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.
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.
Short Youtube video showing the scene at the roadblock by one of the rafters.
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.
Wondering what these people are missing? Check out the journal of my trip.
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 http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/cancelled-dates.htm
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
(firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com) 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)
Mail: National Park Service
Grand Canyon River Permits
1824 S. Thompson St., Suite 201
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
Main River Permit Information: http://www.nps.gov/grca – click on River
Available Launch Dates: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/cancelled-dates.htm
Noncommercial River Trip Regulations: https://npspermits.us/grandcanyon/river/pdf/Noncommercial_River_Trip_Regulations.pdf
Frequently Asked Questions: https://npspermits.us/grandcanyon/river/pdf/River_and_Weighted_Lottery_FAQs.pdf
Statistics From Past Lotteries: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/nomcommercial-riv-docs.htm
Lottery Website: https://npspermits.us
Password Reset: https://npspermits.us/grandcanyon/river/forgotLogin.cfm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
OK, time to pack up and get ready for the hike!
Brief video of the top end of Carbon Creek Canyon before climbing left and going down Lava Creek
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.]
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.)
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)
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.
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.]
When the bathing was done Captain Shu helped me filter water and refill the water jugs.
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.
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.
We did much better at getting going today. Cereal for breakfast was fast and easy. It is warmer and sunny. About 60 degrees warming up to over 70. Gotta love this Canyon weather. I changed our plan from going 15 miles to Dinosaur Camp to going 18 miles to Nankoweap, which is a better camp and has a great hike. Before we left camp we hiked up to see the fossils embedded in the rocks.
Ariel enjoyed hiking up and sliding down the dry creek bed.
She also found a flower that only bloomed at night. It looks much like a morning glory. (later research revealed it is called sacred datura. The plant is toxic and hallucinogenic.)
TRIP TIP: NRS makes a map case specifically designed to fit the Grand Canyon river map book. While the map book is made of waterproof paper, the pages hold the water long after it gets wet (mine was still wet and sandy when I got home from the trip a week later.) The case would also be good for charging a solar charger while on the river during the day.
We left camp at 10:00 and reached Nankoweap at 3:30. Lunch was at President Harding camp. Strange day for injuries. Craig cut his finger on a can lid; Kathleen told me that Elizabeth has a bad cut on her elbow from 2 days ago that is now swelling up; and Captain Shu had Craig row his boat because his hand was swollen from getting hit by the oar handle or Natalia’s knee while rowing through a rapid. Kevin also took a break from paddling his kayak to row Kika’s raft. Lucy joined me and Ariel for the day. I like rotating the passengers. It gives a chance to spend time together and get to know people. I got to hear more about how Gary and Lucy live on a canal boat in England. It’s a lot like living in a motor home. Their simplistic lifestyle makes it easy to afford big adventures like this one. They toured Italy just before this trip.
Jay was playing his guitar while drifting down the river today, even while floating through a smaller rapid. Now THAT’S living on Canyon Time!
When we reached Nankoweap we found that the main camp was already taken, so we went down to the lower camp. Not quite as nice, but a few people found some particularly private tent spots in the trees and tamarisk. Spaghetti for dinner. Gary, Lucy and I were on cleanup. I decided to make tomorrow a layover day. We’re all ready for one. That should give some time to assess the injuries too.
The trail to the groover is right beside the river, but Captain Shu brought a collection of solar powered lawn lights that look like flowers. They work great for lighting the path with a soft glow.
TRIP TIP: The solar powered lawn lights are very handy. I keep one just outside my tent to make it easier to locate in the dark.
I am the last one to go to bed (10PM) As I lie here writing, it is interesting to rub on the sleeping bag and see the static electricity light up so brightly. No moon tonight. Lots of stars in the sky and a planet, probably Jupiter. Darn, we forgot to put the dishes away from the drying rack. I had better go do that! If they are left out overnight, they get covered in sand. The sand blows easily because it is so fine. It seems to get into everything.
