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Newest version of Bend-made AdvenChair conquers Grand Canyon trail challenge

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- NewsChannel 21 has followed the progress of Bend inventor Geoff Babb's AdvenChair, an all-terrain wheelchair, over the years. Recently, on a second journey to Grand Canyon National Park, a new milestone was reached.

Here's the company's news release outlining the successful endeavor:

AdvenChair’s grandest achievement yet:  

Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park. 

In 1869, when John Wesley Powell led the first crew of explorers down the Colorado River into what is now known as the Grand Canyon, he had no idea what kind of destructive forces lay ahead. In fact, shortly after beginning the journey, one of their wooden boats overturned in a rock-filled cataract and almost instantly split apart into kindling, destroying a full third of the group’s provisions. It only got worse from there.

Similarly, when Geoff Babb took a team of adventurers down the Bright Angel Trail in 2016, attempting to reach the Colorado River in a modified human-powered wheelchair, he was not prepared for the destructive forces lay ahead either. In his case, it was the virtually endless assortment of water bars – large logs or rocks that stick up across the trail to divert rain and snow melt. After going up and over several hundred of them within the first two miles, the axle on his chair gave way and Babb’s journey was over.

However, just like Powell a century-and-a-half before, Babb and his team were not to be deterred. And, having learned from the first experience, they vowed to return with equipment much better prepared for the challenge. Did they ever?

Less than six years after his breakdown, Babb went back to “the Big Ditch” in late April with a totally new chair – AdvenChair 3.0 – which he and his team helped create. And succeeded.

“Breaking down on our Grand AdvenChair in 2016 is the best thing that could’ve happened to the first chair,” said Babb, whose mobility remains severely limited following two brain stem strokes. “It made us take a step back and look at strengthening every aspect of the chair and the team.”

Babb brought in design engineer Jack Arnold, who became instrumental in developing an all-terrain wheelchair using mountain bike parts for durability, versatility and easy maintenance. He also added multiple contact points to allow the crew to steer, pull, brake and lift.  

With shock-absorbing mountain bike tires, adjustable handlebars and hand brakes, an adjustable seat and harness, a team of one to six people can navigate AdvenChair 3.0 over all types of rugged terrain, mud, sand and snow, allowing people with mobility challenges to experience the serenity and grandeur of wild places with family and friends.

The prototype AdvenChair 2.0 debuted in December of 2019 with a dazzling orange powder-coat finish and went through extensive testing and a few modifications in 2020.

“What’s unique about AdvenChair is that it’s as versatile as it is durable,” said Arnold. “The seat can adjust to handle young children as well as large adults. And since it easily converts into a normal-size wheelchair, it can go indoors and be transported on planes, trains and buses, not to mention the trunk of a car.”

Despite the inevitable complications due to the COVID 19 pandemic, Babb began taking orders and received his first shipment of upgraded AdvenChair 3.0 chairs in June of 2021. Already, the chairs have found their way into some pretty incredible places, including the ancient city of Machu Picchu in Peru, an outdoor school near Eugene, and the televisions of countless Oregonians on Oregon Field Guide

In training for the Grand AdvenChair 2 over the past three months, the team made first ascents of Burma Road at Smith Rock State Park and Grey Butte, which requires a climb of more than 2,600 feet. 

The Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail presented a vertical drop of more than 4,800 feet over 10 miles, complicated by more than 3,000 water bars with protruding rebar, as well as countless natural rock obstacles, plus stretches of mud and sand. The return trip brought the same challenges in reverse with temperatures hovering well over 90 degrees.

 “We knew the Bright Angel Trail would be difficult,” said Babb. “But there’s no way to prepare for the relentless water bars, some of them more than a foot tall and at awkward angles. It really gives you no break for the entire 10 miles to Phantom Ranch.”

A group of 10 men and women, (affectionately known as “mules”) took shifts pushing, pulling, lifting and braking Babb down and back up the 10-mile Bright Angel Trail over the course of four days. Another 14 volunteers provided support at a campground on the canyon rim.

“I just can’t say enough about this chair and my incredible team of mules,” said Babb. They all performed well beyond my expectations. We couldn’t possibly replicate the difficulty of this trail in our training ventures. But through our selfless teamwork and collective problem-solving skills, we were able to handle everything the trail could dish out. ”

Not only that, the team managed to keep Babb stretched out, well fed, relatively sunburn-free and even cooled his feet in a frog-filled creek. 

“I’m also extremely grateful for the additional support of local companies like Food for the Sole, Picky Bars, Laird Superfood, Smith Rock Coffee Roasters and Hydaway who help us all stay nourished and hydrated every step of the way,” added Babb. 

As a lifelong hiker, mountain biker and backpacker, Babb sees AdvenChair as the conduit for a lifelong passion to be active outdoors. He also envisions the chair fulfilling his firm belief that people with limited mobility can still experience the grandeur and uplifting serenity of wild places beyond where the pavement ends.

“Exploring the Grand Canyon has been a dream of mine, especially since our initial failure,” said Babb. “I got to experience the grandeur of the canyon rocks, the prickly pear cactus hanging from its walls and the princess plume flower that reaches its yellow blooms to the sky. Completing this trip validates that we have created a chair that can take dreamers like me to amazing depths – and heights – with a little help from our friends.”

About AdvenChair:

AdvenChair is an all-terrain wheelchair designed for people with mobility challenges who want to venture off the beaten path and experience the grandeur of the wilderness. It is the brainchild of Geoff Babb, a fire ecologist and avid outdoorsman from Bend, Oregon, who loved to ski, mountain bike and backpack with his wife and twin boys until a near-fatal brain stem stroke on November 10, 2005 forced him to use a wheelchair.  

While the stroke forever changed his ability to move, Babb soon discovered that the biggest obstacle to experiencing a simple outing on local trails with his family again was not so much his body, but the frailties of common wheelchairs. Rather than lobbying for wheelchair-accessible wilderness trails, Babb chose to develop a wheelchair capable of adapting to the trails, and the AdvenChair was born.

On November 10, 2017, exactly 12 years to the day after his stroke, Babb survived a second brain stem stroke, which was a major setback. Yet it made him more determined than ever to share his all-terrain chair with other people with limited mobility. While developing the first AdvenChair, Babb also launched The Onward Project, LLC, to inspire, encourage and enable outdoor adventures for people of all abilities, and invites them to share their experiences and stories online.

To learn more about purchasing or renting AdvenChair and follow its journeys on social media, visit advenchair.com.

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