I will be forever grateful to this team for putting enough trust in me to literally row their shit down the big ditch. Let it be known that I had some amazing instructors, supporters and words of encouragement from every member of this crew. I went into this journey understanding how to read water from my kayaking experience, but not knowing a thing about rowing an oar rig, other than point it down steam and hope you chose the proper line. The combined experience of our group, young and old (wise), was the only reason I did not flip this beast of a raft. Scouting rapids with the other boatmen, and listening to the way they saw their boats reacting to waves, eddies and holes, gave me the confidence that I could do it, I just needed to be in the right place at the right time. This was usually much harder than it sounded.
AUG 7 RM 60-74.6
Our group was starting to work together better as team, and morning chores were getting finished quicker and quicker. At ten A.M. we gathered around our fearless leaders for the morning meeting. which usually involved our river dad, Michael, along with our trip leader Anna, going over the major rapids of the day, discussing highs and lows of the previous day, where we would eat lunch and where we would camp that night. Todays plan: run a few class 6 rapids and camp early at Upper Rattlesnake rock, so that we had a some warm up rapids the following day before running Hance, our first class 8, and one most of us had been a little nervous about.
Our morning went by smoothly and as the sun was beating down upon us, the canyon opened up, you could actually see parts of the rim from the river which is very rare. The desert watch tower is visible from this area, and it’s a strange reminder of the world above. We had our usual ridiculously hot, hide from the sun kind of lunch, at Cardena’s camp. After a quick dip in the eddy to cool off, we were back on the water and headed for camp. We decided to scout the next big rapid - Unkar, a class 6. It’s always good to get eyes on the water before you run it, but this one turned out to be a lot of work for something that was basically stay away from the left side. We probably hiked for 1/2 mile over sand dunes, through wicked trees with thorns and scrambled over rock fall to get a view of it.
Our camp was just down stream of Unkar rapid, and we all made it smoothly through the rapid and arrived at our camp for the night at 2:30 pm. This was something we had yet to experience, a light day on the water, no need to rush to set up the kitchen and cook dinner. Beers were cracked, chairs were placed in the calm water of our camp eddy, and everyone kicked back to soak in the good life. I decided to take my play boat out in the current for the first time and mess around in the squirley current - attempting poorly to stern squirt. Jim took a group of folks out who hadn’t had experience swimming in white water to give them a lesson in it. Both these activities ended quickly, and we were all back on shore enjoying frosty beverages in no time. We took advantage of the down time to filter water from the river, I took a much needed bath and washed my clothing again.
I don’t recall what we had for dinner that night, but I do recall sitting with my feet in the cold water, watching canyon lit by the setting sun, and enjoying a couple cold beers while I ate it. I was in my hammock early (930) that night, but didn’t stay there long, I was aroused at 2 AM with the sudden urge to use the bathroom, I used my natural wake up call to get some night shots of the hammock shelter that ENO had graciously provided me for this trip, but that I only set up this once. It only rained for moments at a time, was too hot, and their were zero biting insects, so it was mostly unnecessary.
AUG 8 RM 74.6 - 90
I got back to sleep for a few hours, before my phone alarm decided I was in a different time zone and woke me up at 430, instead of 530. I had my phone turned on to use as s a remote trigger for the camera that night, otherwise it would have been off and safely stowed in a dry bag.
Today marked a milestone for the group, we had been successfully living together, as homeless people for an entire week, traveling the river like gypsies and setting up camp were ever, and whenever we wanted. We were beginning to establish habits, and routines. First thing, as per usual, I made my way to the groover, which is what the toilet(s) I carried down the river for the crew was called, for my morning constitution. When I got back to the kitchen area Michael AKA, River Daddy, was up doing his usual morning routine, making everyone coffee.