Put in: 10:00 AM, mile 35
Lunch: mile 44
Take out: 3:30 PM, mile 53.5
Sunny, 60-70 degrees
I woke up at 5:15 today. Slept mostly through the night. Everyone was a bit anxious in the morning about rowing the Roaring Twenties, but no one more than me with Ariel onboard after nearly flipping the raft yesterday, But I am much more confident again after a clean run through Twentyfour Mile Rapid, the first class 6 rapid of the day. (The Roaring Twenties are the 5 miles of river starting at river mile 21,so named for the series of rapids that, by Grand Canyon measurements, are packed closely together — every half mile or so. There are 2 class 4’s, 3 class 5’s and 3 class 6 rapids)
For breakfast we had eggs made to order…as long as you ordered scrambled eggs. Not everyone got eggs because the first people took too much. Guess that’s why it was supposed to be “made to order” instead of “self serve”. Good thing there is other food to fill in.
It was a sunny day again. This time we stopped for lunch at noon. That makes a big difference. Shortly after lunch we reached Redwall Cavern. Wow! Everything is big in the Canyon! The cavern is at river level and it’s huge. Surprising the roof doesn’t cave in. As we approached it, the size is deceptive.
The eddy beside the cavern is about a 1/4th mile long with a strong circulation upstream. The cavern is at the lower end of the eddy, so we had to stay in the current until we were practically past the cavern before pulling in or we would just be pushed back upstream. It’s tough to row these big rafts against the current, even when it’s just a recirculating eddy.
People sure get goofy here. There is something about having a rock sky overhead that demands taking whacky photos.
We even played frisbee inside the cave. It’s so big that if you stand at one end and throw it you can’t hit the other end. Ariel played her cello here and Jay played his guitar too. But the acoustics here aren’t as good as I had expected.
After awhile we packed up and headed down river. (Not allowed to camp here)
We reached camp at Nautiloid Canyon, mile 35, and there was a bit of confusion. First everyone had a different idea of where to park the boats, then where to setup the kitchen, then the groover got set up in the open right where people were setting up their tents. It really was comical. If another group had seen us they would have thought we were the Keystone Cops. The problem was that half the campsite had been washed away recently from a flash flood that came down from the side canyon. It cut a path 40′ wide and 6′ deep through the beach. I relocated the groover to a more private spot. The rafts were moved from in front of the washout to a spot further down the beach, just in case another flood comes.
We had grilled chicken for dinner. I’m getting spoiled with all of this good food!
There is a short hike here, but no time to do it tonight. We’ll have to check it out in the morning.
Commodore’s Log, River Day 1. There are 3 Davids in the group. To make things easy, they’re calling me Commodore, leader of the fleet.
On the river at last! Quite a special day. Last night it actually started to rain around 2:30 AM. I woke up and put the rain fly on the tent and then it stopped raining. I couldn’t get to sleep after that. Excited about the morning. I still got up by 6:00 AM without an alarm clock. Bryant from PRO Outfitters, showed up at 7:00 AM as planned. After a simple breakfast of cereal and cinnamon rolls, we sat under the pavilion and Bryant went over more details about
the gear, things like how to manage the trash, the organization of the coolers and food boxes, draining the water from the coolers so they stay colder. Everything in the coolers is frozen extra cold and packed on special ice that has no air bubbles so it lasts longer and to pull out the dinner meat in the morning so it will have time to thaw. He explained the 3-bucket dishwashing method (which is required by the park service.) He talked for over an hour. Is everyone going to remember all of this? He says it’s all documented in the menu plan binder, so we can read it if we forget. Kika, Natalia, and Captain Shu aren’t here yet. Shu has been down the river 9 times before, but I don’t think Kika and Natalia have been before. I guess they’ll have some reading to do at camp tonight. Bryant finished with a demonstration of using the satellite phone, water filter, and groover setup.
