Category Archives: Grand Canyon 2011

1200 people still in Grand Canyon National Park. And doing just fine.

Rafters waiting and hoping they may still get on the river.

Rafters waiting and hoping they may still get on the river. (photo by Tom Martin)

To my government representatives at all levels:
There are currently over 1200 people in the Grand Canyon National Park, rafting the river right now.

In the heat of all that is going on with the Federal government shutdown, there is one thing that is happening that just makes no sense.  I know there are many people severely impacted by this, but in one case actions are actually being taken that are using more resources than before the shutdown while severely hurting a group of people in a way that is irreversible.  I am talking about access to the boat ramp for rafting groups scheduled to raft the Grand Canyon. 50 people a day are arriving at the boat ramp and being denied access.
This is not a simple matter of people going on a rafting trip vacation and this does not impact the closure of the park as is proven by the 1200 people that are currently on the river now and doing just fine.

The problem:
1. People who are being kept from the river that have pre-paid $2000 to the National Park Service for the access permit. This permit covers the costs of staff who meet them at the boat launch.
2. The park does not need to be open to give these groups access to the river. They only need access to the boat ramp many miles upstream of the Canyon.
3. The park service is currently employing 5-8 park rangers to blockade the road to the boat ramp 24 hours a day.  Under normal operations, the park has only 2 people at the boat ramp for no more than a few hours each day to give a safety inspection of the boaters’ gear and a safety briefing before they launch.  Working with the permit holders instead of against them would actually reduce the park’s costs.  Allowing these people onto the river will have no impact on staffing requirements downstream.  Emergency services are required at all times anyway and are exempt from the furlough. (hear the interview linked below)
4.  These rafting trips are fully prepared to be completely self-sufficient for the 21 days they are in the canyon. There are currently over 1200 people already in the Grand Canyon, rafting the river.  They are out of contact with the rest of the world, they have no way of even knowing what is happening and their presence has NO impact on whether the park is open or closed.
5.  Launch dates are given by a lottery 2 years in advance. Some people have been trying to get a permit for over 10 years.  For those fortunate enough to win a launch date, they then spend the next 2 years organizing and planning the trip.  This includes getting a crew of 16 people together; making special arrangements to get 3-4 weeks off from work; planning travel to/from the Canyon from all parts of the country and even the world; spending $18,000 or more on gear rental and food preparation from one of the outfitters.  Note that this is also costing the outfitters $20,000 – $100,000 per day that they can’t launch these groups and this money is unrecoverable.  Their margins are very low and just a couple weeks of this could drive them out of business.
6.  These groups scheduled to launch have no way of knowing if they will get onto the river on their scheduled date or not with the current situation.  They have no choice but to make the trip to Arizona where they are finding out as they arrive that they are being denied.
7.  If a launch date is missed, there is no way to give that group a new launch date. This is a necessary park service rule.  The river corridor can only support a certain number of people at a time.  Launch permits are booked solid every single day for the next 2 years.  This is limited by the small number of places suitable for camping along the river.  Also, the logistics of getting a group together are immense. For most people, they already have a very tight schedule.  Airline tickets are non-refundable, arrangements for time away from work, etc.   And the outfitters are booked to capacity many months in advance.  It is very unlikely they could reschedule their trips even if that were an option.

Due to the great hurdles and logistics involved in rafting the Grand Canyon, this is truly a one-chance-in-a-lifetime experience for most people.  Every day the park service blocks ligitimate access to the river, they are causing huge financial and emotional impacts unnecessarily on more than 50 people.  Some of the people who have been turned away have been waiting for a permit since 1995.
Listen to this brief interview by NPR of a permit holder at the blockade.

Listen to this NPR interview with National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

Short Youtube video showing the scene at the roadblock by one of the rafters.

The solution:
1.  End this government shutdown immediately.  Best solution, but also highly unlikely.
2.  Get special funding to pay to keep the park open.  Governor Brewer of Arizona has been asked to have their state do this.  Considering the revenue generated by the 3 million annual visitors to the park, this would seem like an easy decision, but she doesn’t appear close to doing this.
3.  Allow the rafting trips access to Lees Ferry boat ramp as usual.  Reduce the manpower needed at the boat ramp and allow these groups to proceed without adding any burden to the park.

Now some people may say that getting turned away from a vacation doesn’t compare to the other problems being caused by this shutdown, like Meals on Wheels or domestic violence centers.  Everyone would agree there are more life-threatening issues at stake.  But there is nothing preventing us from working on finding solutions to as many possible issues as we can at the same time.  And this one is such an incredibly easy fix that actually saves money and resources, it doesn’t make sense not to do it.

Call to action:
1.  Please contact National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and present this idea to him.
National Park Service
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Phone (202) 208-3818

2.  Please contact Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga and urge him to do the same.

3.  Please contact Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and encourage her to help at least fund the boat ramp operation if not the park.
Phone (602) 542-4331

4.  Please work to get this leadership gridlock resolved.

4 Park Service vehicles and a handful of Park Rangers block Lees Ferry access 24 hours/day

4 Park Service vehicles and a handful of Park Rangers block Lees Ferry access 24 hours/day (photo by Tom Martin)

Wondering what these people are missing?  Check out the journal of my trip.


