The Grand Canyon A Rafting Adventure.
By Norman Hall September 2003
[Double click on pictures to enlarge]
Mid 2002, Paul Richards suggested that we consider a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. Being open to most adventures I immediately agreed providing Paul did all the leg work to get it organized. The seed was sown, the idea about to take shape and the adventure was on its way.
For those who do not know Paul [which is most of you], he is very good at hunting down deals. Once he was charged with the task of finding who we would raft with he started checking out all [and I do mean all] the commercial rafting companies who run tours down the Grand Canyon. Paul eventually settled on Diamond River Adventures out of Page Arizona for the following reasons:
Cost Whilst not the cheapest they were competitive.
Timing Their tours ran when we wanted them to.
Facilities The set up presented on their website appeared to deliver what we were looking for.
Guides We wanted to go with experienced people who knew their stuff.
The following extract is stolen direct from the Diamond River website- Thanks Diamond!
Diamond River Adventures is one of the oldest, most established outfitters on the Colorado River.
Bill and Pat Diamond moved from Utah to the work camp that would become Page, Arizona, in 1958. Bill was employed as a photographer during the building of Glen Canyon Dam. In 1967, in partnership with Jerry Sanderson, he formed Sanderson River Expeditions. River running grew in popularity, and in 1978 Bill and Pat formed Diamond River Adventures.
Through the turbulent 1970s, and despite the floods of the 1980s, Diamond River Adventures remained dedicated to providing quality river trips. passing of Bill in 1996 brought a renewed focus and enhanced love for the work we do and the service we provide. The company remains headquartered, and the family still lives, in the small northern Arizona town of Page, just a scant mile from the Colorado River.
A brief History of Rafting in the Grand Canyon
An American Civil War Officer, Major John Wesley Powell, is attributed by most as the trip leader for the first voyage to explore the Grand Canyon. James White claimed to have floated the river on a one man 14 day trip in 1867, 2 years before Powell, however this is discounted by most historians. I leave it to you to decide.
Anyway, Powell also attempted to journey with only one arm, his right arm being a casualty of the civil war. I suppose he was really harmless, or was that armless?
Although being successful in his attempt [well if you call loosing 3 people along the way being successful] the news did not cause a stampede to the area like many Gold Prospecting stories had done in many parts of the USA. Apparently a steady stream of prospectors, animal trappers, map makers and the like did follow. Some notable followers were:
* Robert Brewster Stanton who wanted to build a railway
* The Kolb Brothers trying to make a film
* The Hydes Newlywebs whose canyon experienced ended in tragedy
* Buzz Holstom. He built his own wooden boat and sailed down solo [crazy if you ask me]
* Dr Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter Botanists and the first women to make the run
* Ed Hudson and Dock Marston drove the first power boat though the canyon
* Georgie Clark pioneered commercial river tours after World War 2
* In 1960 Jet boast ran up the river, the only success of its type to this day
Apparently by 1949 only 100 people had run the river despite Powells expedition some 80 years earlier. These days only between 18,000 and 20,000 people are allowed down the Canyon each year. In 1963 Glen Canyon Dam was completed and the river forever changed. Water flows are now controlled at the whim of electricity needs from the Hydro Electric Power Station
Paul Richards - Aging Aussie who is height challenged
Tracy Menzies - Pauls other half who keeps leading him astray
Norman Hall - Report author, Hansom, Tall and all around nice guy
The Intrepid 3. Norman left, Then Paul and lastly Tracy on the Right.
We chose a scenic trip down to the South Rim of the Canyon Driving from Denver out to Moab on Day one. In Moab we visited Arches National Park and took the walk around balancing rock and out to Delicate Arch. Both are well worth the walk.
Our second day of driving saw us travel south along I 191 and visit Monument Valley. The drive around the Indian reservation was spectacular and also gave us the opportunity to purchase some genuine Indian jewelry. We then headed down to stay in Page Arizona that night.
Wanting to cram as much in as we could we arranged a tour up Lake Powell on our third day to visit Rainbow Bridge. This arch is quite famous and is a sacred site for several Indian tribes. Due to the low water level the normal 2 ½ hour each way trip took 3 hours each way making the trip last from 8 am until 3 pm. The Arch was great and well worth the visit. On our way up the river we saw several jet skis playing and jumping our boats wake. Unfortunately 2 of the riders forgot to watch what was going on which resulted in a head on collision and the destruction of both PWCs. I was amazed to watch one of the riders go somersaulting over the top of everything. Oh well, there is always a price for dangerous driving. From Page we drove down to the South Rim of the Canyon to spend our last night of comfort at the Bright Angel Lodge.
