Our white water rafting trip in the Grand Canyon 2014, part two.
To read part one of Vic’s memorable trip, click here.
I lay awake on my cot around 4:30 AM looking at the predawn sky, and in the next 60 to 90 minutes the scene shown in the photo above would manifest itself before our eyes. Although it was pretty early, our guide would be yelling: COFFEE IS READY within the next thirty minutes or so. I was looking up in wonder at God’s creations and could hardly believe we were actually doing something I had dreamed about since 1993, (the only other time I had been to the Grand Canyon). However, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think a trip like this would actually come to fruition. I have my son and his family to thank for making a trip like this a reality, not only did they come up with the idea but they did all the planning and logistics that were necessary to make this trip unforgettable.
While looking up at the heavens in this predawn sky, I was amazed at how many stars were visible, the only other times I’d witnessed so many stars at night was when I was in the Navy and we were far out to sea. With virtually no light pollution here, there seemed to be three times as many stars out than we could see on a clear night sky back home in Michigan.
I was also thinking of my wife Carol, I thought of her often on this trip and I know she would have loved to do this but it was out of the question, she simply could not do it. I was also missing her voice as we did not have any communication with the outside world, other than a satellite phone that was reserved for emergencies only.
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I was surprised at how many things happened in the canyon that I would have never given any thought to prior to making this trip. There were bats flying around in the early morning hours, literally hundreds of them, and although you could not hear them, they were swooping up and down here and there gobbling up their morning meals each morning we awoke during our trip.
Also, the change in elevation of the river. At the end of a day’s travel when we tied up our rafts, we had to ensure they were pulled up on the bank as far as possible using long ropes to secure the rafts to trees or boulders far from the water’s edge. The reason the water was so much higher in the morning was due to the fact that the Glen Canyon Dam was discharging so much water during the night to generate electricity, that it raised the water level downstream from the dam by 4 to 5 feet. The Glen Canyon Dam helps provide electricity for up to five million people in six states: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. A great deal of electricity is used during the evening and this generation of power is one of the biggest reasons so much water is discharged from the dam during the night. It’s amazing how much the water level fluctuates because of this. Additionally, by law, the Glen Canyon Dam must release a minimum amount of water into the canyon to ensure Lake Mead downstream has a sufficient amount of water to generate electricity there as well.
The gear that was provided to us on our trip consisted of the following:
- A sleeping bag
- A small plastic tarp – normally used beneath your cot on the sand
- Waterproof ammo cans for items you did not want to get wet
- Fold up cots for sleeping
- Waterproof bags for our personal items/clothing
The majority of us chose to set up our cots under the night time sky (pictured left), while tents were available for those who wanted some privacy, most of us chose to sleep under the stars. In the morning it was common to see different people jostling around getting dressed under their blankets or in their sleeping bags. Most of us chose to sleep under the sleeping bags on the cots as opposed to sleeping in them. There were a couple of nights when we experienced some rain in the middle of the night and while this was a hassle at the time, the rain only lasted for a few minutes and was more bothersome than anything.
Some of the rules we adhered to, though only a few are referenced below:
- Life jackets had to be worn anytime we were on the river.
- Bathroom facilities:
- All urinating had to be done in the river. We were to wade into the river and take care of our business right through our bathing suit.
- Going # 2 required using a set- up called the Oscar. This consisted of two small portable toilets that were set up at opposite ends of the camp in discreet locations for privacy.
- Anytime someone had to use the Oscar, they were to take the small life ring left at the front of the path which led to the portable toilet. If no life ring was present, it meant the Oscar was occupied. If the ring was there, the Oscar was available. You would only forget to take the life ring once and potentially be surprised prompting you not to forget to take the life ring back the next time. See the photo below for what a typical Oscar set-up looked like: the portable toilet is green in color.
This particular morning after breakfast we loaded up the rafts with all our gear, cooking utensils, Oscars, tents, sleeping bags, etc. and headed downriver. We were only on the river for an hour or so when we pulled our rafts up on the right side to take a hike to the granary. The granary was built by the Anasazi from stone and mortar high up in the cliffs from the river. This hike is a steep, taxing, twisting 700 foot climb up from the river over boulders and slippery loose rocks with switchbacks galore, but if you can make it you will be rewarded with some breathtaking views of the winding Colorado River. I made it a little over three-quarters of the way when my heart felt like it was going to beat right out of my chest. I took this as a warning sign and told my fellow rafters that I was going to wait right where I was to let my heart rate come back down until they returned on the trip back to the rafts. See the photo below for an idea of what the views are like on this hike.
Once we finished this hike everyone returned to the rafts and we proceeded downriver until lunchtime. About an hour later we pulled up on the right side of the river again and set up a small tent with a couple folding tables for our lunch buffet and some short little hikes to scope out the area. *See the photo pictured below for an idea of what this little oasis looked like.
Once we finished our lunch, we proceeded directly across the river to the junction where the Little Colorado River joins the Colorado River. The Little Colorado River is a narrow somewhat fast-moving creek and this little creek had a big surprise in store for us. We had to hike about a half-mile upstream to a location where we could immerse ourselves in the water (after taking our life jackets off and putting them on upside down and around our waist, almost like a diaper). This would protect our lower backs and other parts, from rocks and debris when we waded into the river to let the current take us downstream 300 to 400 feet.
At one time there were a few of us who created a swim train by getting into the river facing downstream with a fellow rafter behind you with their legs around your waist. The person in front of you would then hang onto your ankles and together we repeated the process until we had a train. We managed to get roughly twelve people in one train all the while fighting the current to stay intact until we pushed off and raced downriver with the current. That was a blast and we stayed together until the first bend in the creek where our train broke apart.
The only downside to this little adventure was that the Little Colorado had a distinct nasty odor to it that may come from the calcium carbonate that’s abundant in this river. When we finished this little adventure, all of us rinsed off in the cold Colorado river before getting back into our rafts.
When we left the Little Colorado, my daughter-in-law Lisa and grandson Ryan decided to sit in the bathtub in the front of the raft. Little did anyone know that they would be forced to remain there for the next two and a half hours. We encountered many continuous rapids during that time, along with a strong headwind that was blowing right into our faces. Not only were they constantly being drowned by all the white water splashing into their (and our) faces but, the strong wind was pretty cold, and once you were in the midst of any rapids, you could not change locations on the raft. I recall telling my son that I knew Lisa and Ryan were hating being in the front of the raft at that time.
In any case, once we finished this two and a half-hour section of the river, we pulled up to the river bank and virtually everyone one of us climbed out of the rafts with stiff joints from the cold, wet and windy experience we had just endured. We all felt like cold, whimpering, beaten down little puppy dogs. Chicken with rice and vegetables for supper and I think everyone planned on sound sleeping that night. We had packed in a lot of memories for one day. Little did we know what mother nature had in store for us tonight. You will need to tune in next week to see what happens…
So, if that doesn’t get you up and off that couch, I don’t know what will. It will be good for your body, mind, and soul. It is not that hard and you will be so very glad that you did, after all, you still have the rest of your life in front of you. THINK HEALTHY – BE HEALTHY!
See ya next week…
I’d like to thank my grandson Ryan, currently a junior at Western Michigan University (WMU), for his help in editing this and other articles. See the photo below of Ryan with his Mom and Dad.