Grand Canyon river permit holders scheduled to launch tomorrow (Oct 1, 2013) will be revoked!

Other group showing organization at the put-in

Rigging boats at the put-in

(BULLETIN UPDATE: Time is of the essence for those about to lose their river permits this week. Please contact AZ governor and share your story and concern at how this uniquely impacts river runners. Call their office at 602-542-4331 AND send an email via her website at (scroll to the bottom) AND send a fax to 602-542-1381. She can help, but needs encouragement.  Read about it here.  Every day that goes by, costs 3-5 trips of 16 people their once-in-a-lifetime vacation.)

Wow, this is an injustice beyond belief or sanity.   When the Federal Government shuts down tomorrow, National Parks will be forced to close.  This isn’t just a matter of not being able to go camping.   For Grand Canyon river permit holders scheduled to launch during this government shutdown, it means they will be denied access to the river.  THEIR PERMITS WILL BE REVOKED.  OK, I know there are many things impacted, but the consequences of a closure by even one day are huge for those who have a launch date that is cancelled.  Here is why:

If you have a permitted trip on the Grand Canyon, you get assigned a specific date that you must launch.  If you are even one day late, you don’t go.  It typically costs a minimum of $25,000 in non-refundable gear rental, food, transportation to/from AZ, etc for a standard permit of 16 people.  Not to mention they had to make arrangements to be away from work for as much as 4 weeks and spent 1 to 2 years in preparation for the trip. When the park closes, these people will be forbidden access to launch on the river.  Not just delayed, but CANCELLED.  Did I mention permits are given by a very competitive lottery?  You’re lucky to even get one.  Permits are given 2 years in advance.  So those people are going to be screwed in a very big way.   About 3 to 5 groups launch each and every day of the year.  That is a huge financial loss and emotional loss to each group of people denied access to the river.  In a nutshell, the government is cancelling their vacation and keeping the money.

Keep in mind, these groups are fully prepared to travel the next 21 days fully self-supported with no interaction from the outside world.  In fact, it is likely they won’t see anyone else, including park rangers, for the next 3 weeks except occasionally crossing paths with other groups that are rafting the river like they are.  For that matter, anyone who is on the river right now has no way of even knowing that the park is closed and no one else will be following behind them.  Perhaps tomorrow, someone is planning on hiking in at Phantom Ranch, the half-way point where many trips swap people who only do the upper or lower half.  That person will not be permitted to hike in?!  Yet there will also be people hiking out who also have no way of knowing what is happening.  If someone was coming to pick them up, they won’t even be able to do that.  And if the person hiking in was supposed to row one of the group’s rafts, they will be without an oarsman!

I find it appalling that those park personnel could not be allowed to volunteer to work to keep this system operating.  If necessary, they would take unpaid leave later, when it could be scheduled and planned for.  I would happily volunteer my time to help keep the park open during this Mickey Mouse affair.  Unfortunately, that isn’t an option either.  I have led 2 trips down the river and both times we launched in October.  I keenly know the work that goes into planning and preparing for such a trip, the anticipation, and pure joy of finally being there and pushing off from the bank to begin that amazing journey.  My heart goes out to everyone will have such a wonderful experience irreparably scarred as a result of people in Washington DC selfishly setting policies that needlessly prevent the river runners access to the river.  A shame on both the park service and the government that they have made no contingency plan to accommodate this need in such circumstances.  There is nothing physically preventing those people from launching their trip.  It is not being disrupted by a flood or a drought or an earthquake.  Simply by political decisions made far away and blind of the senseless impact.

The first time I went down the river, our launch date was October 15, 2008.  If you recall, that was one week into the financial crisis.  It was also in the heat of a very acrimonious presidential election.  And I can say for the month I was on the river, it was also some of the most peaceful, tranquil, contented time of my life.  At that time that was possibly the only place I could have been within the borders of this country and still escapee the wraiths known as politics — intangible, bodiless, without form and that which cannot be destroyed or dispelled, yet they sap the life and happiness of everyone they come in contact.  Sadly, this time, those people looking for a similar reprieve as I had, will suffer worst from the very thing they were probably most trying to escape.

We, the people, should not tolerate this from the people we elected to lead.  Make your voice heard!

Here is a copy of a newsletter published by River Runners for Wilderness that gives a few more details.  Visit their facebook page at :
Also, you might appreciate this more if you read the river log I have published from my second trip.  I plan to continue the story again in the next few weeks.
RRFW Riverwire
Lees Ferry to Close if Government Shuts Down
September 30, 2013
As a United States Government shutdown looms large, plans are now in place to close all National Parks across the country on October 1, 2013. The closures will impact all recreational opportunities at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, including the cancellation of all river trips.

According to Grand Canyon National Park officials, river runners who have already launched downstream into Grand Canyon National Park will be able to complete their river trip.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area officials, who operate Lee’s Ferry, note that should the government shutdown go into effect, the closure of Lee’s Ferry will start with a “soft closure” beginning at 8:00 am, with a hard closure from noon on, after which no river trips will be allowed to launch.

