Friday, December 19, 2008

Grand Canyon: 25 days in the rift

On the 8th of Nov, after many years on a wait list and several months of frantic preparation, Tim and I flew to Arizona for a 25 day raft trip of the Grand Canyon with our family and five people we had never met before. After meeting and unloading on the 10th, the actual river trip would begin on the 11th at Lee's ferry and end 25 days and 225 miles downstream at the Diamond Creek pull out.

That first day of setup went by in a blur of activity and confusion; unloading and pumping up boats, loading coolers, a kitchen, a Porto toilet, and all our personal gear. And then there were all the questions to be answered; who wants what boat? Where the hell is everything? How do you use and set up all this gear? And in the back of our minds, who is this handful of strangers that we will be on the river with for the next 25 days?

From left to right; Amber, Barney, Carl, Patricia, Ryan, Clint (in orange), Sandra and Yarrow (sitting), Gene (in the cowboy hat), Tim, Kimmer, Theta, Dick, and David.

We planned for an early start on the 11th, but disaster struck before sunrise! My uncle, Barney, ran into a cable in the dark and injured his back. He is not sure if he will make it or not, but we have to get down the river that day per park regulations. He spends the day laying down, well medicated, and my stepfather, David, treats him with acupuncture. Finally by midday we leave with Gene rowing Barney's boat to the closest campsite we can stay at, about six miles down river.

Fortunately, the next day Barney is starting to feel better and is ready to row the first big rapid of the river, House Rock. We reach House Rock about midway through the day and, having never been on a river like this before, I take one look at the raging current and big holes and decide that I am absolutely going to die. I grab my big sunglasses and slap them on my face to hide my tears of terror and jump into the boat with David, who has rowed the GC three times. Carl and David go through House Rock first, and then, still very much alive, we pull into the eddy to watch the others go through. Clint, with Tim in the boat, goes through pretty smooth. Then Ryan, who is rowing a big river for the first time ever, goes through and nearly gets buried in one of the holes, but manages to pull out of it OK. Barney follows last and somehow gets spun around backwards, but also pulls through. Seeing that it can actually be done, I am feeling much better now about the whole rapid thing.

Ryan in the House Rock hole.

Grabbing for the oars

Barney headed down backwards.

That evening when we pull into camp, we begin the routine that continues throughout the trip; setting up camp, dinner, and then sitting around the fire pan where Amber keeps us laughing most of the night and a competition begins between the pyromaniacs of the group to see who can pile on the most wood. In the beginning of the trip my mother, Carl, and I are the contenders, but by the end of the trip, Ryan, who according to his girlfriend, Amber, had never burned much more then one of those yuppie fire logs before, comes out as the clear winner of the title "King Pyromaniac".

Theta sitting in front of a fire that is just getting started for the night, with the wood pile behind him.

A few days into the trip we stop for our first layover day at Nankoweep where we can see the granaries left behind by the Anasazi about 900 years ago, and also hike up to the rim to see a boulder covered with petroglyphs. On this boulder is one of the most interesting Kokopellis that I have seen. We eventually have 5 or 6 layover days on the trip, all centered around hiking up beautiful side canyons or onto the rim of the canyon. All throughout the trip there was a meteor shower which made sleeping under the stars especially amazing as we watched blazes of light streak across the sky.

Little Nankoweep Kokopelli

Nankoweep Granaries

After House Rock, the rapids continued to come along along fast and furious, and every day we went through several. In one of the smaller rapids, Carl decides to play a trick on his passengers, Sandra and Theta, and jumps out of the boat with them talking away on the seat in front of him. It took them a while to notice that they were alone in the boat, and when they finally do, after doing several double takes, Theta jumps on the oars as the boat was heading for the canyon walls. He gets the boat through the waves and Carl eventually swam back to the boat and got back in.

We were lucky throughout the trip to have no flips, but three other people also ended up swimming, although not purposely like Carl. In Serpentine rapid, Ryan's boat tilted up on it's side and he was ejected from the boat. He was able to get back in quickly. My mom and David were not quite as lucky in Sapphire. My mother was sitting on top of the wood pile that they had gathered into the back of the boat for that evening's fire when David, not paying attention, took the boat through a big hole sideways and it tilted completely on its side. They were both tipped from the boat, and the entire wood pile fell on top of my mother, many pieces of which landed on her head! The boat came back down, right side up, but landed with my mom and David underneath it. Eventually they were able to get out from underneath, but while my mom was able to grab onto the boat, David was immediately sucked down into a hole. Barney watched all this from down below on the river and as the boat drifted down the river towards him he had Gene row to intersect it. At the right moment he jumped into the boat and pulled my mom back in, while David, who had eventually been spit out of the hole, swam towards the boat and, exhausted, was pulled in as well. After this near disaster, we were all a little more careful!

All too soon, the river started to mellow out again as we came closer and closer to our pull out at Diamond Creek and the end of the trip. On our second to last night came the moment we had waited for the whole trip; Bacon Bomb! Having saved our bacon grease in a metal can for the entire trip, we put the can in the fire to heat. Once it was boiling, we used another can attached to the end of a long stick to pour in some water and watch the grease explosion!

Our last night on the river, we all stayed up a little later and wished the trip could last a little longer. It was amazing to have spent so much time away from civilization, rowing and hiking and sleeping under the stars at night. It makes you realize how little we really need in life to survive and be satisfied!

Inner Granite Gorge-the oldest exposed rock in North America

On one of our hikes a few of us used a rope to get down into the narrows of Deer Creek

At Havasu, with it's blue, blue water.

David (left run) and Carl (right run) through Horn Rapid.

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