Rafting the Colorado River – Grand Canyon (September Launch)

Upon returning to the world of technology, hot showers and flushing toilets, I wanted to share our inspiring adventure from the last three weeks rafting down the Colorado River, inside the Grand Canyon.  These excerpts come directly from my highly-classified journal.  For those not aware of my journal entry style, I assign a title to each of the 18 days of the trip, along with daily highlight.  Here goes!

Type of Trip: Self-planned on a private permit, 18 people among 5 rafts, used food service company to plan meals

Dates: September 2006

Hotel: The great outdoors!  Phantom Ranch is a great half way point to hike in/out

Transport: Fly into Phoenix and drive to the launch point via shuttle/personal car.

Day 1: “The Launch”  Lee’s Ferry in Marble Canyon

  • Final rigging of the rafts, rafting a bit too long and having to eat PB&J sandwiches in the dark….mmmmm, yum.  Everyone reveals their instrument (required by our trip leader…the Coyote, aka my uncle).  Dick manages to misplace his trumpet mouthpiece in the sand, sad being that it is only our first night.  The first box of fine Merlot is cracked open.

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Day 2: “Dancing for Twizzlers” Rider Canyon, just below House Rapid

  • The “young boat”, manned by oarsman Jess and passengers Matt and myself…established a fun game in order to prove one’s worthiness of a highly coveted Twizzler – dancing.  Chris’ boat was also quite competent at the game.  Soon, all boats were participating as a silly method to stay warm as our first few days were chilly and rainy.  This day marked the famous birth of the “underwear tree” (our clothes were perpetually wet), when beef stroganoff became a regular in the leftovers, the “Birthday song” made its debut, and “ziplocking” became a verb.  Group dance parties by the camp fire becomes a regular evening event, along with group jam sessions (Jess brought an electric piano, Matt – guitar, me – flute).  Apparently, if one is to depart on a river excursion and there is a portable, battery-operated piano along, it is in your best interest to memorize the words to Poison’s “Every Rose Has it’s Thorn”.  Lastly, Brian was the victim of a stealth robbery of his food bag…between those ringtails, scorpions, and soon-to-be-discovered vicious tent carolers…one must always sleep with one eye open.
  • Day hike: North Cyn – it rained quite a bit that day, but we were still able to explore a lot of the canyon.  We sought refuge under a large rock outcrop and had lunch there.

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Day 3: “Three Chipmunks Band” Shinumo Wash, Red Wall Cavern.

  • Slow rapids day though the “Roaring 20’s” rapid definitely left its mark on the Hafner boat, Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 043with Linda at the helm.  In the Red Wall Cavern, the musical instruments saw their second appearance.  Pictures do not do the cavern justice – it is an enormous amphitheater carved out by high river flows.  A must stop for lunch.  I completed my first successful “high side” maneuver today – where you avoid flipping a raft in rapids by throwing all our weight up against the high side of the boat.  We finished off the day with Mike’s delicious halibut.
  • Day hike: Red Wall Cavern – Located along river mile 33, Redwall Cavern is a ginormous ampitheater carved by high river flows into the Canyon’s limestone walls. From afar, the cave looks deceptively small, especially compared to the towering cliff above it. It’s not until you get out of the raft and start walking into the gaping expanse, and keep walking and walking, that you realize just how impressive it is. John Wesley Powell estimated that it could hold upwards of 50,000 people. Modern estimates are considerably smaller, but this sandy cavern is still large enough to play an epic game of baseball or frisbee.


