August 03, 2017

Words: Page McCargo 

“The one great sight which every American should see.”- Theodore Roosevelt, on the Grand Canyon

On November 19th 2016, fifteen of us stepped off the Colorado River covered in silt. As we de-rigged our boats we felt heavy with the task of reentering our routine lives and prickled with anxiety to finally hear the election results. After twenty-one nights spent outside on a self-supported rafting trip down the Grand Canyon we rejoined civilization to the news Donald Trump was our new President elect.

To raft the Grand Canyon is to travel back in time and to stare intimately into the layers of our planet’s prehistoric past. It is to know the sky only as the canyon shapes it. It is also to travel a path of contention. From Lake Powell to Lake Mead the historic battles for water rights, and hydroelectric power, the ongoing Native American land disputes and the ecological degradation from altering the riverscape continue to contort the infamous canyon.
The Colorado River’s every drop is divided between California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona before it is even born at the headwaters. And as we rafted it’s contested waters we speculated on the future of our nation and prepared for the unknowns of the pending HFE (high flow event: a flood mimicking release from the Glen Canyon Dam).
The Grand Canyon has been a controlled river since the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966. The general flow of the river is kept between 8,000 and 25,000 cfs (cubic feet per second). Last November the Department of Interior experimented with the highest HFE in years: four days, 96hrs at 36,000 cfs with a peak of 37,500 cfs. This release was an experiment designed by sedimentologists aiming to recreate some of the pre-dam rivers natural patterns.


The inviting green water we launched into at Lee’s Ferry is the direct result of the moderated flow. The water released from the dam slips past the put-in slowly as it regains its independence and builds to the boat crushing rapids of the days ahead. The striking but unnaturally clear water of a tamed river can be transformed overnight by rain or other water infusions, like an HFE.

There was very little information available to boaters, like us already on the river, including if this release was certainly going to happen. At our location on the river we calculated it was going to take some 22hrs for the high water to reach us. That night we tied our boats as high as we could and assigned people to wake up throughout the night and move them accordingly. As the early morning hours wore on the river level seemingly stayed the same until I was awakened by the brown river lapping at my sleeping bag. The crew snapped into action — we rigged the boats and cooked breakfast with water rising around our ankles.

For the next four days we were carried rapidly through some of the narrowest parts of the canyon, along with full size willow trees and other detritus from upriver. Most of the beaches were gone and we floated above fully submerged forests. We struggled to pull off when necessary and found very limited places to camp.

We flew past the confluence of the Little Colorado River, the unearthly blue tributary and the site of the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade. In this month of escape without access to the news, our journey south still reminded us of the ongoing contests for this land, land in general, and all remote places on this planet. We became intimate with the chocolate colored Colorado and we became heated about its politics.

After three weeks we washed our hands with warm water, reoriented ourselves with our wallets, and sat around a gas station in the impoverished Hualapai town of Peach Springs, belatedly trying to contact our friends and family. After negotiating many of America’s most feared rapids, and the HFE, we were suddenly faced with how to negotiate an administration who holds no esteem for the wild and untrammeled places of the West.

Although the election itself is growing in distance behind us, the need to understand how to protect the people and places we love is only growing in relevance with each new executive order signed. Watching the river is the best first step. Swimming is the second.

Photo: John Gioia

The intimacy built by extended time outside creates the passion we need to protect what wilderness we have left. Sleeping outside solidifies that commitment. Institutions like the Sierra Club have been supporting action, enjoyment and exploration of places like the Grand Canyon since 1892. This year they celebrate their 125th anniversary and we are honored to stand with them in that mission.

Bramble x Sierra Club

For the past 125 years, the Sierra Club has been on the front lines of the environmental movement. We teamed up to create a series of limited edition hats inspired by two national parks they helped to protect. 100% of net profits from this collection support their work.

SHOP: Bramble x Sierra Club Grand Canyon Hat 

 Product Details:

 -Made in USA
 -6-panel, snap-back
 -Pre-shrunk, chino-twill fabric
 -Inspired by the meandering path of the Grand  Canyon

 -Original artwork by Tim Delger