Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Points of Interest Along the Way

We passed a number of interesting sights as we floated down the Canyon. Our guides were good at pointing things out or giving us a history lesson or geology lesson as fitted the situation. We would do a number of hikes…..some short, some longer……but we might also just pull up to a point of interest and scamper up to take a look. A few sights we would just have to be content with seeing from the raft.


On our very first day in the Canyon, we pulled up at Mile 12 for a bit of a history lesson. In 1889, Brown,the president of a railway company, was on a survey expedition. He had proposed building a river level railway through the canyon. He drowned at this spot and two others drowned slightly down river.


Later, Stanton, the only survivor placed this inscription in the rock to memorialize Brown. We all scampered up to take a look.


At Mile 32 – We were delighted to see  Vasey’s Paradise. A beautiful little waterfall with ferns and vegetation that was named by the explorer John Wesley Powell after his botanist G.W. Vasey.


On our third day on the river we pulled up at Redwall Cavern (Mile 33). This was AWESOME!


I can’t describe-and the pictures don’t do justice- to the size of this cavern. Look closely at the picture and you can see a person standing waaay in the back of the cave by the wall.


It was beautiful and peaceful…..sandy floor and wide open…….Big enough for tossing a football or a game of horse shoes. The guides unloaded games and activities and we stayed a couple of hours, eating our lunch here.


Then we just found a comfortable rock and kicked back………


Oh – one other neat bit of history/geology – The guides pointed out this fossilized Sea Lily stem embedded in one of the rocks. Imagine all of this was once covered by ocean.


That same day (the 3rd day) at Mile 39-We stopped for a short hike to take a look at the proposed Marble Canyon Dam site, an effort which was fortunately defeated. We walked through the tunnel that had been blasted out when work crews were taking core samples to determine whether the rock was strong enough to support a dam at this location. The tunnel went much further back than we had thought! We were glad that the guides had remembered to bring flashlights…...This was not a place for the claustrophobic!

IMG_1296 (1)

At Mile 43 – We floated by remains of a wooden bridge built by the Anasazi Indians. Wood will remain well preserved for many years in the desert environment of the canyon. OK – This was really, really high up the canyon wall……I can not picture me walking across the canyon on a wooden bridge!


Not much further down river at Mile 53 - we spotted the  Nankoweap granaries. These rectangular openings in the rock wall were the site of Native American grain storage bins. They were not too high up, so I guess that they were accessed from the river. There was a trail leading from the river to the granaries, but 2 other  rafting groups were hiking there, so just took our pictures from the raft and floated on by.


We passed a couple of different Park Service science groups who were camped along the river to do research…..I’m not sure on what…….


On our 5th day, just before Mile 62, we passed the confluence of the Colorado River with the Little Colorado River.


The most notable significance of this was that the water turned from greenish to brown with the additional silt that was washing in from the Little Colorado. Gone was the desire to wash up in the river. Now it just seemed like we lived with a layer of brown river silt.


Fred took a picture of his hat because he just could not believe how brown water spotted it had become for being splashed by the river rapids!


At Mile 64 – we passed the Sacred Hopi salt mines. The Hopi Indians would mine the salt deposits which leached out of the canyon wall. No one was allowed to stop or hike here, as the Hopi regard this place as a sacred ancestral site.


At Mile 180 –  Lava flows that once blocked the canyon – I had never known that volcanoes helped to form the Grand Canyon. Several times in the Canyon’s history volcanic eruptions flowed lava down the canyon walls, sealing off side canyons and even damming the river.


The Colorado being the mighty river that it is, just cut a new course around the lava flow……


Leaving in its wake Lava Falls Rapid at mile 180. Ranked as a class 10 rapid, this is one of the biggest and most difficult rapids on this section of the river. We would run this rapid on our 12th day.


We camped our 13th night at Mile 213 - Pumpkin Springs. This arsenic polluted spring colored the rock, making it decidedly pumpkin-like. No swimming allowed!  The site for the groover (toilet) overlooked the top of the springs. It was yucky looking. Covered in moldy slime…….


