Self-Supported Kayaking through the Grand Canyon


          This past November I had an opportunity to check an item off of my “bucket-list” and it was, as hoped, SPECTACULAR! Accompanied by my boyfriend and former Bristlecone employee of the month, Dodge Cottle and two other friends, I completed my first self-support kayak trip through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Due to work-related time constraints, we decided to do our trip in 11 days and we also chose to pass Diamond Creek and paddle the entire length of the Grand, ending in Lake Mead and taking out at Pearce Ferry. Our trip spanned from November 21st through December 1st.   Based on timing and mileage, we had to paddle around 27 miles each day which made for a different Grand Canyon trip than I had ever done. Oh, and I was carrying all of my own gear for the first time making my kayak much heavier then I was familiar with.


            This trip was rather gear intensive and all of the pieces were quite small. I paddled Jackson Kayak’s Karma RG and due to its smaller diameter of the storage hatch opening the size of every item that I brought was limited and I found that dividing all of my dry goods up between lots of small dry bags was the key to successful daily boat-packing. I used multiple small dry bags, the largest being 10-liters and 2 Sea to Summit eVent compression bags. While packing everything into my boat I would lay the Meadow Mat camp tarp that I brought along with the Jack’s Plastic Welding collapsible bucket in the bottom of the stern-hatch and would load all of my dry bags on top of these things which successfully kept my bags out of the water that collected inside of the hatch.  In the bow of the boat, I used 2 Watershed Futa Stow-float bags that went into the bow, one on either side of the bulkhead. In order to avoid holding a bag on my lap each day, I also had a Sea to Summit Solution Access Deck Bag that I was able to attach directly onto the JK factory’s bow deck rigging making the attachment bomber and giving me great confidence of not losing the bag or its contents.


            The weather was mild but the water is always chilly down there so I was wearing a Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight One-Piece Suit underneath my dry suit daily on the water and I had an additional suit that I lived in at camp too. Some other key warm clothing and gear that I had were Patagonia’s Nano Puff Pants, a warm and dry Heidi Hat and a silk-weight neck warmer for in camp and one that was easy to access while on the water, Poagies while on the river and Hydroskin Gloves to unpack and set up camp in. I also brought a Kelty Bestie Blanket that was definitely a luxury and took up valuable space, but I would bring it again in a heartbeat. It is an incredibly versatile item and I used it wrapped around my body every single night at camp and then spread it over the top of my sleeping bag at night for an extra layer of warmth and making it easily accessed for night-time pee trips. (I also used the collapsible bucket at night as a latrine so my time out in the cold was limited and so I didn’t have to get my feet wet each time). I used a Big Agnes sleep system including the Storm King 0 degree sleeping bag, the Insulated Air Core Ultra sleeping pad and the Synthetic Sleeping Bag Liner and I had a Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Inflatable Pillow that worked well inside of a cotton pillowcase. We slept inside a Marmot Tungsten 2p tent and had a Big Agnes Whetstone Shelter to double as a kitchen or additional covered space on standby to bring in case the forecast looked wet. (We decided to leave the shelter in the truck at the put in based on the mild forecast). Finally, my Hydroflask 16 oz Coffee Flask was a crucial piece of gear keeping my cherished daily chai warm until lunchtime each day.




