Phil DeRiemer, David Lech, Sarah Cunningham, David Focardi.

Ben got the group organized in eating a late lunch while Thinley and I floated downstream to have a closer look at this rapid. Without verbally communicating, I knew Thinley was also concerned about what it held, how we might get around it and how long it would take. He popped out of his kayak onto the rocks to have a look just ahead of me. I kept an eye on him as I pulled my boat out of the water, watching his body English carefully to see what it might tell me of the rapid. After a short time he turned to me and flashed a big smile while giving the “thumbs up” with one hand and tapping his head in the universal “O.K”. sign with the other. There was a way around this.

This wide rapid was broken by a ledge system, which in turn was sprinkled with numerous rocks, and holes. We were committed to running the left side. After a technical top section, the flow formed an intimidating pillow as it slammed into the left wall and exited in a 90-degree turn.

Bhutan, Kayak, Kuri Chu

“Sonam” rapid

The word sonam means good luck, the kind of “luck” that comes from good living. And right now sonam was with us! We could portage the difficult top part and put into an eddy exactly where we needed one just upstream of the pillow. This eddy would allow us one by one to get into our boat and execute a ferry in front of the cushion. This intimidating yet doable move led into the pool above the narrow gap. Failure to drive far enough out into the current would result in getting pushed back leftby the force field effect of the pillow. If that happened and the paddler was still upright, they’d have to scramble back into the eddy and get themselves psyched up to try again.

Kuri Chu, Bhutan, Kayak

David Lech takes it all in at the critical eddy toward the end of day one.

We fire-lined the kayaks over the rocks and into position. Ben lead off with a perfect demo, always good for moral to see that first run go so well. We took our turns with no two runs the same. David F. had the most exciting run. He experience the “what if” line when he immediately flipped upon entering the current, rolled, flipped again then disappeared our of view from those of us waiting below. It was a tense moment. David ended up out of his boat, all the pieces together in a pocket eddy against the left cliff wall still above the pillow. Thinley, who was running sweep, was able to scramble from above to extract him from the eddy and hike his boat back into position. Dave now had to try the move again- not easy after such an experience. The second run came up with the goods. He stayed upright long enough to hit the right side of the pillow. Our cheering echoed off the canyon walls.

Kuri, Kayaker, Chusion, Bhutan

David F. makes a critical cushion move on the Kuri Chu.

Now as we floated through the narrows and into the next rapid, our focus was to find a camp. Once again sonam was with us when I followed my instincts and veered off to find a hidden pool at the top of a rapid. There, at the far end nestled amongst the rocks surrounded by the steep canyon walls, was a sandy beach. Home for the night! With dusk upon us we scrambled for driftwood and filtered water, settling into the routine of making dinner and setting camp as we relaxed into the beauty and magic of this most remote place.

Sarah C., cocoa never tasted so good. End of day one on the Kuri Chu.

Sarah C., cocoa never tasted so good. End of day one on the Kuri Chu.

Clear night in the Kuri Chu canyon.

Clear night in the Kuri Chu canyon.

Packing boats on the morning of day two.

Packing boats on the morning of day two.

The 3-day descent included a day and a half of paddling 20 miles of the Kuri Chu and a another 30 after joining with the larger and easier Drangme Chu. We reached the confluence at 4:00 p.m. the next day after a full day of challenging and rewarding rapids. It was in this place 5 years earlier, during a descent of the Drangme Chu with Thinley that he and I first peered curiously up the Kuri and wondered about it’s rapids. Now, five years later, we could see some significant changes had taken place as roads were being built on the steep sides of both rivers where there had once been only forest. A dust storm blew up the Drangme as workers cleared a freshly blasted area. The threat of rock fall kept us moving, robbing us of a chance to absorb the energy of the bleanding of these two rivers. The hard rapids were behind us and the group was keen to put in another hour so as to nibble away at some of the last day’s mileage, so we pushed on and made camp in the dark.

Dust from road construction on the Drangme Chu blows up river at the confluence with the Kuri Chu.