Our safety meeting was brief this morning, we had a big water day ahead of us. Our first class 8 rapid, Hance, was only a few miles down river. After that were Sockdolager (class 7) and Grapevine (class 7). Armed with the information of where our first scout would be, we pushed off into water at 930, the heat already becoming near unbearable with the introduction of the sun over the canyon rim. We ran 2 warm up rapids, and 4 and 6, before coming to the scout for Hance. The group we had put on with at Lee’s Ferry had caught up to us early that morning, and asked if they could follow us down, we of course obliged. Everyone made it through, upright and stoked. We took our time to scout the next few rapids as well, and once again, everyone cleaned their lines.
After all the big water excitement, we pushed a few miles of flat water before coming to Phantom Ranch, one of the only signs of civilization you will see near the bottom of the canyon. It was mid afternoon and it was blistering hot. There is a large eddy here, almost directly under a foot bridge that goes across the river, one of two located within a mile of each other, part of the bright angel trail system. We pulled in and most folks took a quick dip in the river before heading up the trail for a quick hike to the ranch. Michael, Nate and myself stayed behind with the boats. There is a post office, a small snack bar, a pay phone and souvenir shop at the ranch. The crew who made the hike mailed some post cards, and Jim even picked up a letter from his family.
After about an hour and a half, the crew returned, with stories of air conditioning, pay phone calls and ice cold lemonade. I made the decision not to go because I did not want to experience that reconnection with the world above the rim. I was in a happy place, disconnected from the rest of humanity, just communicating with the 14 other people I was floating with. Although I was missing my family, I decided it was better not to reach out to Sloane, we had agreed ahead of time that no news was good news.
We continued down river for a few more miles, catching a seriously tough campsite eddy on river right, a camp called Below Pipe. The group we put on with made the same decision and stayed in the same camp area as us that night, one of the few times we ever had to share a camp. There were only 5 of them, so it was not a big deal anyways. As we set up our camp for the night, the skies let loose the first serious amount of rain the we encountered on our trip, along with some very heavy winds. A few tents, that weren’t properly staked down, came loose and blew away from their owners. Luckily we had folks on high alert and the dwellings were quickly staked back down. The storm didn’t last long, and it provided us an amazing rainbow over the canyon to watch as we chowed down on tacos, which were amazing.
That evening I after the storm I decided to take a river bath, and wash my clothes - the river funk was becoming more persistent. We mostly turned in early that evening, with wind whipping sand everywhere, it was hard to sit and hang out. My hands were beginning to show signs of abuse from a combination of wet, extremely dry and rowing the rig 6-8 hours a day. I consulted one of our many physicians Heather, who graciously held “doctors hours” everynight at camp for us to complain about our bumps and bruises. Most of these complaints were to deal with busted toes/nails from accidentally kicking rocks at camp, a sport I dubbed as “rock soccer”. She suggested I lather up with hand salve at night, and put socks over my hands to keep them moist. I followed these instructions religiously for the rest of the trip, and while it made going to the bathroom at night slightly more difficult, it made a world of difference, for the better, in the welfare of my delicate hands.
AUG 9 RM 90-104.4
We had another big water day ahead of us. The first rapid we would run today was Horn Creek, followed by Granite, Hermit and Crystal one of the most imposing rapids on the river - all class 8’s. After breakfast, our morning chores and safety meeting, we pushed down river to find the scout for Horn Creek.
After a lot of thought and examination, the group made it through Horn with out incident, and riding the high of our first big rapid for the day, we made our way towards Granite.
We pulled into the eddy above Hermit to scout and eat our lunch. While we ate, we experienced a rare treat, getting to watch a commercial trip run the rapid. These boats are 30’ long, powered by a motor in the rear and cruise through the canyon in half the time we would. The first boat took a cautious line and skirted most of the meaty waves in Hermit, the second boat went straight down the middle and directly into the huge wave train. The guests who sit along the sides of the boats, were flung in all directions as the rig climbed the 15’ face of the wave. It was crazy, the boat disappeared for a second in the trough of the wave.
