If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s the edict, anyway, enacted by blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, who after capsizing three times on the Grand Canyon’s Lava Falls and finally swimming, he hiked back up and ran it again, as part of his recently completed No Barriers Grand Canyon Expedition with fellow blind paddler and Navy veteran Lonnie Bedwell…
While most know Weihenmayer for his outdoor exploits like climbing the Seven Summits (including Everest in 2001), mountain biking the Leadville 100, or even his book, Touch the Top of the World (Plume, 2002), this time he set his sights on paddling the Grand Canyon.
“We embarked on this journey as part of our No Barriers Pledge, our commitment to live a No Barriers Life,” Weihenmayer writes on his blog. “As two blind people, we understood that choosing to kayak 227 miles through the Grand Canyon and through some massive whitewater, wouldn’t be easy. Choosing this kind of path never is. It’s like paddling forward into darkness, into the roar of whitewater below, consciously choosing to enter the chaos, a storm that overwhelms the mind and the senses, and will most likely pummel you before you emerge on the other side.”
Weihenmayer’s non-profit No Barriers organization encourages soldiers, others with physical limitations, and, basically, everyone else to get out and live beyond their physical or mental limitations. And that’s exactly what they did for 21 days on the Grand Canyon in September.
“It was my most physically and mentally challenging experience yet,” continues Weihenmayer, 46, a father of two. “It was a big stretch for me and my team. Throughout, there was plenty of fear, intensity, even some panic. However, there were also moments of joy and celebration. Now with the expedition behind us, it’s time to celebrate the journey and all the barriers shattered along the way.”
The team included professional filmmakers and photographers, including a film crew from HBO Sports, as well as paddling assistants yelling commands into Bluetooth headsets telling them which way to go in the tumultuous waters. Writer Tracy Ross covered his adventure for Colorado Public Radio.
“The boils, often the worst when least expected, represented the unpredictability and hardship on the expedition,” writes Weihenmayer. “In many ways, the Grand Canyon uniquely captures, in reality and metaphorically, the journey to live a No Barriers Life.”
Perhaps the best example of this came at Lava Falls, which Weihenmayer admits that he’s “dreamed and worried about” for years, ever since planning the expedition.
From his blog, he recounts: “Lava, and floating into it upside-down was never part of the plan. I did manage to roll up and avoid the crushing Ledge Hole, but the crashing lateral, V-Wave below flipped me again. As I rolled up, another crashing wave hit me sideways, and I was over again, trying to roll up with its weight pummeling me from above. After a couple attempts, I pulled my skirt and swam out of my boat.” (- See more at: http://www.touchthetop.com/blog/kayaking-blind-2429#sthash.EAKols2z.dpuf)
Not content to swim it, even blind, that’s when he cowboyed up to give it another shot, hiking up to do it again. The results were similar paddling-wise, but not in the sense of accomplishment it evoked.
“My second run was much like the first,” he writes. “I almost flipped again on the same boil-line, crashed into the laterals and was knocked over. I rolled up sideways, flipping again. This time, however, I rolled up in the middle of the chaos, got flipped again, rolled up a third time and heard Harlan’s voice, “You’re through it. You’re through it,” and then the cheers from my team waiting below. There was a lot of kayak hugging and some tears, mostly from me.”
Even more came when his family traveled to Arizona to surprise him at the take-out.
See video from the adventure Here