Grand Canyon Day 2 and Beyond

I have decided that if I go into great detail on every day of the trip, I will end up writing a book! Plus there are many other things going on that I would like to write about. For this post I am going to summarize the trip, and then as I get time and ambition I’ll write more about the highlights.

I and all the other guests quickly adapt to life on the river.  A typical day starts with the blowing of the conch shell announcing a fabulous breakfast. During our week on the river we are treated to eggs cooked to order, bagels and lox, and pancakes and sausage. Plus always, cold cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, hot chocolate, tea, and coffee. I am pleased to find I am in no danger of going hungry.

After breakfast is cleaned up we load the boats, clean the beach (making sure we leave only footprints), and after a last groover call, it is back on the water for more serene floats and wild rapids, surrounded by the everchanging geology of the canyon cliffs.

Almost every day includes a hike, and almost every hike includes rock scrambling. I’ve never done rock scrambling before. This is where, using only hands and feet, you climb up and down cliffs that before I would have thought were impassable.  When you look closely you find there are small places where you can put a foot, or get a grip with your hand.  Often the rocks are hot! Once I grabbed a cactus instead of a rock. Ouch!  The guides are great.  They are patient and give me plenty of time to find my own way, and only offer advice when I ask. We hike to see amazing waterfalls, rock formations, fossilized shells, and wildlife.  Hiking up a narrow creek we walk just a few feet past a young Eagle.  Our guides think it is a young golden eagle, but I think it may be a bald eagle.  It is holding its wing out, like some birds do when tired, but It does not seem injured and I don’t know why it didn’t fly away.  Maybe because the passage was narrow.  Maybe because he was just as surprised to see us as we were to see him!

Young Eagle In the Grand Canyon
Young Eagle In the Grand Canyon

Even though it is mid September, the days are very hot.  The water looks inviting, although it is very cold, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  On the second day, I get to ride in the paddle boat. And I get to go swimming.

The Paddle Boat Flips in Tiger Wash Rapids
The Paddle Boat Flips in Tiger Wash Rapids

You can’t see me in this picture. I was sitting in the right front of the raft, and was pushed quite far under the water.  It took forever to come up!  And when I did, the current had carried me far away from the raft. Later I will write a full post about swimming in the Colorado River.  For now, lets just say that that the paddle boat was quickly righted, everyone eventually got pulled out of the water, and the only thing that was lost was my hat.

On the fourth day of our trip, Kent, our trip leader, announces an advanced hike. Only for the truly hard core hiker, it is an all day, 10 mile hike up one side canyon to the rim and back down another side canyon. Some of the guides will stay behind and move the boats.  It promises spectacular views and  challenging rock scrambling.  It also promises to be very long, hard, and hot. At one point he calls the hike a death march.  Not being a hard core hiker or rock scrambler, I choose to stay behind with the guides that will be moving the boats.  I am surprised to find I am the only one.  I have the most amazing day. While the guides are busy with  the boats, I find myself all alone on a beautiful beach deep in the Grand Canyon. With plenty of privacy I get a good bath in.  Careful not to sunburn the delicate parts, I wash in the very cold river water, than warm up on the sandy beach. Then back to the river, then the beach, you get the idea.   That evening I help the guides prepare dinner and greet the intrepid adventurers as they return, hot and tired and dirty, just as the sun is going down. They all had a wonderful time, but now I am the only one without blisters!

Day 6, our last full day in the canyon, we get to stop and visit a working archeological site. We are very lucky to get to see this.  It took the group years to get the logistics figured out, and they are only digging for eight days. We arrive when they are almost done. They will remove the artifacts that they find, and then cover the site and return it to it’s natural state. When they are gone you won’t be able to tell they were ever there.  Most sites in the Grand Canyon are not excavated.  Only when the artifacts are at risk of being lost or damaged, like this site which is subject to flash flooding, do they excavate and remove artifacts.

