U.S. Mens Rafting Team Makes Run at Grand Canyon Speed Record

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U.S. Mens Rafting Team Makes Run at Grand Canyon Speed Record


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

There are different variables to think about, after all, resembling what to eat once you’re hungry and the place to sleep when fatigue units in, however as a normal rule the river is in command of 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. Males’s Rafting Staff perceive this stability of energy arguably higher than anybody. The Colorado-based crew consisting of Kurt Kincel, Matt Norfleet, Jeremiah Williams, Robbie Prechtl and crew captain John Mark Seelig has made a reputation for itself because the nation’s speediest crew of river runners, maybe most notably for bending the River Time continuum simply sufficient to turn 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.

But on the crew’s second try to set the file for the quickest total descent by means of the Grand Canyon final weekend — this time enlisting assistance from 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 components of wind, sub-freezing temperatures and deep winter’s minimal daylight. Whereas the crew managed to finest 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.

“It’s simply completely a crapshoot,” Seelig stated on the drive house from Flagstaff after shuttling a teammate to the hospital with frostbitten toes. “So many issues are out of your management and also you’re hoping all of them fall in line, however one thing at all times occurs. Final time it was the boat; this time it was water and climate. It’s secure to say that is the coldest we’ve ever been.”

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The crew made some frigid, pizza-fueled winter coaching runs on the Colorado River Fruita, Colo. Nonetheless, nothing might prep them for the chilly of a midnight launch final Friday evening within the lifeless of January. Robbie Prechtl – Courtesy U.S. Males’s Rafting Staff

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

“He advised me it actually doesn’t work that means,” Seelig stated. “However I believed I would as nicely ask.”

Usually, water flowing by means of Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam tends to run on the upper aspect this time of yr, surging in a single day with the intention to generate electrical energy for downstream energy calls for. In 2017, for instance, the rafting crew 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 point they reached the run’s largest rapids, Lava Falls, some 20 hours into their preliminary try (pictured beneath). However 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 at nighttime of evening. Deflated and defeated, the lads limped to the takeout and commenced calculating methods to enhance their odds.

Posted by US Whitewater Raft Staff 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 corporate’s first foray into raft design and development. The 40-foot cataraft tubes used for the crew’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 undecided if it made the boat any sooner, however it was undoubtedly extra inflexible and responsive, so we had been in a position to preserve the boat extra on line, making us extra environment friendly,” stated Williams, Hala’s Colorado tech rep. “And this time we went into the run totally assured in our craft, which was essential.”

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This try on the velocity file, the crew was prepared with shorter, bolstered cataraft tubes. Robbie Prechtl – Courtesy U.S. Males’s Rafting Staff

Whereas the boat stood as much as the take a look at, the river did not cooperate. For no matter cause, water flows launched for the crew’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 journey the 14,500-cfs bubble into the inside gorge. There, steeper gradient would quicken their tempo and ideally allow them to catch the day prior to this’s bubble in time to journey 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 underside fell out. Over the subsequent 12 hours the river dropped some 4,000 cfs and the rowers merely couldn’t make up the distinction.

Velocity Run from Black Bridge at Phantom Ranch

No file, however we’ve 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. Apart from freezing and having to make a hospital go to for frostbite we are going to all mend from the struggling. We’ll stroll away modified by the expertise. We felt so supported all the time. The Grand Canyon and Flagstaff group help was overwhelming too. One outdated Grand information stated, “I feel you have got re-inspired the velocity run to this group. Thanks a lot!”
There was over 50 folks cheering us on on the Black Bridge!
Extra particulars to return!

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

“We truly ran smoother this time. We simply didn’t have sufficient water,” Seelig stated. “It was simply the luck of the draw stepping into. The day earlier than, we crunched the numbers and questioned why we had been even doing this. However we additionally knew that something can occur. There are such a lot of various factors in play as you get nearer, so we determined to only give it a strive. Perhaps we’d get a tailwind. Plus Lake Mead is type of an X issue. Sadly, we bought there at dawn and had been met with a headwind that slowed us down much more.”

The gamble on situations is probably going a main cause why solely a handful of boaters have taken up the problem of velocity runs by means of the Grand Canyon over time, starting in 1951 with brothers Bob and Jim Rigg from Grand Junction, Colo., who rowed a cataract-style picket 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 within 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 picket dory named the Emerald Mile, setting a file of 36 hours and 38 minutes that endured till 2016.

Because the kinds of boats and boaters is nearly limitless, nobody is admittedly categorizing data past the general quickest time. Whether or not utilizing oars or paddles, inflexible boats or inflatables, crew 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 of the extra outstanding 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 darkish locations down there, so having teammates round you is useful,” Williams stated, including that he misplaced much more sleep within the months main as much as the crew’s second try as a result of he knew what awaited them. “Going solo is one thing else totally. Orkin did one thing particular down there for certain. I hope that’s acknowledged and his file lasts a very long time.”

The talk over whether or not Orkin’s time will ever be topped takes on a brand new set of variables within the present period of water administration, overallocation and local weather change. Actually the crew enterprise, with a crew of oarsmen in a plus-sized inflatable craft, calls for extra water than the U.S. Rafting Staff 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 components and health calls for, the chances are additional diminished.

Simply the identical, Seelig says he wouldn’t have it every other means.

“In actuality, sure, the file is cool, however doing an journey like this with these guys is extra essential than the rest. The power to share an expertise is healthier than the expertise itself. We’ve executed a variety of stuff collectively, we like one another, and we type of just like the struggling collectively and being there to help one another,” Seelig stated. “As quickly as we bought off the river all of us stated we’re by no means doing that once more. However ‘if’ we did, we’d undoubtedly decide a special time, not winter, and we’d strive to ensure the water ranges can be perfect. How? I do not know. The celebs must align.”

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Courtesy U.S. Males’s Rafting Staff, warming up once more with the second try within the books.


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