Dust from road construction on the Drangme Chu blows up river at the confluence with the Kuri Chu.

 

As we broke camp our last day the view downstream was already very different than the previous camp. The air was warmer and the banks were lined with thick tropical vegetation. This is tiger country. The topography was easing back and we could sense the river canyon giving way to the flats of India. During our final day, our driver Shatu and our cultural guide Kinga were finishing up an adventure of their own. Bhutan’s rugged terrain meant they had to drive for 2 ½ days to meet us at Manas National Park, our take-out on the Indian side of the border. As we approached the take we could see their silhouettes enthusiastically waving from the shore and feel the warmth of their smiles.

 

 

Paddling the Drangme Chu en route to the border with India. It was starting to fel pretty tropical.

Paddling the Drangme Chu en route to the border with India. It was starting to fel pretty tropical.

End of the line. De- rig on the Indian side of the border.

End of the line. Derig on the Indian side of the border.

Our trip had begun in Paro far to the west, on the other side of the country. Had we driven it in one push, it would have been three long days of continuous driving over winding, mountainous roads, and crossing numerous passes. Fortunately the Drangme Chu and Kuri Chu are only two of many incredible rivers Bhutan has to offer. With the Himalayan range and Tibetan Plateau as their source, the rivers flow north to south before spilling out into India. During our 16 days in country we took part in celebrating the fourth King’s birthday with the country and enjoyed a festival where few tourists ever go, we hit up eight awesome Class IV and IV+ runs as we worked our way east to this successful  and rewarding run of the Kuri Chu.

Sleep_Bus

The Kuri may be the finest multi-day run I’ve done in Bhutan. The quality of this river exceeded my expectations; numerous rapids at the class IV+ level, minimal portaging, stunning scenery, multiple days of living out of our kayaks and finishing in another country! I am already planning my return.

Consider this an invitation.

Gaurds_Dam

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Take Time to Watch Our Bhutan Slideshow

Please take the time to watch our recently posted 22 minute slideshow featuring some of our travels in Bhutan. We hope it will inspire you to join us in this remarkable Himalayan Kingdom. Since 2006 we’ve been returning to explore it’s beautiful rivers, stunning scenery and gracious culture. Join us for one of our regular departures in the fall or let us put together a custom trip for you.

 

A Rare Moment In Bhutan

The Thangka of Paro Dzong on display just outside the fortress walls.

The Thangka of Paro Dzong on display just outside the fortress walls.

When in Bhutan, one constantly experiences moments of serendipity. Shedding the western desire to stick to a schedule allows one to experience these moments and open up to some pretty wonderful things.  Such was the case on the first day with our Class III kayaking and cultural group.  We were en route to our hotel after picking everyone up at the airport. Glancing across the valley toward the Paro Dzong (fortress), I saw that a 3-story tapestry (called a Thangka) was unfurled and on display.  These huge panels are the end product of many months of labor, hand appliquéing and embroidering figures and symbols of religious significance. A Thangka is taken out of storage only one day a year for a few hours. This is a special Bhuddist ceremony, a time of celebration and blessings. For a chillip (that’s us) to see one in person is rare.  We quickly detoured over to the Dzong.

What little we could glean about this particular Thangka is that it was made by the community and presented to the Dzong one year earlier. Its significance was the blessing of long life. It had been on display once, exactly a year prior. It’s annual hanging was an unannounced event, and our group was but a handful of westerners that made up the small crowd that was there. The locals were dressed in their finest traditional clothes; men in their gos and kabne shawls while the women were in kira skirts, teago jackets and rachung scarfs.

Women_Kiras_Bhutan

Woman in their traditional dress of Kiras attend the blessing of the Paro Thangka.

It is considered a blessing as well as a means of gaining merit to be in the presence of one of these large Thondrels. People prostrated facing the thangka, lit butter lamps, received blessings from monks and, one by one, approached the thangka so as to touch their forehead to the underside of the edge of the cloth.

worship_paro_tangka_Bhutan

Worshipers pray in front of the giant tapestry or Thangka at Paro Dzong.

