Packrafting Marble Canyon



One of my favorite spots in the world is right here in Arizona, 9 miles upstream of Lees Ferry on the Colorado River in Marble Canyon. The only practical way to get there is on a boat with a captain that knows the river channel. You can't hike to it, it's at the bottom of a deep canyon on the isolated beach bend of a huge western river. The river beach where I will camp is at the famous “Horseshoe Bend” that I have and many tourists have taken pictures of from above on the cliff top, about a thousand feet above.


I’ve been visiting this place as a fisherman for many years. I was introduced to it by one of my hang gliding friends. We would sit around the campfire after a great flight and he would talk to me about this place that was so grand, the soaring cliffs, the ice cold river and the big trout that cruised it’s depths. Here we were on a hang gliding weekend and we were dreaming about camping and fishing at Horseshoe Bend in Marble Canyon.

I finally took him up on his offer to take me there. It was in the early 90’s. I took ten days off, he said that if I was going, we needed to live there for a while to really experience it and that is exactly what I did. It was in February and the boat was loaded up to the gills with mesquite firewood, two ice chests of food, our tents, chairs and all the things necessary for a week plus fishing trip. We drove the four hours North from Phoenix, launched the boat, parked the truck and motored upriver for nine miles to a life changing adventure.


The Colorado River carves through the sandstone earth of the area. Marble Canyon, being just like the Grand Canyon but farther upstream is just a little smaller. The cliffs in this area are about a thousand feet tall and straight up from the river. The river meanders back and forth in this area below Glen Canyon Dam which creates Lake Powell. This dam was completed in 1963. The diversion tunnels were blocked and the beginning of Lake Powell began. Being a bottom release dam, the water is cold and habitable for big river trout.


At nine miles upriver, there is very little sound, maybe a guide boat motoring upriver now and then but only a few times a day, otherwise, silence. The water in all its immensity is flat through the canyon with a few riffles but it’s quiet, really quiet. Being at the bottom of a slot canyon on a grandeur scale, sound, when it happens is amplified and it is also really quiet at the same time. Depending on the time of year, sunlight may not reach the river. During my 10 day stay on my first trip there, a block of ice left by someone prior to us did not melt, it was bitter cold, I wore a snowmobile suit the whole time I was there. During the summer, the temperature is very hot at 100 degrees while the river is cold at 47 degrees.

This is a magical place of extremes.

Camping at the Horseshoe Bend is an experience to remember. You can only get here by boat. The cliffs go all the way to the water. From the camp, the only people you will see are those motoring upriver or the anglers fishing your area. If you look hard at the top of the cliffs on the other side, you can see the tourists viewing the immensity of the horseshoe bend. It's a popular place but it isn't hard to feel small, desolate and alone.


But there is another way to the spot, being backhauled by the big river inflatable pontoon boats that are run by tourist groups for visitors. They sign up for float trips down river from the dam. When they reach Lees Ferry 14 miles down river from the dam, they beach, let the tourists out and motor upriver alone. The tour companies have figured out that there are people like me willing to pay for a ride back upriver with our packraft, kayak or other personal watercraft to float or paddle back to Lees Ferry only to get out and drive back home. If you miss the put in, you are in for a rude awakening. Downriver of Lees Ferry is world class whitewater. 

Don't miss the boat ramp.

I'm no stranger to the area. I've been upriver countless numbers of trips since my first stay. I've camped at the Horseshoe Bend or "9 mile" as I like to call it many nights. I continue to go back for camping and fishing, lots of three and four day weekends and several one day upriver forays. I've crashed boats up there in the silence of daybreak, had 100 fish days where a small fish was 12" and my largest trout there ran about well, pounds, four pounds or so, big.


My respect for the river is as deep as it is powerful. I've been knocked out of the boat by the captain hitting a submerged boulder the size of a travel trailer only to nearly be run over by the boat. I've been smart enough not to be swept downstream by rising water, yes, the dam fluctuates from 7,000 cubic feet per second to a pretty regular high of 14,000 cfs. You must get creative in beaching your boat by placing a couple of anchor lines if you don't want the boat stranded on dry sand when the power generating flows are down.