Right after he finished, the park ranger showed up to check photo IDs and give us the park service talk before we head downstream. That lasted another hour. He told us about the hazards: scorpions, rattlesnakes, falling into the river in the middle of the night, slips and falls. Apparently people mostly get hurt when they are NOT on the river. Other noteworthy wildlife are the ravens and the California condors. The ravens are thieves. These birds will steal anything they can, but they especially like food and shiny objects. One guy reported that they stole his Rolex watch. They can carry off anything under a pound. Condors are endangered species that are being reintroduced to this area. If they are at a camp, don’t stop. If they come to your camp, scare them off. The concern is they will become habituated to people. I’m wondering if a raven with a 2′ wingspan can carry off 1 pound, what can a 9′ condor carry off? (Note: See the NPS website for more info on the condors in Grand Canyon.)
The ranger explained that emergency airlifts out of the Canyon are free, but if someone is lifted out, make sure they take a small pack with clothes, ID and money or they will be homeless and broke while they wait days or weeks for the group to get off the river with their stuff.
(Note: You can learn more about these details on running the river by watching the orientation videos made by the park service. All river runners are required to view these videos before running the river. You can see these video segments on youtube
NPS Grand Canyon River Runner Orientation video Part 1 of 4
NPS Grand Canyon River Runner Orientation video Part 2 of 4
NPS Grand Canyon River Runner Orientation video Part 3 of 4
NPS Grand Canyon River Runner Orientation video Part 4 of 4
By the time the ranger finished, it was 10:00 AM. We finished packing camp and were ready to push off by 11:00. It’s sunny and about 75 degrees. Perfect! I remember it was 55 and raining when we left Seattle a few days ago.
One final brief talk before we push off from shore. I talked to the group about what is happening on the river today. We are planning on camping at Soap Creek at river mile 11. There is one big rapid today: Badger. It’s a 5 (on the GC scale 1-10). I plan to have a quick talk every day before we launch so everyone knows what is happening before we start.
Brother Craig and daughter Ariel are riding in my raft. My first time rowing such a big raft on such big water. I’m just a bit anxious with Ariel onboard. Fortunately the rapids start out easy the first few days and get steadily bigger, so I have time to get familiar with handling this boat.
We stopped for lunch at river mile 4.5, just past the bridges. I was on cooking duty for lunch and with everything so busy this morning, we didn’t thaw the sandwich meat. No problem. There was plenty of other food for the lunch. Lesson learned.
It rained twice today; briefly, but hard, like a Florida rain. With the rain came a strong headwind of about 20 mph. I had Ariel put on her dry suit. She wanted to go swimming. The current was slow, but when she let go of the boat, we were blown away from her quickly. Craig threw her a rope and pulled her back. Good practice for rescuing.
We got to Badger rapid. Capt Shu led because he has the most experience on this river. He explained the line was left of center, but then it looked like he went right of center. Chris followed and they both made it through, so I followed. YIKES! They all went right over the pourover! We made it, but lesson learned: don’t follow blindly. It was already late in the afternoon, so we decided to camp at Jackass Camp, river mile 8.1 on river left, just below Badger. The cooking crew started at 5:00 PM. They made stir fry. It took awhile, but it was good! I will ask the cook crew to start earlier tomorrow so we don’t have to eat or clean up in the dark.
Ariel was eager to play her cello. It was a bit out of tune. Two pegs kept slipping. The dry air will do that.
After cooking was done, we had a meeting to organize and plan for tomorrow. I am enjoying leading this group. they’re great! At the evening meeting I noticed the lightning in the distance and said to expect rain tonight. The 5-day forecast warned to expect rain and much colder weather (25 degrees cooler!) later in the week. Not sure they believed me since the skies were clear and stars were bright. At least Chris decided to use his tent. We shall see. It’s 9:00. Time to sleep now. It’s been a long day.
Thursday evening, October 20.
