Inside the Team Rafting Run at the Grand Canyon Speed Descent Record

There is a phenomenon that happens on monumental multi-day rafting journeys generally known as ‘River Time,’ the place schedules in the conventional sense stop to exist and vacationers merely float in rhythm with the river. Hours in the day, even days in the week, drift into the ether as a paddler’s sole function at any given second is to merely circulate downstream.

There are different variables to think about, in fact, reminiscent of what to eat if you’re hungry and the place to sleep when fatigue units in, however as a normal rule the river is accountable for the tempo. It ushers paddlers swiftly by means of whitewater rapids and resists any urge to hurry by means of the lulls in between.

As seasoned veterans of the whitewater world, members of the U.S. Men’s Rafting Team perceive this steadiness of energy arguably higher than anybody. The Colorado-based staff consisting of Kurt Kincel, Matt Norfleet, Jeremiah Williams, Robbie Prechtl and staff captain John Mark Seelig has made a reputation for itself as the nation’s speediest crew of river runners, maybe most notably for bending the River Time continuum simply sufficient to develop into the quickest group to row an inflatable raft down the 277-mile part of the Colorado River flowing by means of the Grand Canyon in 2017.

Yet on the staff’s second try and set the file for the quickest general descent by means of the Grand Canyon final weekend — this time enlisting the assist of skilled Grand Canyon guides Lindsay Hupp, Justin Salamon and Omar Martinez — the racers got a refresher course on nature’s chain of command, recalibrating River Time as a fluid calculous of cubic toes per second over miles per hour diminished by the elements of wind, sub-freezing temperatures and deep winter’s minimal daylight. While the crew managed to greatest its earlier mark of 38 hours and 5 minutes, its Saturday morning end in 37 hours, 55 minutes, fell practically 4 hours shy of the 34-hour, two-minute file set by Colorado kayaker Ben Orkin in January 2016.

Grand Canyon Speed Record Falls (AGAIN)

“It’s just totally a crapshoot,” Seelig stated on the drive house from Flagstaff after shuttling a teammate to the hospital with frostbitten toes. “So many things are out of your control and you’re hoping they all fall in line, but something always happens. Last time it was the boat; this time it was water and weather. It’s safe to say this is the coldest we’ve ever been.”

The staff made some frigid, pizza-fueled winter coaching runs on the Colorado River Fruita, Colo. Still, nothing may prep them for the chilly of a midnight launch final Friday evening in the lifeless of January. Robbie Prechtl – Courtesy U.S. Men’s Rafting Team

The choice to launch beneath a full moon at midnight on January 9 proved to be the staff’s final undoing, though there was no real looking various. There aren’t any particular river permits allotted for world file makes an attempt, nor are water managers keen to spice up river flows to satisfy the requests of rafters — though that didn’t cease Seelig from making a telephone name to see if it was doable to get extra water launched from Lake Powell earlier than their launch.

“He told me it really doesn’t work that way,” Seelig stated. “But I thought I might as well ask.”

Typically, water flowing by means of Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam tends to run on the larger facet this time of 12 months, surging in a single day with the intention to generate electrical energy for downstream energy calls for. In 2017, for instance, the rafting staff rode peak flows of greater than 20,000 cfs on their January 13 launch, pushing their custom-framed cataraft downstream at a tempo two hours forward of the velocity file by the time they reached the run’s largest rapids, Lava Falls, some 20 hours into their preliminary try (pictured under). But the river’s energy proved an excessive amount of for raft’s carbon-hybrid rowing body, which broke and punctured a tube that took nearly 4 hours to restore in the darkish of evening. Deflated and defeated, the males limped to the takeout and commenced calculating methods to enhance their odds.

Posted by US Whitewater Raft Team on Saturday, August 12, 2017

The results of that brainstorming session was a barely completely different boat design fabricated by Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based standup paddleboard maker Hala Gear, the firm’s first foray into raft design and development. The 40-foot cataraft tubes used for the staff’s most up-to-date try lopped eight toes off the 2017 mannequin with the intention to improve maneuverability, and included Hala’s patented carbon stringers all through the size of the tubes with the intention to improve rigidity and responsiveness by means of the river’s flatwater sections.

“I’m not sure if it made the boat any faster, but it was definitely more rigid and responsive, so we were able to keep the boat more on line, making us more efficient,” stated Williams, Hala’s Colorado tech rep. “And this time we went into the run fully confident in our craft, which was important.”