After lunch we pushed out of the eddy, ready to cruise our rigs through some of the biggest water we would experience on this trip. It was incredible. My raft got quickly spun backwards while coming off of a wave sideways, and I decided to keep the boat spinning to line up the stern straight on for the next wave, rather than try to correct and flip us. It worked out in our benefit, and we ran through the rest of the rapid going backwards. it was probably the most worried my boat mate Pat had been yet.
The rafters (myself included) decided to watch from the cliff we scouted Crystal from while our kayakers ran through. It was cool to see them go through one of the biggest rapids on the river from a different perspective. Everyone made it through in their boats, even Eric who ended up dropping into the scariest looking hole we had seen yet.
All our rafts made it through the gauntlet of class 8 rapids upright and ready for more action. After one of the most exciting mornings/afternoons on the water yet, we ended our day on the water with a little frustration. Our last 4 miles or so were mostly flat water, mixed with insignificant rapids, through very narrow canyons, with intense eddys on both sides of the river. We had a horrible upstream wind that was actually pushing us back against the current, unless we were incessantly paddling. This made following the narrow downstream currents near impossible and most of us found our selves being circulated in eddys for long periods of time. I swear Nate and I both had our boats stuck in a single eddy for almost 15 minutes.
After an incredibly brutal afternoon fighting upstream winds and huge eddies, we finally made it to our camp for the night, Emerald camp, directly above Emerald Rapid. This is a small rocky campsite with a short steep climb from the boats, but everyone was ready to get off the water after the last 1.5 hours of misery. We set up one of our tarp shelters for folks to sleep under, since the skies kept threatening to let loose at any minute.
After a good meal of tofu Pad Thai, most everyone in camp gathered in or around the shelter, and between quick drizzles of rain, we watched an amazing lightning show happening just upriver from us. This was one of my favorite evenings in camp - even though I was beat up and sore from struggling against an upriver wind and all the eddys.
The storm stayed just upriver from us all night, so we got to just sit back and watch the magic without fear of being dumped on, it was amazing. I slept under the stars, and as usual was up to watch Michael make the coffee for the crew.
AUG 10 RM 104.4 - 120.6
My back and shoulders had knotted up overnight, and no matter how much I stretched, it was still killing me. I complained enough about it through breakfast, that Gaylin took pity on me and gave me a serious shoulder/back rub during our morning meeting. She was able to work out most of the knots, and saved the day for me for sure - thanks Gaylin!
We had an exciting morning, with a class 6 and 7 and a bunch small rapids in succession, followed by some beautiful scenery (as usual). We were happy to find no one at our chosen lunch spot for the day, Elve’s Chasm. We pulled over and got the provisions for lunch prepped and watched as a commercial trip pulled in upstream and filed off 50 or so guests into our private oasis.
We ate our lunch slowly and waited until most of the other trip had cleared out before making our way up to famous waterfall.
There is a little cave underneath the waterfall, where you can climb up behind the water and jump in. It’s quite the experience. We waited long enough to have the place to ourselves, and it was a magical after lunch swimming hole.
After an extended lunch break, we pushed back into the current and floated a few easy miles to our campsite for the night, Upper Blackktail. I was on dinner duty with my team members Anna, Nate and JD.
We grilled up a feast of Kabobs and some sort of salad/slaw while the rest of the crew set up their camp areas and made the hike into the slot canyon we were camped next to.
After the chores were complete for the night, Nate got out his UV flashlight and did a quick scan for scorpions, they actually glow under the UV light, so it makes the camouflaged suckers very easy to see.
Nate, Jim and I decided to hike up the slot canyon after dinner, since we had missed the initial adventure while doing chores. It was incredible. We were camped right above a rapid, so camp was very noisy, but the further you snaked up the canyon, the sound began to disappear, until it was dead silent.
We sat on rocks and soaked up the silence for a while, then got out the flashlights and started doing some light painting. At one point, JD who had seen us go into the canyon, posted up at the entrance with his guitar and played some tunes that drifted into the silent canyon and filled it with music - it was pretty incredible.
