I happened to be talking to Ice Bath on facebook a couple of months ago, getting her friend’s address to send her a thank you card from when she let me stay at her house on the PCT, when she mentioned she was going to be rafting the Grand Canyon in February. That was always something I wanted to do, even more so after I read The Emerald Mile, so I said if there were any open spots, I’d love to go. A few weeks later, I was in!
Ice Bath was on the trip with Joe, whose daughter she had gone to college with. His wife couldn’t go this time so she took Lee’s spot. Joe’s friends Patrick and Cristine were also on the trip, Cristine being the permit holder. That made five people on two boats. They wanted more boats for safety reasons, and Brian and Michelle and their boats were added to the trip last minute. They’d been all set to go on their own trip, but their permit holder backed out last minute and they reached out to the internet to see if anyone would let them join a new group. Joe saw their message and they were in.
I flew to Salt Lake City, where Ice Bath picked me up, and we drove to Joe and Lee’s house in Spring City. (Check out their awesome local businesses, Horseshoe Mountain Pottery and Mom’s Stuff Salve!) We spent the day packing and resorting gear. The gear list seemed excessive to me, but after thru hiking, anything more than one outfit for during the day and one outfit for sleeping seems excessive. I understood it could be cold and things could get wet, so I packed it all. Lee generously lent me her dry suit and some other things. Luckily, we’re the same height!
The next morning, we loaded the boat onto the trailer, packed the truck to just about bursting, and got on the road to Lee’s Ferry, Arizona.
Lee’s Ferry is 16 miles below Glen Canyon Dam, and is the put in point for Colorado River trips. We arrived late and camped, and started unloading the boats in the morning. It was in the low 20s when we started, making the water warmer than the air at 47°. Once everything was unloaded, the long process of resorting and loading and rigging the boats began. We took a break for a talk with a park ranger, who checks equipment and goes over regulations with all launching parties, and then got back to loading.
The day warmed up with the sun, and we finally got on the river at 3:30. I was on Brian’s boat. I had hoped to learn to row a raft some on this trip, assuming I’d do it on Joe’s boat, but Brian was more than happy to let me row flat water on his boat too. Rowing backwards was easy for me, but rowing forwards was incredibly awkward. There were no rapids the first day, but we did get to see some condors hanging around at Navajo Bridges. We pulled over for the night at 6 Mile Camp and had fish tacos for dinner. 6 miles today.
It was freezing when we woke up and we were slow to get started. We had eggs, potatoes, and bagels for breakfast, and started loading the boats. There wasn’t much I could do in the packing and loading area yet because things need to be packed a certain way for everything to fit and weight to be distributed evenly. Once I learned the systems, I could be of more help.
We hit our first rapids today, Badger Creek and Soap Creek, both 5s on the Grand Canyon 1 to 10 rapid scale (10 being the most difficult). I got splashed a bit in the front of the boat, but not too wet. It was fun! After Soap Creek, we pulled over for lunch and to see a Zuni petroglyph called Supai Man.
Next up were Brown’s Riffle (2), Sheer Wall Rapid (2), and House Rock Rapid (7). We pulled over to scout House Rock before running it. The big rapid only splashed me, but then I got soaked in Redneck Rapid (3) after. Three big waves to the face. Figures.
I’ve been getting better at rowing, even taking Brian’s boat through a few riffles. We pulled over to camp at Upper North Canyon. Dinner tonight was a big stir fry and salad, with rice pudding for dessert. 14.75 miles today.
Bacon and bagels and fruit for breakfast today, then Ice Bath and Cristine and I went for a hike up North Canyon while the boatmen fiddled around with their boats. It was very pretty, scramble-y in sections, and ended at a pool with a little fall coming out of a slot.
Back at camp, we loaded the boats and got started through a series of rapids called the “Roaring Twenties:” North Canyon (5), 21 Mile (5), Indian Dick (4), 23 1/2 Mile (4), Georgie (6), 24 1/2 Mile (6), Hansbrough Richards (6), Cave Springs (5), 27 Mile (5), and 29 Mile (2). I tried out my waterproof camera case to take pictures during some of the rapids and it worked well. I got soaked towards the end of the day and was convinced my dry suit had leaked. When we got to camp and I could check, I saw that my clothes were dry, I was just really cold.
We made camp at South Canyon and had hamburger steaks in gravy, green beans, and baked potatoes for dinner. 11 miles today.
Today was a layover, meaning we did not go anywhere. It was a lazy morning, with blueberry pancakes and sausage for breakfast. I waited for the sun to hit camp so I could wash my hair and do some laundry. By the time I was ready to hike, it was lunch time, so I quickly ate a sandwich before heading out. Ice Bath and I walked upriver to Upper South Canyon camp and climbed up a wash to see some ruins. We kept going up from there, finding a trail at the top of the redwall that took us up the canyon. It was really hot in the sun. We ran into Joe hanging out in some shade and I turned around to go back with him so he could show me some petroglyphs nearby.
Camp was in shade when I got back so I put some more layers on and took a nap. Elk burritos for dinner!
Pancakes for breakfast, then we got our earliest start yet: 10:30. We stopped at Vasey’s Paradise immediately to fill up on water, then at Redwall Cavern to explore and see some fossils.
There were only two rapids today: 36 Mile (4) and President Harding (4). We also saw the Anasazi Foot Bridge, a very old, falling apart, tiny, wooden bridge way up on the wall. It supposedly is on an old trail, but I’d like to know how anyone is supposed to walk up there.
We got to camp at Upper Saddle early. There is plenty of time for reading and relaxing on this trip too. We had chicken in gravy, cheesy mashed potatoes, and peas and carrots for dinner, with Dutch oven apple crisp for dessert. It was about 50° before bed: the nights are quickly warming up. 15.75 miles today.
We had sausage, egg, and cheese sandwiches for breakfast, and then Ice Bath and I went hiking up Saddle Canyon. We had heard a small rock fall from camp earlier, and we heard a much bigger one as we were approaching the mouth of the canyon. A hundred feet later, we saw the dust rising from the opposite side of the canyon. I debated turning around but Ice Bath wanted to keep going, so I figured I’d go a little bit farther and decide, all the while scoping out places I could duck into if rocks started falling. Soon we were in a very peaceful, green area. The walls were closer and not as tall. It was so quiet and so green and felt very safe. We followed the creek up to a little slot with a waterfall coming out. I kept thinking I heard voices talking to us but I’m pretty sure it was the bubbling of the creek echoing off the walls.
Back at camp, we helped finish loading the boats and then got on the water for about an hour. I tried rowing Joe’s boat, which was way harder than Brian’s. It’s longer, heavier, and doesn’t have oar rights or weights. It was very hot on the water. We went through Nankoweap Rapid (3) and then stopped at Main Nankoweap camp in time for lunch. It was 65° in the shade there. We had taco salad for lunch and then started hiking up to the Puebloan granaries. I also explored the delta and some ruins there before heading back to camp. We had elk steaks, potatoes au gratin, and a big salad for dinner. 6 miles today.
It was so warm today that I switched to my splash gear instead of my dry suit, and I was plenty warm even with wet feet. We went through three rapids: Kwagunt (5), 60 Mile (4), and Lava Canyon (4). We also passed the confluence with the Little Colorado River, which was running very red and muddy. It’s supposed to be clear turquoise, while the Colorado is supposed to be red and muddy. A bald eagle soared out over us as we passed.
We pulled over to camp at Tanner. Dinner was mahi mahi, coleslaw, and quinoa, with Dutch oven banana bread for dessert. The canyon has opened up and the sky is huge. 15 miles today.