RaftingTeam3This try at the velocity file, the crew was prepared with shorter, bolstered cataraft tubes. Robbie Prechtl – Courtesy U.S. Men’s Rafting Team

While the boat stood as much as the check, the river didn’t cooperate. For no matter purpose, water flows launched for the staff’s 2020 try measured at roughly half of their earlier effort, dropping to a low of about 10,500 cfs midway by means of the run. The crew had deliberate to launch with a surge of excessive water pushed by means of the dam for energy technology and experience the 14,500-cfs bubble into the internal gorge. There, steeper gradient would quicken their tempo and ideally allow them to catch the earlier day’s bubble in time to experience that surge to the end line at Grand Wash Cliffs, two miles above the Lake Mead takeout at Pearce Ferry.

They reached Phantom Ranch (Mile 88) by 11 a.m., greeted by a crowd of 50 cheering followers lining the Black Suspension Bridge as they fell about 4 minutes behind file tempo. That’s when the backside fell out. Over the subsequent 12 hours the river dropped some four,000 cfs and the rowers merely couldn’t make up the distinction.

Speed Run from Black Bridge at Phantom Ranch

No file, however we’ve got walked away modified! We had clear traces and by no means stopped pushing! The water was too low for a file, nearly half of our final try. Besides freezing and having to make a hospital go to for frostbite we are going to all mend from the struggling. We will stroll away modified by the expertise. We felt so supported the total time. The Grand Canyon and Flagstaff neighborhood assist was overwhelming too. One outdated Grand information stated, “I think you have re-inspired the speed run to this community. Thanks so much!”
There was over 50 folks cheering us on at the Black Bridge!
More particulars to return!

Posted by US Whitewater Raft Team on Monday, January 13, 2020

“We actually ran smoother this time. We just didn’t have enough water,” Seelig stated. “It was just the luck of the draw going in. The day before, we crunched the numbers and wondered why we were even doing this. But we also knew that anything can happen. There are so many different factors in play as you get closer, so we decided to just give it a try. Maybe we’d get a tailwind. Plus Lake Mead is kind of an X factor. Unfortunately, we got there at sunrise and were met with a headwind that slowed us down even more.”

The gamble on circumstances is probably going a main purpose why solely a handful of boaters have taken up the problem of velocity runs by means of the Grand Canyon over the years, starting in 1951 with brothers Bob and Jim Rigg from Grand Junction, Colo., who rowed a cataract-style wood rowboat by means of the canyon in 52 hours, 41 minutes. Southwestern boating pioneer Fletcher Anderson ultimately raised the bar with a 49-hour solo kayak descent in the late 1970s, and in 1983 Kenton Grua, Rudi Petschek, and Steve Reynolds accomplished a now-legendary run on a flood of 70,000 cfs in a wood dory named the Emerald Mile, setting a file of 36 hours and 38 minutes that endured till 2016.

Emerald Mile Oarsman Rudi Petschek on the Breaking of his Grand Canyon Speed Record

Since the kinds of boats and boaters is nearly limitless, nobody is de facto categorizing information past the general quickest time. Whether utilizing oars or paddles, inflexible boats or inflatables, staff or particular person, everybody faces a novel set of challenges on each try, together with present record-holder Orkin, whose 34-hour solo run was all the extra exceptional contemplating he flipped and swam from his kayak in Lava Falls on a chilly winter evening. It’s that “second midnight,” after greater than 20 hours of steady paddling, when River Time tends to take a darkish flip for racers and the demons start to emerge.

“You go into some dark places down there, so having teammates around you is beneficial,” Williams stated, including that he misplaced much more sleep in the months main as much as the staff’s second try as a result of he knew what awaited them. “Going solo is something else entirely. Orkin did something special down there for sure. I hope that’s recognized and his record lasts a long time.”

The debate over whether or not Orkin’s time will ever be topped takes on a brand new set of variables in the present period of water administration, overallocation and local weather change. Certainly the staff enterprise, with a crew of oarsmen in a plus-sized inflatable craft, calls for extra water than the U.S. Rafting Team and firm was provided, and fairly presumably greater than any follow-up makes an attempt will ever see. Compounded by the vagaries of allow lotteries, climate elements and health calls for, the chances are additional diminished.

Just the similar, Seelig says he wouldn’t have it every other manner.

“In reality, yes, the record is cool, but doing an adventure like this with these guys is more important than anything else. The ability to share an experience is better than the experience itself. We’ve done a lot of stuff together, we like each other, and we kind of like the suffering together and being there to support each other,” Seelig stated. “As soon as we got off the river we all said we’re never doing that again. But ‘if’ we did, we’d definitely pick a different time, not winter, and we’d try to make sure the water levels would be ideal. How? I have no idea. The stars would have to align.”

RaftingTeam2Courtesy U.S. Men’s Rafting Team, warming up once more with the second try in the books.

Nonstop Speed: The Grand Canyon’s Fastest Descents Set Up the Race for a New Record


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