Tag Archives: rafting

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.

Pins and Clips vs. Standard Oarlocks

I’m going to start off  by telling you I am extremely biased in my opinion regarding pins and clips and standard oarlocks.

I’ve been rowing drift boats and rafts since I was 12 years old and I’ve always used standard oarlocks. However, since I’m reviewing each method, I’ll be as balanced as possible (pins and clips are for wussies).

Advantages of Standard Oarlocks

1. The oar isn’t locked into one position. Some people  would deem this a disadvantage, but it’s better to have your oar free. You need to be able to move your oar around in the oarlock.

There are countless times rowing that you need to pull your oar in to avoid hitting the bank or some other obstacle. The standard oarlock allows the free movement of the oar, it’s easy to pull them out of harms way. 

It’s also a lot easier to tuck your oars forward or back when you need to, like when you’re slipping through a tight slot. Hell, I’ve even had instances where I’ve had to pull the oar free of the oarlock altogether to keep it from snapping. This is impossible to do quickly with pins and clips.

2. Feathering the Oar. Some oars-people consider this showing off, but whenever I’m pushing a raft down river with standard oarlocks I always feather the oar so the blade is horizontal to the water as soon as I’ve pulled it from the water and am pulling it back to the top of the forward push.

I do this to help the blade cut through any wind resistance. It’s become a habit for me and I do it even when there isn’t any wind.

With pins and clips the oar is locked in place and can’t be feathered. It’s quite noticeable when a brisk wind comes up. Continue reading Pins and Clips vs. Standard Oarlocks

Best Gifts for Whitewater Rafting

It’s definitely the off-season in my neck of the woods for rafting, but that only means it’s time to gear up for the upcoming whitewater season.

Christmas is the perfect time to pad out your rafting gear. So what should Santa bring his whitewater rafting good girls and boys? Here are 5 essentials:

  • Dry Bags- is your dry bag on its last leg? Is the bottom covered with more duct tape than rubber? Dry bags these days are very well made, but they still wear out. I’ve owned many dry bags, in fact my first was a Navy surplus black bag that worked beautifully for over ten years. Dry bags come in all sorts of sizes these days, so even if you don’t need a full size personal bag how about a small or medium-sized one for a quick access day bag? My most recent dry bag is made by SOTAR. It is well made and is relatively inexpensive. NRS also has good dry bags.
  • Sleeping Pad- How long has it been since you upgraded your sleeping pad? For years I used a tiny Therm-a-rest pad, I had the smallest version possible to accommodate my self-support kayaking trips. I could only afford one pad back then, but now I can actually afford 2. There are some awesome therm-a-rest pads out there and the company is second to none in customer service. In fact when I was a poor starving river guide I bought the pad, and whenever it needed repairs I’d send it back to them and they’d replace the pad free of charge. I don’t know how they ever made any money, I never bought more than one therm-a-rest in over 10 years of guiding!
  • River Knife- If you’re like me you can never have too many river knives. I’ve never had to use one to save my own or anyone elses life, (I usually use them for spreading peanut butter) but when you need a knife you better hope you have one handy. My favorite river knife is the simple yet reliable spyderco knives. I have the serrated knife-edge for sawing through thick rope or even tenacious kayak plastic. I’ve had my knife attached to my life jacket for over 15 years now, and only the color has faded. It’s performance is still awesome, it cuts effortlessly and stays attached to my jacket through thick and thin.
  • Life Jacket- It may be time to update your life jacket. There are a lot of choices out there, but I choose the PFD that works for both rafting and kayaking. I’ve had my Kokotat life jacket for many years and it never seems to lose any of its functionality. It’s by far the best, most comfortable life jacket I’ve ever owned. I love the pockets, the ease of fitting and the safety features…don’t do class V without it.
  • Raft Pump- Finally a raft pump that is small enough and sturdy enough to stuff into the load but will pump up a raft in no time. Oh yeah and it’s super easy to operate. Even if you have a pump you’re happy with, I bet you’ll switch to this one after you try it.

So if you’re stumped on what to get your river person this year, these 5 ideas are a great start. Already got it? well a rafter can never have too many beer huggies!