Dodge and I had decided that we would cook and plan meals together and that we wanted to eat as few commercial dehydrated meals as possible, sticking instead to easy and lightweight meals that were lower in sodium and high in nutrition. We had things including but not limited to; macaroni and cheese, summer sausages, quinoa, couscous, tortillas, nut-butters of all varieties, cheese, crackers, ramen, our own mix of dehydrated vegetables which we pre-mixed into the grains and sorted and bagged per each planned-meal. We ate a couple of Tasty-Bite Indian meals and this company also makes seasoned rice that we supplemented our Good to Go dehydrated meals with (we liked the Pad Thai and the Thai Curry best). We had also pre-made chili and a quinoa and bean salad that we ate on the first few days of the trip. The quinoa and bean salad lasted us through 3 lunches and we would dump it into a tortilla with a sheet of nori and would share a packet of mayonnaise and one of mustard too. Because of the cooler temperatures and the limited direct sunlight, we were able to keep food for longer than expected including fresh cheeses and sausages throughout all 11 days of the trip. We brought tons of snacks including nuts, peanut butter filled pretzels, chocolate bars, jerky, candy (but I could always use more candy!), hot apple cider, hot chocolate, miso packets, chicken soup packets and we had dehydrated a bunch of fresh fruit on our own while it was in season and at its sweetest throughout the summer and fall. We ended up having brought too much food and could have lasted another 3, maybe 4 days on the river we figured. Some things that we brought that we didn’t eat; oatmeal, granola, tuna fish pouches, dehydrated milk, freeze-dried fruit and tea. At the end of the trip, due to removing all of the unnecessary trash and packaging prior to departure, Dodge and I had only 1 gallon-size zip lock bag of trash between the 2 of us. We also brought oil, butter and fresh garlic all stuffed into Nalgene Bottles and Jars along with a pretty complete and kickass spice kit which made every meal more enjoyable. Additionally, we raided the local grocery store’s deli, filling our pockets with individual packets of mustard, mayo, relish, salsa, hot sauce and ketchup which we added to almost every meal, in some capacity too. We had a Sea to Summit 2.8-liter collapsible pot and the 8” X-pan that we used with the MSR Wind-Pro II stove. Dodge also brought his Jet Boil stove for making our morning coffee and chai and that type of stove boiled water exponentially faster than the other cooking system that we had with us (we did dishes with hot water every night as well).




We brought a Katadyn 6-liter gravity water filter and a 5-gallon collapsible bucket for settling water in. The gravity filter was completely awesome and worked really well and was easy to use too. We each had an MSR 6-liter dromedary and a 32-ounce Nalgene water bottle and Dodge also had a 2-liter MSR dromedary. Dodge and I filtered water every other day or so and we felt blessed to have clear-green water throughout the entirety of our trip making life overall much easier. We did bring alum powder for settling sediment in case the water was muddy and were lucky to never have to touch it!    




A Garmin inReach was borrowed from a friend and put our minds at ease while on the river and we also carried all of the safety and rescue equipment as required by the National Park Service including an NRS Comprehensive Medical Kit.  




We purchased a Coyote River Gear Breakdown Aluminum Firepan, which Dodge and I divided between the two of us to carry as well as a full-size fire blanket per the Grand Canyons rules and regulations. We only burned 2 fires using driftwood we had found and carried all of the ash out in the plastic containers that we brought our nuts and peanut butter filled pretzels in and after we had eaten them.




Some things that I brought and did that may seem excessive to some, but that I found necessary were:

·      A Helinox Chair Zero and Camp One Table. I was not willing to spend my camp time sitting on the ground and this set was compact and lightweight and absolutely perfect.

·      Tarps. I brought a tarp, plus a standing mat as well as a cockpit cover which I found to be crucial for keeping my gear, dry bags and myself out of the sand. I would pack my tarp and cockpit cover in my boat last so that they would be the first things that I would pull out of my boat and then would unload all of my dry bags onto them. We also used a tarp for our kitchen and did all of our food preparation and cooking there, which minimized the sand consumption considerably.

·      Tenacious Tape was the most used item in our repair kit – definitely bring some.

·      Lights! Big Agnes MtnGLO tent lights, ENO Twighlights LED string lights, and Black Diamond Moji Lanterns lit up our camps (and lives) nightly.

          Dodge and I spoke at length before the trip about every single item of gear that we brought, really overthinking the whole process (so we thought). After the trip we have talked about how every single item that we brought was completely perfect! Every ounce of gear was well-made and served exactly the purpose it was advertised to serve. Our dry bags stayed dry, despite large amounts of water getting into our boats. The Hydroflasks stayed warm (hot), the Helinox chairs and table were ideal and sturdy, yet light and small. The Big Agnes sleep system was amazing and I loved not slipping round all over the place on my pad… The Patagonia gear was all perfectly warm and dry and if it got wet, dried out over the chilly nights, outside!! The thought and planning really paid off as were would bring every single item again on our next trip! 

          This was an exceptionally special and unique way to travel through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and I would jump at the opportunity to do it all again. It definitely took a couple of days to become familiar with the packing process and it was always a process because every single item had its very specific spot inside the boat, but I became faster and more efficient as time went on. In hindsight, I believe that the “ideal” way to do a Grand Canyon trip of this kind would be to take more like 13 or 14 days total and to take out at Diamond Creek. I figure that this timing would provide more ample time for exploration and side canyon hikes. Due to the fact that we had to make around 27 miles per day we were left with limited time to spend in the classic side canyons and we were unable to make some of the hikes and stops that had been deemed “necessary” on past trips.