Our Boat Wesley and John
The Other Boat TA [Trip leader], Brock and Scott
Wes our Raft Captain
Other Rafting Trip Participants:
There were about 24 others. Names and addresses withheld on the grounds that I forgot to write them all down.
Our river rafting portion of the trip started on Wednesday 3rd September 2003. We had chosen to join a 5 day motorized trip down the bottom half of the Canyon starting at Phantom Ranch.
The 5-Day Motorized Trip
- 5 days and 4 nights in length
- Suitable for anyone age 8 and over in very good physical condition for the hike into Grand Canyon at Phantom Ranch [read about this later on]
- The Trip begins at Phantom Ranch and ends at Diamond Creek, 138.5 river miles later
- Boats are 35 feet long and carry up to 14 passengers
- Two to three crew members per boat
- Two boats travel together
Our pre trip instructions had advised us that we should start walking down the canyon by no later than 5 am. The walk down into the Canyon to the launching ramp is 9.5 miles long and descends some 4,500 feet. Typically Paul was running late and we did not join the trail until 5.15am. When we started we were wearing head lamps to ensure that we could see where we were walking. By the time we arrived it was bright sunshine. Apparently most people usually take between 4 ½ hours and 6 hours to make the journey into the Canyon. As we were carrying all our own gear in, as opposed to sending our packs down with the regular Mule train, we wanted as much time as possible to make the 11 am designated meeting time. We were pleased when we only took 4 ¾ hours arriving at the boat beach at 10 am to be met by a smiling Brock. We were the first to arrive!. Given that we had not passed anyone, and we had left 15 minutes after the time we were told to, this left us wondering where everyone else was. Two couples had remained with the tour after finished the top half of the canyon hence did not need to hike in like us.
People started to arrive shortly thereafter however a large number had still not arrived. Witney, Stefna and UB arrived some time between 11 am and 11.30 am to advise that some of their party were running late. Their quick trip to let us know was greatly appreciated but the next news was not. Apparently several members of their group had insisted upon staying at the Bright Angel Lodge until they had breakfast. This meant that they did not hit the trail until 7am, some 2 hours late. It was interesting to note that breakfast started at 5.30 am so theoretically they could have begun their decent at say 6.00 am [1 hour before they did start] but obviously their selfishness did not include any room for the consideration of other people. We also heard that one of the late hikers was in his mid 70s and thus would take even longer to walk down. This news hit us like a sledge hammer. We had awoken early, done all the right things yet several totally inconsiderate people were going to hold us up because they wanted breakfast. To say we were not impressed is an understatement.
TA, our trip leader, initially took it all in his stride until probably 1.30 pm when he started to become, as he should, concerned about our late departure. Anyway the stragglers arrived and we eventually got away about 2.30 pm. On this point I would recommend to Diamond that they consider the following changes:
* Limit the maximum age of participants
* Advise people that the boats will leave by 12 noon, if ready, even if stragglers have not arrived
* Insist upon people leaving the Rim on time
* If not the above departure deadline then at least have the meeting point at Phantom Ranch with any food or drink bill after 12 noon to be paid by the company.
I know I will not win any friends with the above but inconsiderate people really piss me off.
Paul & Tracy waiting in the heat for our late traveling companions.
Anyway our adventure started and we rafted down the river from Phantom Ranch at mile 88. I had a front position with Paul and Tracy sitting nearby but partially sheltered from the direct pummeling of the rapids. That night we set up camp by 4.00 pm at mile 91.5 near Trinity Creek. We had traveled less than 4 miles due to our late start. TA and his crew then set about setting up a delicious meal of Pork Chops, Baked veggies and all the trimmings. This was a welcome meal after the exertions of walking into the Canyon.
Day 2 of the rafting started leisurely although I had woken up at 6 am after a refreshing night under the stars. Most people had chosen to sleep in tents however I had slept outside to enjoy the experience [a practice more and more followed over the next few nights]. The water level had dropped overnight requiring significant effort to push the rafts off the sand bar and back into the river. It was all hands on board for this exercise.