Paro_Bhutan_Monk_Blessing

A woman recieves a blessing from a monk.

Almost immediately we saw the monks were getting into position to roll the thangka in a extremely prescribed manner in order to return it to storage inside the Dzong.

Monks_Rolling_thangka_Bhutan

Raedy to roll. Moments after we arrived to view this large Tangka it was rolled and stored until the next year.

A row of monks and others lined up shoulder to shoulder across the width of the base of the enormous panel and, under the commands of a head lama, began a careful and coordinated effort to fold it as it was lowered from above.

lama_paro_Bhutan_Buddhist

A lama oversees the folding of the large Thangka.

From there it was placed on a sheet of fabric, folded lengthwise many times and wrapped in a fabric casing.  The immense and heavy package was hoisted onto the shoulders of mostly monks and a procession lead by a small band of musicians, flag bearers, locals and religious officials marched up the stairs of the fortress where it will remain until next year.

Parade_procession_Monks_Paro

A procession walks from where the Thangka once hung toward the Paro Dzong

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Monks carry the heavy fabric panel toward the Paro Dzong.

Tangka_Paro_Dzong_Bhutan

The heavy Tangka is carried into the Paro Dzong.

Truly a significant and “auspicious” event for the start of our trip and, in some ways, just another day in the life of Bhutan. We all knew this was going to be a good trip.

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

Kayaking Grand Canyon Trip Report: September 10-24, 2013

Fun_splash_shinumo-grand_canyon

I’m not sure if it’s possible to have too much fun but it sure is worth trying!

As I write this our politicians are holding the Grand Canyon and all federally controlled recreation lands, as well as many people’s jobs and livelihoods hostage while they play a game of chicken with our national budget.  Anyone who has either signed on for a commercial trip or whose long awaited start for a private permit is scheduled during this time is being blocked from launching. Ironic that the very places that many of us go to get away from it all are affected even as we try to escape.

If all you did was look at a map each time you went to run the Grand Canyon or any other river for that matter, it would look the same each time you came back.  You put in at point A and take out at point B.  That is where the similarities end.  Each time you put on, the river is going to be a little different, it might be clear or muddy, a little higher or a little lower, the weather might be cloudy or sunny, cool or hot, but  what really sets it all apart from the rest of the trips you may have done are the people.  It’s a key element in all trips.

To paddle the Colorado is one thing, to experience as much of the Grand Canyon as you can is another.  For many this truly is a once in a lifetime trip, the only time they’ll get to do it. Others will fall under its spell and find ways to return again and again. What if this is your only trip?  Wouldn’t you want to see as much as you possibly can?  We agree!  So on the mellow water days we might load everyone onto the rafts (along with their kayaks) so we can focus on exploring the many side canyons and doing as many loops hikes as possible.

Hikers_step up_Carbon_Creek

We truly look forward to the actual running of our trips.  We’d been corresponding with many of our guests for close to a year and finally being on the river together is what it’s all about.  On this trip we had folks from Germany, Switzerland and all across the US, plus our good friends Jaime and Gisela from Ecuador.  We also had a great crew of guides from Tour West, our Grand Canyon outfitter.  Four trip leaders!  With over 500 combined trips down the Colorado between them, let’s just say that Dave, Kyle, Tom and Cameron knew their way around.

Group_rafters_Kayakers_Grand_Canyon

The southwest had been experiencing later-than-usual rainfall. We knew we weren’t going to have a clear water trip. Just as a splash of milk will change the color of a cup of coffee, it doesn’t take much silt from a tributary to turn the main river some shade of “colorado”. Just downstream of the put-in with an “average” flow of 35 cfs, the Paria mixes with the green water of the dam-controlled Grand. Three day after we put-in, the Paria peaked at over 7,000 cfs! Our flows for the 15 days fluctuated between 9,000 – 19,000 cfs, 2,000 – 6000 cfs more than the dam released. This silt laden run-off negated the term “whitewater” and made our paddles slippery to hold. THIS is the Colorado!!