Archeology Site in Grand Canyon
Archeology Site in Grand Canyon

Day 7 is our very last day. And it is a day I have been dreading.  Because we are not doing a full canyon trip, we need to hike out of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail.  I know I did not prepare well enough for the hike.  Although I really don’t have a choice, I am not sure I will be able to carry my backpack, loaded with my clothes and lots of water,  and hike the 7.5 miles from Pipe Creek to the South Rim. Needless to say I do hike out.  It takes 7 hours and I am exhausted when I reach the top.  It is great to walk out of the canyon and see the changing perspectives on the cliffs.  I see more wildlife, including an endangered condor.  When I finally reach the South Rim I look back and I can’t even see the river.  It feels strange to be around so many people. And they are all so clean!  I can’t imagine what they think of me.  A few ask how far I have hiked and most are stunned that I have come from the river. (I carry a few extra pounds and certainly don’t look the type!)

This picture of the Bright Angel Trail is from Gene Hanson’s website.  He has a marvelous “virtual hike” down the South Kaibab trail and up the Bright Angel Trail.  He is a maniac and did it in one day. He also took hundreds of pictures. It is worth a look!

A View of Part of the Bright Angel Trail
A View of Part of the Bright Angel Trail (used with permission)

Back in our hotel that night, hubby and I are tired and sore.  The shower feels great!   We each order a big dinner and desert from room service.  I am pretty sure this is one day I don’t have to worry about how many calories I eat!

I can’t wait to go back to the Grand Canyon.  Next time I will do the full river trip. I am looking forward to rafting Crystal Rapid, the largest rapid in the canyon. Hopefully I will be able to stay in the boat!

Grand Canyon – Day 1

You Want Me To Do What, Where?

Beware!  Potty humor ahead.

I am back. Actually I have been back for a few weeks, but I have been slow to get back to the technology world. I have tried to stay on “river time” as long as possible.

First a little background. I have wanted to see the Grand Canyon from the bottom, for about as long as I can remember.  On a trip as a child I had seen the Canyon from the  South Rim, but I thought that to truly grasp the size and the scope of the Grand Canyon you had to spend some time in the canyon, and explore from the bottom up. A rafting trip seemed like the perfect way.

There are many different types of commercial rafting trips you can take down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon. Many people take the large motorized trips. These rafts are large and carry up to 20 people and their gear.  The main benefit to these, in my opinion, is you can raft the whole Grand Canyon in 6 days.  The downside, is you have to listen to the motor the whole time you are on water. However, I found that the motors were surprisingly quiet.

We (my husband and I) chose to go the slower route. We went on a trip that used just oar boats and paddle boats. The company we went with was Canyon Explorations/Expeditions.  (Excellent Company!) Our group of 17 guests had 6 guides, 5 oar boats and one paddle boat. We were to spend 7 days rafting down the river, hiking the canyon and camping on the beaches. Unlike the motor trips, in 7 days we would only travel half the canyon, the upper half, from Lee’s Ferry to Pipe Creek.  We would then hike the 7 1/2 mile Bright Angel Trail from the river to the rim.

On the oar boats, the guide rows with the oars and the guests ride in front and enjoy the view. In the paddle boat, you have 1 guide paddling and guiding the boat and 6 guest who also paddle. The company also brought along a couple of one person inflatable kayaks (IK’s or duckies) for people who wanted some real excitement in the rapids.

Rafts at Lee's Ferry, Grand Canyon
Oar Boats, Lee’s Ferry, Grand Canyon

So, we arrive in Flagstaff, AZ the day before our trip is to begin, for orientation and our dry bags. One dry bag has to hold all your clothes and personal items for the length of the trip. Good thing they are pretty big! Even I managed to have extra room and I brought quite a few things I never wore. (Mostly cold weather clothing that I didn’t need because we had excellent weather for our trip!)  The next morning we are up and on the bus at 6am!  This was not going to be a vacation for sleeping in.  During the 2 1/2 hour ride to Lee’s Ferry we are served a sack breakfast of scones, yogurt, a banana and juice.  Very good and more than I could eat.

