On the night of August 1st, Jim, Nate and I met up with the rest of our group for this epic journey. Plans were hatched for the following days activities, which included being shuttled to the put in, and rigging the rafts that would be carrying all of our collective gear for the next 15 days. We chose Canyon REO as our outfitter, and I would highly recommend them - they were very professional and supplied us with everything, I mean everything, that we would need for the amazing adventure ahead of us.
For my sake, and yours, I am breaking this trip up into three parts. Get ready for a lot of photos of brown water, rafts, sunsets, beer and some of the dirtiest, yet best people you can imagine. Directly below is a gallery of the first 5 days on the water, for those of you who don’t want to read about it, and just get to the good stuff. Those of you who do want to read, I’d suggest skipping the gallery, as all or most of the photos will be below.
On August 2nd, Canyon REO met us at our hotel in Flagstaff AZ to pick up the gear that hadn’t yet been dropped off at their warehouse. We then rode with them to their warehouse, where we got a quick rundown of the essential gear we were taking, how to use it, and how to repair it if it broke. Some of us paid attention.
After a few hours at the warehouse, we divided up into groups, the boatmen (including myself) rode with the gear in the box truck, and the rest of the crew hopped in a giant passenger van to head to Lee’s Ferry to rig the rafts. On the way, we all stopped at a grocery store and bought lunch to eat on the road. As we drove north, the skies darkened and when we were about 15 miles from the put in, there were some serious localized rainstorms on the north side of the canyon.
We stopped at the Navajo bridge to quickly take some images of the waterfalls that had formed over the canyon walls from all the sudden rain. August is monsoon season, and this is a very common occurrence. It’s from these sudden storms that the water on this section of Colorado gets its typical brown color in the summer. In the photograph above, you can see the green water turning to chocolate milk very quickly.
The heavy rains ended just as we pulled into the boat launch at Lee’s Ferry, and 15 of us spent the next 4 hours hauling gear from the box truck, and strategically loading it onto our rafts. Rigging a raft is an art, and I had zero experience. Thankfully there were plenty of folks on the trip who did, and they helped me figure out the puzzle that I would be responsible for putting together every morning for the next 15 days. Our trip leader Anna and some other folks who had done this trip before were chatting with the boatmen and figuring out who would be in charge of what gear/food. Having zero experience in paddling a raft, I was quick to volunteer for the job of rowing the toilets (sealed ammo cans), as opposed to carrying 1/4 of the food - just incase I flipped my raft. I quickly re-named by boat from the Lorax to the Bowel Movement Barge. Pat, someone who before this trip had never been on white water or even gone camping, was assigned as my passenger. I have to give Pat props for trusting her life to me, knowing that I had never paddled an 18 foot raft before.
As a group (5 rafts and 5 kayaks) we pushed our heavily loaded rubber into the current for the first time at 5 pm, and made the quick little float to the campsites directly below the put in, where we set up camp for the night.
We quickly went to work setting up our sleeping accommodations, and joined back up with our head rigger, Ben, from Canyon REO back at the van. We drove up the road to Marble Canyon Lodge for the last meal that we wouldn’t have to prepare ourselves for the next two weeks, and got to know each other a little more. After a decent meal, we were shuttled back to our campsite, where we quickly broke into the beer and enjoyed our first night on the water as a group.
AUG 3, RM 0 to 11. We were up early, at 530 AM to begin the ritual of tearing down our campsites and loading our gear onto the rafts. We had a cold breakfast, meaning we didn’t set up the stove to cook food, and set about figuring out how to strap all this gear back down again. We met up with another small group who shared a launch date with us, and had a chat with the NP ranger who explained all the things we should have been aware of, had we watched all the videos they sent us. We then had lunch back at our boats around 1130, and waited, very impatiently, for our beach umbrellas to arrive. They had somehow not made it into the truck at the warehouse, and we decided as a group that waiting for someone to drive them out to the put in was a no brainer. Our shade arrived around 1230, we said our goodbyes to our rigging team and drivers, and were on the water to begin our odyssey through the big ditch.
Our first day on the water, we quickly learned an important lesson, to stick together and communicate as a team. At Badger Creek rapid (class 5), our group was so spread out that some of us (including myself) didn’t realize we were at a rapid. Thankfully my buddy Eric, who was kayaking, eddied out above and was able to shout a few simple directions to me as my raft picked up speed heading into the tongue of the rapid. Pat and I made it through unscathed, and we were pretty stoked as we floated passed my brother in his kayak at the bottom of the rapid. We eddied out with the rest of the group well below the rapid, and looked back upstream to see our last raft, rowed by JD, floating upside down. Jim was able to paddle to JD and get him out of the freezing water. The water that flows from the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam is 46 degrees, and it is shockingly cold, especially when the air temps are 100 plus. Our group spent the next 2 hours attending to our injured rafter (he wasn’t wearing his helmet and rung his bell on something), corralling the raft into an eddy and flipping it back over. Once the chore of righting the raft was over, we then had to re-rig all of the gear that had shifted around during its’ upside down run of Badger Rapid. We finally were back in action around 530, and with one of our kayakers, Eric, rowing the rescued raft, we made it to a camp, just above Soap Creek Rapid, at mile 11 by 6.
Our first campsite was pretty great, everyone spread out and got all their gear set up for the night. Camp chores were completed by the groups assigned, and dinner was prepped just before dark.
