Meet Riah Risk!
We are so lucky to have Riah as one of our competent AzRA guides! If you have been on the river with her, you know why. She’s just a bright light around AzRA, and has just started to trip lead some of our Classics, so we’re excited to see her grow more in her role here! She says below that she loves writing in her spare time, which you can tell by her extremely well-written responses to our questions. Let’s dive in–we hope you enjoy!
Where were you born? Tell us a little about yourself!
Well, I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have incredibly supportive parents and two incredible older sisters. We grew up camping quite a bit, mostly in Yosemite. I always loved it, running around barefoot, swimming in the river, standing around a campfire, you name it. This surely was where my love for the outdoors came from. From the time I can remember it was a challenge to stay inside for an extended period of time. Albuquerque was a great place to grow up, but my heart was set on finding out what else was out there. I went to college in San Antonio, Texas; studied Political Science and Spanish, and played a bit of soccer. It wasn’t until graduating college that I discovered the wild and wonderful world of rafting. I feel like my life really began when I started boating. The thrill, excitement, and joy that rafting brought was pretty unmatched by anything else I had done up to that point. I currently live in Crested Butte, Colorado, and if you ask me, it’s the best of both worlds. High mountain air accompanied by magnificent river running in all surrounding areas.
Explain how you started working for AzRA, and your history here.
My partner began working for AzRA back when I was still relatively new to boating. We fortunately had the opportunity to go on an 18 day, private Grand Canyon trip in 2015. It was THE trip… the one that really sparked my journey into Grand Canyon. I simply couldn’t believe that there were people out there who got to work in such a magical place. People who spent weeks at a time exploring somewhere so full of mystery and wonder. So when my partner (who had been boating much longer than myself) started working with AzRA I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I wanted to be down there too. That meant I had to get some experience under my belt. I spent several summers working on different stretches of river, doing multiday trips, honing in the skills I would need to be a Grand Canyon River guide. Meanwhile, on my partners commercial trips with AzRA, I was able to come along as his assistant, rowing certain sections, learning the geology and rich culture the canyon has to offer. Not only did this allow me more time in the Grand but it also let me see whether or not the company would be a good fit for me; and boy was it ever. I fell deeply in love with the people and the place. The passion and effort that was put into giving folks the experience of a lifetime was unlike anything I had experienced. Even then, I didn’t quite feel like I could match the expertise, knowledge and charisma of the AzRA guides I had met. Nonetheless I decided to pull the trigger and put my name in the running. Sometimes it’s not until you step out of your comfort zone that you truly realize what you’re capable of, and that’s exactly what has happened since joining the AzRA team.
When did you start guiding?
I started guiding on the Arkansas River in Canon City, Colorado. It was a rip roaring season to start, as it was the highest the water had been in 20 years. I had the unique opportunity to learn steep, narrow, creek style boating during a record water year. I worked there for several years before migrating to a company that did predominately multi-day boating. We ran Cataract Canyon, a stretch just upstream of Grand Canyon, Gates of Lodore, Yampa, Desolation Grey Canyon, and Westwater Canyon. After several years working on these stretches, I made a big move out to Oregon to work on the Rogue River. Truth be told after my season in Oregon, I realized my heart belonged to the desert, which is when I made the move to Grand Canyon to work with AzRA.
What types of trips do you guide?
I guide 14 and 16 day trips. I predominately row 18’ oar rigs. On occasion I will captain the most classic Grand Canyon vessel, the dory, the most dreamy boat of the fleet. Or sometimes the 18’ paddle raft, where the paddle captain relies on 6 paddlers to navigate through the entire 225 mile stretch.
What are your favorite rapids and hikes? Why?
Whew, where to even begin. My favorite rapid is either Hermit or Hance, and for very different reasons. Hermit is just a hoot. It’s a massive, rolling wave train of fun. Wave after wave of roller coaster gut drops. While it’s challenging to hit every wave, when you do, everyone knows it. You disappear in the trough of each wave and reemerge with bigger smiles each time. Hance on the other hand… is a challenge. It’s one we scout almost every trip, meaning we will pull over and look at it before running it. From up above it looks pretty unimpressive, some rocks you should miss, perhaps a big wave or two you’ll want to avoid…but then you drop in and it’s game on. Those unassuming waves you saw from above, are all of a sudden, real big and real pushy. The whole time the water forces you where you don’t want to go, it almost feels like you’re not going to make it the entire time, but then you do. It’s long and steep and splashy… when you nail your line through Hance, it’s truly something to be proud of.
