Living outdoors for 15 days presents some challenges such as weather, and the need to address all those other little concerns of daily life. I had first thought that a 15 day trip was pretty ‘ambitious’ for us. After all, the longest that we had ‘camped out’ before was 7 consecutive days. I was pretty sure that at some point we would think “OK, this was fun but that’s enough!” Surprisingly, we never reached that point. In fact, at the trip’s end, we both felt like we could have continued on for another 2 weeks or more. (Though I would have had to take some time to shampoo my hair!)
“This is a land of fire and ice” the guides kept telling us. By that they meant that on a sunny day, we could be hot and sweltering, or if the day was overcast or we were in shade, we might be worried about getting too chilled. Everyday brought the need for sun protection. Sunscreen, of course, and a hat with a brim was a must. As were sunglasses to combat the glare off the water. I often wore a long sleeved t-shirt to keep my arms covered. The guides usually wore long sleeves and would cover up with capris or long pants for protection from the afternoon sun. When we got too hot, we could dip our shirts, bandanas and/or hats in the water to keep us cool.
Hydration was another serious concern. We kept 2 quart sized water bottles filled at all times. There was always a big thermos of water to refill our bottles, and Gatorade to flavor the water and to replace electrolytes. In an arid environment (the bottom of the canyon is a desert), a person can get dehydrated without realizing what is happening. So, “Hydrate for happiness” and drink, drink, drink was our motto.
On a rafting trip, one would expect to be wet…..and wet we were for the better part of each day. This was, after all, the Colorado River, famed for its rapids. Everyday we would encounter a number of rapids which would be big enough to completely douse us with 55 degree water. Yikes! It made me think of the ice bucket challenge which had become so popular. When the weather was sunny and hot, the cold water was welcome. But if we were in shade or the wind was blowing, it could be cold! We had been given these nice yellow splash jackets which we wore to keep our upper body dry. The day might be spent with wet britches and cold legs and feet, but with our core dry, we could keep from getting too chilled.
One whole day and another afternoon, we had rain……Life on the river did not stop for the rain. We just covered up with splash jackets and maybe rain pants, and kept on going. Fortunately, the rain began after our breakfast (I hate soggy food!) and stopped before we unloaded for the evening. But, on the water, the rain was COLD!
After spending one soggy morning on the river, we were all feeling pretty miserable and wondering what we were going to do about lunch, when Matt pulled the rafts over at this beach with a large rock overhang. It was a bit of a scramble up from the beach, but the guides hauled all the lunch gear and food out to fix us lunch in the shelter of the canyon.
They even fixed us soup……warm and delicious for a very appreciative group. We hung our wet jackets up to dry and huddled near the rock wall which shared with us the warmth that it had stored from the sun.
Every evening when we set up our sleeping area, we changed into dry clothes and shoes and laid our wet things out to dry on a rock, or tree limb or bush…whatever was handy. In the desert air, our things would usually be dry in a couple of hours.
We had been so limited on packing space that we only took 2 sets of river clothes and 2 changes of dry camp clothes. We wore the same clothes day after day, rinsing things out in the river water in the evening. I don’t know if this really helped to clean the clothes……as the river water was brown with silt.
Washing ourselves was another concern. On the first part of the trip, before the juncture with the Little Colorado River, the main river water was greenish and not too muddy. We could wash up in the river, using soap and shampoo, which I did several times. It felt so nice to get even partially clean! Once the river turned brown, it no longer was inviting. On the side hikes, we would wash ourselves in the clear creek water every chance we would get. No soap or shampoo allowed, but it felt so good to wash off the ever present layer of river silt. Though I do have to say, in this desert environment where we were not sticky with sweat, we really did not feel as ‘gross’ as we thought that we would feel going without baths or showers for 15 days.
Another major part of personal comfort at camp has to be addressed……the toilet. Every evening, the ‘groover’ would be set up in a private (even scenic?) location on the edge of camp. It would be available for use from about 5 pm until about 8 am the next day. You could spot the groover by the hand wash buckets and the line in the morning - just another opportunity to socialize ; )
The Grand Canyon is a ‘carry in- carry out, leave no trace’ site. And that means everything! A typical toilet set up would include a large ammo can fitted with a toilet seat (used for solid waste), a smaller ‘pee bucket’ which would be emptied into the river when the groover was taken down in the morning. A Tupperware container with toilet paper served as the ‘key’. It was kept by the hand wash buckets and when you needed to ‘go’, you took the TP with you, indicating that the toilet was in use. This insured some measure of privacy.
The groover was to contain only solid waste, though one could use the ‘pee bucket’ anytime one wanted some privacy. During the day, however, the need to pee was handled pretty casually. “The solution to pollution is dilution”…..so it was encouraged (actually required) that one pee in the river rather than behind a bush. This was pretty easily handled by the men in the group, but the water being cold required the women to use the ‘hover’ technique. It is commonly noted that at the beginning of each trip the guests would all seek out some distance and/or a sheltering rock for privacy. As the trip goes on, the distance that people were willing to walk decreased. I thought that it was particularly funny when, after a side hike, Fred and I came down a bit in front of the group and headed to a somewhat more private location, when suddenly it seemed like everyone else had the same idea. There we were, suddenly surrounded by half the group….all casually taking care of business. What really was the purpose of heading off behind the rock if everyone followed you?!
Another issue of camp life was how to deal with all one’s personal gear. This always presents a challenge. At first, we had been frustrated trying to fit everything into our 2 dry bags that we each were given and trying to devise a system for keeping everything in place. We managed to keep all of our ‘stuff’ organized in the dry bags …... Clothes were contained in Ziploc plastic bags and smaller things were organized into stuff sacks. This system worked well and we had everything that we needed (and a number of things that were extra). We were glad each evening to have dry clothes and dry sandals to change into when we got into camp. All of our stuff ‘lived’ on the edges of our sleeping area - always organized in the same relative position - within reach if we should need anything.
Sleeping out on the ground was another ‘little discomfort’ that we seemed to handle without a problem.
The sleeping pads that we used could have been a bit ‘cushier’……They seemed a bit thin, but we slept pretty well on them. Our sleeping bags always seemed to border on the edge of the sand. When we rolled over, I know that we were practically sleeping in a bed of sand.This, however, seemed to be not in the least bothersome. I guess you just give up fighting it or just get used to it.
I have to say that I was pleased and proud of us for the way that we adapted to the little discomforts of camp life. Far from being desperate for a shower and a bathroom and a bed, Fred and I both felt sad to see the trip come to an end.