The focus of this story is not about that, it's about taking on this river in a much more simple craft and fishing it with a tenkara rod. I'm taking my packraft, being hauled upriver with it and some firewood, dumped off and living for a few days, living and re-living, fishing, napping and dreaming.

The drive across the Navajo Reservation is desolate and stark in contrast to the forest of Flagstaff

Navajo Bridges, you have to cross the Colorado to get to Lees Ferry

I have no idea why this guy was down here

The Vermillion Cliffs

Headed upriver, they call it "back haul" and it takes about 45 minutes to get to 9 mile

On the way upriver

My ride upriver driving the rest of the way to the dam at 14 mile

Set up camp and relaxing

I use a block of ice, it lasts longer

Going for a hike

Felt sole tabi work well for pack rafting, wet wading and a little hiking, the felt grips the sandstone that you must climb

Looking back at the horseshoe





A picture through my binoculars 

It's amazing how people will just back up to the cliff to get a selfie

Minimal camp kit

These guys got into my bread, note to self, hard container

Headed just downstream from 9 mile, on my way home

Finger rock on the way back


The river is like glass in some places but you are zipping along



Looking back upriver, that's all my stuff in the yellow bag, about 35 pounds

Almost to Lees Ferry

That's me, about 20' deep, super clear water

On the way back, that's the San Francisco Peaks where Flagstaff is

Pack raft, pfd, dry bag and stuff that goes in the bow bag

Tent, tarp (did not take) quilt, chair, pad etc

Food for four days, I took half, I did three days, two nights

Lees Ferry (web page I created from 1998)
Resources

Lees Ferry USGS Current Flow
Patagonia Simple Fly Fishing

Some of the Equipment used

Alpacka Packraft
Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid


Lightweight Travel Tips


written by Adam Trahan

It has been some years now since I’ve learned about tenkara, an efficient form of mountain stream fishing. Through my experiences using this simple, old style of fishing, I have found that I can apply principles of minimalism to nearly everything I do. I’ve learned about efficiency and different ways of looking at everyday challenges. In applying these concepts, I have come up with a formula that works for me. It can be summed up with the following quote from Yvon Chouinard.

The more you know, the less you need.

I promote an efficient travel kit from this concept.

I have realized that nothing is better than experience to realize just what you need. Packing for a trip shouldn’t be difficult. There is some homework involved if you are new to traveling light but as you reduce the contents of your pack, you will realize that each component of your travel kit becomes more important on its own and as an integrated system.

Key to the concept is to check the weather where you are going and make a pack list for up to a week. If you can get through a week with your packing list, you can easily live for two weeks or a month or longer. Packing for one week, I have a comfortable pack size and I am able to be prepared for just about any activity. Hiking, fishing, going out to dinner, hot springs or lounging with friends or distant family. At the end of the week, I’m going to do some laundry whether it be washing my clothes in washer or in the shower, bucket or near a stream and hanging them to dry but I’m ready for another week.



In 2013 I packed for a two week fishing and sightseeing trip to Japan. I took two backpacks, a 46 liter travel pack and a daypack to carry all of my gear. I carried my clothes, shoes, fishing boots and gear, computer, cords and toiletries. My packs were loaded tight and looking back on that trip, I was grossly over packed. I brought a lot of stuff I didn’t use.

Traveling light is a work in progress.

I took notes while I was on my trip. What I used over and over, what I didn’t use and more importantly, what I wanted to have along the next time.

In 2016 I packed for another two week trip to Japan, an adventure that included my multi-use backpack for a hiking and camping trip far up a river valley. I packed much more efficiently this time but again, it took two backpacks, the same 46 liter travel pack that doubled as a camping backpack and another duffle bag/backpack. Looking back on that trip, I carried just a little more than I needed but for what I did, carrying a sleeping bag and a camping list, rain jacket and specialized boots and clothes, I did pack well.

Often I travel for a week out of one small pack. I carry fishing gear and all that I need for travel. I move about comfortably and at no time do I feel that I am running out of clothes or in need of something. At the end of a seven night stay, I look back at what I use and what I didn’t. I note I was uncomfortable in a cotton shirt. I realized that I would have been more comfortable in shirts made of different materials, the cotton shirts that I took did not wear well in the slight humidity and I felt that I could not wear them more than one day.