Upper Blacktail was an amazing camp but it did have it downsides as well. I managed to kick not one, but two rocks with flip flops on, splitting open each toe very nicely - which in turn led to a morning visit to our group physician, Heather. She patched up my nasty feet and somehow didn’t even make a disgusted face. The other downside was that our boats were left high and dry in the middle of the night, which for us was not uncommon. Somehow we gathered enough muscle to slowly inch the boats back into the water before they were at the point where we needed to empty their contents completely. We all headed back to bed afterwards, for a few more hours of shut eye. Socks on the hands and all.
AUG 11 RM 120.6 - 137.6
As usual, the crew was up early, slowly moving and desperately seeking out coffee. I was on breakfast/lunch duty with my team mates, and the only thing I remember making is bacon, it was so good. I was pretty excited for todays paddle, Jim and I would be switching places. I would get my first taste of real Colorado River white water in a kayak. Being in the kayak was the best thing for my busted up toes too, this way they wouldn’t be sitting in my wet shoes all day. I geared up in my brother’s semi-dry top and skirt, and wedged myself into his creek boat for my first miles in a hard boat on the Colorado river.
My first day of kayaking the Colorado was incredible, it was such a different experience from pushing rubber downstream. For the last week I had been sitting high in the water, super comfortable, able to stand up to scout down river or stretch out whenver I wanted. I had to choose my lines wisely and make damn sure I hit the entrance to every rapid exactly where planned. In a kayak, I was super nimble, able to avoid almost anything at a moments notice. The adrenaline rush was a bit higher, sitting so low on the water the wave trains felt enormous - I mean they really were - but it was so different sitting just on the surface of the water. Getting crushed in the face with icy cold water on the regular was exhilarating. To put it simply, being in such huge water in a kayak was amazing. Church.
The day started out nice a sunny as usual, but after a few hours, clouds settled in and stuck around most of the afternoon. It was a nice reprieve from the heat, although being constantly wet on my upper half, the sun wouldn’t have been as cursed as it usually was.
We stopped just above Dubendorf rapid for lunch and were visited by some desert big horn sheep, it was pretty amazing just to watch them navigate on the cliffs above us while we ate.
We had two significant landmarks on todays paddle. The narrowest part of the Colorado river inside the Grand Canyon, just 76 feet wide, and Deer Creek Falls, a 180’ waterfall pouring into the river.
Eric and I were the first ones to come to the mouth of Deer Creek. We quickly crawled onto shore, stashed our boats on dry land and made the short hike up the creek to the falls. It was awe inducing. There is a great hike you can do here, that will take you to the top of the falls, and over/under it at one point. We didn’t have the time to do it, but hopefully next trip we will be able to explore a bit more. We spent about an hour here with the crew, and I left the base and climbed some nearby boulders to get a better view.
Just downstream from Deer Creek Falls was our chosen campsite for the night, Panchos Kitchen. We were quite pleased to find it empty, as the skies were once again threatening rain and this campsite has a killer overhang that would solve our shelter issue.
We set up our camp as usual, my team was on groover duty and we found an amazing spot up stream from camp to place it. After the chores were done, beers were consumed, bocce ball was played and dinner was eaten. It was a great night on this sandy beach, and we didn’t have to worry about kicking any rocks, which was probably the best part for me. It started to rain as we ate, but the precipitation didn’t last long.
Jim and I made a post dinner hike, up to the cliffs surrounding Pancho’s kitchen. The initial plan was to get up to the small plateau we could see from the beach, but after a quick deliberation, we decided that the climb back down in the dark would be too harrowing, so we sat and drank a beer at the highest spot we could reach without falling to our deaths. That night, most of us headed to bed early, including myself. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, needing to pee as usual, and found that the skies had cleared. I checked on the boats, and for once they were not stranded on dry land. I took a few photographs of the stars, then climbed back in my hammock to watch for meteors falling from space - probably the best way to fall asleep.
One more installment of this amazing trip is in the works. Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath too long.