The Grand Eight: Prologue

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A big, technical trip in the Grand Canyon has been in the back of my mind for quite a few years, and back in early January I decided to make it happen now. Simply put: when I ran the numbers I couldn’t think of a reason not too. The time could be made free, the right information was easy to get, and given the long drive the costs would be minimal.

I put together a route which would take around a week, and involve packrafting, a bit of ropework and wading, and a lot of rugged hiking with big packs.

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While solo backpacking is and will remain one of my favorite things, I knew that this trip would be better with a partner. The stress of the unknown and of the demanding terrain would be sufficient without the added difficulty of being alone for that long. Problem is, on a route like the one I wanted to do, anyone other than the right person would be far worse than no one at all. When I ran through a list of candidates, it became obvious that Brendan was the only suitable candidate. That we had never met in person, and (as became clear when we started emailing) that he had never done any technical canyoneering seemed like pretty small objections. We would have the right mindset, and most importantly be able to stand up to the physical rigor of 7-8 straight days of rough off-trail travel in the desert. Having followed his trips and writing, I was pretty confident we’d get along (and I assess interpersonal relationships for a living).

In short order he was signed on, we had our permit, and the plan was in place.

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Humorously, it took M a few dozen pictures on the first look-through the other night to realize that the person in the photos was in fact not me. Yep, we’re both bearded, thinnish guys with white packs and well used clothes (though I didn’t have a white pack on this trip). Indeed, the gear we each brought was, without any real coordination, very similar. Thin, low drop shoes with good tread. No raingear. Homemade packs. XS Thermarests. We’re of a similar age, at similar stages in life, and have very similar interests in and philosophies towards backpacking.

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And that, right there, is the beginning and end of the story of what turned out to be an extraordinary week long trip, an idea with endless opportunities for things to go wrong that went so smoothly the whole thing all but slips by unremembered. We got along well from the very first, enjoyed each other the whole time, went at similar paces, worked easily together to solve the many problems, and had no conflicts or hiccups. It felt like we had been hiking together for years. Meet a stranger and immediately spend almost 200 straight hours never more than 100 yards apart, with no issues?

That makes for a good trip.

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