Kansas river runner Hilary Esry won the river permit lottery last year for an October 7, 2013 launch date after first becoming interested in running Grand Canyon twenty years ago. “We have friends flying in from as far away as Alaska on non-refundable tickets and have spent over $17,000 so far in NPS fees, food and equipment rental. I have a contract with the Federal Government allowing me to launch, and so far, I have not been contacted from the National Park Service at all about a pending closure of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon” she said. “We expect to be on our own and except for the mandatory orientation at Lee’s Ferry, we do not expect to interface with anyone from the NPS. I can’t tell you how nerve wracking this is for our trip.”

The Grand Canyon National Park web site states there are sixteen river trips scheduled to launch in the first seven days of October. Thirteen of those trips are public trips while three are concession guided river trips. There are sixty-one river trips scheduled for the month of October, twelve of which are concessions trips and forty-nine are public trips.

Officials at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area state that roadwork on the Lee’s Ferry road will continue, as the funds for that project are non-appropriated funds. River runners who have parked their vehicles at the long term parking lot at Lee’s Ferry will be allowed to retrieve their vehicles but this will require a law enforcement escort.

Fishing at Lee’s Ferry, including from the bank and by boat, both public and guided, will not be allowed. The smooth water concessions river trips from the base of Glen Canyon Dam downstream to Lee’s Ferry will also cease operation.
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Doing well or not, it’s all about attitude.

I first posted this in my status on Facebook.  But the comments that followed my post made me realize this is relevant to a broader audience, so I will share it again here.
These people on the Carnival cruise adrift in the Gulf of Mexico are complaining because they have no air conditioning, no lights, no flushing toilets, limited hot and cold food, stuck in close quarters with a bunch of people they don’t know. Some are sleeping in tents outside because it’s so hot.  Funny.  We had the same conditions rafting the Grand Canyon and we all thought it was fantastic!
Interesting how the way you frame the situation can make all the difference between loving it and hating it. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Reminds me of this story…
Share your thoughts.

Of Dogs and Whitewater Rafting

Recently I have noticed people bringing their dogs with them on the river when they go whitewater rafting.  As a dog lover and a whitewater boater, I want to stir a discussion on the merits and risks of taking dogs whitewater rafting.  I once had a great river dog that made many trips with me to the river.  Jenny was a black lab who LOVED the water.  We did many flat water trips where she would swim beside me for awhile and then climb onto the back of my kayak or sit in my lap and ride for awhile before jumping back in to swim some more.

But as a kayaker, there was no way of taking her down a whitewater river.  For rafters, this is at least physically possible.  I think most would agree that flat water is quite safe and class 5 whitewater is definitely out.  The question then becomes: When does the risk outweigh the reward?  Before you answer that, let me start by describing an event I experienced this weekend.  I may have some details a bit off, but it’s close enough.

I was kayaking with a group from the WRRR club on the Sauk River. 
The Sauk gauge reading was about 12,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) which I think equates to about 5000 cfs on that section. The Sauk is class 3-4 at that water level with plenty of rather large keeper holes (hydraulics).
The group consisted of 2 solo oar rafts, 2 rafts with several people, 4 solo catarafts, one inflatable kayak and one kayak (me).  One of the solo rafters had his dog in the raft with him.  Well, I guess technically that means he isn’t solo.

At one point the group was a bit spread out.  The solo rafter with the dog dropped into a powerful hydraulic.  Then one of his oarlocks broke.  His dog got bounced out of the raft while the raft and oarsman stayed in the hole. The dog had on a life jacket and was swimming down stream.  The current here was smooth and swift as it drained into the next rapid.  The dog was about 20′ from the bank and there was little chance that the dog could reach shore before being washed into the next rapid which was a class 3 rapid several hundred yards long.  Even if the dog could reach shore, it would have been hard to climb out of the river because the water level was high, the bank was steep and covered in overgrowth, and there was no slack water or eddy near shore.  All of the other rafts were already running the next rapid and were out of sight or rescue range.

The raft finally washed out of the hole and was about 50′ upstream of the dog.  At this point the oarsman moved the oar into the triangular support for the oarlock to give him some ability to use that oar.  He had very little control of his boat as he continued to wash on down the river and into the next rapid.

Fortunately, the IK was close enough to help the dog.  I saw it happen, but was too far away to help rescue the dog.  The paddler in the IK was able to get to the dog and pull it  from the 49 degree water and into his lap before washing on down into the rapid.

We were extremely lucky that it turned out so well.  As it was, only 4 of the boats in the group would have even been able to rescue the dog and still control their boat in the next rapid.  One of those just happened to be close enough to help.  The water temperature was cold enough that such a long swim through the next rapid would have been life threatening by the temperature alone (Keep in mind this chart is based on an adult human.  Heat loss is faster for a 40 Lb dog though fur helps.)  Also, the rapid downstream was long with several large hydraulics that could have drown the dog, even with a life jacket on.  At best, it would have been battered and bruised.

