Originally published on May 1, 2020
Our white water rafting trip in the Grand Canyon 2014, part one.
You would think I would be thrilled, seeing as we were going on a once in a lifetime vacation, but instead, I was pretty dispirited. I had just left my wife, the mother of my son, and grandmother of our grandson back home; due to health reasons she could not accompany us on this trip. My son Vic II, daughter-in-law Lisa, their son Ryan, and I had just left our home on the first leg of our journey. We were headed early in the morning to catch a plane from Bishop International Airport, in Flint, Michigan to Arizona where we were to be white water rafting on the mighty Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
This trip would cover roughly 188 miles on the Colorado River from Lees Ferry to Whitmore Wash. It would involve camping on the banks of the river within the Grand Canyon for seven days and six nights. Other than sleeping outside in our forts when I was a kid, I had not camped anywhere in my adult life. Not only would camping be a first, but riding a helicopter to get out of the canyon would be as well. There would be many firsts on this trip and we had no clue as to what we were in for.
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My biggest concern was how well we would get along with our fellow rafters. There would be a total of 16 people in each of the two rafts for a total of 32 people in all and we would be spending almost every single waking moment with strangers for nearly an entire week. There would be plenty of different personalities mixing together on this trip. While I was sure there would be moments when this could prove problematic at times, we did NOT experience any problems like this on our trip. Our fellow travelers were the most friendly, accommodating family value type of peers anyone could ever ask for.
Leaving Flint, our itinerary consisted of flying into Las Vegas to spend the night. We planned on seeing a little bit of Las Vegas the night we arrived, before getting up early the next morning to go out of our way and see the Hoover Dam. The Southwest US had been in the midst of a long term drought and you could see upstream from the dam how much the water had receded, it looked like it had dropped 10 to 15 feet from a distance but, when we inquired about the water level in Lake Mead that was created when the Hoover Dam was built, we found that the high water mark for Lake Mead was set in 1984 when the water level was 1,232 feet above sea level. While we were there in 2014 the water level was 1,100 feet (see photo below). This means that the water level in Lake Mead had dropped 132 feet in 30 years. This doesn’t bode well for the folks that are depending on this water in the Southwest in order to survive. Over the last couple of years, the water level has increased somewhat but they still have a long way to go.
We had to cut our visit to Hoover dam a little short at this point as we had an orientation meeting scheduled for 7:00 PM in Paige, Arizona. This was about a five hour and thirty-minute drive and it was already close to noon when we left the Hoover dam area.
While we were trying to make up time on the way to Page, there was a period of time that my son (who was doing all the driving) stepped on the gas to make up for the lost time. At one point, without realizing it, he was going almost 90 MPH in a 75 MPH area. While this was happening, his wife Lisa said that everything in the wide-open desert just looked blurry! Just over the next hill, there sat a Highway patrol officer who immediately turned on his lights and pulled us over. When he asked what the hurry was and we told the truth and said that we had to be in Page, Arizona by 7:00 PM. He asked for my son’s information and went back to his vehicle. As we waited, my son said that if he went to jail that we should all still go on our trip! We laughed and waited anxiously for the officer to come back. When the officer returned, he said he was giving us a break. Vic could have had a much worse punishment, but instead was only told to complete an online class and the ticket would be erased from his record. With that little bit of excitement behind us, we were back on the road again, albeit driving a little slower. On to Page and the Grand Canyon…
We made it on time for our orientation, which gave us some idea as to what to expect over the next week, what our different responsibilities would be, and some other pertinent information for the trip itself. While in the canyon, needless to say, there would be no cell phone service so we would all be disconnected from the rest of the world for the next week. We would also be meeting bright and early to catch our bus in the parking lot that would take us to Lees Ferry, which is the starting point of all white water rafting trips in the canyon.
Once at Lees ferry, we were given our life jackets which we had to wear anytime we were on the river. We also received other necessary items such as our dry bags to pack personal items in, and with that, we boarded the rafts.
Tuesday 7/29/2014 Into the Abyss!
We were off and would be out of touch from the rest of the world for the next week. The weather was really terrific with clear blue skies, and warm but sometimes hot temperatures. A couple of hours after leaving Lees Ferry we stopped for lunch on the banks of the Colorado River. Our first meal on this adventure consisted of some sandwiches, chips and either water or soda pop to drink.