Taking note of what works and what doesn't helps me to build my travel kit.

I often travel to the Hawaiian Islands and to the eastern portion of the USA. I have amassed a lot of good experiences while moving through airports, staying at hotels, hiking and camping. I used the gear that I took with me and I’m learning to leave things home that I don’t use. Through my experiences, I will detail the process that I use to create a pack list for travel where you are staying in a home, hotel or inn with daily outdoor activities.

Check the temperature, layering is key.

I've learned about performance layering from the Yvon Chouinard and his different business in creating clothing for mountaineering. Chouinard's company, Patagonia has introduced many new types of cloths, innovative crafting of clothing and base layers that are cool when it's hot and warm when its cold. Patagonia clothing is recognized around the world by mountaineers and has revolutionized the outdoor clothing industry. Patagonia catalogs contain great information on how to efficiently layer for a wide range of temperatures and weather. Much of my knowledge was sparked by content in these catalogs and quite a bit of my kit contains clothing by Patagonia. If you are new to lightweight travel, I suggest a look into a Patagonia catalog or their web site.

The layer next to your skin is important to consider. I’ve learned over the years that wicking fabrics or, a fabric that will pick up perspiration and vapor from your skin and “move” it outward towards the outer layer of the fabric is best. I’ve been using base layers by Patagonia for 20 years. It’s a fabric that is cool when it’s warm, warm when its cool and comfortable for exertion. Polyester type fabrics are extremely versatile and adaptable to many different environments and exertion levels, perfect for variable temperatures and minimal pack lists.

As it gets colder, a mid-layer or outer shell can be added. Thicker versions of the same fabric can be utilized for layering or as a warmer base layer in combination with a thin outer shell. The thicker base layer is typically for cooler temperatures but still can be worn as outerwear. The wide temperature range of each layer can be combined for cooler expected temperatures.

For outerwear, I use a light windbreaker that can be stuffed very small. This simple yet lightweight jacket can extend the temperature range of a thin base layer or serve as a light rain jacket. These jackets are so lightweight, they can be compacted into a small pocket of a daypack or in purse or clipped to a belt loop they are so small.

The lightweight insulated “puffy” jackets can be brought along for temperatures cooler temperatures down to below freezing. Utilizing the layering system, base, mid, puffy jacket and thin outer shell, you can regulate the comfort you want moving the sweat and moisture outward to evaporate for all temperatures found from the desert to the high mountain cold environments.

The pants that I choose are super important. Again, I use a couple of different thickness and both are made of basically the same type of polyester material that insulates yet breathes to move sweat away from my body. Again, this type of clothing is easy to compress, wears well and is easily adaptable to a wide range of temperatures. I can wet wade in the morning and by lunch time, I am completely dry and by dinner, I still look (and smell) presentable.

A favorite hat and gloves of performance fabrics is invaluable in colder climates. Worthy of the space in your pack, these items are typically very personal and taking them on the road from wearing them at home is comforting during travel.

Utilizing a layering system that is configurable for a wide range of climates is how I choose my packing list. Packing just one thin and thick base layer as well as a compactable puffy jacket and a thin windbreaker style jacket can give you a range of temperatures all the way down to freezing temps and all the way up to triple digit temperatures. Using the thin base layer can serve as sun protection and is comfortable even in the hot temperatures of the desert. This layering technique combined with the type of fabric chosen, all packs small yet provides a wide range of comfort.


Accessories for travel

There are a few accessories I carry that have really found their way into my pack list for being so valuable to my experience. Because these accessories have evolved to be made of compact and compressible materials, even if they are not utilized, it is a non-event to not use them but if they are utilized, their worth becomes evident.

Inside my travel pack, I carry a compact day pack. I use this for travel from my hotel, tent or couch wherever I am staying. I do not want to carry my 25lb carry on with all my stuff as it is full but I do want to carry the few things I will need for day trips. This small sailcloth daypack is comfortable using every single day of my travel. Able to carry a layer of clothes, a water bottle, jacket, lunch, fishing gear or anything else that I want to carry with me.

