Down the Big Ditch: Part 3/Week 3

During our third and last week in the Grand Canyon, we traveled from Bass Camp to Pearce Ferry, the take out. We celebrated two birthdays, as well as Thanksgiving, and enjoyed many short side hikes up awesome canyons large and small. The high-flow experiment ended, the eddies calmed down, and the water returned to a clear bluish green. While we had run the majority of the famous rapids, we still had several smaller rapids to run, as well as the infamous Lava Falls. We had no more raft flips, but DKatz flipped the ducky in Lava. All but two rafts ran right at Bedrock, despite numerous warnings from Sparky at the beginning of the trip.

We hiked up several side canyons, all were beautiful in vastly different ways. Elves Chasm had a beautiful waterfall and felt like a fairy-tale land, Matkatamiba was a narrow, gray slot canyon with a little bit of water running through it. Black Tail provided beautiful acoustics for me to sing Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah on a short morning solo hike. King of them all, though, was Havasu Canyon. Like the Little Colorado River, the waters of the creek that runs through Havasu are travertine, creating an incredibly beautiful bright turquoise color. If I had to pick a favorite place in the Canyon, this might be it. We spent the majority of the day in Havasu, hiking as far up as we could. About 3 miles from the river, there are a series of short waterfalls called the Beaver Falls. About 6 miles from the river is a 100 foot cascading waterfall called Mooney Falls. Just before you get to Beaver Falls, you cross the boundary from the National Park into the Havasupai Indian Nation. Everything immediately changes; there are picnic tables, roughly hewn wooden signs pointing out the falls, and slightly sketchy wooden ladders and fraying ropes aiding you up and down steep terrain. Zak and I arrived at Beaver Falls with 2 other group members, Ed & Katy. Only Jeff made it to Mooney Falls in the time frame we had (he was practically running when he passed us). I was satisfied to make it to Beaver, as it was such a beautiful place to explore. Havasu is a can’t miss place if you’re ever lucky enough to get to travel down the Grand.

The series of rapids in the 226-240 mile section of river were all really fun. One group member wanted to kayak that day and was kind enough to trust me to row his boat. That was one of the highlights of the trip for me, getting to row a boat through these fun and challenging rapids with only a passenger who didn’t know anything about maneuvering an oar rig. I had pretty good lines through most of the rapids, and it helped boost my confidence. I even got to row Killer Fang Falls, a large, scouted rapid. This rapid is really easy to flip in, as all the water pushes strongly right toward two large, sharp rocks. Flipping was something I narrowly avoided (I ‘kissed’ the fangs, which is typically an inevitable flip).

We celebrated Thanksgiving with the works! Zak, Katy and I cooked turkey, mashed potatoes (from real potatoes!), stuffing, green beans and Katy’s famous dutch apple pie. It was delicious and much better than I would have expected to have on the river.

The last day on the river we floated through Helicopter Alley, a stark reminder ¬†of the real world that was all too quickly approaching. The trip had come to an end much more quickly than I had ever imagined. Was it the best trip ever? In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. Did I have an amazing time? Most of the time, yes. Like I said in the first post about this trip, it is nearly impossible to capture the Canyon in words and photos. It is challenging to describe the experience to someone who hasn’t also been on a trip. My advice: go on a trip, do it now, you won’t regret it. The Grand Canyon is, after all, one of the great Natural Wonders of the World and its right here, in our very own country. It would be a shame to miss out.

Waterfall at Elves' Chasm

Waterfall at Elves’ Chasm

Looking downstream on a dreary day.

Looking downstream on a dreary day.

Hanging out in the Bat Cave.

Hanging out in the Bat Cave.

Zak near Dear Creek Falls.

Zak near Dear Creek Falls.

Looking upstream at Havasu Canyon.

Looking upstream at Havasu Canyon.

Pointing out the Beaver Falls.

Pointing out the Beaver Falls.

Beaver Falls.

Beaver Falls.

Lower Beaver Falls.

Lower Beaver Falls.

Stu in National Canyon.

Stu in National Canyon.

Diamond Peak from river mile 222.

Diamond Peak from river mile 222.

AM fog rises off of Lake Mead at Pearce Ferry.

AM fog rises off of Lake Mead at Pearce Ferry.

Down The Big Ditch: Part 2/Week 2

Travertine waters of the LCR mix with silty waters of the Colorado

Travertine waters of the LCR mix with silty waters of the Colorado

Looking upstream at the Little Colorado River

Looking upstream at the Little Colorado River

Looking upstream at the Palisades of the Desert & the South Rim from the top of the Tabernacle.

Looking upstream at the Palisades of the Desert & the South Rim from the top of the Tabernacle.

Solomon's Temple at dusk.

Solomon’s Temple at dusk.

AM traffic across the Kaibab Bridge to Phantom Ranch.

AM traffic across the Kaibab Bridge to Phantom Ranch.

Zak at the old Bass Camp site.

Zak at the old Bass Camp site.

