Monthly Archives: July 2015

Grand Canyon Raft Trip: An Adventure

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.

Mouth of Havasu Creek
Mouth of Havasu Creek

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.

Grand Canyon Rafting: What to Pack

I just had the pleasure of spending 8 days on a Grand Canyon rafting trip. Why only 8 days you ask? Well, I was invited on a private raft trip, but didn’t have enough time to do the entire 16 days, so I joined the trip already in progress.

Grand Canyon Rafting
Grand Canyon Rafting

My boys and I hiked into Phantom ranch and met the trip on their 8th day. The logistics were somewhat hectic, but it all worked out perfectly…with one exception: I packed way too much gear...way too much.

To  be clear, the trip was in late June early July, things will obviously be different at different times of the year, but if you’re planning a grand canyon river trip during this time frame, here’s a tip: you don’t need much.

 

It was embarrassing how much stuff I brought, my dry bag was one of the biggest of the trip. That’s hugely embarrassing for an ex-river guide.

So, here’s a list of everything I used on the trip, and just for fun a list of everything I didn’t use, but first, day to day items I used:

  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag (once, briefly)
  • Pillow
  • Tarp
  • 2 bed sheets
  • 2 pair surf style river shorts
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 pair of Sandals
  • Wide brimmed sun hat
  • 1 Sarong (wetted down constantly) Since i’m a dude, we called it a schalong.
  • Toiletries (tooth brush, paste, lotion, floss)
  • Sunscreen (lots of it)
  • 1 tent (will only bring rain fly next time, the tent was an oven)

Things for Kayaking:

  • 2 polypropylene tops (one heavy, one light)
  • Dry top paddle jacket
  • Kayak helmet
  • Nose plugs
  • Booties
  • Life jacket (must be in top condition, the rangers check them at the put-in)
  • Rescue throw bag
  • Paddle (we had one extra on the trip)
  • Spray skirt
  • Baseball hat (worn under helmet)

Things I brought and never touched:

  • Multiple t-shirts
  • 2 pairs of long pants
  • 1 pair of sweat pants
  • 1 sweat shirt
  • 1 rain gear top (have a hard time not bringing)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • Hiking shoes (not a bad idea, but never used them)
  • Flannel pajama bottoms (honestly have no idea what I was thinking)
  • 1 warm hat (WTF?)
  • Deodorant (what’s the point?)

Lots of stuff I never used yet hauled 225 miles down the Colorado river!  All the extra stuff was bulky, making my dry bag ridiculous. Ah well live and learn.