I choose a compact umbrella. My umbrella packs down to about the size of a large candy bar and is swallowed by the long pocket in my carry on pack. When I get to my destination, depending on my travel, I may transfer it to a compact daypack or just keep it out in my car or within reach during my excursions. An umbrella is worthy of travel even if it is sunny as I have often opened mine when waiting on transportation and or walking from one area to another to shield myself from the sun or rain.

I have found that a travel pillow is worth its weight and size. Mine is an inflatable that compacts down to a size of cards. Multiple hours of travel on a plane or in a car, I always take a nap. The travel pillow makes this needed rest possible and comfortable. With the travel pillow I carry a sleep mask too. It is so small and lightweight, it disappears in my bag. If I am on a long flight, I like to wear the mask when I sleep, it really helps to relax during the downtime of travel.

I also carry an inflatable sit pad. This item has literally saved my butt from long trips on a train and on a day hike. I put it in my daypack to pad the contents of my pack against the thin layer of cloth next to my back.

A light compact spread is something I have found that works in many situations. The one I use is aluminized on one side for heat retention or reflection. It’s soft and comfortable to use as a spread on grass, sand or snow or in the cabin of a plane or train. I have also used mine to keep warm on a long plane trip and in the car. It fits in a small stuff sack and disappears in my day pack or travel bag until I need it.

I often swim or take in a hot spring so I carry a small micro-fiber towel. This is a multi-use item that can make cleaning and drying yourself comfortable. If you are at an inn and the towels or laundry is questionable, you have your own. You can use it to sit on or dry yourself off. In a pinch, it can be used to clean up a spill.

For day to day cleaning, I use a small zippered case for my toothbrush, medicines and a minor first aid kit.

Invaluable when washing your clothes, I have a small dedicated clothes line. It was designed for this purpose and does not need clothes pins to fix drying clothes on it. You can clean your clothes in the shower or from the stream and hang them to dry.

Worthy of it’s weight and size is a tiny 500 lumen flashlight. Travelling to areas that are new to me, I often find myself in dark places devoid of any light. There are many small but powerful flashlights that will light up a very large area, you will be able to see very quickly, dark places become friendly with knowing what you are getting yourself into. These flashlights also power down to last a long time on one battery.

Smartphone as a multi use device.

The more I travel, the less I am carrying my laptop. My smart phone has a “talk to text” function that works very well for taking notes and writing. My phone also contains a great camera so a dedicated camera is not needed. I load movies and media on my phone so it’s important to remember headphones, a long charge cord and plug in adapter. For convenience, I carry a 6’ extension cord. I have also learned that I need a backup battery to charge my phone when power is not available. For international travel, I use a “wi-fi device” that takes the place of having a phone plan. All the communication functions that I need are Internet based and a phone plan just isn’t needed. I use Google maps and select the mode of transportation tab and it will bring up the data I need that is near by. 

For navigating, I use a GPS application that I can research and plan on my laptop at home and transfer the research notes, maps and routes to my phone. I've used this GPS application many times in the jungle, in the forest and it really helps me to keep my kit to a minimum.

Tenkara fishing equipment

My tenkara method is quite simple. I depend on what I know more than carrying variety of equipment. I have trimmed my kit quite small. I’ve made some changes to what I carry over the years but my kit can still be described as, “rod, line and fly.” If I’m on a trip to Japan, I carry dedicated wading gear. Specialized boots, wading spats, a net and my fishing bag as well as a couple of travel rods inside of my bag. I’m still looking for shoes that can double for wading and street wear. So I still carry my boots with me and at the end of the trip, when I’m ready to fly home, I will wrap them in plastic and stuff them in my bag. Typically, if I am carrying wading gear, I bring two bags, one a personal bag and one carry on, both fit easily into the overhead bin.