Our 14th day on the river and our last day in the rafts, we passed Diamond Peak at  Mile 225 –  The summit of Diamond Peak, at 3,500 feet is just 230 feet higher than the elevation at Lees Ferry……meaning that we had dropped in elevation over the 225 river miles the height of this peak. It is an amazing thing to note……


Also on that 14th day…..at Mile 238 – We spotted the proposed dam explosives storage shack……also known as the ‘doorway to another dimension’……

IMG_1928 (1)

At Mile 265.5 – Seen by motor boat on our last day - The Grand Canyon Skywalk, managed by the Hualapai tribe and located on tribal lands. We are not fans of this skywalk. It is a long way from the South Rim National park (much closer to Las Vegas) and they charge a fortune to see the skywalk. I’ll take our experience of the canyon, thank you!

We experienced so, so much more of the canyon on the hikes that we did…..,discovering the heights and overlooks as well as a number of hidden gems.  I’ll write about all of that, next……..

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Rapids

The rapids……What can I say? This was the one part of this rafting trip that I was the most nervous about. Some people raft the Colorado river just for the awesome rapids. But that is not me…….I was on this trip in spite of the rapids, not because of them.
Our first day on the river began pleasantly enough……with the first bit of “white water”…..well, really only a bit of faster water at Paria Riffle.
IMG_1160 (1)
Then we progressed to a couple of major rapids – Badger Creek (mile 8) and Soap creek (mile 11.5). These were  pretty good rapids, big enough to be exciting, but still tame enough for us to ease ourselves into this whole experience.
IMG_1214 (1)
The ‘Roaring 20’s ‘ were a stretch of 6 or so rapids along miles 20 – 30 that we encountered on the 2nd day .
We got really wet! We quickly learned that the front seat people usually caught the brunt of the waves on all but the smallest of rapids. With the medium sized rapids or large rapids, sometimes a wave would wash right over the top of our heads, drenching us. Other times, it might slap us straight in the face. At the very least, the waves would soak our seat and legs. Getting wet was just a part of the fun. We learned to shout “WOO-HOO” and enjoy.   : )
I also learned to HANG ON! This was my ‘brace position’ for rapids…….I was determined NOT to fall out of the raft! With each succeeding set of rapids, a new thought began to work its way into my mind……”This is exciting….and kind-of fun!”
IMG_1465 (1)
On the 6th day, and the final day on the river for the group that was only doing the Upper Canyon, we rafted Hance Rapid  (mile 77) with a  class 9-10 difficulty (the Grand Canyon uses a 1-10 difficulty scale) and Sockdolanger (mile 79) class 9. These were the biggest rapids of the trip so far.
Before the trip we had watched U-Tube video of some people rafting some of the larger rapids of the Grand Canyon. Hance Rapid was one of those that we had watched. As it turned out, it was not nearly as scary in person as it was on video. I tried to keep my eyes open through most of the rapids, though I will have to admit that when a wave was coming right over us, I closed my eyes and ducked!
IMG_1507 (1)
The afternoon of the 7th day, with the new group who would be joining us for the Lower half of the canyon, we would run Horn Creek Rapid (mile 91) Class 9,  Granite Rapid (mile 94) class 9+, and Hermit Rapid (mile 95.5) class 9+.These were 3 of the largest rapids that we would be running.
I was really worried that Sarah and Jason would be a bit overwhelmed at hitting these large rapids on their first afternoon on the river. I shouldn’t have worried……they handled the rapids like old pros.
On day 8,  we ran Crystal rapid (mile 99) and a class 10+ difficulty. This was one of the more infamous of the rapids, and the guides were noticeably nervous as they scouted the rapid from above. 
The reason for their concern became clear as we successfully completed our run……A private rafting group that was just ahead of us, had flipped a raft and the overturned raft was stuck on a rock in the middle of the rapid! We stopped at the river bank to determine that no one was hurt. The private group was advised to use their satellite phone to call the park rangers, who could best help them.
This was a sobering moment for our group. It served to remind us that accidents can happen, and that what we were doing had some inherent danger. One needed to be cautious, but things still could go wrong.
Each rapid was different. A medium sized rapid may be very technically difficult (an issue for our guides, not us, who just blindly trusted the guides to get us safely through) and we might sail right through a larger rapid. On some rapids, we might hit a ‘hole’ at the bottom where there might be a bit of a ‘kick’ or jolt.
This is what happened on the 2nd half of Crystal Rapid. When the back end of the raft where we were seated kicked up, I lost my grip with my left hand, and my seat lifted 2 feet off the raft!  I held on with my right hand and my seat hit the raft tubing with a thump! I had done it….I had managed to stay in the raft! After that, my confidence soared……
 IMG_1549 (1)
Continuing on day 8….. Miles 101 – 106  we ran  ‘The Jewels – 6 pretty major rapids in a row. At mile 113  was Waltenburg rapid, a class 8 rapid that had the guides concerned. As we later learned, they had had a raft flip at Waltenburg one year.
The oared rafts are a stable, heavier raft that seemed to  handle the bigger rapids pretty well. A lot depended on the ‘line of approach’ that each guide might take. We enjoyed riding with Allison, who made the biggest rapids seem like a ‘piece of cake’.
The paddle rafters had a different, more up close and personal experience of the rapids. The raft was smaller and more maneuverable, but more likely to flip if the raft hit the rapid just right (or wrong). Those who were in the paddle rafts needed to paddle to provide the thrust for the guide to steer the raft through the rapids. They need to stay strong and focused (no closing their eyes!) and had to listen to the guides instructions. I was glad that we had chosen the oared rafts, though, I think that the paddle rafts would be fun for a while and through the smaller rapids.
On day 12, at mile 179.5  was Lava Falls Rapid – The ‘big one’ that everyone looks forward to or dreads.The guides scouted this one from above to determine which line of approach to use.
We ran this rapid with Allison with no problem. She made it look easy…….    : )  