          I will be back, I am certain of this, and I hope that it will be as a self-support kayaker because nothing compares to the self-satisfaction that comes from getting myself and all of my equipment through 280 miles of the breathtaking, challenging and iconic Grand Canyon.   



About the Author:

Ali Wade was born and raised in Carbondale, CO and began kayaking at age 11.  She attended Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) and joined their competitive kayaking team which eventually led her to multiple World Championship competitions, winning 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places in consecutive years.  After competing internationally in kayaking for a handful of years, she worked as a ski patroller at Aspen Mountain for 9 seasons with her avalanche search and rescue dog, Jane.  She now gets out on the river as often as possible while working as an adventure nanny and preschool teacher at an outdoor-based school in Carbondale for young rippers!




Glenwood Springs to Durango on the Colorado Trail


Shop employee Luke Murphy just completed a grand #bikepcking adventure! He rode his bike from his house in Glenwood Springs to Durango following the Colorado trail. Luke made it back to his truck in Durango after 10 days of riding, covering 414 miles with 44,753 feet of climbing.

Check out his story below!

Bristlecone Gear he used:

ArcteryxOsprey PacksWestern MountaineeringFits SocksThermarestCamelbakEagle CreekMSRSea to Summit • and more...

Scroll to the bottom of the page for Luke's Comprehensive Gear List.  


Day One • 9/15/16

And he is off! The journey begins in Glenwood Springs. 

And he is off! The journey begins in Glenwood Springs. 

"Day one was a long one because of the ride up the valley. I started riding from the house at 8:45. I rode 52 miles with 5,700 feet of elevation gain. I rode up the Rio Grande trail to the roundabout and then up Castle Creek road to Little Annie road. I am camped on Richmond Ridge a few miles behind the Sundeck at 11,300 feet. I stopped riding at 5:00pm.

Almost at Castle Creek road. Now comes the climb up Little Annie to Richmond ridge!

Almost at Castle Creek road. Now comes the climb up Little Annie to Richmond ridge!


I don't have the energy to ride to Taylor lake because it is 6 miles down the ridge. The only water here is a mud puddle. I am letting the water settle in my bottles. Hopefully I can wait until morning to drink the muddy water. I had 2.5 liters when I stopped riding.


The leaves are changing color and I expect the color to peak this week. Tomorrow I will cross Taylor and Star passes and then bomb down hill in to Crested Butte." #bikepacking #humanpoweredadventures #type2fun


 Day Two • 9/16/16

"I have arrived in Crested Butte! Today I rode 34 miles with 4000 feet of elevation gain but it was all straight up and down and at high elevation. I crossed Taylor Pass (12,200) and Star Pass (12,300). The views were tremendous. I saw 7 other bikepackers on top of Star pass. They did get a picture of me on top of the pass. 

On top of Star Pass

On top of Star Pass

The downhill into Crested Butte

The downhill into Crested Butte

Day Three • 9/18/16

Riding through Crested Butte

Riding through Crested Butte

"I had a great time in Crested Butte visiting with friends and family who live there. I got back on the road today at 1:00 pm. There is so much to see and do in Crested Butte and my wife Kearstin came over for the weekend.


Kearstin rode the first 7 miles of the route with me before returning to town and driving home. We rode South on Highway 135 for 6 miles and then turned on to Cement Creek road, which I followed to Italian Creek Road.


This jeep trail quickly climbed to 11,150 feet. I then took a delightful 3.3 mile singletrack (trail 422) to Spring Creek Reservior and road 748. I rode as far as I could on this road until I only had an hour of daylight left. I rode 33 miles with 3,500 feet of elevation gain. I am now camped at 10,000 feet, 5  miles Northwest of Taylor Reservior."

Day 4 • 9/19/16

 "I woke up exited to get on the Alpine Trail to join the Colordao Trail. The trail quickly became too steep and rocky to ride. After 5 hours pf pushing my bike up every hill, I was done with the trail. I rode down Texas Ridge trail and then connected jeep roads ro get to Tincup Pass road. I rode through Tincup and I am now camped at 11,600 feet just below Tincup Pass.