Dogs do not have any understanding of the dangers of whitewater, so owners should not think that the dog knows what to do if it finds itself swimming a rapid.  Thinking “Oh, he’ll just swim to shore.” is a dangerous assumption.  Even if the dog does swim to shore, is it going to the right one?  Often, the closest shore is not the safest place to go.  Once on shore, what will the dog do?  In this case, there would have been no way to get back up to the dog.  That side of the river was blocked by a rock wall along side the rapid.  Hiking back upstream would have to be on the opposite side of the river which, as you can see from the video below, is over 100′ wide.  Dogs do not understand the risks of a foot entrapment from standing up in swift water.  Dogs cannot grab a rope and be pulled to shore.  All rescue attempts are hands-on and require a person being put into the same risk as the dog.

So not only does having a dog on the river pose a risk to the dog, it introduces an inherent risk to the entire group.  In this example, the person paddling the IK took a risk by rescuing the dog and running a rapid with it sitting in his lap.  I took a risk by trying to get to the scene to offer help.  The dog owner took greater risks trying rescue the dog while dealing with a broken oarlock.  This time it turned out well, but there are plenty of other places or circumstances on this river where things could have been much worse.  What if the oarsman had also been thrown from the raft?  We would have given all our attention to him, not the dog.  This swim happened in class 3 water.  What if it happened in a class 4 rapid?  What if it happened just upstream from a strainer log?  What if it happened in the hydraulic upstream where one of our rafts got caught in a keeper hydraulic for 45 minutes?  Yes, 45 minutes!  Here is a brief video of that event.

We did not take any big risks to try to free this raft from the hydraulic.  But what if the dog were in that raft?  I assure you, the group would have taken much greater risks.

I have had my share of whitewater and flat water rescues. One of the things I was taught as a professional lifeguard was to always be asking “what if…?”  and “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” then plan for it.  Inevitably, you probably didn’t think of the worst thing that could happen, but it would at least help you prepare for what actually does happen so you don’t end up on the six o’clock news.

So I ask you:  Do dogs belong on whitewater?

How to have your own Grand Canyon Expedition: Grand Canyon 2013 Main Lottery is Open and Accepting Applications

As you read this tale do you wish you could have your own experience rafting the Grand Canyon?  It’s easier to get there than you might think.  Yes, you can take the easier, more expensive route of going on a professionally guided trip.  But doing your own private trip has an element of risk and excitement that you won’t feel if you have guides that have been down hundreds of times.  A private trip is truly an expedition.  Yes, there are significant logistics involved and you’ll need people experienced in whitewater to row the rafts.  (I had lots of whitewater experience before the trip, but almost no rowing experience, and I made it down the river fine.) But a private trip is really the best way to go.

If you have a love of the wilderness and adventure, a tolerance for camping for an extended period of time without all the luxuries of “civilization”, then you can get a trip of your own together.  Before you go, I strongly recommend experiencing at least one or two extended trips of 5 or more days before going to the Canyon, so you know what is involved.  Those trips don’t have to be river trips either.  Backpacking trips will provide a similar experience.  This helps you learn what gear and clothing works for you and what doesn’t.  You will also want some experience rafting so you know what the experience is like running rapids in a raft. You can learn more about it at their website:

So what are are you waiting for?  Step 1: Apply for the lottery and pay your $25.  Step 2: Win a launch date and begin planning.
The lottery just opened today and they will be accepting applications for the annual lottery from February 1 to February 22 for launch dates in 2013.  Here is the email they sent announcing it:

Date:    02/01/2012 07:19 AM
Subject:    2013 Main Lottery is Open and Accepting Applications

The 2013 Main Lottery is now accepting applications for 449 calendar year 2013 noncommercial river trips. Lottery applications will be accepted through noon MST on Wednesday, February 22, 2012, and the lottery drawing will take place by the end of that week. Applicants can log in after Friday, February 24, 2012 to find out if they won.

Lottery winners will have until noon MST on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 to pay their trip deposits ($400 for standard sized trips, $200 for small sized trips).

A list of the available launch dates can be found at

Additionally, the following 2012 launch dates were previously released in follow-up lotteries and were not claimed. They are currently available outside of the lottery system to the first live caller to 1-800-959-9164 (i.e. cannot be claimed by leaving a message).
Standard Sized Trips (1 – 16 people):
February 2012: 3
March 2012: 1, 3, 4

If you need any assistance, please ask. We are happy to help.

Steve Sullivan, Grand Canyon River Permits Office


The Grand Canyon River Permits Office sends out emails announcing the main lottery
and follow-up lotteries. You can choose to receive all,
none, or any combination of these emails. To set your email preferences,
login and then click on “Edit Personal Information”.

To be sure our emails get to you, add the following two email addresses
( and to your email contacts.
This should prevent River Permits Office emails from being blocked by a spam filter.

Grand Canyon River Permits Office Contact Information

Phone:  800-959-9164 (toll free)
928-638-7843 (optional non-toll-free number to same line)

Fax:   928-638-7844

Mail:  National Park Service
Grand Canyon River Permits
1824 S. Thompson St., Suite 201
Flagstaff, AZ 86001


Main River Permit Information:  – click on River
Available Launch Dates:
Noncommercial River Trip Regulations:
Frequently Asked Questions:
Statistics From Past Lotteries:
Lottery Website:
Password Reset:


BlackBerry Business Cloud Services: The truth behind the story from one who knows

There is a lot of talk going around about BlackBerry Business Cloud Services  on various blogs:  Paul Farris’ Blog   Volker Weber’s blog
First, let me say, unless you work(ed) for Microsoft or RIM, this is totally irrelevant and transparent.  BlackBerry support has been available with Office365 for years.  The big deal here is that RIM finally finished their cloud solution which was code-named “Contrail”.  This has been long in the making.  It’s not insider news, it’s just that few people noticed it when published it back in March 2011.