After dinner and chores were completed, we cracked open some more beers and folks started peeling off for our first real night in the canyon. The temps were high, but a decent breeze through out the night kept me nice and cool in my hammock.
At some point during the night I woke up to use the restroom and found my way to the waters edge. I was recruited by some other members of the group who had become aware that our boats were no longer in the water. The water of this stretch of the Colorado is controlled by dam releases that are used mainly to produce electricity. When they stop production, the water subsequently drops. So the effect is a high and low tide that is much harder to predict than the ocean tides. So we set to work untying the heavy AF rafts and slowly working them side to side to unstick them from the mud/sand they had settled into. We eventually got them back to where they were floating and silently crept back to our sleeping quarters. This type of late night party was not uncommon for the rest of the trip.
AUG 4 - RM 11 to 29.5. We were again up early (530) - this will be the norm for the next 15 days. Breakfast was made, boats were slowly rigged, our first rapid, less than 200 yards down stream was studied carefully from shore, and we kicked off the day with a clean group run through Soap Creek Rapid (5). My nerves settled down and we pushed water for a few more miles through light riffles until we reached House Rock Rapid (7), our first major rapid of the trip.
We ate lunch right above House Rock, which gave us plenty of time to come up with a solid plan to run the rapid. Everyone made it cleanly through the rapid and we pushed on down the river.
Our afternoon was filled with a group of rapids known as the roaring twenties, 9 rapids class 4-6 all in 8 miles of each other, 3 of which we scouted by foot. It was action packed and all the rafts thankfully stayed upright, we did have one kayaker take a swim, and another kayaker lost a pair of glasses while upside down through a rapid at one point. We were all bushed, put pushed on to find a camp. When we got to the camp we had chosen on the map, it was taken, so we decided to set up a makeshift campsite on a sand bar, hoping our predictions of the GC tides were correct, and we wouldn’t end up submerged in the middle of the night - thankfully we were correct. We all collectively huddled our sleeping quarters on the one accessible spot of land that wasn’t visibly effected by the tide and reveled in the amazing day we had just had. Steak and salmon were cooked on the grill for dinner, and many beers were drank as we watched the milky way and meteors fly overhead.
AUG 5 - RM 29.5 to 44. The group was getting used to early mornings, and we enjoyed a breakfast of bagels and lox before tearing down the kitchen, toilet and sleeping quarters. We got our boats loaded and we were on the water by 10. With our water supplies dwindling, we decided to pull over at Vaseys Paradise to filter water from a spring here. We made pretty quick work of the chore, with everyone pitching in to fire-line buckets of water down to shore to be filtered.
Less than a mile below Vasey’s was the Redwall Cavern, where we stopped for a long lunch and a group photo. The cavern was carved out by the raging Colorado back when it wasn’t flood controlled, and its a pretty magical place to hang out.
Our day was quite relaxing compared to the previous days action through the roaring 20’s. We only had 3 named rapids, and they were all very small. We took the opportunity to enjoy the scenery, drink beer, and I gave Pat a lesson in rowing the rig I had managed to keep upright the past 3 days. She took over the oars and gave me the chance to take a few more photos than I normally did on the water, and participate freely in the water fights that frequently broke out that day.
I took my first bath in the frigid waters of the Colorado river on night 3, it was much needed. After shower time, I got to work setting up camp for Jim and I. he was on cooking duty that night, and we got into a pretty good rhythm of setting up each others camp while the other did chores. We dined on burritos for dinner, and even had carrot cake for desert. That night was the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower, so we once camp chores were wrapped up, we turn our attention to the dark sky and it did not disappoint.
AUG 6 - RM 44 to 60
Another early morning, I’m going to stop saying that, because there were only early mornings in the ditch. So many chores to complete everyday. We went through our morning routines, which were by this point getting pretty well worked out, and everyone was working together for the most part to make the best time. We gathered round our fearless leaders, Anna and Michael, for our daily trip plan and struggled to get our selves out of the eddy we were camped along for what seemed like half an hour. Once we were out, it was business as usual on the water.
After a few miles of flat water, and some unsuccesful attempts by me to fish while rowing, we made it to the Nankoweap area, which is famous for the ancient granaries that are perched up high on a cliff overlooking the Colorado river. Unfortunately, it was about 1 million degrees, and none of our crew had the desire to hike up away from the river, where it would be 1 million and ten degrees. So we had lunch, and got back on the water to push some miles. Jim wasn’t too excited about the next 8 miles of mostly flat water that lay ahead, so he hopped aboard the Bowel Movement Barge and learned how to handle an 18’ raft in moving water, before tackling a class 5 rapid. As we got closer to our camp for the night, we could see the sky darkening downstream. At first we thought an afternoon storm was rolling in, but we quickly realized it was smoke. There must have been a forest fire burning on the north rim of the canyon, it began to snow down ash on us as we rowed beneath the heavy clouds.
One of our rafts that evening missed the eddy for camp, and we had quite the struggle lining it back up the river 100 or so yards. We made camp that night in a wide open area, strewn with boulders, directly across from the Little Colorado River, which is normally a really awesome blue color in contrast to the brown of the Colorado, however it was unfortunately the same hue as the Colorado when we past it the following day. I was on kitchen/cooking duty this particular evening, so I have no more photos of the night to share. We cooked up kebabs over the grill, bean salad and couscous. After a cleaning up the kitchen and enjoying a few more beers, I retreated to my hammock for the evening.
This concludes your first installment of An extended stay in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Much more to come, no promises of when.