I rode 40 miles and climbed 5,700 feet in almost 10 hours of riding. At this rate I will run out of food before I reach Silverton. My phone does not charge when I ride in the woods so I may no longer be able to keep track of mileage and elevation. At this point the outcome of the trip is iffy. If I run out of food I will have to take a road to the nearest town but there are not many of them."

 Day 5 • 9/20/16


 "After crossing Tincup Pass early and descending the very rocky jeep road, I turned on to Tunnel Lake trail. This single track trail had a very nicely graded switchback climb to 12,000. The trail stayed high crossing an alpine basin and crossed two 12,000 foot + passes within less than a mile. I then descended an old railroad grade to Hancock Lake road. The road turned in to a trail and I quickly found myself pushing my bike up a steep and rocky trail over 12,250 foot Chalk Creek Pass. Another pleasant but rocky descent brought me to the Hunt Lake trailhead at 10,542 feet. I spent the next 3 hours pushing my bike up a relentlesly steep and rocky trail. I reached an alpine tarn at 12,000 feet at 4:00pm. I could see virga in the distance and the wind was picking up.


The ridge leading to Monarch Pass was ahead of me. I was concerned I would not have good enough weather to attempt the ridge the next day so I set out for the top. I reached the top of the ridge at 12,500 feet just before 5:00pm. Once I was past some more walking over rough trail, there were miles of smooth, fast singletrack leading to Monarch ski area. I've never ridden anything like it in my life.   I reached Monarch pass just after 6:00pm and set up my tent behind a CDOT sand storage building. I will get a few supplies at the shop at the top of the pass when they open at 8:00 tomorrow morning. It has started raining now and it could easily turn to snow. I'll see what tomorrow brings. I don't know how many miles I rode today because I had to turn Motion X off to avoid killing my phone. I'll be able to piece it together later using the data book because my entire route today has been on the Colorado Trail."

Day 6 • 9/21/16 

"Camped at Monarch pass last night. Rained/ snowed all night. Started riding again at 9:30 this morning. This trip is going to take longer than I thought. Can't send photos until I get better service." 

 Day 7 • 9/22/16

"Riding on Monarch Crest yesterday was fast until Silver Creek, then it got steep, rocky, muddy. Progress has been slower than I planned.


There is little water here in the La Garita hills. Camped at a lake at 11,100 last night. Once I leave the singletrack today after another couple of hours of pushing my bike up the hills, I will be on roads for the La Garita Wilderness diversion.


Because of low food and being tired, I may ride off of Slumgullion pass to Lake City and then Cinnamon pass to Silverton. This trip is no longer going as planned. I got some food from a guy who was hiking out last night. You can post if you want but this is no longer a Colorado Trail ride. I just have to get back to my truck in Durango which will take at least 3 days even leaving the route."


 "After finishing up the challenging La Garita hills, the trail turned to smooth and nicely graded single track to the top of Cochetopa pass.


From there I rode most of the La Garita Wilderness bike detour on well maintained dirt roads. There was significant elevation gain but nothing like what I have been riding. I camped just below the top of Los Pinos pass at about 10,000 feet.


Unless I find food in a tiny town called Cathedral, I will descend from Slumgullion pass on highway 149 in to Lake City. My plan is to continue to Silverton the next morning over 12,600+ foot Cinnamon pass 4x4 route. At least it won't be as dusty because we have had quite a bit of rain."


 Day 8 • 9/23/16


 "Today I rode 31 miles on road 788 and highway 149 from just below Los Pinos pass to Lake City. The route was mostly on dirt except for the last 9 miles descending on highway 149. I crossed 10,500 Los Pinos pass then descended to 9,000 feet before climbing 11,530 foot Slumgullion Pass. It would have been a not too difficult half day of riding except that the weather hit and it hit hard. I started riding at 8:00 in a drizzle that turned in to a contionuous rain with the temprature dropping fast. The road I was on became muddy and soon I was riding 2 gears lower than usual because of the mud. By the time I reached highway 149 my hands and feet were cold and I had 9 miles and 2,700 feet of 7% paved descent ahead of me. It was now snowing. It was a cold but short descent and that is probably the fastest that bike has ever gone.