All it means is that instead of those BES servers sitting in Microsoft’s data centers, they will be sitting in RIM’s data centers.  So what’s the big deal?  It’s all in the cloud, so you don’t care where the servers sit.  What’s more, this doesn’t really apply to all of Office365, only the standard edition for smaller customers.  The bigger customers are hosted in dedicated environments and they won’t be moving their BES services for awhile.  But it doesn’t matter.  You won’t notice any difference and the transition is completely invisible to the customer, save that as it is RIM’s product, they will probably be more responsive to upgrades to the latest version and more savvy in troubleshooting issues.  This is really more a positive press opportunity than anything for a company overdue for some good news.

If there were anything even mildly interesting in this story it would be that Domino isn’t mentioned.  But I expect that’s just around the corner and they probably don’t want to confuse the message.  If your company uses Exchange, you don’t care about Domino. (By the way, LotusLive AKA Smart Cloud also supports BES deployments)  This will also give RIM a second press release of glory when they make a similar announcement for Domino.

Added a page with all Grand Canyon Story Links

If you have been following the story of our Grand Canyon expedition, I have created a page with all the links to each day’s journal entry.  Click Grand Canyon Journal Links in the banner at the top. Now you can be sure you haven’t missed a day!

Thanks for all the questions and comments.  It adds life to the story to have the dialog.

Grand Canyon Expedition Day 7 Part I: What it means to be living on Canyon Time

Previous Post: Day 6 – Little Colorado R and a birthday
First Post: The Story Begins…

Morning of Day 7.  This is the earliest I have gotten up so far.  It’s 5:30 AM and still dark, a good time to do some writing by headlamp and watch the sunrise.
TRIP TIP:  If you go camping, get a headlamp with a red light.  It uses much less battery power and it doesn’t affect your night vision or disturb others.

Quiet time in the morning

Quiet time in the morning

I had a lot of vivid dreams again last night as I have nearly every night on the trip.  I never have such dreams at home, or at least I don’t remember having them when I wake up.  I don’t sleep as deeply here as at home in bed, but I feel very well rested in the morning.  It was the same on my first trip to the Canyon as well.  Is it from going to bed so early?  Is it all the physical and mental exercise I get all day long? [Yes, it is very mentally stimulating to row as you are always giving a bit of attention to where your raft is heading and making minor adjustments to stay in the current.  Even in the flat water when you kick back and relax, you have to keep aware of where you are or you’ll get caught in an eddy and find yourself drifting in circles as the rest of the group floats on by.]  Or maybe the dreaming comes from sleeping on a 2″ thick sleeping pad in the fresh, cool Canyon air instead of on a big mattress indoors.  Or is it just that all the worries and stresses of a busy life back home don’t exist here leaving the mind clear?  The wilderness is so remote and the surroundings so distracting that I’m too busy living in the present to be thinking of what is going on outside the Canyon. It’s like meditation 24 hours/day for 21 days straight.

Here in The Canyon, all man-made boundaries and measures fade.  Without electricity, lights, television, or alarm clocks, the artificial measures of time disappear making it easy to adapt to the natural rhythms of the day, going to bed soon after dark and rising at dawn’s first light if not earlier.  The calendar loses meaning.  Days of the week are soon forgotten.  The phases of the moon become the units of measure for the calendar.

Halloween Moon in the Grand Canyon

Halloween Moon in the Grand Canyon

Days are only tracked by the number of nights camping since we started.  Even the notebook with the menu plan identifies the meals for each day by the camp number, not the date.  Today we will be sleeping at Camp 7.  I can recall the date of the month only because I have a paper listing our planned itinerary for each day’s camp and on it also are the dates.  The absence of man-made labels marking time feels like a map of the world devoid of the lines and colors marking cities, countries and other imaginary political features.  Just the real, natural features of the earth and time.    My schedule indicates Camp 7 is October 31st, All Hallows Eve.  Cool!  Glad we brought costumes to celebrate the holiday.  Trips run all year long.  I can only imagine what it’s like to be here for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

My Grand Canyon itinerary

Trip itinerary I carried along with my journal. Note the revisions made during the trip. (click to zoom)

Menu binder provided by PRO River Outfitters

Menu binder provided by PRO River Outfitters. Work teams written on left page. Note the camp # on the page and the tabs.

Clouds are starting to move in from the west.  It’s hard to tell yet if it will bring rain, but I expect cooler weather.  On Day 4 we had high clouds that were a warm front.  Not this time.  Lower, thicker clouds and the wind is starting from the North, straight down the Canyon.  Understanding weather is useful knowledge on extended trips in the wilderness.  The weather here is very different from the Pacific Northwest, but it is much like Florida’s weather which I know well.

