The Ghost of Bailey Canyon

“Wow!  Look at that owl! That critter is huge!”

“Wow indeed!” Replied Gary, “It looks like the Great Horned variety, and

it seems to be checking us out.” 

The gallant old bird did seem to be very amused by our presence, and circled around the falls for a few moments before disappearing back into the lush forest.

My longtime friend Gary Jenrette, his teenage son Mike, and I were paddling a remote section of the North Fork of the South Platte below Bailey, Colorado and had just stopped to scout the infamous “Four Falls” rapid. The sudden appearance of this mystical creature added some incredible new energy to the otherwise intense adventure.

“Hey! Maybe that’s Paul’s spirit!”  I exclaimed with a tear, as the owl brought back sad memories of a great old friend, whose ashes had been spread in this river.

Pablo had been an awesome friend and a legend in our generation of extreme kayaking. He had drowned on a nearby river and a huge wake had been organized just upstream in his honor.

The wild sighting of this beautiful owl, brought us all to a few tears, and our hearts seemed to stop in unison as we embraced the moment in this spectacular gorge. 

But the moment of ecstasy slowly waned, and we were suddenly back to the reality of what was waiting down stream. The class V “Four Falls” section alone offers an expert challenge, but the next 2 miles of class IV are extremely continuous and propose a very exciting challenge which is usually run without scouting. But, we had run this canyon many times with our friend Paul and the level was friendly, so we calmed our nerves and prepared to launch. 

“Boom, Crack, Bang, Bam!”  A powerful summer storm was quickly approaching and a large cloud suddenly darkened the mid day sky. An abrupt bolt of lighting lit up the nearby hills and sent a thundering roar through the canyon. 

This is a common occurrence on Colorado afternoons, so it wasn’t too shocking. But the combination of the owl sighting and this unexpected storm left us in an even more acute state of mind. Another crack of thunder threatened to split the skies, and they abruptly opened with a down pour of rain and small hail stones. Our helmets and waterproof gear protected us from the hail, and rain, and the lightening seemed limited to the high hills above us, so we took another break and observed the natural entertainment in this awesome setting.

But the skies finally cleared, and we paddled on down stream. We all had good lines in the section that we had scouted, but the next rapid called “S-turn” was almost always a big surprise. It was really hard to scout and easy enough to survive for an expert boater, but it usually managed to challenge our skills. This trip was no exception and I had to make a mad scramble around a giant boulder that unexpectedly appeared in my path. Gary and Mike had similar runs, and we stopped to catch our breath at the portage or scout for a nasty rapid called “Super Max.” This drop had been considered too hard to run for most of the extreme boaters of our generation, including Paul. The new generation with better boats and bigger huevos have been gradually pushing the limits, but we decided to shoulder our boats and get ready for the remaining action that waited down stream.

The memories of Paul, and sighting of the giant owl remained deeply on our minds as we tried hard to focus on the challenges of the river.  But, I couldn’t help to look back a few times to see if his spirit was following us.  

The scenery of Bailey Canyon is truly stunning, as the path of the river threads its way through a remote wilderness of granite domes and lush forests. Deer Creek is a small tributary that joins the North Platte in a fabulous setting, and we needed to scout the rapid, so we stopped for a short lunch. The entire valley was void of humans and the threatening storm had passed, so we savored the solitude as we shared memories of our great friend.

“Deer Creek” was another challenging rapid, but it was the last class V drop, and marked the end of the most serious white water. 

The rest of the run was still challenging but we could now relax just a bit and ponder the excitement of an awesome day. The cold fresh water splashed our faces and we felt constantly challenged, but the thought of our friend’s spirit followed us onward and we survived another great adventure.

The cold beer was patiently waiting, and we toasted his memory in great spirits! 

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Top Ten Adventures


1. Go on a multi-day sea kayak trip and try to live off the sea. The Caribbean offers warm water snorkeling and the North West US offers tons of sea life and great fishing.

2. Ski Jackson Hole and jump into Corbet’s Couloir. This world class mountain offers hundreds of challenging runs, but Corbet’s is a true classic and is actually quite reasonable on a big powder day.

3. Learn to surf.  Surfing is a very challenging sport, but the rewards are worth the effort.

4. Go canyoneering in the great Southwestern desert.  The hundreds of pristine slot canyons in Southern Utah offer exciting journeys into another world that are impossible to describe.

5. Climb and ski a big mountain. One of my favorite thrills is to climb to the top of a mountain and ski back down. The many great mountain ranges of the world offer a huge spectrum of summits and descents and Wild Snow by Lou Dawson is a great guidebook. Mount Shasta in California is highly recommended.

6. Spend at least one winter in a ski town and join a town race league. You’ll meet some very interesting people, enjoy an incredible thrill and really improve your skiing techniques. Extra points for the Aspen Town Downhill. The Masters League is another alternative which doesn’t require moving to a ski town.

7. Kayak the Colca or Cotahuasi Canyons in Peru or climb one of the many great mountains. The Colca offers a truly surrealistic journey through the deepest canyon in the world and the Cotahuasi flows through a spectacular desert canyon filled with the ruins of an ancient Inca civilization. A few brave companies offer commercial raft trips. Peru is also famous for big surf, ancient Inca villages and pristine jungles filled with exotic birds.