All the gear is laid out and ready to be packed into the truck. We’re finally ready to start the adventure.
Actually this story began October 10, 2008. I was leaving to go on my first Grand Canyon adventure when my 9-year-old daughter begged to go with me. “No honey” I said, “not this time. I need to check it out before I bring you. But I promise I will take you the next time I go.” I had been on the waiting list for 12 years before I got my 2008 permit. That was the last year before the National Park Service switched to a lottery system for awarding permits. (You can apply for a permit too. See the National Park Service website for details: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/whitewater-rafting.htm ) I had no idea I would win a permit through the lottery just 2 years later! Well, I promised Ariel I would take her the next time I went, so at age 12 she’s going to get the opportunity of a lifetime (and she will get out of school for 2 whole weeks!) I will be on the river for 3 weeks and away from home for a full month, but 2 weeks is long enough for her. She will take out near the halfway point, at Phantom Ranch, the only place where it is possible to hike out from the river once you’re in the Canyon. Her mother will take her home from there. I cleared it with the school the day after I won the permit. I will be working with her teachers to get as much of her work done beforehand as possible. The rest she will make up when she returns.
Though my October 25, 2011 launch date was awarded in February 2010, I couldn’t commit to going on this trip until April of this year. That left only 6 months to assemble a team of 14 more people (a permit is for 16 people), help them prepare for the trip, get the group equipment rented, the menu secured and a shuttle to/from the river with an outfitter, not to mention doing all the personal preparations for me AND Ariel.
The most important part of being a trip leader is selecting a good team. Having only 6 months to do it made building the team even more difficult. At least 6 people had committed to the trip only to have to cancel later. One person even had emergency surgery. The final members were added to the trip less than a month before the launch date. It’s going to be interesting. I would normally take more time and get to know everyone better before inviting them on an expedition like this. Group harmony and teamwork are critical to having a successful and enjoyable trip for everyone. Only one person from my first trip is able to go this time. No surprise. How many people can get 3+ weeks off from work, much less do it twice in 3 years? So I’m working with a whole new team. This time I am relying on the judgement of the members I already know to make good choices about the people they recommend. There was a lot of “well I have a friend who knows someone who might like to go…” But from the discussions I have had with everyone, I’m comfortable with the team.
It has been an intense 6 months, but I believe all of the planning and preparations are finally complete. The crew is set. The outfitter has received our final payment for the equipment rental (4 x 18′ rafts, kitchen equipment, groover, meals for 21 days for 16 people and other miscellaneous gear and shuttle service to/from the river.) The trip itinerary is complete with our target campsites and planned hikes while on the river. The emergency contact plan is set for all trip members. The truck is prepped and ready with a fresh oil change, new roof rack, and new stereo. Ariel’s gear is ready including new gaskets for her dry suit, a new sleeping bag, a hard case and a custom dry bag for her cello (yes her cello is going too!). I have a new dry box for my violin. My friend Steve, who plays violin for the Seattle Symphony and has rafted the Canyon 23 times(!) with a string quartet, even told me of all the best places to play our music, effectively an acoustical map of the Canyon. I borrowed a video camera (mine was damaged on the previous trip.) Logistics for hiking out to meet Ariel’s mother have been set. There will be no way to communicate with her once we set off from Lee’s Ferry until we are face-to-face at the South Rim trail head 9 days later. The refrigerator and pantry at home have been emptied of all perishable foods. I even got a haircut. There was much more to prepare the group and myself, but you get the idea. It’s not as simple as a weekend getaway with the wife and kids.
Tomorrow morning I will be giving a speech at Toastmasters, go to work to wrap up loose ends, then leave early to get Ariel after school and head out of town. Oh, wait. It’s 10:00 PM and I still have to load everything into the truck! Guess I’ll have to finish preparing for my speech while I load up. Tomorrow the rain is supposed to come. Looking forward to putting Seattle in the rear view mirror.