A Minimalist Path into the Grand Canyon

by Susan Hollingsworth – Guest Blogger and Lolë Friend

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The place is a mile deep into the earth.  The road there is not a road, but a river.  The vehicle is the one I know best: a long, sleek kayak.


It would be two weeks and I would carry everything with me into the Grand Canyon.


My home, condensed and guarded by a thin layer of waterproof fabric, rested behind my lower back.  A sleeping bag and mat, a fresh pair of warm pants and a puffy coat, a book and a fleece top, a small stove and three canisters of spices.  Dinners lived just beyond my flexed left foot, twelve meals cooked long ago and sucked dry for preservation.  Fuel canisters, a bag of wine for a celebration, and my share of a group fire pan floated in the cavity in front of my right flexed foot.  In the crevices were spare water bottles, sunglasses and more odds and ends.


Packing the supplies into our kayaker, fourteen strangers and I pushed off into the mighty Colorado.  We were swept away by the high water, flowing from the base of Glen Canyon Dam some twelve miles upstream.  The weight was heavy, the general feeling, an excited trepidation.


Rarely do groups chose to descend through the 280 miles of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River without the support of massive rafts.  Elaborate (by multi-day rafting standards) kitchens and meals can be housed in coolers and large dry bags on rafts.  Meats, vegetables, even glass bottles of wine commonly make it down into the third and fourth week of raft trips.


However, peeling away layers of comfort often reveal the simplest forms of bliss.


Carrying only the bare essentials for warmth and sustenance, our journey into the canyon was one of the utmost personal satisfaction.  Collectively, this personal satisfaction translated into a fifteen-person proclamation of pure joy.  A wonderful example of individual confidence contributing to a deeper, richer experience for all.


Everyday we chose our own experience.


We paddled over waves bigger than buses, let go of control in the swirling eddy currents, and rejoiced in smooth passage through chaotic whitewater.


We paused to explore side canyons with clear creeks dropping from the canyon rim a mile above.


We chose routes a child would take, over rocks and through creeks to make the journey more playful.


We reveled in the company of new friends, as many of us met for the first time right there on the river.


Needing to average 20-30 miles a day on the water, our schedule was not for the faint of heart.  When we weren’t making river miles, we were running, exploring, eating, or sleeping (typically saving the eating or sleeping for when the sun went down).  Our bodies quickly adjusted to the new pace of daily life and performed fantastically.


We were humbled, partly because the Grand Canyon’s epic scenery diminishes man’s power, partly because the same natural forces that granted us safe passage and joyful experiences just as easy could have been harsh and unforgiving.


I look forward to the minimalist style of self-support river exploration for future trips.  Although, it is hard to imagine one coming close to the 280 miles through the Grand Canyon. Our lightweight, minimalist approach revealed the simplest pleasures found in every moment.  A realization I hope to carry with me, even when not riding the river’s waves.