Guide Musings: From the Bottom

I had been working as a front desk attendant when I got the news. I would be working for a rafting company as a guide. I had worked as a backpacking guide in the past so I knew some aspects of the job well enough, but I had never been on a river trip, much less worked a trip. Best of all, I would be working in the Grand Canyon.

Seeing the Grand Canyon from the Bottom for the First Time | A Guide's Story

Living in Flagstaff at the time, I had been to the edge and looked on in bewilderment and wonder as I walked up to the railing at Mather Point. At the time I was just a tourist, just like the thousands of others. Then, I had no idea how much impact the Grand Canyon would have on who I was and how it would change the course of my life.

This trip was beyond words. It is indescribable, the Canyon. Those of you who have been there, on the river, in its depths… you know. My first trip was from Diamond Creek to Pearce Ferry. For most full canyon trips, Diamond Creek is just a takeout. For me it was the launching off point for my soul. As we drove down one of the worst dirt roads I had ever been on my eyes drank in everything. Every single drop. Every burning orange flower of the Ocotillo, every flood-worn rock, every speck of dust. I was hooked.

Then we were there. At the water’s edge. I looked down Diamond Creek Rapid and took a breath. I had never rowed a boat in my life, but come hell or high water I was going to row this 16-foot gear boat down the whole stretch. And that is just what I did. Thankfully, I wasn’t without help. George Bain sat in the bow and gave me direction after direction. Pull left… push… both back… T-up. It wasn’t until mile 232, Killer Fang Falls, that I nearly completely blew it, clipping the hole, sideways, on river left and nearly throwing poor George out of the boat.

Seeing the Grand Canyon from the Bottom for the First Time | A Guide's Story

As the trip progressed, I slept on the beach, ate the meals, and felt my heart changing. I realized that I had to spend as much time as possible here, at the bottom, underneath the Milky Way closed in by the canyon walls. I realized that this place held magic that I had never felt before. I now knew what it meant to be “on the river.”

When we passed the Grand Wash Cliffs and it sank in that we had just exited the Grand Canyon, I knew my life as I had known it was over. I had just closed the book of the past and had started writing the first words of the intro of a new, grand story.

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 2018 OARS worked with American Rivers, REI, YETI and NRS to collect 5,000 river stories from people across the country. You can read those stories and share yours at #WeAreRivers #5000MilesofWild

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Photos: Caleb Norton



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