By Vic Gronek
Our white water rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, 2014 (cont.). Click the links to read part one and part two.
Friday, August 1, 2014
It started out with just a drop or two of rain falling gently on the only part of your body that was exposed to the elements – your face. Some of these raindrops no doubt had fallen on our sleeping bags and we were blissfully unaware that a pretty good rainfall was just moments away. It was probably around midnight, just about the time you’ve fallen into a nice deep sleep from all the fresh air and experiences of the day before. In no time at all it had progressed to a heavy downpour and the heavier the rain fell, the more frenzied the activities you could hear from your fellow rafters scrambling to get their tarps over their sleeping bags. It was the darkest of nights and if you were one of the fortunate few who had the foresight to bring a small military-style flashlight and extra batteries, you were one of the lucky ones. Imagine waking up in the middle of the darkest night you can imagine with no light and a heavy downpour only moments away. If you had failed to put away anything you did not want to get wet before you went to sleep, you would need to do this now, in the dark with the downpour getting heavier by the second.
We had packed in a ton of memories yesterday and endured some pretty cold and windy conditions on the river. At the time I felt sorry for the unfortunate souls who were sitting in the bathtub; in the front portion of our two rafts, they sat bearing the absolute brunt of this weather for a very long—– two and a half hours.
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Last night when we finally finished supper and did the dishes (everyone participated in doing dishes at different times during the trip), as well as crushing soda cans and putting them in a special container, then cleaning up in general, we had all retired to our individual cot and/or tents. Any time we made camp for the night, everyone chose a location suited to their individual tastes. This could be next to a large rock or bush if one was available. At times we would play games, tell stories, get to know each other, etc. but, tonight the only thing everyone wanted was to curl up in their cots and hit the sack.
Now here we are at the midnight hour and you could hear people scrambling around taking their small plastic tarps out from under their cots (sand and all), throwing it over their sleeping bags, then trying to hold up parts of the tarp (like a tent) to shed the rainwater. Imagine going through all this only to discover that the small used tarps had small holes in them in various locations, consequently, these small holes were letting rainwater drip or run down steadily on you in different locations. You end up using your knees raised up, as well as your arms to lift the tarp during the heaviest part of the rain to shed the water off the tarp in order to stay dry. WHATEVER! Fortunately, the rain subsided after 20 – 30 minutes and we were able to get back to sleep.
Still, we woke up early the next morning to the shout of COFFEE’S READY, I think I had two cups this morning as everything was damp from the rain during the night and I had to pack my clothes in the bag even though they were pretty damp from the rain. As I was to find out later, I had plenty of company.
We had pancakes, eggs, bacon, and coffee or hot cocoa and we were told that we might want to put on our rain gear as we would have rapids most of the day today. While the rain gear is fine for rain, it tends to trap water when you are immersed in the river like we were. I cannot tell you how many of our fellow rafters would stand up between rapids to let the water drain out from their rain suits.
Our guide did not mislead us, we had rapids most of the day today, about the only time we were not in rapids was when we stopped at a nice little beach for lunch consisting of burritos and mixed vegetables which were really pretty good. We stayed on the river until roughly 4:30 experiencing rapids that seemed to be nonstop at times. When we stopped for the night to set up camp, it was then that we noticed most of us had packed our clothing in the waterproof bags while they were still damp from the rain we had last night. No matter where you looked there were shirts or some other articles of clothing hung up on small bushes to dry during the night. Supper consisted of corn on the cob, pork chops, applesauce, and peach cobbler for dessert. We were really roughing it. In all seriousness, our guides did all the cooking, everything was made from scratch and they did a fabulous job keeping everyone fed and happy.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
This morning I mentioned to Zach (the leader of our expedition) that I would like to take a group photo in the morning of all of us. He said this sounded like a great idea. He then proceeded in passing the word on to the group that we wanted everyone on the raft for a photo. I set my camera up on an ammo can in order to get us all focused in, then scrambled back to the raft in time to get into the photo. See below:
This was our fifth day on the river and it was going to prove to be an interesting day. After an hour or so on the river, we stopped on the riverbank for a short 20 – 25-minute hike to a nice quiet grotto called Black Creek Canyon. One of our guides took the opportunity to read a short story about some historical information pertaining to the canyon. When she finished, I summoned up the courage to try and get our group to sing Garth Brook’s song “The River”, the acoustics in this little grotto was perfect for storytelling and singing. I thought and still think this particular song can have so many meanings for so many people. I thought it was really appropriate for today. Each one of us was realizing a dream come true just in being here living this dream. It is such a small percentage of the population that gets to experience the grandeur of the Grand Canyon in the way we were. In any case, I sang the first verse of this song and while there may have been a couple of people who joined in, it was not enough for me, once I finished the first verse, I said that’s it. I had never sung in public in my life other than with a couple of friends on the golf course and this was breaking new ground for me. I’m glad I did it and I even garnered a little applause, but singing in public will need to be left for another life.
Back on the river for another hour or so and we stopped again on the bank and hiked another 20 -25 minutes to a place called Stone Creek Falls. The hike was alongside a small creek that fed The Colorado river and it was a nice scenic location. Once we reached the small falls, nearly everyone took the time to immerse themselves in this small warm waterfall to take photos.
Back on the river for another hour or so before we stopped for lunch at Deer Creek Falls, This was a stunning waterfall that is roughly 180 feet high and there is quite a bit of volume falling here. Many but not all of us took the opportunity to stand directly under the falls and this was the MOST INTENSE shower that you could ever imagine. It felt like a thousand needles trying to puncture your skin. One of our fellow rafters (a doctor) stumbled a bit under the pressure and he was under the water long enough for a couple of us to spring into action but, before we reached him, he bobbed to the surface. The water is only about four feet deep here but, that is more than enough to drown in should the waterfall keep you under too long. See a couple of photos of this waterfall pictured below.
