Monday, July 18, 2005 - Day 1 on the River

We were up at 6:30 a.m. with a list of things to do before our 8:15 departure, not least of which was one final shower. Tom thought it silly that I would shower two hours before jumping into a river, but it was my last chance for days! We threw the stuff we wouldn't need into the trunk of the Mitsubishi, crammed everything else in our drybags, and rode over to Lee's Ferry to meet the raft.


Chris waits for our ride to the raft

Though still early, it was already hot when we arrived at Lee's Ferry, so I bit the bullet and jumped into the Colorado. Holy Moly, it's cold! Water is released fifteen miles upstream from here through turbines at the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam, 250 feet below the surface of Lake Powell. Because of the depth, the water is only 46 degrees when released, and it warms only to 60 degrees by the time it reaches Lake Mead, almost 300 miles downstream. The nephews jumped in the river shortly after I did, and then most everyone else. You want to get wet before climbing onto the raft in the scorching heat.


The crew loads essential gear

All river trips through the Grand Canyon must leave from Lee's Ferry. It's the only launch site between Glen Canyon Dam and Diamond Creek, 226 miles downstream. River miles are measured from here, starting with mile 0. We will travel an average of 37 miles per day and end at mile 188, where a helicopter will take us out of the canyon. A new group helicopters into the canyon at the same time and joins our crew for the last 60 miles of river and 35 miles of Lake Mead.

Our raft is a 37-foot motorized pontoon boat. After loading gear and beer and donning life jackets, finally we're off! You can ride sitting on the pontoons either sidesaddle or cowboy style, plus there's room for two people to sit up front in the middle of the raft on top of somebody's duffel bag. We called the front position on each pontoon "riding point" and the front position sitting on the duffel "the suicide seat." Everybody rode point or suicide at least sometime during the trip, but no one more than Chris and Jacob.


Navajo Bridge

Passing under the Navajo Bridge at mile 4.5, we leave the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and enter Grand Canyon National Park. It just doesn't get any better than this! The first rapid big enough for a number rating is Badger Creek Rapid at mile 8. After that rapid, Jacob got up to get a drink, and I stole the point seat from him. Ha! We soon went through Soap Creek Rapid at mile 11 and I got soaked. Fun! Don't worry - I'm not going to mention every rapid and rock that we passed.


A scene from the raft

The crew found a shady spot under a rock overhang to stop for lunch about mile 14 and laid out a cold-cut sandwich spread with fresh fruit, chips, and cookies. Dave encouraged us to eat a lot throughout the trip to keep our electrolytes in balance with all the water we were drinking and sweat we were losing. So we did. In spite of all the activity, I think most of us gained weight. Oh, well. That's what vacations are for.

In the afternoon we went through a bunch of fun rapids all in a row referred to collectively as "The Roaring 20s." Some big-horn sheep were grazing by the river in this area. At mile 32 we passed a gorgeous waterfall coming out of the canyon wall called Vasey's Paradise, surrounded by ferns and moss-covered rocks.




Vasey's Paradise

At mile 33 we stopped at Redwall Cavern. Major John Wesley Powell, leader of the first two boating expeditions through the Grand Canyon in 1869 and 1872, thought this cavern could seat 50,000 people. It's big, but it ain't that big. Size can be deceptive in the Grand Canyon, though, and as we walked into the cavern, it seemed larger and larger...


Redwall Cavern


Looking out Redwall Cavern

Guide Dave looked familiar to me last night at the meeting. As it turns out, he was one of our guides in '83 during the big flood. The crew was really improvising during that trip. The water was so high that all the regular lunch spots and campsites were underwater, so they just stopped wherever they could, sometimes on not much more than a shelf. Dave pointed out to me our first night's camp from that year high on the canyon wall. He said he remembers it well because it's the only time he's ever camped there.

Tonight we didn't have any difficulty finding a camp. We stopped at Nautaloid Canyon, mile 35, a great campsite with an interesting side canyon to explore. The nautaloid was a sea creature of the Paleozoic era, and Nautaloid Canyon is named for the abundance of nautaloid fossils that can be found here.


Jacob explores Nautaloid Canyon

Each day, as soon as we pull into camp, Dave points out where the kitchen and restroom will be, and the rest of the place is ours. We all pile off the raft and select a spot for our cots, then return to the raft and form a line to unload the kitchen gear and our duffel bags. While we passengers set up our cots and bathe and generally make ourselves at home for the night, the crew is hard at work making dinner and organizing things for tomorrow.


Chris climbs the canyon

Our beer was cooled in a drag bag kept behind the boat in the chilly water, and by the time we set up camp and pulled out a cold one, hors d'oeuvres were served - tonight chips and salsa, my kind of snack! A little while later dinner was ready: Mexican chili delight, with poundcake and strawberries for dessert.


Jacob, Chris, and Brian - Definitely up to no good

Restroom on the River: By National Park regulations, all peeing is to be done in the river or in the wet sand, easier said than done for the ladies among us, but we managed. As for other matters, as soon as we made camp, the guys would break out a square metal bucket with a toilet seat and find a (mostly) private area to place it. A few yards away they'd place a life jacket. When you went to the facility, you would take the life jacket with you to signal the bucket was occupado.

Tom and I stayed up till 9:30 talking to Dave and enjoying the stars. Some people were down just after 7:00. How do you sleep at 7:00? It gets dark about 8:30 and is light again around 5:00 a.m.

The water level in the canyon fluctuates throughout the day, depending on how much water is released through the dam, which depends on how much electricity they need to generate. So we always had to be cognizent of the high-water mark on the beach and whether the "tide" was going up or down. Brian and family had at first set up their cots down in a low spot, then just before turning in they moved uphill a few feet. It's a good thing they did - the water came up over the previous high-water mark overnight.


Continue to Day 5

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