Middle-schooler relives her adventures on the Colorado River.
Freedom Middle School seventh-grader Micayla “Chica” Hurndon, 12, recently became the youngest known self-supported kayaker to kayak the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon during a two-week trip with her dad, Mike. She beat her brother Max’s feat, which he completed in 2018, by 1.5 months.
In 2020, Chica was the youngest known person to kayak the entire 280 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in her own boat, under her own power.
A Wild Ride
My Dad and I, and eight other people, spent nine days in September kayaking self-supported (gear, clothes, food, etc. are kept within your kayak) through the Grand Canyon (GC). We used longboats, which have a skeg (retractable keel that helps keep your boat straight as you paddle), to hold our gear and dehydrated food securely.
Before our trip, we visited the South Rim. It was a real game-changer for me. To know, in just a few days, I would pass that very spot thousands of feet below, and to have a much different perspective, was insane. That day, I visited the Grand Canyon Historical Boat Collection Museum at the Grand Canyon National Park, which harbors boats that have been paddled through the canyon. My brother Max’s kayak, which he used for his self-support trip in 2018, is included in the collection.
Max has been a huge inspiration to me, ever since I was little. We’ve always been each other’s biggest competitors; call it sibling love. So, obviously, when he kayaked the canyon on a self-supported expedition, I had to get in on the fun.
The Journey Begins
The first night at Lee’s Ferry (the spot where we put-in the river), sleeping under the stars, was euphoric. We could see stars we didn’t even know were there. That’s how every night was. The next morning, we woke up along the riverbank, watched the sun rise, made breakfast and started packing our boats. Like the night sky, the beauty of the canyon during the day was spectacular. We paddled into the crystal-clear water at Lee’s Ferry, and the trip began.
As we paddled through the first rapid, Paria Riffle, which was rated a 1 on the 1-10 scale of the GC rapids, I saw the joy and goofy smiles on everyone’s faces. The waves were giant. The kayak in front of me disappeared over the peak of the waves; that’s how big they were!
We averaged around 30-35 miles per day, and we all had one goal: to get down the canyon safely and to enjoy the ride. Talking to crewmates and sharing the camaraderie with them and my Dad was one of the best parts of the trip. We bonded like a big family. My Dad helped me, encouraged me, and we always had good laughs. We also cheered each other on in enormous rapids.
Navigating the Rapids
The only way to describe the rapids is that they were wild! The Colorado River in the GC is 90% flatwater (no rapids), and the other 10% is the opposite. One of the biggest factors on this trip for me was craving to hit the ridiculously terrifying hydraulic (a recirculating wave that can potentially keep boats and people stuck in it for a bit), Crystal Rapid.
Approaching Crystal Rapid was scarier than I imagine it would feel to take a nosedive off Niagara Falls. I had decided long before Crystal that I would run the rapid without getting out of my boat to scout (hike on the riverbank to study the rapid before you paddle through it). My Dad and I were going to run the rapid blind (without seeing it first), and at least one of us was very likely to get stuck in the violent hydraulic.
I paddled with much momentum and tried to get as much speed as possible to send me straight through the hydraulic. I saw a huge wall of whitewater waiting to swallow me and my boat, and I hoped for the best. Then, bam! I was thrown like a ragdoll. At that moment, I just let the rapid do what it was going to do. I calmed my heart and my head, and simply let it throw me around. And, finally, I was out! I heard the cheers, and I could not have been more stoked.
Surprisingly, Lava Falls, the largest and most dynamic rapid on the river, still was waiting for us at mile 180. Lava Falls is the climax of the canyon, and the 20 miles of flat water above it is the eerie calm before the storm.
As we paddled the flat-water section above Lava, the crew was a bit tense. They knew what was coming, and so did I. We stopped at a beach after Vulcan’s Anvil (a black lava rock a mile upstream from the falls) to make a game plan for the rapid and share a group prayer. As soon as we got back in our boats, we knew it was about to get real wild.
We heard the rapid long before we could see the horizon line that would bleed into a whirlwind of crazy and explosive whitewater. My Dad asked if I wanted to lead the group down the rapid, and I was stoked. Then, we charged through Lava. As the rapid exploded all around us, all I could do was paddle and hope for the best. Running down the end of the rapid and seeing my team make it through was amazing!
After Lava, the rapids started to slowly taper off as we approached the Lower Canyon. With 100 miles to go of mostly flatwater, we started missing home. However, being spread out on the open water with the crew and seeing the vast Lower Canyon was surreal.
The satisfaction when we turned that last bend at mile 280, seeing a few cars in the Pearce Ferry parking lot, was immeasurable. As the ramp came into view (the spot where we take-out of the river), I immediately began looking forward to seeing Mom, Max and my dog back home.
Even though I was looking forward to going home, there was a slight wave of sadness that washed over me as we loaded up our gear. The GC will forever be a huge part of my life. I can’t thank everyone enough for this trip. It’s going to be extremely hard to top this experience, and I’m not sure I ever will. I don’t know what the next adventure will bring, but I’m 100% sure it’s going to be wild!
– By Micayla “Chica” Hurndon