Western Trip – Part 3: Grand Canyon River Trip

After the Salmon River trip we remained in Boise for two and a half weeks. The highlight of that time for me was a visit from our Seattle friends Phyllis and Mike. It was short, but we had a great time. We saw a good 70’s band, Mike and Dave got to ride their unicycles together on the Boise River Greenbelt while Phyllis & I explored downtown, we all visited the old Idaho Penitentiary and of course we found a new microbrewery.

 

 

The focus for Bill Sedivy, Dave White & I was our upcoming raft trip on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Twenty one days on a private river trip with a group of 16 people would be a lot different than our eight day trips with friends in Idaho. Bill would row an 18-foot fully loaded raft with me as his passenger and Dave would kayak. Preparing, packing, shopping and endless discussions occupied much of our time.  Dave got to boat with the three other kayakers from the group. We met with trip coordinators David Crais and Jean Spurgeon. Thanks go to them for the invitation and spending months working with PRO Outfitters and coordinating logistics for the trip.

October 3 was the date we set off in the Dirigible on our driving-off-the-interstate route to Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a great scenic route. October turned out to have record rainfall for the state of Arizona. For us it started raining in Nevada, continuing off and on through our time in Flagstaff. We thought we were in Ohio. We made stops at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (so we could look down on where we would be), Navaho Bridge in Marble Canyon under which we would float in three days, and stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.

 

In Flagstaff we enjoyed the Flagstaff Brewing Company and met up with our group for dinner. It was good to meet the people with whom we would travel 225 miles down river. The next morning, October 7, was cold & rainy, with snow on the mountain behind our KOA campsite. We met PRO Outfitters at the Motel Du Beau to load gear on their huge truck, shuttle vehicles to storage and drive 3 hours to the put-in at Lee’s Ferry. There, in a drizzle, under the guidance of the PRO staff the truck was unloaded, rafts inflated and rigged, gear sorted and packed. We set up camp for the night at the put-in and had dinner at Lee’s Ferry Lodge.

 

 

Put-in day, October 9 – our adventure began with an orientation by the PRO staff and National Park Rangers. Some examples of what felt like information overload: Leave no trace. Food storage and organization. The menu-recipe-food list BIG BOOK. Safety priorities: the National Park Service will not evacuate anyone by helicopter for much less than a potential life-threatening emergency. Hygiene procedures: hand washing, dish washing, water purification, toileting. Critters: scorpions & rattle snakes. Use the satellite phone to call PRO 5 days prior to take-out to make sure the road is not washed out like it had a week earlier. Otherwise it is an additional 3 river days to the next take-out down stream.

When we began, the clear water at the put-in soon became the chocolate brown it would remain for the duration with the silty contribution of the Paris River. Even with dark skies and some rain, it was nothing short of awe inspiring. That first day we saw “chocolate waterfalls” that few get to experience, because it hardly rains in the Grand Canyon. Ha! we had sporadic rain the first week and a couple showers after that. Fortunately, most of our weather was moderate, with plenty of sun.

 

 

The Canyon

I bought a tshirt  that says “Grand Canyon – It’s all about layers”. Being geologically illiterate, that about sums it up for me. The river map and guide goes into great detail identifying the different rock formations and their age. Take the vishnu schist, the oldest. It was formed 1,750 million years ago. I can’t even comprehend that. Layer after layer,  spectacular soaring cliffs and imaginary castle walls reaching for the sky. Every turn of the river revealed a new vista. You really feel small and insignificant. For me, the canyon is other-worldly beautiful, like no place else I have ever seen. When you are at the bottom, there is no perspective that the average depth of the canyon is one mile and the average width 10 miles. For 21 days, this was our reality. Pictures do not do it justice, but here are some of my favorites. Click on a photo to enlarge it.

 

 

The Group

David Crais was our permit holder/trip leader and the center of our web. Everyone was within two degrees of separation from David. i.e. he invited someone who recommended inviting someone else. Our group of 16 included five women and 11 men, ranging in age from 22 to 74. We came from Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, California, Texas, Tennessee and Colorado.  Four people kayaked and the rest of us were in 18 foot rafts. All the oarsmen had previous Grand Canyon experience and I admired their stamina. Most people had experience with multi-day river trips.

 

On the River

Our on the water time began around 10:30 am with the goal of being off by 4:00 pm. Some days were longer and some were shorter. My role on the raft was navigator. This meant closely following the topo river map/guide to know where we were,  be aware of what rapid was coming up and where our campsite was. The bigger rapids are described in detail with recommended routes and the biggest ones include diagrams. On the Grand Canyon, some of what are called riffles would be class 2 -3 on other rivers. The water was low 50’s degrees F ( read that as COLD). CFS (cubic feet per second) ranged from 7500 to 13,000 (this is big water). It was dependent on the water release from Glen Canyon Dam in response to hydroelectric power needs in the west. This created a high ‘tide’ and low ‘tide’ every day.  The water ranged from gentle pools to really challenging rapids. My preference was the gentle runs because I stayed dry. I didn’t take photos while in a rapid because my priority was to enjoy the ride and/or hang on. Dave White took this video of Bill’s route through Lava Falls rapid, the largest on the river. He and two other kayakers wisely chose to carry their boats around so he videoed all the rafts. Ironically, the map described the run as about 20 seconds. That could mean good 20 seconds or bad ones. Ours were good. None of our rafts flipped and we all made it through Lava unscathed.

 

In Camp and Off the Water

Campsites were designated, but not reserved. Most of the time we were lucky and no other group occupied our destination campsite before we got there. Daylight disappeared by 6:00 pm so cooking, dining & clean-up often happened in the dark. We were able to build in two layover days, which meant two nights at one site. Both times we had great weather and were able to relax, do laundry and bathe (sort of). We had several hiking enthusiasts who enjoyed hiking trails and exploring canyons. I really liked Elves Chasm. The wildlife we most often saw were big horn sheep, ravens, and one tarantula on the path to the groover (portable toilet). Oh, not to forget scorpions. While the only ones we actually saw were on rocks and in bushes courtesy of Eric’s blacklight scorpion tours, you shook off anything that had been on the ground or hung to dry on a bush. Thanks to Bill, Camille and Molly for providing music in the evenings. Even when I was already in the tent by 8:30 pm, it was fun listening.

 

This post is long enough, so I will wrap it up. No injuries, no illnesses & no raft flips. Intense, exciting, fun & exhausting. 21 days/24 hours a day outdoors. Wow. I was grateful for the opportunity and happy I had the experience. Also was not sorry when it was over. Re-entry to the real world took me a good two weeks.  Thanks to Dave and Bill who did the heavy lifting for me because I developed a bum shoulder.

I hope you got a taste of what the trip was like and enjoyed the photos. My posts serve as  online trip diaries. When I stop doing stuff like this, I’ll have them to look back on and remember.

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Western Trip – Part 3: Grand Canyon River Trip

  1. scottandjody

    Wow, what an amazing trip! Thanks for sharing. I’ve only seen the Grand Canyon from the South Rim, but I think it’s my favorite national park. Scott’s never seen it and I’m trying to get him there.

    Reply

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