Day 4: “Commencement of the Water Wars” Nankoweap Ruins (~mile 40-53)

  • The river version of the Wild Wild West was born with the attack on Chris.  The plot and perfect execution of the attack by assailants, Jess and Erin, wrecked havoc on the Coyote Crew of 16.  Chris was standing on his raft, gazing off into the canyon walls (typical), when Jess strategically asked if there was a rapid approaching…both parties knowing full-well that there were no rapids for miles.  All the same, Chis stood puzzled, and turned his head for a split second.  In that second, a bucket of icy chocolate water soaked him from head to toe.  Erin, grinning devilishly, clenched the empty bucket…and two significant events occurred simultaneously: the beginning of the 1,000 year was and the nickname “Precious”.  This day also marked the beginning of our bocce ball obsession.  With a crew of adventure junkies and engineers, a new game was fashioned “Extreme Bocce” (names for it’s difficult, rock-laden courses).  Soon to follow – “Night Bocce”, with the reigning champions “Dos Beeches”.  For a sentimental reminder, the stars.  The stars. The stars.  Just wow, I have never seen a night sky the rivals the beauty of endless stars, shooting stars, planets, constellations and satellites.  So vividly cool.
  • Day hike: Nankoweap Ruins – super awesome Indian ruins carved into the side of the cliffs.  Incredible history lesson, and the views of the Colorado river from this spot are stunning.

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Day 5: ” This is one big ditch!” miles 53-71

  • Nurse Mol (my mother) went overboard in Tanner!  Thus, the cocktail clinic opened a little late this day.  Mom and Brian were thrown overboard on a monster wave in the middle of the rapid.  They were washed a ways downstream, only to be rescued by Woody in the ducky (kayak) in knee deep water.  Alliances began to form in the water wars.  All teams were suicide diving…going for legs, empty buckets, wristwatches…whatever they could get their hands on.  Julie’s ruthless commitment to the war gained her the title “Zena, the Warrior Princess”.  The name stuck until we realized another Backbuster had already claimed that name, so Julie’s was promptly changed to “Athena, Goddess of Justice”.  That woman knows revenge.  Dick coins the phrase “This is one big ditch!”, referring to the Canyon.

Day 6: “Poisidon’s Revenge” miles 71-87, including Hance Rapid

  • The oarsmen had their first scouting session just before the Hance Rapid (9/10 on the rapid scale) to determine how we should approach and tackle the beast.  Every oarsman had a specific method of attack.  Chuck always managed the courage to go first and be the “probe”.  Chris needed his angels down in the bow. Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 144 John needed absolute silence on his boat.  Coyote has a calm that manages to make one forget that they were in a smaller boat with a leak on the bottom.  Jess threw on his lucky bandana and smiled reassuringly.  Christine turned, non-chalantly, towards the dukcy and got ready to take Hance head-on.  Needless to say though, I think everyone was a little nervous despite appearances.
  • The aftermath: Jess, Matt and Erin were thrown out, Coyote was washed overboard, and Christine swam nearly all of the monster.  Jess somehow managed to hoist himself back into his own boat, row out of the rapid and rescue Matt…all in a matter of about 20 seconds.  Wendy, Julie and Chris graciously saved me and agreed to a temporary truce in the water war.  Christine was ultimately rescued as well, after a few unsympathetic encounters with boulders in the rapid.  I was pretty shaken up afterwards, and gagging on water for a while after.
  • Day hike: Clearwater Creek – on of the canyon’s best kept secrets.  We had the whole place to ourselves!  Great waterfall at the end.

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**Reflections on the first half of the trip**

The biggest challenge of the first half (before Phantom Ranch) was getting to know everyone in the group and discovering each other’s comfort zones.  We spent a lot of time rowing the flat water, with little current, and learning how to prepare the meals and pack/unpack our bags.  A lot of work to do, little day light to work with (9pm being absolute bedtime) and I obviously cannot ignore the fact that whenever there was a lull in the conversation, “Groover chat” came up (the Groover is our portable toilet).  The women wanted to Groover set up in hidden forested areas, emphasizing privacy.  The men, on the other hand, preferred the edges of vistas, with great views…great views for the groover and great views from camp of the groover.  Not my thing.