This video was shot by Patrick Grelier from his position overlooking the rapid. He was riding with Matt and they were spotting our rafts to ensure our safety, then rafting the rapid last. With his permission, I am including it in this blog.

 That evening, we celebrated the group’s successful run through Lava.
On day 14 –the last day on the river in rafts –between miles 231- 237 we ran an awesome stretch of rapids. They were similar in size to the ‘Jewels”  that we had run on day 8.
IMG_1554 (1)
The paddle raft crew had gotten a bit cocky and relaxed (by their own admission), and, going through a rapid, they hit a hole and the entire group of 6 got thrown out. …..everyone but Tom, who was guiding from the back position. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, only a few bumps and bruises. All 6 were quickly picked up and hauled back into the raft and they rafted on….with a new chapter to add to their story.
As for me,  though I am not seeking out bigger and more difficult rapids to run……and I know that this whole experience might be quite different in the smaller paddle rafts……and much more involved if we were to be responsible for negotiating the rapids on our own…….I really enjoyed the excitement and exhilaration of the rapids.
I emerged from this experience with a discovery that I was no longer afraid of the big rapids…..in fact, I rather liked them!     : )

Sunday, October 26, 2014

On The River……Rafts, Guests and Guides

Much of our days were spent on the River. This was, after all, a rafting trip…..280 miles down the Colorado River from just below the Glen Canyon Dam at Lees Ferry to our take out point at Lake Mead, just above the Hoover Dam. 240 of these miles would be traveled by raft, with the final 40 miles on Lake Mead by motor boat.

We were a group of 23 – 17 guests and 6 guides.

