Into The Great Unknown
August 28, 2013 8:12 PM   Subscribe

In 1869 John Wesley Powell lead an expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers including the first documented passage through the Grand Canyon. Now, geologist, teacher and blogger Gary Hayes writes a post a day about each day he spent on his own journey Into The Great Unknown, a rafting trip 226 miles down the Canyon that he just completed. Start here. Come for the fabulous pictures, stay for the geology, wild life both past and present. And when you're done stick around and checkout many of the other great past series on this blog (scroll down).
posted by Long Way To Go (6 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I did a rafting trip down an earlier section of Powell's trip years ago - basically from Green River, Utah, down the Green through Canyonlands to the confluence with the Colorado, and then out to Lake Powell. Our guides had river maps that included a bunch of notes and sketches by Powell.

If you ever want to do a river trip, I highly recommend that one. You float for three days down the Green with no rapids, so you don't have to put on a helmet or lifevest and it's basically a very small-scale cruise and you can just laze around. Then you have rapids all day for one day after you get to the Colorado.
posted by LionIndex at 8:33 PM on August 28, 2013

This is relevant to your riverine interests (earlier on the blue)
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:25 PM on August 28, 2013

My uncle is a river guide for one of the companies that runs trips through the Grand Canyon and I got to go along on a trip of his as his assistant (not that I was good for much beyond following simple instructions) earlier this summer. It was an amazing experience between the hiking and the scenery and the wildlife and even just the sense of camaraderie you get from spending two weeks living with 20 odd strangers. The commercial trips are expensive and getting a private trip is sheer luck (and I'm guessing fairly expensive in its own right), but it's definitely a trip I'd recommend to anyone with the wherewithal.

The thing that stuck with me the most, though, is Powell's trip. The experience nowadays is a very packaged one. That's not to say it's safe, because people do get seriously injured and occasionally die. We had to call a helicopter to evacuate one guy who spent a week in the hospital recovering from the infection he got down there. However, most everyone has a sense of what to expect and you're generally going with someone very experienced like my uncle, who's done at least a hundred trips through the Canyon by now. Setting up camp, cooking, cleaning after yourself, and all of that stuff is very standardized and all the preparations have been made beforehand. Our setup looked pretty much like Gary Hayes's pictures which I'm guessing look like everyone else's camps down there. When Powell went, not only did he not have any of that, he didn't even know that what he was trying to do was possible. The Little Colorado River has a set of falls that are nearly 200 feet tall. If there were anything like that in the main river, they all would have died.

Even if they'd known for sure that the river was runnable, it's a miracle that they didn't have anyone die on the river (unlike seemingly every other expedition before the 50s). They had no one with any whitewater experience. They were running in boats uniquely poorly suited to the challenges they were up against. Powell himself only had one arm but persisted in clamoring up and down any cliff he could find. Any rapid they dared run inevitably dumped half of their supplies in the river and damaged their boats. Worst of all, rowing technology at that point only allowed for backwards-facing rowing, so these poor men spent their days trying to navigate rapids that no one had ever run (or seen) before in fast boats that couldn't turn while not being able to see where they were going.

That's the sort of thing I'd think about when I got peeved at my uncle for harassing me to be constantly earning my keep.
posted by Copronymus at 12:33 AM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if you'd like the story of a trip down the Colorado that even more improbably didn't result in deaths, there's these chuckleheads, who swam the canyon in rubber shirts and wool long underwear while avoiding the park service under the thread of immediate arrest. By the end neither of them could walk properly so they spent more time crawling around collecting firewood to dry out their clothes than they did in the water.
posted by Copronymus at 12:39 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great stuff. If anyone is interested, Colin Fletcher, who wrote "The Complete Walker," also wrote a book about his solo walk through the Canyon: The Man Who Walked Through Time.
posted by caddis at 9:17 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Groovers" Heh.
posted by Big_B at 10:58 AM on August 29, 2013

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