When we finally arrive at Lee’s Ferry we see our boats for the first time. They seem very small compared to the large motor boats that are also loading passengers.  While our gear and dry bags are being loaded onto the boats we get a quick safety talk and are fitted for life jackets.  6  brave people are chosen to start out on the paddle boat. (Hubby and I have heard that day 2 is a better day for paddling so we don’t volunteer.) We are encouraged to fill our water bottles and have our last visit to a bathroom “with porcelain”.  Then it is pick a boat, meet your guide, and we are finally on the Colorado River!

Now here is where it starts to get a little funny.  During our orientation talk we were told that the Grand Canyon is a desert. And because of the heat and extreme dryness  there were three things we needed to pay close attention to. Those three things were hydration, urination, and regulation.   We were told, and I quote, “you need to drink a lot, pee a lot, and regulate your body temperature.”  The details would be explained when we got to the river.

So here we are on the river, and I have my two quart water bottle filled with water. (Hydrate) I have on my sun hat and sunglasses. There are some clouds so the temperature is very pleasant. (regulate). What they haven’t explained, is if I am sitting on this small boat for the better part of the day, how am I to take care of step 2? I am pretty sure the small raft I am sitting on doesn’t have a porta-potty hiding somewhere!

So we spend maybe an hour rafting down the river, already the canyon is awesome. The water is clear and cold, the cliffs, while not particularly tall at this point, are still amazing.  We go through a few riffles, and an easy rapid, and then our guides tie all the rafts together, and, now that it is too late to back out,  we get our real safety talk!  They talk about what to do if (when) you fall in the water. They demonstrate how to pull someone out of the water into a boat. And then they get to what I now fondly call, “The Pee and Poop talk.”

Considering the number of people that travel down the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is amazingly pristine. For the whole 7 days of my trip, the only signs that other people had ever been there were footprints. No broken beer bottles, no fishing line, no trash at all, and no bathrooms, restrooms, pit toilets or privies. Obviously we weren’t going to hold it all in for 7 days!

Pee, we were told, goes in the river. Directly into the river. At night a bucket would be set up, but during the day, directly into the river.  (As the trip went on I began to think that in our pre-trip packet that had advice on preparing for our trip, they should have suggested that women work on their squatting technique!)  We were told that if we needed to go our guide would happily pull our boat over.  Then they tell us, that don’t always get privacy on the river.  You do the best you can, and then it is up to the other people in the group to GIVE privacy by looking the other way.  Being the privacy freek that I am, I am beginning to think maybe I will have to hold it for 7 days!

Poop, is another story. If everyone who visited the canyon used cat holes the whole place would soon smell like a well aged outhouse.  We were told that when we got to camp for the night, one of the first things to be set up would be the groover. (River talk for an ammo can where poop is deposited. If you are really roughing it you don’t bring a toilet seat and you end up with “grooves” on the back of your legs. I was happy we had a toilet seat!)  The groover is set up in a private spot, along with the pee bucket, and would be available until we broke camp the next morning. Whoa be to those who needed the groover during the day. There was a system available that included paper bags and carrying your own “stuff” until the groover was set up at camp, but  I  don’t know all the details because I made sure I never needed to use it! The ammo cans seal up nice and watertight, which was good because they would not be emptied until the trip was over and a sanitation company came to take care of them.

I am thinking Great! They get you to the point where there is no going back and then go into details. I am not at all sure how I will do with this interesting bathroom arrangement.

By lunch time I really have to go. I have been real good about drinking my water. I didn’t ask my guide to pull over, because I really didn’t see anyplace with any privacy at all.   We pull into this nice small beach, the guides start pulling lunch supplies off the lunch boat, and all the guests are looking for a place to pee. There is no place to pee. The river is right there, but the beach is small and it is plain to see there are no private spots. The guys, being guys, kind of shrug, face the river and go. The ladies are all standing around with looks of quiet desperation.  Finally we collaborate, all of us go to one side of the small beach, and while one pees, the rest form a circle to provide a small amount of privacy. I glance over at the guides and see they all look somewhat amused by this.

After hand washing and sanitizing we have an amazing lunch of sandwiches, fruit, cookies and chips. We eat standing over the river so the crumbs will fall into the water and not onto the beach. Apparently stinging red ants are a problem and we don’t want to feed them with our crumbs. Then it is back on the boats for more whitewater fun.

~to be continued~