Shinumo Creek

Shinumo Creek

Collecting water at Shinumo Creek Falls.

Collecting water at Shinumo Creek Falls.

Zak & DKatz high five.

Zak & DKatz high five.

Our second week on the river was characterized by the high flow experiment out of the Glen Canyon Dam. They have been doing this every November for about a week in order to help restore beaches along the river. The dam, which was releasing about 8,000 CFS (think 8,000 basketballs moving past 1 point each second) before the experiment, started letting out 37,500 CFS, and the water came up drastically overnight. It was during this week that we traveled from Nankoweep to Bass Camp through almost all of the major rapids in the canyon.

The high flow water caused complete chaos within our group. Almost no one in the group had seen water that high before. The water changed from a clear bluish green to the murky orange brown that I’m used to from Cataract Canyon. The waves in the rapids were enormous, even in smaller rapids and huge masses of logs and debris swirled around endlessly in eddies that seemed inescapable. The water was moving so fast that we traveled 9 miles downstream on the first day in an hour and a half, a distance that previously would have taken 3 or more hours. It was nearly impossible to keep track of where we were on the map.

Some highlights of the week included a stop at the Little Colorado River, a travertine tributary with bright turquoise waters, a hike up to the Tabernacle for amazing sunset view of the Palisades of the Desert, a stop at Phantom Ranch to mail postcards and pick up another crew member, 3 raft flips; 1 in Hermit and 2 in Crystal (I was never on a boat that flipped, but Zak and I provided rescue missions for 2 of 3 that did), and a layover day at Bass Camp where 2 friends from Outward Bound hiked in to meet us for an overnight visit.

Down The Big Ditch: Part 1/Week 1

When I arrived in Moab, UT in late May of 2012, I barely had a concept of what a multi-day rafting trip looked like. By the time July rolled around, I was eagerly awaiting the day that I would be lucky enough to be invited on a multi-week rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. My wish finally came true this summer, and in November I was traveled 277 river miles over 24 days, with 13 other people in 5 boats, on what is considered by most to be the greatest private boating trip of all. Three weeks after we took out, I am still struggling to come up with the words to describe this experience, however, I will try to do my best.

We launched from Lee’s Ferry, about 15 miles downstream of the Glen Canyon Dam. Our first day was full of meeting new friends, rigging boats and getting everything ready to go. We were outfitted completely by a company called Ceiba, and a man named Sparky got us all set up that day. Ceiba provided excellent food and gear and definitely made our trip great. We eventually floated around 100 yards downstream to set up camp for the night. THe next day was our launch day, we woke up to find our water bottles frozen and our boats (weighing thousands of pounds) completely beached due to the river ‘tide’. By the time we finished our briefing with the ranger, and got all of our stuff ready, the tide had come up and our boats were floating just in time for us to get on the water.

On day 1 we floated underneath the Navajo bridges, the last place a car can cross the Colorado until the Hoover Dam, I think. The water was crystal clear and we ran our first major rapid, Badger, before camping right at the bottom of it. That night we enjoyed a delicious salmon dinner and Zak relished in the joy of staying upright in the rapid (on his previous trip, he flipped there). Our second day we ran House Rock rapid and celebrated staying upright on a big sand pile at river Mile 19 . We ran the Roaring 20’s, a series of rapids in the 20-30 mile stretch of river on the third day. I hopped on a different boat that day and got the chance to row most of the rapids, which was great fun. Later that week, we enjoyed a layover day at Shinumo Camp, got to catch up on some reading, journaling, and had a chance to explore Silver Grotto, a small wet canyon just upstream from our camp.

After the layover day, we headed downstream for a day filled with exciting mini-hikes to Anasazi ruins, Vasey’s Paradise and Redwall Cavern. The next day, we enjoyed an awesome side hike up Saddle Canyon, leading to a beautiful waterfall before traveling downstream to Nankoweep, a camp with a beautiful sunset and sunrise hike to ancient granaries.

A view downstream from the Nankoweep Granaries.

A view downstream from the Nankoweep Granaries.

Waterfall at Saddle Canyon

Waterfall at Saddle Canyon

Scott, Jeff, Katy, Ed and Zak hang out at the Nankoweep Granaries.

Scott, Jeff, Katy, Ed and Zak hang out at the Nankoweep Granaries.

Looking downstream at Redwall Cavern.

Looking downstream at Redwall Cavern.

Water seeps out of the canyon wall at Vasey's Paradise.

Water seeps out of the canyon wall at Vasey’s Paradise.

Jeff gets stuck in quicksand during a lunch break.

Jeff gets stuck in quicksand during a lunch break.

rowing near Redwall Cavern.

rowing near Redwall Cavern.

Zak near the put-in.

Zak near the put-in.

DKatz, protected from the sun, rows near Lee's Ferry

DKatz, protected from the sun, rows near Lee’s Ferry

Navajo Bridges.

Navajo Bridges.

Boats beached at sunrise, day 1.

Boats beached at sunrise, day 1.