I am back in civilization again after a wonderful trip down the Grand Canyon.
We paddled (kayaks) or rowed (rafts) for 225 miles of the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Springs in 16 days and I must say, as far as scenery goes, this was one of the most spectacular trips that I have ever made. It was, however, hard work - rowing and kayaking that distance was a work out and loading and unloading all the ‘stuff’ we were carrying each day, setting up camp and cooking meals made for some tired bodies at the end of the day.
I am not sure I can adequately describe all the wonders of the trip but perhaps my photos will help show what an impressive area of the country this is. A collection of the best are here
but if you want to see all 600 or so then these are here
While there are a lot of people traveling down the Colorado River (some 29,000 per year) we were relatively isolated. Every now and again we would pass, or be passed by another group of rafters but mostly we were alone – the fifteen of us – 5 rafts and up to 5 kayaks depending upon how energetic or brave we were feeling.
Things were relatively calm and uneventful, though we did have 3 rafts flip over and several ‘swims’ down rapids by the kayakers. I was fortunate to not be in a raft when it flipped over (it can be a little dangerous) but I did make a three swims when I was in the inflatable kayak. The first two were good fun and refreshing on hot days, but the third was of more concern and involved swallowing more water than I needed to and being held under water for longer than I would have liked. It gave me a healthier respect for the rapids.
Regretfully in one of the raft flips, one of our group, Len, was injured (a torn bicep muscle). Relatively speaking, not necessarily too serious, but something that might have compromised his ability to row/swim if that were needed later in the trip, so he made the safe and wise choice of hiking out of the canyon at Phantom Ranch to seek medical attention. (Phantom Ranch
some 70 miles into the trip was the only contact with the outside world – if it can be called that – that we had during the trip. There are two bridges across the river there, a campground and a “rustic” resort there.)
We averaged about 15 river miles per day and the daily routine was pretty much as follows:
• Breakfast – usually we awoke just before sun up (around 6:00 am) and staggered around slowly getting our act together. It was more work for the cook crew as they had to feed everyone, clean up and then pack their own camp up but usually we all chipped in to help. Breakfasts were sometimes quite elaborate for camp food (French Toast, Pancakes, Omelettes).
• Loading the rafts – this was a time consuming job with everything needing to be loaded in order and strapped down really tightly. In the case of a raft flipping over the last thing you need is boxes or coolers becoming detached and flying through the air. Not only could you lose important supplies, they could cause serious injury.
• On the river – we usually got going around 8:30 + or – and we would row downstream more or less in a group – the idea being that you don’t lose site of the raft behind you. If there were any points of interest (side canyons, springs, Anasazi ruins, etc) we would stop and take a look. Lunch of course was one of these stops and again we went through this big procedure of unloading tables, water, food, etc, etc and then reloading it all when done (a lot of work).
• Setting up camp - we would aim for arriving at our camp site by at least 3:00 pm. There are many campsites all the way down the river, typically on a sandy beach area, hopefully, with a little shade from trees or the canyon walls. After off loading all our equipment we would set up camp, giving priority to the positioning of the kitchen and the ‘groover’. Then we would each set up our individual camp sites. I took a tent but didn’t need it, though threatening clouds made me set it up a few times, all to no avail, we didn’t get any significant rain at night.
• Cooking dinner – we divided into 5 groups of 3, with each group taking a turn at cooking meals for one day, so over the 16 days each group did three days. The meals were quite elaborate for a wilderness experience – we had steaks, salmon, and lots of fresh (at least at the start) food packed on ice. Sometimes the recipes were a bit more involved than I and many would have liked. It would have been better to eat a simpler fare and relax more in camp rather than making some of the elaborate 3 course meals that we did. But
• Dish Washing – the procedure for washing dishes was an interesting process – 4 buckets – cold water wash to get the food off; warm soapy water wash to really clean the dishes; warm water rinse to get the soap off; cold water bleach wash to disinfect followed by drying in air. To avoid contaminating the river the wash water was then filtered into the river with the solids being packed away with our trash. Great pains were taken not to contaminate any of the camp sites with food debris so that critters like ravens or ring-tailed cats or worse condors don’t become habituated to humans and their food. For the most part this works and all the campsites we visited were pretty clean.
• Sleeping – all of the effort typically left us weary by 7 or 8 o’clock, so we tended to retire early and sleep long – a good 10 hours each night (alas even with the extra thick Thermarest, it was still not like sleeping in a bed and my sleep was disjointed). I took books along intending to read at night – that didn’t happen – I was exhausted.
So a great trip – one that I would recommend to anyone. If you are not up for rowing/paddling or for the 16 days it takes, there are commercial trips that are motor powered that take of the order of 7 or 8 days. As an indicator of how desirable self guided tours down the canyon are and how difficult it is to get a permit, our trip leader, Jim, made the application in 1994 and it wasn’t until 14 years later that his name popped to the top of the list. That’s a long time to wait. Now the Parks Service operates a lottery system so if you are lucky maybe you won’t have to wait so long.