Day 7: “Pumpkin and his Seeds” Phantom Ranch, mile 87-96.5

  • We said good-bye to some of our esteemed friends, including Linda, Jess, and Woody.  We were introduced to our new comrades, Tom, Jim and Willy.  Chris, donning all orange clothing, became known as the “Pumpkin” (he preferred “Great Jack-o-Lantern”, for a more masculine title).
  • Day hike: Phantom Ranch – the midpoint of the rafting trip and the only place where members of the group can hike in/out.  There was also a payphone where we could make calls to our loved ones.  

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Day 8: “Day of the Gems” Crystal Rapid, miles 96.5-112

  • The rapids, named for precious gems, were fairly big in this stretch.  The crew scouted Crystal and all managed to find the line perfectly to avoid the big holes.  Excellent run by all oarsmen.  Chris’ boat, amidst the celebration, managed to find its way to another rock in the lower Crystal Rapids.  HIGH-SIDE!  Good thing he had the angels working for him.  Julie was also nominated for having the most adorable shiver in the group.

Day 9: “Longest Day Ever” Elves Chasm, miles 112-133.5

  • Covered a ton of ground today.  Grasshoppers have found their way onto our rafts.  ThIMGP1108is marked the day when Brian ran Bedrock and won the understatement of the year award “Yabba Dabba Do!”.  With a nonchalant, but somber, high-side instruction, Matt, Brian, Tom and Willy pin-balled down the water road less traveled.
  • Day hike: Elves Chasm– very cool hike where the oldest rock in the Canyon can be found (~1.8 billion years old!).  John was the first ambitious one to jump into the chilly pool beneath the falls and make his way up the cave to jump off the top.  

Day 10: “Mama and her Sherpas” Tapeats Creek

  • Note to self: a hike with the Coyote is never just a simple stroll down Main Street.
  • Day hike: Thunder River– this hike is absolutely stunning.  Cascading falls, water plunging out of every Canyon wall, vegetation so lush that you find it difficult to believe that you are in the middle of the desert. The picturesque landscape reminded me of a postcard.  The hike back to camp proved a little more difficult.  Molly was shimmied across the teeny excuse for a trail, hugging the side of the mountain.  Matt was in the front and Brian was bringing up the rear…that’s a family that knows the value of teamwork.  With the wind blowing wildly, the gravel trail narrowing, and the cacti calmly waiting at every bend for another innocent victim to embrace them…the group finally made it to the end.  The end of the trail, that is. We had gone the wrong way back!  Ultimately, we decided to free climb down the vertical face, with some scary exposure.  Not excellent for those with a fear of heights.  Luckily, with the help of some experienced climbers in the group, everyone got down safely and my mother was re-nicknamed “Mountain Goat Molly”.

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Day 11: “Tent Caroling and Food Fights” Deer Creek & Pancho Camp

  • This evening, at the request of the “Old-Wise One”, Chris nominated himself as the “Sacrificial Pole” for the pole dancing competitions.  John took the heavyweight title for the foot war championship, Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 148beating out our exquisite chef, Mike.  The tent caroling began with earnest.  Caroler’s at Jim’s tent saw two full moons that night.  We learned the true meaning of “hit ’em straight” and finding a “tight spot” on the river.
  • Day hike: Deer Creek – a neat day hike along the Thunder River with Hopi Indian hand prints embedded into the Canyon walls and small, warm-watered pools at the top.  The pools, with small waterfalls cascading into them, provided a nice shower amidst a hot, sweaty hike.

Day 12: “Upset at Matkat” Matkatamiba

  • We successfully ran Upset rapid later in the day (a 7 on the rating scale with current water levels)

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  • Day hike: Matkatamiba – hiking through the caverns of Matkat.  The pristine cavern, carver out by an ever meandering stream, was astounding simply based on its structure and color schemes.  Thin cavern walls in a symmetrical pattern of ghostly white, grey and blackish stripes accented by the water flowing through.  