8. Kayak and climb or hike in Nepal. This mountain paradise is home to some of the best whitewater on earth. The vistas are stunning and the locals are very friendly. Don’t forget to ride an elephant.

9. Take a climbing trip to Thailand or SE Asia. The weather is a great, the food is awesome and a wide variety of bolted routes provide a climbing mecca.

10. Climb a desert spire. The great Southwestern desert of the US is home to some great sandstone spires and they offer a wide range of thrilling challenges. Layton Korr said that a spire was worth 3 big wall climbs and I tend to agree. Extra points for “Moses” in Canyon Lands, Utah.


Top Ten Non-Extreme Adventures

Link to Buy Adventure Books 

The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River

“Man must feel the earth to know himself and recognize his values…. God made life simple. It is man who complicates it.”

— Charles A. Lindbergh, Reader’s Digest, July 1972.

Calendar Falls on the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone. One of my favorite spots on the planet.

The sun sets rapidly over the high horizon of the deep canyon, and we do not know how many more miles of whitewater need to be traveled. In front of us is a Class IV rapid leading into a blind corner that cannot be scouted, and our food is nearly gone. But we have a comfortable camp, the scenery is awesome, and the weather is perfect.

Table of Contents:

Climbing, Kayaking, and Trekking in Peru

Peru is an adventure paradise. The many great mountains provide fabulous alpine climbing, and the deep canyons are filled with extreme whitewater and ancient Inca ruins.

Randy Kennedy in the deep and mystical Colca Canyon.

Randy Kennedy in the deep and mystical Colca Canyon.

The lofty country of Peru is home to more than forty 6000 meter peaks and the Equatorial climate is very good for climbing. The routes vary from moderate to extreme, and the open valleys provide easy approaches, stunning vistas, and great trekking routes.

The Colca claims to be the deepest canyon in the world, and it’s shear walls and ever-changing rapids have provided a thrilling adventure to many hardy paddlers. The scenery is absolutely stunning, and the local trails provide excellent trekking.

Climbing and Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca

This famous mountain range rivals the Himalayas in everything accept altitude.  The highest peak is just over 22,000 feet, and dozens of lessor mountains and remote valleys stand waiting for eager adventurers. The busy city of Huaraz can easily be reached by bus and is the starting point for most of the climbing and trekking activity. The town is filled with hotels, guides and trekking companies, and is the perfect place to organize an adventure. The dry season climate ( May through July) is usually very good.  “Classic Routes of the Cordillera Blanca” by Brad Johnson is an excellent  guidebook.

Exploring the Cordillera Huayhuash

This truly spectacular range of mostly limestone mountains has a very interesting history, and is far less crowded than the Cordillera Blanca.  It was a main base camp for the infamous “Shining Path” gorillas in the late eighties, and the Peruvian government closed the whole area to foreigners for several years. The rugged peaks have been the scene of many climbing epics, including Joe Simpson’s “Touching the Void,” and the steep faces offer many challenges to modern climbers.

The trek around the range is one of the most spectacular hikes in the world, and a small peak called the “Mute Devil” offers a fun challenge for moderate climbers. The political conditions of this remote area are constantly changing, but tourism is growing, and the locals are usually friendly. Huaraz is the best place to organize a trek or transportation to this unique range. Jeremy Frimer’s “Climbs and Treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru” is highly recommended.

Kayaking the Colca Canyon

The infamous Colca Canyon has been the scene of many epics, but the deepest canyon in the world offers stunning scenery, and an experience that you will never forget. The whitewater is challenging, and the shear walls filled with loose rock and the ever-changing rapids make every descent a new adventure. The circling condors and steam from the many hot springs create a surrealistic mood as you drop ever deeper into the great abyss. This fabulous river is run commercially by a few brave companies and is a perfect 3-5 day self-support kayak trip. Peruwhitewater is an excellent source of information.

Kayaking through an Ancient Inca City

The Cotahuasi might be the best whitewater river in the world. The dry climate is perfect for a self-support kayak trip, and the remote Atacama desert provides a very mystical setting. This pristine river flows through the middle of an ancient Inca civilization, and it is possible to camp in many of the ruins. The crystal clear water that flows from the high Andean peaks tumbles through dozens of miles of continuos class III-IV rapids that are pure bliss for an expert paddler. The spectacular canyon walls are not as shear as the Colca, so there is little danger from rockfall, and campsites are easy to find. There are a few intermittent class V’s, but the rapids are easily scouted, and may be portaged if desired. Two optional Class V+ canyons can provide a bigger challenge for hardy paddlers, and portaging the big falls with burro support is a memorable experience. “Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet” by John Mattson provides a reasonable description of the logistics.

The Many Other Natural and Man Made Wonders

Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley are stunning relics of the Inca Empire, and Cusco is a great place to spend a few days. The miles of rugged coast line offer fabulous surfing, and the Amazon Jungle is a world of it’s own. Lima is big and dirty, and traveling can be a bit challenging, but Peru might be the best adventure travel destination on Earth. A little knowledge of the Spanish language is almost crucial.

Earthquake in the Colca  is a thrilling story of paddling the Colca.

Adventure in the Andes  describes an early climbing expedition.

The Mute Devil and the Volcanos of southern Chile is a thrilling saga of climbing and skiing.

The Grand Canyon of the Cotahuasi might be the best river in the world.