We’re going to continue the domestic trend of our Travel Take Two series with a look back at our 2006 trip to the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon, much like Hawaii, is a worn travel destination for most Americans. Most people head to the South Rim, spend a night or two up there, look out over the magnificent terrain and maybe hike a little ways down the trail. But we’re not most people. Our idea of seeing the Grand Canyon was from the bottom, rafting on the river that carved the canyon, the Colorado.
Destination: Grand Canyon: A 6 day expedition–5 days rafting down the upper half of the Grand Canyon, from Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch and 1 day hiking out the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim
Date: August 25-30, 2006
Travel Partners: Guides/Oarsmen from Moki Mac and fellow passengers.
1. Rafting the rapids. It’s incredibly exhilarating to plow headlong through ten foot high walls of freezing water in a small rubber boat, drenching you and everything in your boat, but perhaps even more exhilarating is the building anticipation of hearing the rapids well before reaching them, feeling the sound build and build until there is nothing else but a roar and your imagination of what rests around the next bend.
2. Kayaking in the ducky. I had read before we left about getting to paddle an inflatable kayak yourself, and knew immediately it was for me. They finally pulled it out on day 3, when we were going through ‘calmer’ waters, and though it took some doing, I convinced Theresa to get in with me (she may describe this experience as more of a lowlight). She was cursing me as soon she sat down in the self-bilging boat and soaked her bottom in the freezing brown water. As we pushed off into the river, they called out “They call that the divorce boat, you know.” After our first (small) rapid, yelling back and forth about who was paddling on what side and that we weren’t hitting the waves properly, we quickly understood why. Nevertheless, we quickly got the hang of things and at least I had a great time controlling my own fate through the rapids.
3. Hiking the side canyons leading to beautiful vistas, Indian ruins, and waterfalls. We went on a number of afternoon hikes up side canyons, which, in addition to getting us out of the hot afternoon sun (most times), led us to relics like an ancient Indian city along the banks, some granaries built into the side of the canyon at Nankoweap. We also we treated to a number of waterfalls (including a sideways waterfall!), getting to dip into the clear and refreshing water. All in all, they were a very rewarding change of pace from life on the river.
4. Staring at the night sky every night. With nary a light in any direction for a hundred miles, the night sky included the Milky Way in addition to millions of stars you never see. There is such a stark delineation of pitch black canyon walls and the star-peppered sky. We tracked satellites and shooting stars from one side of the canyon to the other nightly. We’ve been in some places with some amazing views of the night sky, and at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is definitely one of the best.
1. The bathroom situation. It wasn’t quite au natural, but it was close. There was a bucket and a whole orchestrated set of rules pertaining to the bucket. At least we did have toilet paper. I’m just glad I wasn’t the one who had to take care of the bucket.
2. Crossing a murky Little Colorado. This isn’t so much of a lowlight as a missed highlight. The Little Colorado if often crystal clear, warmer, and really fun to float down in an upside down life jacket. At least this is what we were told and were really excited about. When we got there, a recent rain had left it murky and at too high a level to safely navigate. So we were left to enjoy watching two muddy rivers merge together from the river bank. Not nearly as much fun.
1. Some things are worth the cost. I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning how much this adventure cost, because as you may suspect, it wasn’t cheap. Though for what we got, it was certainly reasonable. All meals were included (and were quality meals … we’re talking steak and chocolate cake on day 4 quality). The guides rowed and navigated us safely through rapids the entire time, leading side hikes in their spare time. The full experience they provided us was worth our money.
2. A different point of view is a good thing. As I alluded to earlier, most people see the Grand Canyon from the South Rim, never even seeing the river the carved the canyon. After we hiked out and experienced the typical Grand Canyon experience as well, it became really clear how different and unique a perspective on it we really got. It’s such a different world descending into and then ascending out of 1.2 billion years of schist, shale and limestone.
3. We get along with diverse groups. We were one of 15 passengers on this trip, people from all different backgrounds from all over the US. We enjoyed everyone’s company and got to know many of them quite well in the five days. Since we’re not always the most outgoing people by nature, it’s comforting to know that we can =).
4. Preparation breeds success. The hike out was quite daunting — 9.5 miles long with almost a mile of elevation gain in Arizona in August heat. Needless to say, we were somewhat concerned with our physical conditioning for such an outing, so we trained a few times with our packs in nearby Shenandoah. This helped immensely. I’m sure our spry young legs helped, but we were able to make it out of the canyon each carrying our 25 pound packs in under five hours, before the worst heat began. Who needs mules?