I just got off a Grand Canyon Raft trip and it was an awesome experience. I’ve done the Canyon a number of times but haven’t been there for over 20 years.
My previous trips were much easier. I was a kayak instructor/guide holding intermediate kayakers’ hands as they made their way down the giant ditch. We had motor-rig support, so when there was a flat water section we simply latched onto the side of the motor-rig and blasted through to the next great rapid.
We’d get to camp late, often pulling in just when hors-d-oeuvres were being served. I didn’t have to deal with the camp scene: no setup, no cooking, no cleanup, no packing. I’d simply eat their food, sleep, and kayak. Easiest river trip ever! I had no idea how good I had it.
This trip, on the other hand, was a private raft trip. I couldn’t get the entire 16 days off, so my 2 sons and I hiked into Phantom ranch and joined the trip on it’s 8th day. The hike in on South Kaibab trail was arduous to say the least (especially with a messed up ankle) but the real work didn’t begin until I joined the trip.
Don’t get me wrong, saying it was work doesn’t mean it was negative. This is good work, much more rewarding than desk work. But the a Grand Canyon raft trip isn’t a walk in the park. My buddy said it best, “this isn’t a vacation, it’s an adventure.”
Our adventure was in late June into early July, right on the leading cusp of the monsoon season. It was 113 degrees in the canyon the day we hiked in…brutally hot.
The mornings start early. It’s light at 430 in the morning. there’s no sleeping in, once the sun’s up the temperature rises quickly. If you haven’t gotten breakfast done and things packed up before morning sun hits, you’re going to regret it. By the way sleeping in 100 degree weather is hard. I used a bed sheet and even that was too much.
You’re on the water early, but if you want to hike any side canyons you need the extra time. The side hikes are numerous and integral to the whole experience. But these hikes aren’t what you’re used to; most are arduous, some downright dangerous. You’ll need lots of water, decent footwear and some climbing skills.
On the river you’re faced with huge waves and holes that can flip an 18 foot raft like a child playing with a boat in the bathtub. Every rapid requires constant vigilance. Letting your guard down even for an instant can result in carnage.
After the rapids you’re faced with long, sometimes miles long, stretches of flatwater. But the term flatwater is deceiving, because it’s not really flat. Every tailout portion is filled with swirling eddies and sideways currents that mess with rafts.
You think you’re done with the rapid until you’re suddenly thrust into an eddy spending every ounce of energy you have trying to bust through the eddy line to rejoin the downstream current.
The other rafts blast by knowing you’ll be struggling for the next 20 minutes but knowing you’re on your own. They’re only feet away but riding the main current, seemingly worlds apart. They’ve gotta keep going, there’s miles and miles before camp.
When you get to camp, depending on the time, you must get to work unloading, setting up the kitchen area and your individual site. Choose wisely, always remembering the weather can change in an instant. That cozy little spot you’ve chosen could turn into a swirling mass of dust if and when the wind kicks up with a passing micro-burst.
If you’re on the cook crew, you have little time to relax. Water needs to be pumped (if the water’s silty you’ll have to let it settle before pumping) the toilet needs to be set up; there’s always something that needs to be done. Of course it’s also 110 degrees out.
Once camp’s put up for the night it’s time to crash, but good luck sleeping, the temperature might dip down to 103…perfect. If sleep comes, you’ll wake in a pool of sweat, your body sticky and gritty from the inevitable, ever-present sand.
Sounds great doesn’t it!? It is, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Rafting the Grand Canyon is awesome, but know going in, it’s not a cakewalk.
Though it can be miserable at times, the sheer beauty, the amazing whitewater, the incredible side hikes, far outweigh the misery. The canyon is such a treasure, and rafting it is by far the best way to maximize the experience.