Bullet points for lightweight travel
  1. Research the climate where you are going.
  2. Pack for a week
  3. Take notes for your next trip
My packing list

Clothes
Hat, Buff and sun gloves
Polarized Sunglasses
Lightweight long sleeve top (base layer)
Mid weight long sleeve top (mid layer)
Long sleeve button up shirt x 2
Boxers x 4
Performance fabric T-shirt
Performance lightweight stuffable wind jacket
OPTIONAL – Packable puffy vest or jacket
OPTIONAL – Rain shell
Performance fabric convertible pants
Track pants
Lightweight amphibious shorts
Performance Socks x 3
Shoes
Cheap Flip Flops

Accessories for travel
Sleeping mask and foam ear plugs
Inflatable travel pillow
Lightweight travel sheet
Compact umbrella
Lightweight stuffable day pack
Inflatable sit pad
Micro fiber towel
Travel clothes line
Small lightweight zippered toiletry case
Small travel size baby wipes

Electronics
Smart phone
Cigarette USB charger
Plug in charger
Long USB charging cord
6’ extension cord
An extra USB battery back up
A small 500 lumen flashlight

Other miscellaneous tips for travel include using a wi-fi device for travel. Often you need the internet and wi-fi is available but it is not free. Using a wi-fi device and plan for accessing the wi-fi is invaluable. It is much cheaper and more efficient than using a cell phone sim card. I found that using the sim card, I used a lot of data and there were times where cell coverage was not available or dropped and wi-fi was available. I highly suggest a wi-fi device coverage for traveling.


Google Maps is also excellent for travel. Pull up the app and select the tab for the type of travel you are doing. If you are walking, select the pedestrian tab and it will take you by foot, the transit tab will show you where the nearest train station is and when the next train arrives and where it is going. The bus tab does the same. The Google Maps app is the #1 used smartphone application that I use besides using the Airline app that I am traveling on for having your boarding documents inside your phone.

There are a couple of other resources available, one is the internet for help in designing a packing list. I find the one below a great help. I also use books and have used a lot of good information from the following book.


I find the below sites helpful for ideas, information and equipment for ultralight travel.

Osprey

I hope you find the article useful. It is basically what I use when I travel. How I look at the destination and what I use while I am traveling. Travel is a highly personal adventure that is filled with choices in how comfortable you want to be. What you want to travel with and what you are willing to do without. The equipment here is what I personally choose. There is a world of choices out there for you to decide what works for you. The point of this article is not to sell you anything, it's about my experiences and how they may help you.

Cheers and take care.

* This article was originally written for Tenkara USA on November 17, 2017

Discover Tenkara Karasu 360cm


I've been curious about the rods Discover Tenkara have designed and offer to the tenkara community. Paul Gaskell and John Pearson regularly travel to Japan for research and study of the equipment and techniques found there. They spend a lot of time with expert Japanese tenkara anglers. It just so happens that some of the people they fish and work with in Japan are friends of mine. 

Because of that interest, I recently had the opportunity to use one of their rods.

Dr. Tom Davis offered to send a tenkara rod to me that I've been interested in for quite a while. He also offered to send the Karasu 360 along with that rod.

I have had it for a couple of weeks and I feel that I understand it a little more after using it and reading, watching videos about the design.

The Karasu 360 is definitely a quality tenkara rod that has a unique balance and feel that is light and desirable for all day, precise casting.

I fished it today with a 5m #3 Oni fluorocarbon line and used a Jun kebari that I tied and really enjoyed the experience.

The rod is comparable to many top tier rods of equal price and similar construction. It exhibits a nice balance, is light in the hand, cast precisely and is delicately sensitive.

It is an excellent example of a performance minded tenkara rod with a great background and a experienced team of developers.

I asked Go Ishii for a quote on the Karasu 360.
"I’d say it was a great collaboration work between some of the top anglers in Japan and DT. I like the way it sets hook too."
I asked Paul Gaskell for a quote as well.
"Bringing the Karasu to life has been an exhilarating – often scary – ride. We owe so much to the incredible expertise and professionalism of the Japanese manufacturing team as well as the top Japanese anglers who have been kind enough to test the rods alongside us. Trying to make the highest quality rod possible was a big risk – but when the final version of each model landed with us we were just blown away by what the manufacturers had managed to deliver. Put simply, the results blew past what we'd dared to hope for and we are hugely grateful to the whole team who made it happen. 
Discover Tenkara supports their customers with a forum for the user and full spectrum tuition of videos, electronic media and printed material for further education and entertainment on tenkara. 

I really enjoyed my time with the Karasu 360

If you are interested in purchasing a performance minded tenkara rod with a great background and tuition to go along with it, consider a Karasu 360.

Thank you Dr. Davis for your kind offer.