Favorite hikes, yeesh, I’ve come to realize you could spend a lifetime hiking through Grand Canyon and you probably wouldn’t even scratch the surface. That being said, Clear Creek is a special one. Deep in the schist and granite gorge, clear creek leads into an oasis of flowers and frogs. Rich, smooth, black schist with vibrant intrusions of pink granite surround you as you zig-zag back and forth across a lovely creek. Ultimately reaching a water fall… yes a water fall… in the desert. I would say my other favorite is Deer Creek to Thunder River… it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s steep, it’s long, it’s arduous, and golly is it worth every bead of sweat. You really get it all with this one. If you really want to see what “going for it” means down there, that’s it.
Any other interesting facts about yourself you would like guests to know?
I really like to jump off things and do handstands… if I’m a guide on your trip and you haven’t seen me do a handstand or two… maybe check in with me. Also love to be game master… if there’s a window of time and some willing participants you’ll likely find me initiating some sort of silly game.
What do you do when not guiding at AzRA in the off-season?
Mostly more rafting!! Crested Butte is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I feel really fortunate to have so much access to the outdoors here. I’d say the lion share of my time is spent riding my mountain bike. When winter rolls around you’ll definitely catch me on my snowboard or in the backcountry, but really any outdoor activity, you can count me in.
Do you have hobbies, or other things you like to do other than boating?
Hobbies, golly, so many! I love writing, (poetry and prose mostly) water coloring, mountain biking, dirt biking, bird watching, swimming, kayaking, general debauchery. I like to say I’m very okay at a lot of things, just so long as it’s fun that’s really all that matters.
What do you love about the Canyon and guiding?
I love so many things about the Canyon, it’s really challenging even to just pick a few. I love that it’s never the same, each trip is going to have it’s own unique intricacies and personalities. I think the part I might love the most though, is that it pushes people out of their comfort zones. I have had so many folks feel intimidated by certain hikes we do, or decline when we offer up the opportunity to swim a rapid. With some friendly coaxing and encouragement though, we can often convince folks that they are more than capable of doing said activity. I tell you what, the looks on peoples faces when they make it to the final destination of the hike or to the bottom of the rapid is maybe one of the most gratifying moments. You can see and feel the level of stoke and accomplishment they have. Those are really the moments that shine through in my memory banks after each trip. I also love that that place won’t ever stop teaching me things. Each trip I find a new plant to identify, a new bird, I learn more about one of the many rock layers, I explore a new side canyon, I learn something about myself. Perhaps I learn more about the indigenous peoples that have resided there long before Grand Canyon was even known to the world. I also love the knowledge our guests bring to the table. So many different backgrounds and professional careers. They are all really these glorious vessels of random facts. Of course I love the boating, there is a peacefulness on the water that you don’t much get in the world these days.
Any advice you would give guests that are planning a trip with us?
First off, good on ya, you did it! You’re going down Grand Canyon. Second off, as I’ve said many times up to this point, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. I always tell folks on my trips to “lean into the discomfort of the unknown”. You might not know where you’re going to have lunch, or camp, or hike at all times, but trust that your guides are making the best decision for the group. We live in a society of schedule and immediate gratification, if you can let go of that your experience will be all the better. You become a family down there, you take care of one another, it can be an incredibly powerful experience if you let it. So swim the rapids, go on the hikes, meet new people, listen for the canyon wren each morning, soak in every moment. It’s also important, on the 14-16 day trips or even the 8 day trips to take some time for yourself. It’s okay to go sit riverside and read your book, take a bath, get some solitude. My mom always tell me, “it’s hard to be good to others if your cup isn’t full” so fill your cup! Also, DRINK WATER, the greatest kindness you can do is take care of yourself. Remember, if you never look behind you on your river trip, you’re missing half of it.
Thank you so very much to Riah for her great responses on our questions! She provides great tips for those of you doing a rafting trip too–we agree that you should push yourself out of your comfort zone to get the most out of your experience. We hope you enjoy!