To get the full experience I chose to sit right up front for this day, taking the washing machineposition. So named as you felt like you were in a washing machine when large rapids were engaged. Our first rapid, Granite Rapid, was to be a big one. It had an 18 foot drop and is rated a 7 8 out of 10. Well, I did not know what to expect then I saw it! As we dropped into a hole there was a 10 foot solid wall of water coming straight for me. Without time to think I was swamped and came though coughing and spluttering as I was too slow to close my mouth and nose completely. Welcome to the Colorado River. I am sure that Wes our guide hit it as hard as he could just to shake us up a bit. The rest of the day consisted of many more large rapids such as:-
Hermit Rapid, 15 foot drop rating 7 8 at mile 95
Boucher Rapid, 13 foot drop rating 4 5 at mile 97
Crystal Rapid, 17 foot drop rating 7 10 at mile 98.5
Tuna Creek Rapid, 10 foot drop rating 5 7 at mile 99.5
Ruby Rapid, 11 foot drop rating 4 5 at mile 104.5
Serpentine rapid, 12 foot drop rating 6 7 at mile 106
110 Mile Rapid, 17 foot drop rating 3 at mile 110
Going down a rapid.
And the list goes on with numerous other smaller rapids. One rapid we went down in reverse [sorry I forgot to write down which one]. By the end of the day I was beaten and bruised with the biggest grin on my face that I could fit. What a blast. During the day we passed many big horn sheep which are native to the area. It was amazing how easily they traversed near vertical cliffs. We passed many gorges to our south and north [left and right] and took one short walk to a small waterfall.
One of the Waterfalls we visited.
We again camped at 4.00 pm after making up some of our lost ground. Our camp site was a spot known as Owl Eyes named after a rock formation up high on the south rim of the Canyon. Our crew fed us Cheeseburgers. Whilst there was some spitting rain our spirits were not dampened as we recounted the days events.
Day 3 on the River again began at 6 am when I awoke under the open sky above. Whilst it had rained the previous night I had remained dry and warm. The crew had chickened out and pitched their tents on the rafts to stay dry. To gain a different perspective I chose to ride at the rear of the raft for a fair portion of the day. Up back it is dry, warm and very comfortable. The complete opposite to the front of the boat. The water had risen some over night so no need to re-launch our rafts.
A Canyon View
The rapids kept on coming, the adrenalin remained bubbling just below the surface and we journeyed on. After negotiating Dubendorff Rapid, Tapeats Rapid, 135 Mile Rapid, Fishtail Rapid, Kanab Rapid, Upset Rapid and many more at mile 156.5 we came to Havasu Creek. This area is home to the Havasupai Indians. This creek is the outlet for a special area of the South Rim. The Havasupais land consists of a thin oasis of green fields and red cliffs. They have been traditionally farmers tending corn, bean and squash crops during the warmer months then moving out of the canyon to hunt during winter. This was a chance to stretch our legs and go for a 20 minute walk up Havasu Creek to enjoy the crystal clear waters and swim in the refreshing creek. We regrettably did not have time to take the 5 mile each way hike up to Mooney Falls.
Paul on the River
The remainder of the afternoon was relatively gentle as we floated down a further 11 ½ miles to Fern Canyon which was to be our overnight campsite. Again our crew exceeded expectations and presented us with Turkey Fillets wrapped in bacon for Dinner.
During the night we were treated to an unexpected experience. The Moon had risen [out of our sight path] and was lighting up the whole side of the canyon wall. Initially we thought large spot lights were out until we realized the truth.
Tracy Bubble Girl packing up after staying at Fern Canyon.
Day 4 started fairly miserably. It had been raining the previous night and the air was still damp and cold. Our spirits were lifted somewhat when TA presented us with Blueberry Pancakes and sausages for breakfast.
Smilie Face Norman
Most smart travelers donned their rain suits as the weather was against us and we were to not see much direct sun for several hours as the river was to remain in the shade. When some of the crew got into wet weather gear we all knew to follow their lead.
There is a rule that people must stay on the rafts, swimming or floating down the river is not encouraged or allowed. At 3 Springs Rapid located at mile 215.5 we were presented with an unexpected opportunity. Despite our guides advice, several members of the raft unfortunately fell overboard and then experienced the thrill of floating down the river though some rapids on our backs. Of course we were severely chastised by our Crew when they picked us up at the rapids end. What a blast!
We camped at mile 220 known as 220 mile canyon. I think people were becoming very unimaginative by this time as the names of rapids and canyons started to just reflect the mile point. It was rib eye steak for dinner. You can say one thing for Diamond; they make sure you get fed well.
On our last day we awoke to a nice breakfast and a short day. Unfortunately someone had abused Oscarand this caused our crew some obvious consternation. Oscar was the name for our solid waste toilet which was set up each night by our crew. Apparently someone had completely missed the target causing a significant mess that the crew we forced to clean up. We arrived at
Another rapid perspective
Diamond Creak at about 10 am and the end of our 137 mile odyssey down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. From there we took our bus back to Peach Springs and then back to our boring lives.
We met some great people on the trip, including Chico and Audrey Noriega who arranged show tickets in Vegas for us. If you ever get the chance, take the trip but be on time!.