We traveled in a total of 6 rafts – 3 oared rafts which the guides would row, 2 cargo rafts, each rowed by a single guide with no passengers, and a paddle raft with 6 guests and a guide, each paddling. Two of the oared rafts would hold 4 persons each, while the third would only hold 3 people.
IMG_1230 (1)
The time on the river would vary each day, but we would average 20 miles or so over 4-5 hours each day. Though all the rafts might occasionally group up, most often we traveled down the river in single file. 
That first day  at Lees Ferry, we tentatively chose a guide to travel with and a raft to load up in. Everything seemed foreign…..unfamiliar at best. Which dry bag for our day stuff belonged to which raft? Who was going to ride with whom? Where do we want to sit? front or back?
IMG_1215IMG_1243 (1)
We quickly sorted out these things and jumped in……..Within a day or two, we slipped into a pattern.
Fred and I always rode together. We tried to change up each day so that we were with a different guide or a different group of people so that we could better get to know each other. We swapped up riding front or back…….The front got wetter on most rapids. The back could offer a bit of a ‘kick’ when going through a big rapid.
Pictured above is us with Matt, the trip leader. Matt is 44 years old, very experienced with guiding on the Colorado River, and works with a kayak guiding service in Florida in the off season.
This is KJ or Kevin Johnson – our most experienced guide at 60 years old. He has done over 100 trips through the Grand Canyon. KJ’s boat could only take 3 passengers, all riding on the front seat.
KJ kicked back ……the only guide who I have even seen who could row with his feet!.
DSCN0399 (1)
This is Tom, who alternated guiding the paddle raft with Allison or rowing a 4 person oared raft. Tom was always full of stories and very, very long jokes…..
DSCN1394 (2)
And Allison, with Sarah and Jason in the raft. Allison, a very capable 29  year old young woman, had been our guide 2 years before on the Copper River in Alaska. She had recommended this rafting company, and we had requested that she join us as a guide on the trip. Allison comes from a family of guides. Both her mother and her father have worked as guides on the Grand Canyon trip. Allison had spent the summer guiding rafting trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. In the off season, she works at a ski resort in Jackson Hole.
We had an opportunity to ride several times with each of these 4 guides. Shelly and Justin, who were rowing the baggage rafts, did not take passengers.
We found out that the guides who rowed baggage were not paid. They did this for the trip and the experience (like an internship) though they did split the tips at the end. Shelly was a nurse who also has a degree in geology. She used to work for the park service at the Grand Canyon. Now, she splits her time between nursing, guiding, and working with the ski patrol in New Mexico in the winter.
Justin rowed the other baggage raft. He is a young man who first went on a rafting trip as a guest, then has come back for a number of years to row baggage on this river.
The paddle raft group had paid extra for the privilege of paddling down the river (that way, they were really committed!). For the upper half of the trip, the paddle raft was manned by Jeff and Sue, and Dave and Jacque, all friends traveling together from Pennsylvania to help celebrate Sue’s 50th birthday with this rafting trip. Joining them in the paddle raft were Deanna and Peter from California.
On the lower half of the trip, the paddle rafters were a group of 3 couples from California - Russell and Tana, Tony and Carrie, Dave and Mary. All had played volleyball for the same university.  All tall and super athletic. A powerful group in a paddle raft, but all strong minded and independent - meaning….they did not take direction well.   ; )
Our groups tended to mix it up pretty well in the rafts. Becky, who was traveling as a single, often ended up in KJ’s raft. Here she is with Nancy and Tom, a very energetic 78 year old couple. Nancy and Tom, along with Fred and I and Becky and Patrick were the 6 guests who had signed on for the full 15 day trip.
In this picture Becky is filling in on the paddle raft for Deanna who had sprained her ankle. The paddle raft groups were truly committed to the paddle experience. They did not switch up over the course of the trip.
On the upper trip, The ‘three girls’, Susan, Ashley and Dawn joined up with Patrick who was traveling solo. They seemed to get along well! In this picture, Matt is watching as Ashley gives rowing a try.
IMG_1887 (1)
On the Lower Canyon, Patrick often joined Becky in a raft.
Our daughter, Sarah and husband, Jason joined the trip for 9 days on the Lower Canyon. After hiking down with 9 other ‘newbies’ they jumped right in!
Before long, both Jason and Sarah tried their hand at the oars.
DSCN2026 (1)
On the second half of the trip, we shared a raft with Sarah and Jason for most days, though we did split up a bit so that they could spend time getting to know all the other people. Sarah and Jason decided that they liked riding in the back of the boat so that they could stay a bit drier and not get as chilled.

As you can see from the pictures, the River varied from day to day….even from moment to moment. The first days, the water was clearer and greenish in color. Later, it ran reddish brown with silt. It could be smooth and calm, or turbulent with fairly wild rapids.

 Our days on the river varied, too……sometimes we seemed pressed to cover the miles......and there were several other private rafting groups that we kept leap-frogging. The presence of these groups created a bit of concern for our trip leader, Matt. There was competition  for camp sites as well as hiking opportunities. Some days were about the miles......

Other times, there was time for play.
IMG_1175 (1)
The first couple of days, while the rapids were still fairly small, the guides pulled out a standing paddle board. Deanna was the only one who seemed to really take to the paddle board. A surfer from California, she was used to the cold water and had paddle boarded before. Deanna spent 3 hours on the board before falling off in a rapid and spraining her ankle. This pretty much sidelined Deanna from any hikes, as she spent much of the next few days with her ankle immersed in the 55 degree water to decrease the swelling.
The ‘volley ball team’ was up for a little tug of war competition of who could remain standing the longest.
I would like to give a final ‘shout out’ to our guides………from left – Shelly, Matt, Tom, KJ, Allison, and Justin. They did a wonderful job getting us down the river safely and providing an unforgettable experience!