While I have done white water rafting on the Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and also on the New River in West Virginia, these did not compare to the turbulence and severity of the white water in the Grand Canyon. The water temperature of the Colorado River in the area downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam ranges from 45 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because the water discharged from the Glen Canyon Dam comes from the cold depths of Lake Powell. From the start of our trip to the end, it did not seem like the water temperature increased all that much. Additionally, there is a spot on most if not all rafts called the bathtub because it is located in the very front of the raft and most of the white water comes over the raft in this location. This is where you will most likely get the brunt of any white water experience full in the face. I would have thought that the younger folks would want this place to sit in and everyone would have to take turns but, as it turned out, it was not that popular for the younger folks because of the water temperatures. Needless to say, I was lucky enough to spend more than my share of time in this bathtub, basically because no one else wanted anything to do with it.
We woke up to one of our guides yelling “Rise and shine, coffee’s ready!” around 5:15 AM. This was my first taste of what they call cowboy coffee. This consists of a large insulated container that has some fresh coffee grounds dumped in the bottom. Hot boiling water is then poured on top, and the grounds settle for twenty minutes and there you have it. You will still get a few grounds in your cup, but the coffee was hot and fresh and you could not ask for a better location. We broke camp and prior to pushing off, four of the teenagers chose to swim across the river which was almost a couple hundred feet across. When they got to the other side we were there with our rafts to pick them up and get them out of the cold water.
We ended up rafting for an hour or two before we stopped for the first of a handful of major hikes. I would give this a difficulty rating of 7 out of 10, with 10 being the most strenuous. I nearly bailed out about a third of the way through this hike, but our guide told me the worst of it was the part right in front of me. I pressed on and was so glad I did. It was a really amazing grotto with a small pond at the end of the hike.
There was a lot of climbing over boulders and ledges, but in the end, it was really worth it. The only casualty was one of the little girls tripped and skinned her knee, but it was not bad and she got over it in no time.
We then headed back to our rafts and proceeded to go through what is called ‘20-Mile Rapids’ and as you can guess, it is 20 miles worth of white water of varying intensities. It seemed that as you just recovered your breath from one set of rapids, you were already heading into the next one. Oh, the laughs we all had, and we just could not believe the adrenaline rush of so much white water! Once we finished this we stopped for lunch at a natural amphitheater called the Red Wall Cavern.
Just to get an idea of how big this cavern was, there are some people in the photo above that are toward the far wall walking towards the back of the cavern. The sand in this place was almost as fine as talcum powder, and what a breathtaking place it was. We ended up having lunch consisting of burritos, chips and soda pop or water. Once we finished lunch, a number of us decided we would play a baseball game using a Wiffle ball inside the cavern. That was really a lot of fun even though my team lost. Running in this fine sand was something I will not forget for a long time. Everyone was slipping and tripping trying to run from home plate to first, second, third, or home, but we all had a blast.
We got back on the river again until we reached our next campsite, which looked like a huge sandbar right alongside the Colorado River. We all helped to unload the 2 rafts of our cots, tents, cooking equipment, etc. This would be the one time we were going to have steak for supper. Nearly all of us got our plates, picked out the steak we wanted along with potatoes and veggies, and sat down to eat. We were probably about halfway through our supper when the unpredictable weather brought in some rain and high winds. With our campsite being on a sandbar, you should know that some of us had to eat our steak with a little bit of sand…so what, a little bit of fiber can be a good thing for anyone! After dinner, we had a hard sleep in the rain, covered with ripped tarps to try and keep dry, somewhat unsuccessfully.
We woke up the next morning to the view shown below, not knowing exactly what this next day held in store for us, but of one thing we could be certain, it would be more adventures, hiking, eating, telling stories and playing games. This trip was almost like being a kid again, with new experiences around every bend in the river.
Now, get off that couch and go do something; get the heart rate up along with a little exercise and rejuvenate yourself, it will be good for the body, the 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, so set some goals and dream of some possibilities.
To be continued…
Be on the lookout for Part Two of Vic’s unforgettable white water rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.
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