SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – June 2012

Over The Edge

Nearly 150 years after John Wesley Powell's pioneering trip through the Grand Canyon, the park still conceals remarkable places no humans have ever seen. Contributing editor John Harlin joins a crew of explorers on a journey of discovery.

by: John Harlin

(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)
(Photo by: Dan Ransom)

Which is how Rudow, Lawrence, Todd Seliga, and I end up attempting a first descent through Plan B, with night falling, relaying messages to each other about when—and if—to pull the rope. Ten minutes after I call up to Lawrence, instructing him to pull our lifeline to the rim, he and Seliga join me and we follow Rudow in the gathering darkness.

We reach a point where the trickling stream plunges over an overhang. In the darkness we can’t see the bottom, but Rudow estimates it’s less than 250 feet—the length of our longest rope—to the talus. But he’s still anxious. “It was wet and cold, we didn’t have bivy gear, and I’ve never rappelled out at night,” he says later. “I didn’t want to get trapped.” Rudow rigs an anchor, this time with a webbing knot jammed into a half-inch-wide crack. This knot will be the anchor for our free-hanging rappel, along with a backup knot-in-a-crack a few feet higher. I want yet another backup. I don’t get one, but at least we tie a line to the rappel rope so three of us can be meat anchors while Rudow tests the system. He goes over the edge. The knots hold.

When it’s my turn for the free rappel, I spin in space. My headlamp stabs first the wall, then reflects off splashing water, then vanishes into the black void. For the first few seconds, I can only think about those knots-for-anchors, my life hanging literally by a thread. But my trust builds the longer I hang there and spin. These guys are real pros, and I’m slowly gaining confidence in their unconventional techniques. As the cycle repeats, I watch the rock come and go. It’s rhythmic, like breathing. I’m reminded of what Rudow calls these secret passages: airways in the Grand Canyon’s lungs.

And something else Rudow said hits me in a new way. As he’s become more skilled at finding and navigating these canyons, he’s been able to focus on the real rewards and less on the technical dangers. As he descends, he says, he mostly just thinks, What’s around the next corner? It sounds simple, but it’s really a sign of true exploration—the kind Powell did almost 150 years ago. And that’s exceedingly rare these days. I’ve pioneered new alpine routes, but mountains can’t hide from cartographers, satellites, and binoculars. Go online, and you can print out a pretty good topo to nearly everywhere on the planet—even zoom in for remarkable photographic details of remote corners of Tibet. Twenty-first-century climbers know the route. The only question is if their ability and gear will get them up it. This is different. This is traveling uncharted terrain. And when a canyon goes—when we come out the other side—we’ve added new territory to the known world.

Over the following two days, we move camp downstream toward the next set of slots on Rudow’s list. After bouncing down thunderous Lava Falls—no spills—it’s party time.  Rudow shows up at the riverside celebration in a pink bodysuit and is dubbed Canyonman. The festive atmosphere isn’t just for running the rapids. Lava also marks a transition point where the Colorado River emerges from its constrictive canyon and opens into a broad desert valley. The warming spring air magnifies the sense of openness.
But the change also signals the coming end. We’ve notched 19 slots in 21 days. There are only three virgin canyons left on Rudow’s list. After finding another dud in Indian Creek, the day after running Lava, it’s hard not to wonder if the best is behind us.

It sure feels that way at one of the last camps, which looks like a scene from Apocalypse Now. Sightseers’ helicopters swarm from the Hualapai Indian Reservation on the south shore of the river. Away from the arid, buzzed-over campsite, the mood improves; after all, this is the Grand Canyon. But the ravine ahead is wide, gravel-bottomed, dry, and hot. Rudow has targeted a sister canyon to this one just a few hundred yards over. How different can it be?




Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Gear
Using the Sawyer
Posted On: Jul 25, 2014
Submitted By: ambrose
The Political Arena
Dead again, Jonah's tomb destroyed.
Posted On: Jul 25, 2014
Submitted By: High_Sierra_Fan
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions