Slot Machine: Schnitzspahn basks in the majesty of the remote 150-MILE Canyon near Upset Rapid on the Colorado River
In May, I had the chance to explore a place no human had ever set foot in—a side slot canyon deep in the wilderness of Grand Canyon National Park. There was a reason why no one had ever touched this slot before. The trip to get here required a long expedition down 150-Mile Canyon, an isolated, classic slot that requires multiple rappels and swims. Then we had to cross the Colorado River on pack rafts and spend another day clambering up the other side of the Canyon. The first-descent slot—which we named Dump Truck—required a 100-foot rappel to get into, a swim across a deep keeper-hole pool and an exhilarating 200-foot, free-hanging rap to escape.
This was just another day in the Canyon for the guys who took me there. Rich Rudow and Todd Martin have explored over 70 first-descent slots here over the past few years, earning Rich recognition as an Outside magazine “Adventurer of the Year.” The pair, who have been rapping into the Grand Canyon together since 2006, are also the subject of a film by Dan Ransom called “Last of the Great Unknown,” the title a reference to the Grand Canyon’s first explorer, the one-armed John Wesley Powell who famously said he was headed down the great unknown when his boat party first entered this place in 1869. The film, which was produced by American Alpine Journal editor John Harlin, premiered at 5Point and Mountainfilm this spring—and audiences were thrilled to see unexplored country right here in the Lower 48.
Rich and Todd have normal jobs in Phoenix during the week. Rich is the general manager of GPS-mapping company Trimble Outdoors and Todd is an air-quality engineer, though he also runs the fantastic canyoneering site toddshikingguide.com and authored the beautiful and comprehensive guidebook Grand Canyoneering (available on his website). But their insatiable passion is deep in the unknowns of the canyon. (The film focuses on a first descent the pair named Obsession that Todd confesses he first wanted to name OCD) And hiking down into their playground with them is a true adventure. The ease with which they traverse over deadly exposed, one-foot ledges covered with loose rock leaves the folks following them a bit green at times. And as Ransom, whose passion for canyoneering is just as ravenous and who survived a brain tumor during the making of the film, likes to quip, “Canyoneering is about making shitty anchors by committee.” And then there are the free-hanging rappels. But that’s what makes being there with them so exciting.
Just think, while other adventurers were headed to Tibet or the Arctic, Rich and Todd found true exploration in their backyard. We can all learn from that, I think. What’s out there? Follow your passion and head
out into your own great unknowns.