Educator Expedition: Reading the Rapids on the Colorado River [Video]

By Molly Herber

May 25, 2015


michael-dooley-ledges-camp Ledges camp. Photo by Michael Dooley.

By Michael Dooley, NOLS Instructor

On April 12th 2015, I returned from a raft-supported kayak trip down the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. This 225-mile trip down Class IV rapids and long stretches of beautiful flat water was largely possible because of the support I received from the NOLS Field Staffing and Training department. Field instructors at NOLS are eligible to receive funds, up to $800.00 over a 2-year span, to further broaden skill sets and sharpen the current tools needed to work and live in the wilderness. I personally benefitted from my allowance of $400.00 for this trip to invest in a whitewater kayak.

When applying for this grant, my primary goal was to develop and push my whitewater kayak skills toward the expectations required to be a NOLS whitewater instructor. In completion of this expedition, I have noticed a great improvement in my ability to read-and-run challenging whitewater, scout more advanced rapids, and use my technical skills to get through and around big water features in a kayak. In addition, I increased my ability to recognize risks and manage them appropriately, as it relates to on land living and exploring; this is something directly transferable to my job as a sea kayaking and hiking instructor.


michael-dooley-night-stars Big Dipper on a clear night! Photo by Michael Dooley.

Although I am not ready to enter the field as a whitewater rafting and kayaking instructor, I have made big steps in that direction. Recently I finished a Swift Water Rescue training course provided by NOLS to help me manage my own risk on the water. This training has given me confidence to paddle new sections of rivers and seek out more experience both in a raft and kayak over the next year. It is my goal to become an instructor for the whitewater program at NOLS by Fall 2016.

The video below has POV clips taken from my perspective of several significant rapids on the Grand Canyon section of the Colorado River. Water levels were between 7,250 and 12,250 CFS (cubic feet per second). Each rapid had my heart nervously beating, but I managed to keep my boat upright (most of the time) and fortunately I didn’t go swimming! My friend does take a swim in Lava Falls at the end of the video; he was okay and made it to shore safe and sound. The river had me smiling from the put-on to the take-out; the incredible hiking balanced with great whitewater makes this adventure a must.


Find out how you can learn to whitewater kayak at NOLS!

Written By

Molly Herber

Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber

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