Ariel mentioned to me last night that she keeps hearing people say “When Ariel is gone…” or “after Phantom Ranch…”  [Ariel will be hiking out at the half way point at Phantom Ranch.] She is wondering if people don’t want her here. That was *my* mistake.  I made it very clear before the trip that everyone shall be mindful of their behavior until after she has left the trip.  I know they didn’t mean it the way it sounded and she understood it once I explained it.  I have heard many times how everyone is enjoying having her along.

Hula hoops in the Grand Canyon

Hula hoops are a great way to warm up in the morning!

Today we will be doing a loop hike starting from right here, going up Carbon Creek Canyon and then follow Lava Canyon back down to the river a mile downstream.  A few people will row most of the rafts down to confluence of Lava Canyon, park the rafts there and hike the same loop in the opposite direction.  When they get back here to camp they will get in the remaining raft and row it down to rejoin the group at Lava Canyon.  From there we will continue down river to the next camp.  We will be  heading to Upper Rattlesnake camp at river mile 74.5.  There is a hike there too.

Pirate Raft in the Grand Canyon on Halloween

My raft is ready for Halloween!

Craig is dressed for Halloween too

Craig is dressed for Halloween too

OK, time to pack up and get ready for the hike!

Hiking up Carbon Creek Canyon

Hiking up Carbon Creek Canyon

Footprints in the mud-turned-concrete in Carbon Creek Canyon

Footprints in the mud-turned-concrete in Carbon Creek Canyon. It's been awhile since this creek flashflooded.

Brief video of the top end of Carbon Creek Canyon before climbing left and going down Lava Creek

Hiking down Lava Creek Canyon

Hiking down Lava Creek Canyon

Colorful layers in Lava Creek Canyon

Colorful layers in Lava Creek Canyon

Raft shuttle arrives after hiking Carbon-Lava canyons

Raft shuttle arrives after hiking Carbon-Lava canyons.

I’m really wondering if “Canyon time” is so unique to the extended time spent in a remote setting or if it is possible to achieve this “living in the present” feeling at home amidst all the noise of the world.  What do you think?

[Author’s note: The photos posted throughout this series were contributed from many photographers in the group.  With over 10,000 images taken by 12 different people, I lost track of who took what.  My apologies to everyone that I can’t give proper credit to each photographer.]

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First Post: The Story Begins…

Grand Canyon Expedition Day 6: Little Colorado River and a birthday

Next Post: Day 7 Part I – Canyon Time
Previous Post: Day 5+  Hidden Danger
First Post: The Story Begins…

A beautiful morning, the best so far!  It started out maybe in the low 50’s and warmed quickly today since our camp got good morning sunlight.  You could watch the shadow of the east rim move down the west wall until the sunlight suddenly hit the camp.  Pancakes with syrup for breakfast.  Or in Ariel’s case, syrup with pancakes.  [Note in the photo the cleanup crew is using a 4 bucket system for washing: pre-wash (plain water), wash (hot, soapy), rinse (hot, clear), and disinfect (cold with bleach added).  The mesh bag under the table is a big drying rack for the dishes. You can see how they could get covered in sand if left there too long.]

Steve and Chris cleaning up after breakfast

Steve and Chris cleaning up after breakfast

(Click image to enlarge)  The rubber gloves are essential for skin care in this dry climate.  The tarp under the washing station is required by the park service to ensure food and trash stays out of the sand.  Afterwards the tarps are dumped in the river.
TRIP TIP: Be sure to ask the outfitter for a pair of extra large latex gloves.

It took much longer to get packed up and get on the river today after having a layover day.  I guess it takes longer to pack because everything gets more unpacked after two days.  I have too much stuff!  We could have left Ariel’s school books at home.  There’s no way she’s going to do any schoolwork other than play cello to practice for the concert she has the second day she gets back to school.  We finally left Nankoweap (river mile 53.5) and got on the river at 10:10 AM.

Kwagunt Rapid (Class 5 on the Grand Canyon scale)

Kwagunt Rapid (Class 5 on the Grand Canyon scale)

Sunscreen and hand lotion to be used liberally

Sunny and DRY. Sunscreen and hand lotion to be used liberally

After 9 miles and 1 easy class 5 rapid, we reached the Little Colorado River right at noon.  We pulled out a collapsible table and made lunch before walking up the Little Colorado to go swimming.  There are some huge fish in the main Colorado just upstream of the mouth of the Little.  Doesn’t matter what they are, there is no fishing in this area because an endangered species nests here.

After eating, we all made our way up the bank of the Little Colorado.  Normally this river is a welcome change from the cold waters of the main, but we are so lucky that the main is just as warm, almost 60.  I expect the main hasn’t been this warm since they first filled Lake Powell 50 years ago.  Hard to believe before they built the dam it was about 72 degrees.  The new normal is 45 degrees.  (If you know, please share that info.)

The little Little Colorado

The little Little Colorado

I suggested to Ariel to bring a sleeping pad with her so she could ride it like a raft down the little riffles in the milky-green water. Kathleen had a double-thick pad that worked great.  Ariel and I were the first ones to go.  We floated down together on the mattress and didn’t even fall off going over the ledges.  She had a ball and did it 3 more times.

Floating the Little Colorado using a camp mattress

Floating the Little Colorado using a camp mattress

The Press Box

The Press Box

Little Colorado and Colorado converge

Little Colorado and Colorado converge

Salt seeping from the canyon walls.