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Day 13: “Eco-Quest: Are These Guys from New York City?” Havasu Canyon & camp at National Canyon

  • Layover day, due to the extended day hike.
  • Day hike: Havasu Canyon Hike – this was my absolutely favorite hike of the whole trip.  Known as the Garden of Eden in the desert, Havasu Falls is one of the most well-known waterfalls in the world. Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, the beautiful turquoise pools and spectacular waterfalls are breathtaking.  Wendy, Chris, Matt, Tom, Christine and myself embarked on a 4-hour hike through river crossings, over rock ledges, past the famous and lush Beaver Falls, and into the Havasupai Tribal Lands.  We were walking so fast to make it to Mooney Falls, we were likened to an NYC city pace.  Mooney Falls was astounding – huge turquoise falls billowing over the edge of the Canyon about 50 yards up.  The Falls cascade down into a pool of water only ankle deep.  Large, droopy trees grow from under the water and provide ample opportunity for rope swings over the smaller, descending waterfalls at the base of Mooney.  Truly a magical place.  

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Day 14: “Eco-Quest: Part II?” National Canyon

  • Perfect layover campsite.  Chris, John, Wendy and Willy set up a ropes system to get our group up the Canyon wall and into some spots unknown to our veterans.  This evening marked the All-Team Bocce Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 198Tournament.  The teams included Scorpions, Sacrificial Poles, The Hobbits, Wet Willies, Bleached Bums, Dos Beeches, Big Kahoneys, and the Trash Tours.  The night’s festivities were made up of limbo competitions, Lava Falls shots in honor of the River Gods, tent caroling, Dick’s trumpet playing TAPS, wheelbarrow races, lap dances performed by men…and so it was, the “15-year laugh” resonated throughout camp.

Day 15: “SPAM & Not-so-smart Bombs” Lava Rapid

  • Lava Rapid has been on our minds since we started the trip.  This scary, mega-sized rapid is a challenge for all who embark on a Colorado River trip.  In our case, success.  The oarsmen all found the bubble line, missed the Greyhound bus hole and dodged the meat grinder…need I say more?? The celebrations to follow were unprecedented.  Everyone had been storing a costume in the very bottom of their river bags for this moment alone.  We saw everything from an obviously chilly “Julie” to an actual “Piece of Crap”.  Chuck might have been surprised an albino toothless beaver didn’t make it to the party…or did it?  About 5 Budweiser/Bailey’s/Early Times Bourbon shots later.. the tent carolers were on a mission for Chuck.  The chants and animal grunts could be heard all over camp.  Chuck even stuffed a sleeping bag to try and dupe the poor, drunk tent carolers.  Gas was set alight, Dr. Evil disciples emerged in the kitchen, “Build Me Up Buttercup” became a theme song, and the Hammus Alabamus still lingered in the pot.

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Day 16: “Tenacious Tadpoles” mile 191-205

  • The group all wore t-shirts and skivvies to breakfast in honor of their beloved trip leader.  Apparently, one big night can put an entire crew to bed by 8pm.
  • Day hike: Spring Canyon – not a very exciting hike. Minimal water surrounding the algae-laden creek filled with tadpoles and mini frogs.

Day 17: “I don’t see anyone here who is above the rim” camped at upper 200, Pumpkin Springs

  • Last full day and I cannot believe how far we have all come.  Tom’s boat officially became the party boat of the trip, manned by Dick, Willy, Jim and Tom.  The were armed with water guns and a full drag-bag of Budweiser.  Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 252The 1,000 year war saw a peace treaty after Chuck pulled out the secret weapon, and the water equivalent of an Atomic Bomb: the pee-bucket.  The Hobbits won the Bocce Tournament.  The theme of the trip became “Go Big, or Go Home”.
  • Day hike: Pumpkin Springs – cool little pool on the edge of the river but only the Coyote braved the arsenic waters.

Day 18: “Feeling Sedimental” Diamond Creek Take-out

  • Brian’s wit inspired today’s title.  Back to civilization.  Extremely sad saying goodbye to our new, but lifelong friends.  LAST CALL FOR THE GROOVER!  An epic adventure that will stay in my memory for a lifetime.