A Big Scare
We stayed here for an hour or two, then proceeded toward our next campsite. It was high and dry and looked like a nice place to spend the night. We all had supper, cleaned up afterward and several of us broke into small informal groups to chat. There were two doctors and their families with us in our group (Chris and Charley) and they were friends and very interesting people. They did a little climbing together with some members of their families and were genuine, good people. In any case, our family was sitting around talking to Chris just before dusk and I wanted to use the Oscar before it got too dark. Our campsite, needless to say, was pretty close to the fast-moving Colorado River and if you were not careful you could fall in. Your only hope then would be that someone saw you fall in. That would be your only chance of rescue and even then, there would be no guarantee. In any case, I excused myself from our little group, used the Oscar and when I returned, it looked like our group was deep in conversation so I just chose to hit the sack. About an hour or so later, I was being severely shaken by my son while I was in a deep sleep. Vic was bending over me saying Dad, I love you and I am so glad that you are okay. He did not notice that I had returned and when he glanced over at my cot, he said it did not look like I was on the cot. He then proceeded to go to each of the two Oscars located at opposite ends of our camp. There were some spots on the trail to the Oscar that were pretty close to the river and if you were not paying attention, you could fall down the bank and right into the river. This actually happened the year before with a different outfitter. The lady was 77 years old and luckily her daughter saw her fall in and alerted the guides who initiated her rescue. Although a bit hypothermic she survived but in the process was swept downstream nearly a mile before she was pulled out of the water. Needless to say, my son was so relieved that he felt compelled to wake me out of my deep sleep to express his thankfulness that I was okay.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
Another night of partial rain, it rained during our breakfast of cereal, bagels, toast, and coffee. We only had whole milk for cereal and most of us were used to 2% or skim milk at home. Whole milk tasted like heavy cream but whole cream it was for any of us having cereal. We left camp in the rain, not too heavy but steady all the way to the noon hour. Lunch consisted of sandwiches that each of us made after breakfast. Our lunch location consisted of pulling the rafts up to the shore and hiking a few minutes to a sheltered location beneath a rocky overhang out of the rain. After lunch, we headed for Lava Falls. This was a notoriously known and famous rapid, my daughter-in-law, grandson and a gentleman by the name of Mike were in the bathtub for this set of rapids. While very turbulent, I think some of the other rapids we witnessed over the past week were equal to Lava Falls in my opinion. Our rafts went through this section one at a time as opposed to side by side as we’d done in some of the rapids we have seen.
This was going to be our last night camping alongside the river. For supper, we had spaghetti, garlic bread with homemade chocolate cake for dessert. It was one of the guide’s birthdays today hence the chocolate cake. We sang happy birthday to her and we were each awarded our River Rat pins. This is a small gold-colored pin on a small chain that you could pin in your hat or shirt. This is a little treasure that I still have today and it signifies that we are members of a small group of people who had ever rafted mighty Colorado.
Monday, August 4, 2014
Take Out day
It was 5:15 am and we were awakened with the normal shout, Coffee is ready, which was followed shortly after by the normal, If you wash your hands, breakfast is ready! After breakfast, we boarded the rafts for about an hour-long journey to a location on the river called Whitmore Wash. This was where we were taken out of the canyon via helicopter in small groups of three or four. Prior to being put into groups for the helicopter ride, we were each questioned by a gentleman who wanted to know (among other things) our weight. I’ll never forget one of his comments about weight especially to the ladies if you lie, you die!
Weight is such an important factor when riding helicopters.
There were two helicopters working in tandem, the first one took all of our bags, with the second trip and every trip after taking small groups from Whitmore Wash to a place called Bar ten ranch. This would be the first hot shower any of us had in over a week and boy did it ever feel good.
After showering and having sandwiches for lunch, we were to board a twin-engine plane that would take us back to Page, Arizona where we began the trip. See some of the photos of the helicopters and plane that would take us back to civilization. There is one photo of my daughter-in-law’s hand clutching the seat in front of her; there was a lot of turbulence on the trip back to Page, Az but, we made it.
The funny thing about being on the river in late July and early August is that one minute you are freezing from the cold water, then the next minute you are boiling in the hot Arizona sun. Most of us had sunscreen. I used SPF 50 which helped to prevent sunburn and this was a necessity. You could be badly sunburned and there would not be much you could do but hope it was not so bad that you needed medical care. In order to get an idea of how the sun was affecting us, take a look at how our feet were tanned after just one week on the river in the photo shown above. You can see the markings from our Keen sandals that we wore when we were not sleeping. If you have never bought a quality sandal, I wholeheartedly recommend Keen sandals. They held up all throughout this trip and I am still wearing them today, some six years later.
The only way out of the canyon from where we were was by helicopter. If the park service was not available, you would be asked to pay a very hefty fee. We were told that a private air ambulance helicopter could easily cost anywhere from $10,000.00 to $40,000.00 to airlift you out of the canyon. Anyone thinking taking such a trip should check into some sort of trip insurance that would cover this, we did not but, we were lucky.
All in all, this was a once in a lifetime trip and virtually no downsides to this trip whatsoever. The guides we had from Wilderness River Adventures were true professionals- friendly and accommodating, they were also excellent cooks and answered each and every question any of us had during the trip. They were always on the alert for people that needed a little extra attention or care during the trip as well.
This indeed was a trip to remember and we will all cherish the memories for the rest of our lives.
So, get off that couch and 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.
See ya next week…East coast trip 2017: New York City, Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Acadia Maine.
I’d like to thank my grandson Ryan, currently a junior at WMU for his help in editing this and other articles.