kayaker_muddy_water_Colorado

For the first three days we lived with clouds and occasional rainfall (never at mealtime). We retreated to our tents each night to be sure we got a good nights sleep. By the forth night tents gave way to cots.  From then on we slept under clear, starry skies. During those early days we hiked into the Esplanade Sandstone of North Canyon, took on the rapids of the Roaring Twenties and settled into the mellow stretch of river below Silver Grotto.  We threw frisbees at Redwall Cavern, marveled at Nautaloid fossils, climbed high at Eminance Break to see this mighty river oxbow around Point Hansburough, we swam in the clear water at the end of the of Saddle Canyon hike and gazed from the granaries of Nankoweap at the iconic downstream view.

Hikers_Grand_Canyon_emmenence

In spite of the rain, most of the side streams were flowing clear so we made stops at places like Shinumo, Elve’s, Clear Creek, Makatamiba, Havasu and Three Springs. We were also fortunate to camp at Stone Creek, Ledge’s and Fern Glen, also with clean water.

The Canyon itself was verdant!  While hiking to the overlook at Unkar, normally a sun-parched wasteland, someone commented that it looked as if grass seed had been spread and a lush lawn was coming in.

Unkar_Colorado_River

We were a merry band of kayakers and rafters, all keen for adventure.  The hiking trio of Jean “the machine”, Rimma and Michele were a force to be reckoned with, often heading up the pack during the longer hikes at Carbon-Lava Chuar, Tabernacle and the Surprise Valley up-and-over from Tapeat’s to Deer Creek. Michele would often stop to catalog her most recent find in the form of a plant, critter or rock. It had been a long talked about dream to share the Canyon with Todd and Becky, as it sits in their backyard. It wasn’t until this year they were able to make it happen.  Mary F. gets the “Vishnu Schist” award for having undergone the greatest metamorphosis, with true grace, from neophyte camper to Canyon veteran. Amazing, Mary.

This was Jaime’s second trip down the Colorado, perhaps giving him the most runs in a kayak by an Ecuadorian (how’s that for looking for a first). Gisela, from the tropical town of Tena, Ecuador was soaking up the desert and game for anything (as long as she got a clean-water solar shower each day).

Patrick, Jerry and Steve usually led the kayak charge, going BIG by hitting both holes in Crystal, venturing right at Hance, repeatedly plugging the hole in Upset and taking the crasher at 209 head on! Carry back up to do it again? You bet! Tom, at 72, with somewhere in the neighborhood of  25 trips down the Colorado, was the man to watch for smooth lines with minimal effort.  Eike, the nicest guy around, had never seen such big flows!  An example of efficiency, he’d see his line and quickly run it clean. (A version of “they’re at the top, I’m at the bottom. I win!”)  He found an outlet for his surplus energy in crushing cans in camp each night perfecting the technique of minimum blows.  It was fun to watch his confidence in the bigger water began to match his solid skills.

Paddle_hand_kayaker_muddy water

Maren boated the Grand with us before.  Right off the bat she looked like a different paddler by styling Badger on day one (it had knocked her flat three years earlier). She never looked back as she gracefully aced the big rapids. (I think she might have flipped only once the whole trip!) Thomas took the realistic approach, chose his paddling days wisely and put great effort into working on his roll and technique for negotiating the swirlies.  Mark with his calm expression had a paddling style to match, never too much or too little, just steady. He survived the most dramatic collapse of Lava’s infamous Kahuna wave I have ever seen!  Jim was back for more and paddled better than any of his previous times down. Todd and George consumed the most oxygen through the big rapids with heart rates exceeding their max! Each rose to the occasion and scored successes that left them confident and elated (and perhaps humbled in a couple of the biggest rapids). But who cares! It’s only water! And with the hikes, geology, flora and fauna, solitude and camaraderie, the Grand Canyon put everything into perspective.

kayaker_focused_grand_canyon

For 15 days we had molded into a supportive, motley extended family.

