Order calendars via zakshawphotography@gmail.com or the secure Paypal option below.

Order calendars via zakshawphotography@gmail.com or the secure Paypal option below.
My 2014 calendar was entirely photographed on the western side of New Zealand's Southern Alps. "Land in the West" is printed at a size of A4 with twelve calendar month pages displaying stunning outdoor environment photographs. Take a look at my Facebook page to view all twelve 2014 calendar images! Order here via Paypal or email me at zakshawphotography@gmail.com if you would prefer to pay with online banking. Thanks for your support!
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Monday, July 11, 2011

The Grand Canyon! The carnage and rescues!

As a first time Grand Canyon permit applicant Wayne Parks got lucky. People wait years for a chance to run “The Canyon” An expert Alaskan fisherman by trade Wayne may think like a fish but he certainly isn’t one. A complete river virgin Wayne had never paddled on a river and was missing one key skill, the
ability to swim!

Image - Graham Charles
Image - Zak Shaw

Wayne’s invite list of sixteen filled quickly with people who could rescue him. Close friendships forged in Alaska accounted for seven with the other nine being found in New Zealand, New York and Germany. Stefan the sole German along with the New Zealanders secured a spot by being both a good friend and a person who possessed the river skills necessary to complete the journey. They were the rowers. Others were selected on the basis of beauty and charm! 
Our team came together on the 13th of April and began the 227-mile (446 km) river trip.  Containing roughly 200 miles of flat water and 25 miles of rapids the Colorado River from Lees Ferry to Pearce Ferry is not all about whitewater. The combination of length, dessert hiking, humbling geological formations, isolation and fantastic campsites separates the Grand Canyon from other river trips.

John Wesley Powell along with ten men and four boats set out from Green River in Wyoming on May 24, 1869. Their journey was fraught with hardship and uncertainty. On August 13th they emerged from the canyon less in number in the two boats they had remaining.
Many of the feelings John Wesley Powell experienced during the first descent are similar to those felt by river runners today. Although every bend, side canyon and riffle has been named, graded and published since then people will always have a sense of dropping into “The great unknown” Around every corner lies adventure and discovery.

Our flow released each day from dam reservoirs upstream accounted for 16,000 cfs. This was a good healthy level creating fluffy grade three rapids and slowly moving calm stretches. April is generally cooler than the summer months and is typically windy. On only two of our twenty one days on the river did we have to fight against a breeze for downstream movement. Storms threatened but never eventuated.
Life was simple. Get up early, get on the water early, get off early, hike, photograph, play the guitar, drink beer, eat dinner and watch the night sky before doing it all again tomorrow!
Although simple our time on the water each day was not uneventful!

Stefan one of the hired river professionals missed the green tongue through “Badger” Possessing a relatively straight forward line from top to bottom “Badger” is graded a five on a 1-10 rapid whitewater grading scale used within the Grand Canyon. A massive river hydraulic cast the raft precariously onto one edge throwing a passenger. Stefan himself was jacked free and swam the majority of the remaining whitewater.
Wayne woke each day determined to run the gauntlet. Coached by others his river reading and rowing progressed quickly to the point where rowing “everything” became the goal.
“Sphincter” rapid was to be his nemesis. Laterals curling and crashing off the river right wall lifted the poorly aligned raft. Sitting side on to ocean like barreling waves it all happened in slow motion. Accepting fate Wayne grasped the rafts perimeter line with his Halibut hauling fingers and stayed with his craft. After stripping the raft of gear and flipping it upright we continued on.
Image - Ben Jackson
We didn’t have long to ponder our carnage.

Image - Dan Kowalski

“Bedrock” rapid presented a new challenge. A raft wrapped mid-stream alerted us to the problems of another party. Two of our party replaced one stranded oarsman sitting atop the raft. For the remainder of the day our team first stripped all of the rafts equipment before attempting to haul it off the rocks with a huge mechanical advantage system. The owner of the prototype foam raft (instead of an inflated floor and pontoons) just happened to be carrying 300ft of brand new static rope still on the coil! Our efforts were not rewarded however and the park service helicopter was called in equipped with a gas-powered winch to complete their rescue.

Image - Dan Kowalski

Image - Graham Charles
 “Lava Falls” the Grand Canyons most famous whitewater threat lay waiting.
Upon our arrival another private group in smaller 14 footers were untying their tethered rafts from trees on the river left bank. Our team had decided to scout from a higher vantage point on river right and in seeing the others getting ready for their descent we rushed to watch their lines through. Running to the overlook above Lava we watched the first raft leave the eddy, drag left on a bubble line and hit square on through a series of crashing waves. The first raft clearly missed an enormous ledge hole in the center of the river. What unfolded during the following two minutes is incomprehensible.

Image - Graham Charles

The second raft attempting to follow the first drifted slightly right of the intended left line. Realising the problem the oarsman hauled frantically back to the left clipping the edge of the ledge hole but making it through. Raft number three like a lamb to the slaughter was further right than both boats one and two and appeared completely unaware of its fate. The oars did not move and there seemed to be no plan. Rolling over the final wave crest the occupants of raft three got the shock of their lives. The force of Lava engulfed the raft stopping it in its tracks. Raft number four piled in on top of it and both began a wild cycle of flip and rinse. Its passengers were removed immediately and begun their long swim downstream. Rafts five, six and seven arrived shortly after smacking into the depths of the hole like lemmings. As the last raft was released and send on its way I glanced in the direction of our team members. Tears, crying and expressions of utter shock blanketed peoples faces. There was true concern for the other team. The river was littered with upside down rafts and the heads of swimming people.

 Image - Graham Charles
After a quick “meeting” our crews prepared for their own descents. Having witnessed the worst case scenario multiple times our rowers focused hard. Big pillows of water reared above our heads threatening a flip. Our river running expertise shined through with all six rafts hitting the big water line down the river right side with precise angles and strong strokes. Celebrations were short lived as our six rafts gathered together in the flat stretches below.  Uncertain of the fate of the other party we continued on in an attempt to help their situation. One stranded swimmer was gathered from river left and two rafts were discovered floating upside down in eddies. Our team re gathered everything we could and set out in chase of the missing people. Five miles downstream we finally reunited with the group.
In surprisingly high spirits and in all in good health we were showered by generosity and thanks. Wine, beer and bourbon were all gifts received in appreciation.
Image - Graham Charles

Image - Graham Charles
Twenty-one days in the canyon feels like a real escape from the outside world. Days spent roaming side canyons; floating below towering walls and relaxing in camp remove your mind from things material. “The Grand” strips everything away casting a spell on each visitor. It reminded me of what matters most. Many times I felt a huge appreciation of the natural environment. The size of the landscape overwhelmed me and inspired my thinking. With good people around me my life was alive.

If life ever offers you a chance to go make it happen!

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