I got a cabin for the night when I got to Lake City, took a shower and washed most of my clothes in the sink. All of my stuff is drying out. I mailed home the four maps I crossed after Crested Butte.  It's just as well that I had to drop down here to resupply because the Colorado Trail stays between 12,000 and 13,000 feet between Spring Creek pass and Silverton. I am sure there is quite a bit of snow at that elevation. I may even have to let Cinnamon pass dry out and melt off for a day before it is passable.


The weather looks good for the rest of the week and I plan to ride from Molas pass to Durango on the Colorado Trail after reaching Silverton."


Day 9 • 9/25/16 


 "Today I rode from Lake City to Silverton over 12,640 foot Cinnamon Pass. I'm glad I took a day off in Lake City because if there were much more snow on that road I would have had to walk over the top. The snow had packed down and turned to ice in spots. A man on a heavily loaded touring motorcycle lost control of his bike at the top it tipped over. He took the bags off and I helped him pick it up. I am worried because he never passed me on the way down. 


If you are going to ride Cinnamon Pass, do it from Lake City, the Silverton side is steeper and rougher. The distance for today's ride was 40 miles with 4,255 feet of elevation gain.


 I have a tent site at a campground in Silverton tonight. I left myself a box of food at this campground. I will now have plenty of food for the rest of the trip. Tomorrow I will ride highway 550 for 7 miles with a 2000 foot climb to the top of Molas pass where the Colorado Trail singletrack continues to Durango."


 Day 10 • 9/26/16 


"I woke up in Silverton with everthing covered in 1/8 inch long ice crystals. There was a heavy dew as the temprature dropped below freezing. The thing that concerned me is that the back of my throat was sore and I was tired even though I slept well. I decided I would see how I felt at the top of Molas pass. I left at 8:30 and reached the top of Molas pass at 10:00.


The trail from Molas to Durango is one of the smoothest and fastest sections. I decided to try the trail and if I started to feel worse I could descend on roads leading to Purgatory or Durango every 20 miles or so. What I found on the trail was mud and lots of it.


I was pushing hard on the flat sections to move through the mud. On hills my rear tire lost traction and I had to walk up even moderate grades. I struggled through the mud for an hour and reached the first high point at 11,500 feet. The higher I climbed the worse the snow and mud got and within the next several miles the route would climb to 12,500 feet.

At this point I decided to ride highway 550 to Durango because I was getting sick and the trail conditions were bad. Experience has taught me that continuing to go hard when you are sick can make it worse fast. I rode 68 miles with 4,237 feet of elevation gain and a whoping 6,912 feet of elevation loss. I reached my truck just before 5:00 PM.


In 10 days of riding I covered 414 miles with 44,753 feet of climbing. The leaves and scenery were beautiful and I learned some lessons for future trips."



 • • • 

Luke's Comprehensive Gear List:


Tent- ZPacks Hexamid 1

Sleeping Bag- Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree*

Sleeping pad- Thermarest Neoair Xlite short*

Backpack- Osprey Syncro 15 liter*

Bike bags- Oveja Negra

Bike- Advocate Cycles Hayduke

Solar panel- Power Traveler Power Monkey Extreme

Water Bottles- Camelback Podium 24oz*

Stove- Olicamp Ion Micro

Cook pot- Snowpeak Mini Solo Ti

Water treatment- Katadyn Micropur tablets*

Food storage- Ursack All White S29.3, 50 feet of parachute cord*

Personal locator beacon- ACR Microfix

First aid- Adventure Medical .5*

Clothing, top- Arcteryx Motus Crew, Arcteryx Phase SL zip, Icebreaker 240 half zip, Arcteryx Atom LT pulover, Arcteryx Thorium hoody, Kuhl fleece beanie, Arcteryx Venta glove*

Clothing, bottom- Arcteryx Phase SL, Western Mountaineering Flash pants, Pearl Izumi Pro bib knickers, Pearl Izumi Elevate Short, Fits Hiker Crew medium cushion socks*

Raingear- Marmot Essence Jacket and Pants*

Shoes- Shimano XM-7

Knife- Benchmade Triage*

Bike tool- Crank Brothers M-17

Pump- Leyzene Microdrive HP

Shock pump- Topeak Mini

Food- Good to Go* and Alpine Aire* dehydrated meals, Oatmeal, salami, cheese, various bars, Shot Blocks, naan, peanut butter, instant coffee


*Indicates items sold at Bristlecone Mountain Sports