RRFW Riverwire - Joe Schuppe Takes Canoe Solo Through Grand Canyon

RRFW Riverwire - Joe Schuppe Takes Canoe Solo Through Grand Canyon March 27, 2017

Canoeing in Grand Canyon has a long and colorful history. It is possible the first canoe to be used on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon was a ten foot long canvas sided stick canoe used in the Nankoweap area around 1900. Who used this craft and exactly where they used it is lost to the sands of history. This type of one person open canoe is called an OC-1.

In 1953, Leslie Jones fitted a canoe with a water resistant cover and oars on outriggers. He then took his craft by himself from Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch. In 1954, Jones returned to Phantom and rowed the rest of Grand Canyon out to Temple Bar. Jones portaged a number of the Canyon’s rapids. This type of covered one person canoe is called a C-1.

Grand Canyon National Park banned canoes of any type in 1956 unless they accompanied commercial trips

In 1970, Canadian Roger Parsons and Al Chase from Cambridge, MA, expertly paddled C-1’s with a group of kayakers from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek. After being dumped in Hance Rapid, Al hiked his canoe back up to the top of the rapid and ran it again, this time in a clean run.

The first recorded OC-1 to be paddled in Grand Canyon goes to Jim Shelander who paddled an OC1 on a commercial trip from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek in 1979.

Nancy McCleskey is credited as the first female to take an OC1 from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek in the early 1980s also on a commercial trip.

In the fall of 2012, Douglas Green took a 14-foot Bell Nexus River Tripper OC-1 all the way through Grand Canyon on a solo trip, harking back to Les Jones in the 1950s. Doug portaged a few rapids, including Hance Rapid.

Joe Schuppe is a very accomplished OC-1 paddler often camps out of his canoe. Joe had learned to roll his open Esquif Vertige X canoe using thigh straps to keep him in his boat. After winning the lottery for a January 2, 2017 launch, Joe started to plan an 18 day solo trip in his canoe, named the B HOLMSTROM. Haldane “Buzz” Holmstrom is credited with the first solo cruise through Grand Canyon in 1937. Joe was counting down the days before his launch when his boat was stolen.

Joe didn’t miss a beat, changing to a foot shorter Esquif Blast. Three weeks before his launch, his stolen Vertige X was recovered. The boat had been thrown down a hill and required some minor repairs but Joe was thrilled to be back in his B HOLMSTROM.

The Lee’s Ferry gear inspection went well and Joe paddled to Badger Rapid where after scouting, he ran down the far right side and thought “Dam, this is a five? This might be bigger than I was thinking...” He ran Soap Creek without scouting. House Rock and the Roaring 20’s all went fine. At the Little Colorado River, the river turned brown, and now the river was harder to read. Joe did a layover at Cardenas then paddled on to Hance Rapid. To this point he had not had to swim or portage any rapids.

At Hance, Joe scouted and decided on a run to the right. “I took two big hits and the second hit rolled me over. The force of the water flushed me right out of the boat.” Joe’s boat righted itself about the time his helmet fell off. Then he hit a few rocks. Not bad, but he felt them. The boat following, he swam to it with his paddle and climbed back in. To Joe’s delight, his helmet was floating next to him. By this time he was down in the calm water below the rapid. This would be his only swim. A wave in Doris Rapid days later turned him over and he rolled right back up.

Arriving at Phantom Ranch, Joe met some hikers amazed by what he was doing. They offered to buy him a beer at the Canteen, then invited him to their campsite to play cards and camp with them. Joe agreed, parked his canoe and took his camping gear to the hiker’s camp. That night, a National Park Ranger visited their camp and demanded to know who owned the Pacco Pad at the campsite. Joe said it was his. The Ranger took him aside and said he had to camp in one of the three adjacent empty camp-spots. The Ranger said if Joe had asked, it would have been fine, but since he hadn’t asked, Joe was cited for camping without a permit and fined $280. The Ranger did allow “canoeing solo in Grand Canyon was bad ass.”

By this time, it was raining and Joe had to run Horn Creek. After a scout, Joe made the classic low water right to left run and found Horn “not that bad.” Granite was different. Joe scouted for two hours, looking for a left side run. It was still raining, and he felt very alone. In the end, he walked back to his boat, entered right, ran the right side and had a great run.

That was the climax of the journey for Joe. With lifted spirits, he ran Hermit wide open down the middle. “I just knew it was going to be fine.” Joe scouted Lava in ten minutes and ran the right side.

Joe passed the first river runners he had seen on the entire trip at Travertine Falls, just below Diamond Creek where Buzz Holmstrom had encountered another river party in 1937. Like Buzz, Joe camped that night with the other group. “They fed me a great dinner of rice and broccoli and offered fine company after those magical days of solitude. I didn't mind the crowd of ten at all and they were good people, as most river runners are.”

Below 232 Mile Rapid his helmet with Go-Pro camera fell out of his canoe unnoticed. Over a month after his trip ended, Joe got a note from a woman saying her parents had found his helmet with camera still attached in the headwaters of Lake Mead. She mailed it back to Joe and his Go-Pro film was in good shape.

Joe’s transit of Grand Canyon solo in an OC-1 without portaging and only having one swim is a first in Grand Canyon. To others contemplating this, all Joe can say is “Go. Don’t let stuff hold you back.”

RRFW Council Member Tom Martin wrote this article and would like to thank Joe Schuppe for his assistance.


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