THE WORLD FREERIDE KAYAK CHAMPION KAYAKS DOWN THE COLORADO WITH THE ITIWIT STRENFIT X500 INFLATABLE KAYAK

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Eric Deguil, from Pau in France, and triple world freeride kayak champion was introduced to the Itiwit Strenfit X500 inflatable touring kayak during a race organised on this boat during the White Water Circus at Pau's White water Stadium. Drawn to its compact design, rigidity and speed, he decided to take it with him on the Colorado River. He recounts his extraordinary adventure on this legendary river.

 

#1 The Colorado river is something you have to work for

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No to so long ago, if you wanted to kayak down the Colorado Grand Canyon, you had to sign up to a 12-year waiting list.
The internet has made it much easier to get access.An annual digital lottery allocates the different trip permits. You still have to be one of the lucky ones.
Far from being addicted to games of chance, I played for three years. And Bingo!
The 17th of February 2019 will be the day we embark. Departing from Lees Ferry for 12 days far from civilisation and mod cons, living at river pace, enclosed between two walls. 
With 15 places available on my permit, childhood and long-standing friends joined me on the trip.
After having gone through at length the regulations that govern navigation and bivouacking in Colorado, the team is quickly brought up to speed by the Ranger, who takes the time to explain these in person… The major point is having to use of a "poo box"! "Living without a trace" is the rule number one. So on top of filtering dish water and covering the site where we pitch up with mats (so as not to leave a crumb or charcoal), we will relieve ourselves in a box, stored on our raft until we leave the canyon.
It seems restrictive. But a quick panoramic view of what surrounds us, reminds us of how fragile and unique the ecosystem we are making our way through is. And, given the quality of the bivouacking areas, despite the passage of hundreds of individuals during high season, it seems worthwhile.

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#2 Choosing the kayak

My tight budget encouraged me to use the new Itiwit Strenfit X500 inflatable touring kayak for this descent. It is easy to transport, especially in a plane and quick to inflate. Equipped with very good glide properties thanks to its very rigid dropstitch construction and a good loading capacity, this kayak was an obvious choice compared to hiring the standard 8 kg heavier and slower kayak. Moreover, it is quite similar to navigating the kayak I will use when attempting my big project of descending solo the whole Colorado Grand Canyon (450 km) in less than 34 hours. The "Titiwit" was the perfect craft to do a full reconnaissance in 12 days whilst getting some sleep.
 

#3 The snow was a surprise guest

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The weather was the major surprise factor. We had to make do with it because we were unable to choose the departure date. That's putting it mildly. The first four days we had to paddle in the snow, with a freezing headwind! We would later learn that we suffered the worst snow storm since 1898!  With nights as low as - 10 C°. By the end of the fourth day it was time for the weather to improve because our morale, even more so than our bodies, couldn't take it any more. Our soaking wet sleeping bags couldn't take it either. The atmosphere in the team did not break down but it was terribly hard. Some were tempted to chuck it all in at «Phantom Ranch», one of the very rare points of access to the river. But you still had to want to take on an 1500 m elevation gain and 20 km covered 1 metres deep in snow that had fallen overnight. We were better off down below in the end… For me personally, this snow is the icing on the cake. It's an extra colour to the majestic mineral spectacle that surrounds us. Each day is different. The history of our planet is recounted with each stroke of our paddle.

#4 How to navigate the Colorado River

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From a navigation point of view, the Colorado Grand Canyon is not the most challenging. The descent is interspersed with numerous rapids but each one is scouted, carried or avoided by following an angle to "chicken out". But a note of caution because you don't taken on this type of bigger volume river like you would our much smaller French rivers. What's called for is anticipation. You have to especially disembark to properly scout the rapids from upstream. Because if you select the wrong bank, any crossing is sometimes impossible to get the angle right.
The water flow never ceases to decrease during the descent, going from 80 metres cube to over 250. The major feature being the encounter with the « Little Colorado » that brought with it so much sediment that the Colorado River became red over the following 300 km (and made it complicated to filter water for drinking purposes). Havasu creek was a surprise. Its turquoise blue water didn't want to dilute itself.
Even though for the most part, we were making our way between two walls, the atmosphere was unreal. Especially when we can visit old Indians ruins and hundred of pictograms a paddle's distance away. 

#5 On the brink of disaster

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For my part, the major story happened at dawn on the fourth day. After we ended up pitching our camp on a huge sand beach, it cleared off during the night! It's at daybreak that Julien noticed the loss of my "Titiwit" and all my kayaking equipment. Just enough time to wake up with a start and retrieve in the nick of time two other kayaks, I was off chasing after what I had lost. Luckily, 1 km further away, my kayak had run aground on the rocks, having survived the rapids. The rear container has done its jobs (with nothing escaping). Only my helmet was missing. I was in no doubt that had it been a conventional polythene kayak, we would have had to have gone a lot further but with much less of a chance of a happy end. Because it would have finished up sinkingThe X500 remained afloat quietly playing around like a floating piece of wood and peacefully washing up on the bank.
History teaches us that going to visit Indian ruins the day before and fiddling around with pottery fragments and silex had upset the Great Spirits

#6 Worth doing at least once in a kayaker's life

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I get a sense of the size of the task that awaits me, paddling day and night through the Colorado Grand Canyon in less than 34 hours. But the location is well worth it.

Contemplating the Colorado Grand Canyon is already worth doing at least once in your life. All those descriptions don't live up to the feelings that overwhelm you when faced with it. Navigating is quite another thing. Experience the whole thing from down below. Hundred of tours start from the water's edge.

Believe you me, living at the pace of the Colorado River will forever change you.

Eric Deguil

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