It has been a little more than a week since I got off the Colorado River at Pearce Ferry, and there hasn’t been a day yet when I didn’t relive some part of the trip. This was my first trip through the Grand Canyon. In fact, it was the first time I’ve ever seen the canyon other than in photographs. It is difficult for me to think of the right words to describe such an amazing place. It’s even harder when to describe the feeling of living on the river in this place for 17 days. I will do my best to do it justice here but I’m sure I cannot fully convey this experience just in writing. If you’ve been there then you probably have some idea what I mean. If you haven’t been there then I should start by saying this. When you get the chance to go, go. Stop whatever you are doing and just go. Trust me. Life will be there waiting for you when you get back. You need to see this for yourself.
Our trip launched on September 30, which I think is the ideal time to go to the canyon. They stop letting motor rigs go after September 15th so you don’t have nearly as much commercial traffic zooming by on the loud boats and taking all the good camps. I had heard of this being a problem for other people in the past but we didn’t have to worry about it at all. This time of year is also after monsoon season. We had two overcast days with very light rain the night between them but otherwise it was blue sky all day every day. Highs in the mid 80’s and lows in the mid to low 60’s. Perfect weather for sleeping outside. I not sure why but we didn’t see any scorpions until our very last camp where we did find just one. I’m thinking maybe the cooler night temps made them less active, but we were told they’re everywhere and still never saw any. I didn’t put shoes on hardly at all for the two and half weeks we were there. I was worried about finding scorpions in the sand with my bare feet but fortunately it wasn’t a problem and after a couple days I didn’t even think about it any more. We never saw any snakes either which I was ok with. We did see tons of blue herons and a lot of big horn sheep though.
Our group “Peka’s 11” was comprised of 12 different people. We had 11 at all times. We traded one at Phantom. We had a good crew of people that came together pretty well over the course of the trip. Very few of us knew each other prior to the trip. Some of us including myself had some concerns about this aspect but I think it turned out great overall. It was really fun meeting and really getting to know a variety of people from different backgrounds and experiences. The trip definitely had potential to go entirely different than it did. Of the 12 people on our trip only 6 of us had any kind of white water or river experience at all, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some had never slept outside before. Of those 6 with river experience we had one experienced raft guide who had never rowed an oar boat before. The only person who had rowed at all was our trip leader. He had rowed a small relatively empty raft on class II and III, but never an 18 foot 2,000 lb. barge on Grand Canyon sized rapids. I know there was some nervousness in the group about this at the beginning. I was a little worried but to me that just makes it all the more of an adventure. One more element of the unknown to go down the river with us. Will we be able to get all of our gear and food down, or will we have a really epic rescue mission to end our trip after only a few days?
After house our collective confidence in our rowing ability was up, but it would still be tested several more times before we were done. Nearly everyone got some time on the oars and by the end we had a few people who were getting pretty good at it. (Disclaimer: when I say pretty good at rowing I mean compared to the rest of us. I haven’t spent much time around oar boats nor do I really know anything about them so what constitutes good at rowing in general I do not know.) In the beginning those of us who brought kayaks were discussing at the start of each day who “gets” to kayak and who “has” to row. By the end it was more who “gets” to row. For the flat water the raft was definitely the place to be. You could have easy access to food, water, beer, music, and tanning. You could stand up and walk around on the raft or roll out a paco pad and nap. If you were in a kayak you had to paddle to shore and pull all your crap out any time you wanted something and you can’t carry nearly as many beers with you. After a few days the rapids became almost an inconvenience. In the beginning I was stoked for the rapids and just thought I had to get through the flats, but after a few days it was the other way around. This trip is all about the place and the experience. Not so much the big rapids. Don’t worry there are plenty of big rapids but after a few days they’re all the same. The features are enormous but if you’re a skilled kayaker they’re so easy that after a few the novelty of their size wears off and there is no challenge. It is fun to paddle a play boat up a wave where you can take 5 strokes up the face and do a huge wave wheel off the top though.
I have heard mixed things about the quality of play on the canyon and I’m sure you will hear contradictions to my assessment but for what it’s worth here are my thoughts on canyon play. There are some rapids where down river play is really good. Wave wheels and kick flips are huge and awesome. However, most of the rapids I found to be very surgey making it hard to predict the waves. The peaks of the waves could disappear on crash on top of you suddenly and unexpectedly. There were some waves that looked like great surf waves but you were coming in so fast it was really hard if not impossible to catch them on the fly and very few had eddy service. There were many times I would come over the top of a wave and see what looked like a good surf hole but it was 10 feet or more to one side or the other and getting to it once I had seen it was not an option. One hole that I did catch turned out to be really shallow. You can’t tell the depth with the muddy water and I ended up plastered to the top of a submerged boulder instead of plugging for a loop. Personally I don’t think it is worth taking a kayak if you have raft support. Just enjoy relaxing on the raft and if you want some real excitement try rowing one of those things through the big rapids. All that said I have friends who say they love playboating the canyon so I guess you’ll just have to find out for yourself.
