Kayak Grand Canyon

On Friday, September 18th, two friends picked up a last-minute Grand Canyon permit. Their launch date? Three days later. CKS Online interviewed kayakers JR Jennings and Nick Gilbert on their Sunday travel day to find out more about their plans.

CKSO: Let's start with the obvious. What made you guys decide to do this?

JENNINGS: A friend on the East Coast told me about a self-support trip he did on the Grand several years ago and it sounded like the most epic time. It seems like the most peaceful and introspective way to "do the Grand."

GILBERT: With COVID-19, more Grand trips than ever are getting canceled and there are a surplus of permits. JR and I are on the mailing list for the Grand Canyon River Permits Office and they announced Available Launch Dates on September 17th. Claiming one of these permits is a bit different from the regular lottery system, which happens earlier in the year. The email had a list of available upcoming dates, and the Office required you to call in at 7am the following day to snag a permit. It worked on a first-call, first-serve basis until they're all gone. We've all had some unlucky attempts pulling permits traditionally through the lottery. I have one friend who has been able to grab a permit by calling up the office in year's past, so we figured why not try it this way. For us, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a quick lap in.

Photo by Nick Gilbert, 2018.

CKSO: So, you really had a few hours to decide to shoot your shot. What did that decision-making look like?

GILBERT: The Office announced permit availability on Thursday at noon. I forwarded this email to JR and we immediately made plans to call at 7am on Friday.

JENNINGS: The Office offered call-in permits in late July, but I was backpacking through the Wind River Range and I missed the opportunity.

GILBERT: Exactly. JR and I work together and also live together so we've been talking about taking a self-support trip for a while, but it always seemed impossible because of the permit lottery structure. The Office has released a few follow-up lotteries this summer and we applied to the most recent one, but didn't win.

JENNINGS: We figured this time would be a stretch, but now that summer is over, our job responsibilities allow our schedules to be a bit more flexible.

The email sent out by the Grand Canyon River Permit Office.

CKSO: Specifically, what did the email exchange look like between you two?

GILBERT: Call in lottery tomorrow?


JR Jennings. Stoke Level is Always This High.

CKSO: Take us back to the morning of the 18th when you called in.

GILBERT: We made plans the night before to call right at 7am. We kept calling, and the line kept ringing. We did this for a good long while until we realized that Arizona is in a different time zone than Colorado. JR doesn't understand how Daylight's Saving Time works. So...sorry to whoever happened to be in that office at 6 AM. It was us calling.

CKSO: You two work together....for Colorado Kayak Supply Online. How'd your co-workers handle the news?

JENNINGS: They were stoked. Obviously.

Genuine Confusion.

CKSO: Have either of you paddled the Grand Canyon before? What experience are you bringing to this self-support?

JENNINGS: Never paddled the big ditch before. I am good at kayaking, though.

GILBERT: JR has a ton of experience trip leading wilderness trips and kayaking. I did the Grand a few years ago with raft-support. I've done self-supports beforehand through Westwater, which is like a 1-day version of the Grand Canyon.

Nick Gilbert feat. Some Slight Oil Canning.

CKSO: What kayak and paddle are you using for your self-support?

GILBERT: We're both paddling a Liquid Logic Stinger XP because it has a skeg and a back hatch, which is pretty ideal for self-support. We'll be using Salamander UltraNighter Float Bags and Watershed Futa Float Bags. I'm bringing my 200cm Werner Surge, and JR has decided to copy me and bring his Surge, too.

JENNINGS: That's actually hilarious because I'm pretty sure Nick paddled a 197 right up until this trip, so I think he wants to be more like me?

CKSO: What other gear are you bringing?

GILBERT: Kokatat HustleR PFD, Sweet Protection Strutter Helmet because it offers sun protection, NRS Varial Hoodie because it comes with a sweet mask, Quiksilver Paddling Shorts, and Astral Brewers which will double-down as hiking shoes.

JENNINGS: Astral Green Jacket PFD, Sweet Protection Strutter helmet so I can copy Nick's look, NRS Varial shirt so I can, again, really look like Nick from the torso up, and NRS Guide shorts because they're the best shorts I've ever worn. I will be bringing my Astral Loyaks because they're way more stylish than whatever Nick brought.

Photo by Jesse Brucato.

CKSO: How cool do you expect to look on the river?

GILBERT: Well, I'm bringing my Immersion Research Arch Rival Shorty Drytop so I can get a sick elbow tan and prove to people that I wear things while doing cool things outside.

JENNINGS: Since I'm a true Colorado boy <Editor's Note: He's from Massachusetts>, I'm bringing my Kokatat GORE-TEX Rogue Centennial Edition Dry Top. I also think I forgot to pack a wide-brimmed hat so I'll probably wear my Strutter the entire time.

CKSO: What's your on-water plan for this self-support?

GILBERT: We're aiming for 5 days of paddling and one layover day. It'll really depend on how fast we paddle.

JENNINGS: It's fairly straightforward. Pack it all in, bring it all down. Including the groover, we're renting from Moenkopi. Technically a poop tube but whatever. Also, wag bags.

Big Ditch. Photo by Nick Gilbert.

CKSO: What will camp look like for you two?

GILBERT: We brought Big Agnes sleeping pads and sleeping bags. We didn't pack a tent but we did bring a tarp for an emergency and also to keep our kayaks light.

JENNINGS: For food, we have MSR PocketRocket stoves so it'll be dehydrated food for dinner and Clif bars with caffeine in them for breakfast. We'll snack on Bar U Eats during the day. Hashtag sponsored.

GILBERT: I highly recommend these Clif Bars. They're great in a pinch. Hashtag not sponsored.

JENNINGS: Also, we may or may not have brought Gushers and a 1-lb bag of Sourpatch Kids.

GILBERT: We're gummy people.

CKSO: So, no coffee?

GILBERT: No coffee. We did bring some cheap bottles of booze. And we will have a small water filtration system with us.

JENNINGS: We're relying on other private groups for our hydration needs once we run out of whiskey.

GILBERT: He's kidding <Editor's Note: JR is not kidding>

Photo by Nick Gilbert, 2018.

CKSO: What was the packing process like?

GILBERT: Well, JR and I clearly have different ideas about when to pack. I wanted to get to bed early last night, so I did that and packed from 6:30-7:30AM this morning. JR packed for an hour last night and slept in this morning.

CKSO: You're in the car to Lee's Ferry now. Do you think you forgot anything?

JENNINGS: Nick brought his Kindle and I did not bring anything to read. So, there's that.

GILBERT: He would have annoyed me every night with or without a book.

CKSO: Having the right paddling partner on a trip like this is incredibly important.

GILBERT: In all seriousness, it is. It's important that you and your partner have had prior time on the water together and can match each other's energy and experience levels. JR and I have been paddling with each other for a few years, and we live together, and work together...so we feel well-primed to take this trip together.

JENNINGS: Exactly. If you're not on the same page with the person you're paddling 280 miles straight through a massive crack in the ground with, it can really make the entire experience negative.

Photo by Nick Gilbert, 2018.

CKSO: Any final thoughts you'd like to share with the world before you launch?

GILBERT: Two words: Fast and Loose.

JENNINGS: I was born for this.

See their packing list here. Check back with us next week for Nick's trip report of his 6-day self-support kayak paddle through the Grand Canyon.

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