A Steep Learning Curve

Posted by Micah Berman on 12th Oct 2017

I mean it (adamantly) when I say that I dove into this project unassumingly and head first.

I’ve anticipated this expedition, Glen Canyon Rediscovered, for almost half a year now. Ever since Taylor, our trip leader, sent the words “We got funded!” this past March from the back of a jeep in rural India, I knew an epic adventure was brewing.

Summarizing our project briefly, we’ll be spending September through mid-December exploring Glen Canyon in Utah via a kayak and canyoneering expedition. We’ll be researching and documenting the Colorado River watershed. By looking at water usage in surrounding ecosystems and communities, we will form a narrative about the future of the watershed in the face of changing climate.

To begin our expedition, we met up for our first nine-day leg on the Colorado River with veteran Riverkeeper John Weisheit and newly appointed Green Riverkeeper Rica Fulton in Moab, UT. John and Rica accompanied us on the water with a raft, offering expert knowledge, guiding and a barge carry our food. Prior to flying out, I researched and familiarized myself with both the natural areas we’d be paddling through and the history of Glen Canyon - I myself had never spent more than a few days at a time in this part of the desert and didn’t know what to expect. What I found was that no amount of web-surfing and image-flipping could prepare me for the sheer vastness and mystery this place emanated. Only by immersing myself in the canyon’s breadth and natural architecture did I begin to realize how much I had to learn.

Our river guide John was the area’s walking/talking human encyclopedia and had a detailed answer or solution to practically everything we threw at him. He could tell us anything from the year a specific rock layer was created to the ideal temperature for cooking canned Texan chili, and making it taste good. His and Rica’s knowledge and connections were absolutely essential to our more complete understanding of the journey we were embarking on. It pays to know the right people.

Our days on the river consisted of 10-15 miles of paddling and filming our journey while exploring the adjacent canyon terrain. During whitewater segments, John would hoist Isabelle’s and my kayaks onto his boat while we watched Taylor professionally and seamlessly navigate class four rapids in a sea kayak as if they were a warm up. Around 4 o’clock each day, we would finish our travel, choose a beach and set up camp for the night. At each of our locations, the quiet and stillness of the canyon was profound. Nothing human-influenced was around for miles - no sounds of cars, people or towns - just the occasional wind gust, water and desert creatures. It was freeing, and humbling.

The initial leg of the trip was a steep learning curve. Personally, I tend to pride myself in the ability to pick up on things quickly, however, I won’t lie when I say that I felt a bit overwhelmed. On top of learning the ropes of river travel, proper river camping, safety and packing, we were filming and documenting our adventure while simultaneously trying to better understand the direction and narrative of our film. It took awhile for a routine to set in, but once I did, things began to fall into place. I realized that to better familiarize myself with everything going on, I needed to stay present and allow myself to absorb and learn everything I possibly could.

John was a huge help in introducing me to the river community and natural history of the area. He explained all the geological layers as we went along, showing different types of fossilized sediment, what they meant and how long they’d been there. He described the river and lake’s natural fluctuations as well as changes in the watershed brought about by human behavior. He explained water policy and conservation. I furiously jotted down our discussions as John described everything, almost in soliloquy, and I am still trying to process my notes.As we continue our journey, I only expect to learn more about this grand area and better communicate it through word and image.

After a quick stopover in Durango, CO for resupply and repacking, we’ll begin our next leg. Starting at Hite Marina on Lake Powell, we will spend a week traveling down to Hall’s Crossing. This 45 mile section will allow us to delve deeper into the lake’s side canyons and learn more about the reservoir’s effects on local ecology.

The more I experience, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more excited I am to help protect this beautiful ecosystem.

Posted by Micah Berman