There are any number of places that people will say you should not miss while in the canyon. These places vary with each person because we all get something different out of each place, but for what it’s worth here are my top four places you need to see. These aren’t presented in order of ranking but rather in order of which name I remembered first. I don’t have pictures of most of them. I was too absorbed in the moment to think about my camera.
Red Wall Cavern:
This is a giant cave in the canyon wall. Plan to spend a little time here. It is great for pictures. The acoustics are stellar. It would be a good place for a dance party. Also games of frisbee and bocce would be really good here. This is one place I really want to go back to.
This was possibly my most favorite hike. You will want some decent shoes for this one and keeping your pfd and helmet on isn’t a bad idea either. It isn’t a very long hike but it consists mostly of chimney climbing waterfalls, swimming across a pool and then climbing another falls.
This creek bed is carved through steep winding walls that seem to go forever. I walked up the small stream a while and around every bend I found another begging me to go farther. In places the small stream of water disappears under the ground and in the deepest spots it was barely enough to make a splash in but it was easy to see where powerful torrents of water had carved out the walls over many years of flash floods. It was really cool being able to see the current just by looking at the dry rock walls
I don’t think anyone would disagree that Havasu is a must see. The canyon is beautiful with red rock walls, green vegetation, and kool-aid blue water. I actually have some pictures of this place further down in this post so I will let the pictures say what I cannot possibly describe. I will say this though. Havasu is the place where I coined the term “caneurysm.” Very very amazing place.
These next few pictures are not in chronological order with the others. These are from my gopro and my phone and so are out of place in the story.
I know I’ve said this several time already but I can’t emphasize it enough. You need to see this place for yourself. Everyone should see this place for themselves. Even if you hate sleeping outside, you should still go. You won’t regret it. To help make your trip the best possible here are a few things I learned on our trip…
Bring more beer. If you have rafts going you have plenty of space. Bring more beer. I would say no less than 10 beers per person per day. Sounds like a lot I know. I rarely have more than one or two in a day at home but on the river you have no where to be tomorrow and you don’t have to drive anywhere so why not have a beer on the raft at 930 in the morning? Trust me, you can’t have too much beer. It will fit and the cans get smaller as you drink them…
Run the meat. The features are huge but just point ‘er straight down the gut and go for it. We flipped three rafts on our trip and two were flipped while trying to avoid a feature. Rafts are huge and heavy. Nine time out of ten it’ll be fine if you just keep it straight and hit it hard.
Don’t rent dry bags. During our flips people who rented dry bags from the outfitters got pretty wet gear. Fortunately it’s Arizona so things dry fast, but still not what you want. Get good dry bags for your trip. You will want them. I know they are expensive but get watershed bags. They are really worlds ahead of everything else. On that note, be sure to close them. I left mine open between my feet while rowing thinking this particular rapid wasn’t going to even splash in the raft. Turned out I was wrong and even a watershed bag isn’t too dry if it isn’t closed.
Tie your gear in. Double check this and triple check this. We lost a fair bit of stuff when flipping rafts and once my camera bag got ripped out of the raft despite my certainty that it was tied in. Luckily it was a watershed and I picked it up floating in the eddy at the bottom of the rapid with no damage to my equipment.
Do your own dishes. We set up our chore distribution so that the dish crew was doing all the dishes after each meal. This was by far the worst chore assignment to have. I think next time I would make it so the dish crew is responsible for the pots and pans and everyone can do their own dishes after each meal.
Don’t have people hike in or out at Phantom. We lost one of our crew at Phantom and it kinda sucks. He didn’t want to go home and none of us wanted him to leave either. Hiking out I think is a bad idea. Hiking in isn’t as much a bad idea, but if you’re the one hiking in it is important to understand that you are joining the crew that has been together on the river for about a week and you are the FNG. It is a tough spot to be in but a couple bottles of liquor hiked in with you will go along way to help you fit in with your new crew.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my pictures and endless ramblings about the stout ditch. Hopefully you found some useful information here for your own trip in the future. Thanks for reading.
See You On The River