Salt seeping from the canyon walls.

The water feels good.  It’s very sunny and warm.  After almost an hour we made our way back to the rafts, put on more sunscreen and headed down river.  We got to Carbon camp, river mile 65, around 4:00 PM.

Ariel and Natalia making artwork.

Ariel and Natalia making artwork.

We celebrated Chatham’s birthday tonight and Ariel played her cello in the dark.  The day was nice, but I can feel the weather changing… Not sure if tomorrow will be as nice as today.

Happy Birthday Chatham!

Happy Birthday Chatham!

Cello by headlamp

Cello by headlamp

If you think I’m giving Ariel a lot of press, yep, you’re right. Don’t worry, you’ll miss her in a few days when she hikes out and goes back to school.

Next Post: Day 7 Part I – Canyon Time
Previous Post: Day 5+  Hidden Danger

First Post: The Story Begins…

Grand Canyon Expedition Day 5+ Commodore’s Log supplimental: Hidden Danger

Next Post: Day 6 – Little Colorado and a Birthday
Previous Post: Day 5: A Father-Daughter experience
(Three people named David on 1 trip is too confusing, so they’re call me Commodore.)

Some noteworthy trip leader observations I have made:  I am pleased to report that everyone is respecting my request that they behave appropriately for my 12-year-old daughter.  A few off-color jokes aside, no foul language, public nudity nor drunk and disorderly conduct, yet everyone is having a great time.  Funny how the presence of one kid can keep us adults in order.  (If you are planning your own trip down the Canyon, pay special note of this point.  For many reasons I recommend bringing kids.  I will elaborate in a later post.)

In general, everyone is getting along well with each other, which is remarkable considering most of us had never met before we gathered in Flagstaff a few days ago.  Some examples: The women have all had something to share with Ariel and really included her as an equal.  Captain Shu is a great team player.  He is always looking to learn and always has a great attitude.  He often has something to contribute, yet is never overbearing.  He helped me run the water filtration today to filter about 40 gallons of water to refill the 5-gallon water jugs.  With Canyon 9 trips already under his belt, he seems to have accumulated everything you could possibly need stashed away in his raft. I also noticed Steve has started stepping it up more as a team player.  I have even seen him looking for things to do and stepping in to help other work crews now.

There is still plenty of room to improve our efficiencies, particularly in the mornings.  Many of the things the outfitter showed us before we launched the first day seem to have been forgotten, but he did overload people with information.  I expect few people if any, took the time to read the primer/meal plan the outfitter sent us a few weeks before the trip so they would already know things like how to use the dish washing system or where everything is located on the rafts, especially where the food is for each meal.  The captains should know what they have on their boats and help the cook crew locate it.  I expect that will improve as we go.

I am concerned about one person who is not showing strong team skills, seen standing around when work needs to be done unless given explicit instructions to help and sometimes going back for seconds of food before everyone has had their first serving.  My concern is for the friction it could cause in the group.  If we have a day-12-meltdown, this could be the catalyst.

There are many hazards in the Canyon: falls, cuts, bites and stings, dehydration and hypothermia to name a few.  But some are more insidious.  Some we bring with us.  The term “day-12-meltdown” is used to describe what can happen on wilderness expeditions where people must live and work together in close quarters under stressful conditions with little reprieve from each other.  By about day 12, people run out of patience and conflicts can happen.  A breakdown in group cohesion can actually be fatal as was proven in the very first expedition in the Canyon, led by John Wesley Powell, at a place that aptly earned the name Separation Canyon.  Even a slightly annoying laugh can sound like fingernails scratched on a chalkboard after a week or two.  A good trip leader will recognize the signs early and take action promptly to avert such a disaster that can spoil the trip for everyone.  It only takes one person to create discord.  This is also why I believe a trip leader’s most important job is that of selecting a compatible crew.

Keep in mind that regardless of their experience, everyone on the trip is learning as we go, particularly if it’s their first trip.  New people, new environment, new lifestyle; it can all be overwhelming.  Everyone reacts to the stress differently.  Leading a group of strangers under these conditions can be much more challenging than most anything you’ll ever deal with in the office.

TRIP TIP: If you observe behavior that may damage group cohesion, address it swiftly and discretely.  Odds are that the person is unaware of their behavior and if you let it go, it will only get worse.  It always does.

(Thank you all for an amazing response to this account of our journey.  Wow!  If you like it, click the thumbs up.  Your public and private comments are great.  If you have questions, post them.  The dialog adds to the story and many others probably have the same question.)

Next Post: Day 6 – Little Colorado and a Birthday
Previous Post: Day 5: A Father-Daughter experience

First Post: The Story Begins…

Grand Canyon Expedition Day 5: As good as it gets! A Father-Daughter experience

Next Post: Commodore’s Log, Supplemental: Hidden Danger
Previous Post: Day 4: Nautiloid to Nankoweap
First Post: The Story Begins…

Today is a layover day.  That means we’re staying here for another night to relax and catch up on things.

First the injury report:  Elizabeth cut her elbow 3 days ago.  She thinks she cut it on the oar when they ran the hole (hydraulic) in Badger Rapid.  Now it is swollen and is probably infected.  If it is and we don’t have anti-biotics, we may be looking at an airlift.  I plan to at least use the satellite phone and make a call for medical advice.