And then, it was over.

It’s a weird transition, going from a place where the perspective of time doesn’t mean the same as it does back home.  Where life is bared down and decisions simple. Where the eyes see differently, and the spontaneity of the moment reminds us of life on the playground. It took three days to wash most of the silt from our gear when we got back. I don’t think that it’s possible to ever wash away the memories of those 15 incredible days together. Why would anyone want to?

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Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

Return To The Rogue

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A  tanker helicopter works it’s way up the Howard Creek drainage along the Rogue River.

The Big Windy fire that kept us away from the Rogue River for our first two trips had, as much as a fire can, settled into a more predictable pattern.  It wasn’t crowning from tree top to tree top and it hadn’t jumped the river. Officials were calling it a “healthy fire” since it’s behavior was to creep along at ground level confined to just the understory, despite having burned thousands of acres.

The BLM reopened the river corridor allowing trips to resume.  There were still restrictions in place from Howard Creek down to Missouri Creek with regards to where you could stop during the day as well as camp each night. The normal shuttle route over Bear Camp Road was closed meaning trips would have to return via the coastal route. We were pretty excited about the prospects of getting at least one trip in on the Rogue this season.  Thanks to Jim Ritter at RRJ we had been keeping our guests on each trip up to date on the fire’s status. This third group was happy to hear about the reopening and they understood there would be smoke for part of the trip- how much and where was up to the wind.

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First camp at Wildcat

In addition to the great white water and instructional opportunities the Rogue presents, we were all pretty curious about seeing the effects of the fire. From our first night’s camp at Wildcat we could see the smoke and occasional flames from the Howard Creek area a mile downstream.  Thankfully we had downstream wind and air at camp was clean with blue sky above.

Howard Creek, we were told, was where fire crews were putting in a fire line to form the eastern boundary of the fire. Just before we arrived in camp, in the flats above Tyee rapid, a large tanker helicopter dropped down to within feet of the water’s surface and began slurping up water.  It flew off in the direction of the Howard Creek drainage and returned to begin the process all over again.

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Day two started out smokey.

Day 2 dawned an eerie, heavy day. The clouds built as we packed up, obscuring the sun and holding the smoke in while the rain began to fall. We made our way past the most active part of the fire visible from the river.  It was the most bizarre scene, the trees were green and healthy while underneath, smoldering moss and grass occasionally gave rise to a small flareup. Rarely on the hillside we saw the glow from a burning tree trunk -surrounded by green trees!  We could see scorched areas where the fire had come down almost to the water’s edge.  It looked as if fingers of the fire had extended down the hill.  The worst area was around Horseshoe bend where a stretch of shoreline from Jenny Creek down to the point at Horseshoe had been scorched.  We learned later that was the result of a back burn that firemen set to prevent the fire from jumping the river.

As the cool, steady rain fell, all I could think about were the positive affects as it washed the smoke from the sky.  By the time we made it to camp at Mule Creek the air was clean and altho we set up tents, the skies cleared and the stars were bright.

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Nine year old Johnny kayaks near camp at Mule Creek.

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Super guide Katherine Luscher surveying her domain

Day 3 dawned clear and the Rogue was looking like it’s old self again.  We paddled Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar under sunny skies, watched Johnny skip stones and talked him into his first session of bottom walking (picture big rock, calm pool, start walking, hold breath- oh and heavy parental supervision and approval) all before lunch.

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Clifford S. exiting Mule Creek Canyon under mostly blue skies.

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Nature’s cooler.

On the last night, after the evening’s festivities and dinner, people wandered off to bed, tired from another good day. Three of us remained, standing at the edge of camp looking up at the night’s sky.  Mostly we were silent, enjoying the beauty of the moment.

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The group from our August 21st Rogue trip

Adventure is defined as “outcome unknown”.  Thanks to all that joined us on this and the trip on the Deschutes this year.  We are grateful for your adventurous spirit and for placing your trust in us and the fantastic crew we work with from Rogue River Journeys.  Together we all made some great memories.

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.