Grand Canyon Float #6: Piloting Whitewater

Eric McNair-Landry rows a clean line through Lava Falls, the Grand Canyon's largest and most intimidating rapid; Photograph by Andy Maser
Jenny Nichols celebrates a successful line; Photograph by Andy Maser
The crew below one of the canyon's smaller rapids with Erik Boomer pictured on far left and Sarah McNair-Landry in the kayak; Photograph by Andy Maser

Keep it straight and square up for the big hits! Often times, piloting a fully loaded, monstrous raft through Grand Canyon whitewater is as simple as that. Our craft are far from hot rods—they measure in at 16 or 18 feet long, are fully loaded, and are powered by a single oarsman. To make it unscathed, lines through the crashing waves and boiling eddies must be chosen carefully to allow as much margin for error as possible. And when you find yourself mid-rapid, pushed in the wrong direction, and headed directly for a notorious raft-flipping hydraulic? Square up and hope for the best!

Luckily, during the course of our 21 day, 280-mile adventure we only flipped one raft. It happened in a rapid called Horn, several miles below the Phantom Ranch access point. The oarsman got stuck in a surging, inescapable eddy mid-rapid and had no choice but to abandon ship. Luckily, Erik Boomer was on hand to jump in the raft and manually force it to capsize, a superhero-like move that not only showed his extreme proficiency in whitewater, but also earned him some precious beer rewards from the grateful owner of the raft. Fortunately, the other big rapids—Crystal, Hance, Hermit, Granite, Lava, etc—all went more smoothly.

It’s not easy to describe the experience of rowing a raft through the Canyon’s biggest rapids, but the relief of making it through unscathed feels a little bit like narrowly avoiding a major car wreck.

Andy Maser rowing through one of the Grand Canyon's many huge wave-trains. Photograph by Jenny Nichols.


  1. James
    October 17, 2012, 12:03 pm

    I know Eric Boomer from this trip as we met two years ago on the Middle Fork Salmon River in Idaho. Eric then did the circumnavagation of Ellesmere and great to see he is still out there doing it. What ever happened to his first descent of the Stikine in a day? For more info on Eric’s trip in 2010, go to for the photos on High Water on our picture gallery.

  2. Erik Boomer
    October 17, 2012, 3:02 pm

    Hey James,
    the stikine project is on hold, a friend passed away trying the same thing this year. here is a little writeup i did for him.
    Hope to get back on the water with you.