This morning many of us went on the hike up to the granary.  This is a small cavern several hundred feet up the side of the canyon wall that was walled in by the inhabitants over 1000 years ago where they stored their grain to protect it from weather and thieves.  This is also the location of one of the most photographed views in the entire canyon, looking down river toward the south.  We got back to camp just in time for lunch.  (Click to enlarge photos)

Hike to the granaries

Hike to the granaries

Granaries on the side of the Canyon wall

Granaries on the side of the Canyon wall

View from near the granaries

View from near the granaries

Classic Grand Canyon

Classic Grand Canyon

The cook team had been asked to swap the big, involved lunch planned for today with tomorrow’s lunch of sandwiches so the people who were going on the all-day hike to the north rim could pack it with them when they left right after breakfast.  Had I known about this, I would have advised to let the hikers take sandwiches while we have the big lunch at camp and save the easy lunch for a day when we were traveling and use the layover day for more involved meals.  Especially since only one person went on the long hike.  [Note: it is not advisable to take solo hikes into the desert.  But if you do, be sure the trip leader knows your plans in case you have problems.]

Another group stopped by at lunchtime to do the granary hike.  Their trip leader happened to be a physician.  He took a look at Elizabeth’s elbow and advised taking Amoxicillin.  By coincidence, Captain Shu happens to have some.  He’s got just about everything, except a beach rake.

Shu’s hand is still puffed up like a balloon, but he has almost full use of it.  Craig has a cut on his finger and Gary cut his knuckle.  The very ends of my fingertips are getting sensitive to pressure, probably from being constantly dry.  This dry desert air is hard on hands.
TRIP TIP: bring full-fingered bicycle gloves.  Useful for rowing as well as hiking, they protect the hands from the sharp, abrasive rocks and gritty sand, yet breath well and dry quickly.

The afternoon was busy, but relaxing.  We did laundry, filtered water, and took baths.  I built a shower by lashing 3 oars together into a tripod and then covering 2 of the 3 sides with a tarp to give some privacy.  Solar showers could then be hung from the top of the tripod.  The tripod was placed in a shallow sandbar in the river.  (It is required to have all soap dumped directly into the river.  Otherwise with 30,000 people rafting the Canyon every year, the beaches would quickly become polluted.)  The beach was further screened from the rest of the camp by tamarisk bushes.

The shower

The shower

Ariel getting the spa treatment

Ariel getting the spa treatment

This was our hottest day yet.  The temperature reached 85 degrees and lots of sunshine at this camp.  That, combined with the unusually warm river (57degrees instead of the normal 45) made bathing as good as you’ll get in the Canyon.  First the ladies had the beach, then the guys took their turn.  Ariel came back for the royal spa treatment to get her hair washed.  She is having so much fun!  Missing 2 weeks of school for this?  Oh Yeah!  Later on Natalia braided a string of beads into her hair. [This would prove to be her favorite part of the trip and the beads are still in her hair 2 months later.]  It’s good to see her getting along with all the women so well.  I can see her maturing before my eyes. [Note to fathers: An adventure like this is an incredible bonding experience.  Do not let any excuses stop you from making your own father-daughter adventures like this.  To experience a river trip in The Canyon is life-changing.  To share the experience with your daughter is sublime.]

Natalia braiding beads into Ariel's hair

Natalia braiding beads into Ariel’s hair

Ariel proudly displaying her bead strand

Ariel proudly displaying her bead strand

When the bathing was done Captain Shu helped me filter water and refill the water jugs.

Filtering water

Filtering water

I planned for the 3 birthdays that we would be celebrating during this trip and bought cards in advance.  Captain Shu also got Barbie-doll sized inflatable rafts to have everyone sign and give as a gift.  So throughout the day, we secretly had everyone go to Shu’s tent tucked away in the woods and sign the cards and rafts. [I knew all of the birthdays because I had to include them on the river permit submitted to the park service.]

In the afternoon Kathleen proved the trout were no match for her marine biologist skills.  She caught 5 and Gary eagerly demonstrated his culinary skills in preparing them to supplement our fajitas for dinner.

Kathleen the Provider showing one of her catches

Kathleen the Provider showing one of her catches

Gary cleaning Kathleen's catch of the day

Gary cleaning Kathleen’s catch of the day

In the evening, Ariel played her cello for awhile and then Jay and I had a guitar-violin jam session.  Jay has a great collection of tunes in his repertoire that are conducive to the audience singing along.  I’ll have to get a copy of his song list so I can find the violin versions and play along.  The two instruments compliment each other well.
Such a peaceful night.  just a light breeze occasionally blowing, making the campfire smoke chase people sitting around it.

This has been a fantastic day and tonight is a beautiful night.  But I still can’t convince Ariel we don’t need to set up the tent.  At least the tent has a mesh ceiling so we can still watch the shooting stars.  Tomorrow we will be moving on downstream and enter the Grand Canyon proper.

Next Post: Commodore’s Log, Supplemental: Hidden Danger
Previous Post: Day 4: Nautiloid to Nankoweap

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