Grand Canyon Raft Trip


By DAVE GJESTSON
Our group of 18 was from all over the country with most over age 60!

In 1869, John Wesley Powell led nine men in a harrowing exploration expedition from the Green River in Wyoming all the way south to the junction with the Colorado River. Entering the huge river canyon with thundering rapids in wooden boats with little skill and no knowledge of what lay beyond, Powell and his men documented its beauty and somehow survived to coin the name, Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon received National Park status in 1919 after being classified as the Game Preserve by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 followed by Grand Canyon National Monument status in 1908. Ultimately, the adjoining forest and canyon would cover 1,217,403 acres, and attract more than five million visitors a year. It is home to 1,757 vascular plants, five fish species (two endangered), and only 90 mammals, of which 18 are rodents and 17 bats. Mountain sheep and mule deer are frequently seen along the river. Three species of scorpions and six species of rattlesnakes keep land based recreationalists alert!

Packing gear for 16 days into just two wet bags was a challenge!

We first met as a group the night before launch in Flagstaff, Arizona for a general indoctrination talk, gear purchase opportunities, and receipt of two of our provided wet bags plus a very important gunny sack where we were allowed to pack beverages of our choice!. A third bag with sleeping bag, tarp and sheet was already on waiting rafts. Rolling out by 6 a.m. on launch day, a bus took us 2/1/2 hours north to Lees Ferry located several miles below the Glen Canyon Dam. There, we met our guides, received safety, loading and operational instructions.

Trip leader Jamie Moulton briefs our travel group

Our convoy was made up of five, 18-foot, self bailing, oar propelled, rubber rafts, a six-person paddle boat, and two rubber kayaks (duckies). The large oar boat accommodated two or three people plus a rowing guide. When the duckies were in the water, the oar boats only carried two passengers. Our group had two volunteers choosing to paddle the duckies right from the start as well as through most of the whitewater rapids we would face on this journey.

The oar boats were very stable and manned by a guide who had to pass a very rigorous qualification procedure and three baggage boat trips before being permitted.

The paddle boat was for the adventurists among us.

The duckie was for those that did not fear freezing water (doesn't include me!).

We would face more than 120 rapids down river that were classified by the Grand Canyon National Park system as Class 1-10. The normal whitewater classification system uses a I-VI scale. Our route would pass through many on the upper range of both, and pounding hearts ruled the day. Most rapids produced a sound from a quarter of a mile out that sounded to me like a vacuum cleaner. On approach from about 100 yards, big rapids sounded like a freight train!

Approaching the rapids, freight train sounds had hearts pounding!

Scouting Class V rapids was advisable.

Going into the Class V Lava Falls Rapids was a trip highlight!

Our rafting adventure was a hikers special, meaning we would spend more time hiking than most commercial trips. Hikes were not like John Muirs sauntering technique smelling the flowers along the way, and often involved scrambling up severe slopes hand over hand. Some started out on flat ground but tough on aging legs because of sugar sand (dry, deep sand), and usually with 90-degree heat bearing down.
The canyon terrain offers insecure footing, unfriendly plants and a host of ants, spiders, scorpions, and rattlesnakes requiring attentive camping and hiking!

Hand over hand climbing 1,000 feet or more above the river required concentration!

The reward for summiting was awe-inspiring!

Camping on the river has been refined by CanX to a very efficient transaction involving landing, anchoring rafts, unloading, and setting up kitchen, water filtering station, wash stands, can crushing site, and toilet. Everyone was also briefed about where everything was to be located. Campers formed lines to unload gear. Wet bags were passed from person to person to a pile, and the procedure repeated for kitchen supplies, water station gear, toilet parts, beverage bags, chair bags, tent bags, and a variety of other gear.

Unloading gear at camp sites involved everyone

Once all equipment was unloaded, campers were released to find a suitable site for their own camping arrangement. This involved locating two numbered wet bags containing personal gear and sleeping bag (with tarp and bed sheet) as well as a smaller wet bag carried on the raft containing water containers, rain gear, camera, day pack, sarong, sun screen, and other things needed during the day. A tent was available if needed but I slept under the stars on the tarp all but two nights when some light rain occurred.

Most campers used a tent because of the spider/scorpion/snake risk

I slept under the stars 13 of 15 rainless nights.

Evacuation of bladders and other forms of defecation were embarrassing topics but essential daily! The guides treated the topic bluntly but tactfully. The first day briefing clarified that all peeing took place in the river at all times (the solution to solution is dilution). Easy for the men, and a little more awkward for the women. However, people quickly learned how to be discreet and respectfully looked the other way when someone waded into the river with peeing on their mind.

Pooping was a bit more difficult but handled quite cleverly. Upon arrival in camp, the kitchen area was announced as was the intended location of the toilet facilities, usually 150-200 feet away from the camping area. The toilet itself was a metal .50 caliber ammunition box called The Groover. It got its name from the early days when people just sat on the edges of the container and it literally left a groove in your butt from the effort! We had a toilet seat on the box so it was pretty cushy! All waste was hauled out with us!
Guide Paulie explains toilet procedures to a fascinated group!

Sanitation was a priority, and CANX procedures went the extra distance to insure hands were washed after using the Groover, and always before every meal. A cleverly designed wash stand was placed at the Groover trail head as well as near the kitchen area. It consisted of a covered five gallon pail of clean water with another empty five gallon pail on top. A foot pump drove the water from the water pail to a single pipe-faucet hooked to the top pail. A container of liquid soap was always on the ground by the water pail. Not one person got sick on this trip!

The wash stand use was mandatory and kept us all healthy on this trip!

The following pictures depict trip highlights and give the viewer a good synopsis of what this adventure was all about. Questions and information about Grand Canyon rafting can be directed to Dave at davegjestson@comcast.net

On the river





Hiking











Camp Life