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Grand Canyon River Running
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mini location map2012-08-04
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Grand Canyon River RunningNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Rafting avatar Aug 04 2012
Rafting281.00 Miles 1,926 AEG
Rafting281.00 Miles7 Days         
1,926 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
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Went with Arizona River Runners as a 'work-your-way' swamper for a 7 day trip from Lee's Ferry to Pearce Ferry. Mind-blowing amazing experience, though it would have been greatly improved with a better clientele (long story).

Many thanks to Sirena who made it happen for me, Kenny my most awesome lead boatman and Chelsea the kick-butt second boat.

Many of my photos were lost as I took them on Sirena's waterproof camera which disappeared somewhere between the Parashant Canyon and Pumpkin Springs :( . But, the memories are with me FOREVER!

Day 1:
Load up boats in Flagstaff and drive to Lee's Ferry. My first trip in a big rig was almost my last when the trailer broke an axle in the rear. We were very lucky the whole thing didn't do a flip. The company brought different trailers up from Flag and we unloaded and re-loaded the boats, all while the truck was on a narrow strip of shoulder just north of Gap. The excitement was really not the kind I'd been planning on.

We made it to the river, finally, inflated the pontoons and rigged up the rafts. It was such a beautiful day on the river - above the Paria it was clear and calm. Had a great dinner at Cliff Dwellers and crashed in the hottest lodgings ever. I'm a backpacker - I made it work.

Day 2
Went out early to give the boats a last blast of air from the power pumps and make sure all was ready for our guests. Then we met up with them at Marble Canyon Lodge for a little talk-through of what life would be like for the next few days. The group - well - they were a challenge. That's all I'm sayin' about it. I was suddenly thankful for all of my years of experience with the ABC leading groups in the wilderness.

We shuttled down to the ferry, went through a few more items of business, then we loaded up the boats and pushed off. My sense of excitement couldn't be eclipsed by any bad luck, squabbles or problems that came our way!

Good thing, too, because almost right off the bat, one of the boats started having some small engine problems. It kept cutting out when the boatman needed the power most - and even an inexperienced rider like me knows that's no good.

Camped that night at Indian Dick after a fun day of floating through Marble Canyon. The campsite was nice, though there was a steep climb from the river to the kitchen. It wouldn't have been a problem if I didn't have to go back and forth a million times while the boatmen switched out the misbehaving engine. You know - those things are HEAVY!

I think dinner the first night was spaghetti with garlic bread. Yum!

Day 3
Early in the day we stopped at South Canyon to check out the Archaeology sites there. The ruins and petroglyphs were very cool, and from the beach and the ledges you could get a glimpse of Vasey's Paradise just downriver.

Vasey's is beautiful - though it feels like something of a Disney attraction as you float by. It's protected habitat for the Kaibab ambersnail, so you're not permitted to explore the area (plus, I've been told it's covered with poison ivy). What a tease!

Our next big 'attraction' for the day was Redwall Cavern. This was one of those big moments for me - I'd seen photos and dreamed of experiencing this massive cavern for SO long! The other guests on the boats couldn't understand why I was so excited, and I should have taken this for a sign of their general ability to feel excitement. However, once we were exploring the back of this massive cavern, they seemed to catch the drift. I even managed to get the group to throw a 'Wendy' for me (though some opted out because it was too corny).

Floating on, we passed the Bridge of Sighs - it looked like a challenging scramble to access even the bottom of the arch. As the day wore on, we descended below the Redwall Limestone and began to see the shales and sandstones of the next layers. I was beginning to understand how much more quickly you see the changes in the canyon from these motorized boats!

Around river mile 43 we passed the remains of an ancient Anasazi log bridge almost 600' above the river. It's amazing to think that these peoples carried the massive logs to this point, which must've included lowering them down technical climbs that even modern climbers balk at.

Saddle Canyon called to me strongly as we passed, and I hope I get to hike it someday. Today wasn't that day, though. We also passed the granaries of Nankoweap. The light was in a poor spot for photographing them, but it was still awesome to see these structures from thousands of years ago perched high on a cliff above the confluence with Nankoweap creek.

The Little Colorado River was running fast and muddy, so we also avoided the usual stop there. The fun with the LCR is seeing the crystal blue water merging with the river - but instead it was a little chocolate milk flowing into a lot of chocolate milk. Somewhat anti-climatic since I missed the LCR confluence last time I was in the area as well ( Yet another reason that I have to go back!

We made camp just below Lava Canyon as the afternoon light played with the beauty of Comanche Point. This was scenically probably my favorite day on the river - seeing the cavern, Vasey's, the Anasazi Bridge and the Nankoweap Granaries all in one day. On top of that, revisiting the Palisades of the Desert (it helps if you say it with a Monster-Truck-Rally echo effect) was a treat. I love the Supergroup, and it's possible it may be on its way to being my favorite geological layer!

There was a little extra fun, because of even more boat motor trouble. After Kenny and Chelsea Frankensteined the two bad motors together, we had to do a huge switch-a-roo and get 3 motors moved and situated in their new and hopefully permanent homes. As mentioned before, these buggers are HEAVY, and I'm glad there were 4 of use to help plus Brian who was quite burly for a Canadian. (Okay, I don't think I was much help at all - but I was at least offering positive thoughts and happy words).

Dinner is escaping me that night. What did we eat? I think I might have been too tired to eat to tell you the truth. Or maybe this was spaghetti night. Who can say?

Day 4
We climb up above the camp to check out some truly awesome rock art left there by ancient visitors. Kenny does one of his delightful readings on the canyon, but I missed it. I was too busy getting excited about running Hance Rapid. Our first real whitewater according to Kenny. Alright! Bring it on!

Hance didn't disappoint, and I was nice and wet at the exit which set me up nicely for the rest of the hot morning going through the Upper Granite Gorge. This day is probably the most fun whitewater wise. Hance, Horn Creek, Hermit, Granite - they are all amazing. The water flow is ideal for them all, making big waves, fun runs and a wild ride for sure.

I particularly enjoyed floating under the bridges and past Bright Angel Creek. We stopped briefly at Boat Beach to fill up our water jugs. It was a special treat for those of us who carried the jugs because the water from the tap there was cold, clear and clean - perfect for rinsing all that Colorado (red earth) out of your hair...for the few minutes until you got drenched again at Horn, anyway ;)

Late in the afternoon, we pulled in at Bass Camp. Sirena and I were excited, as we'd both been wanting to check this spot ever since we camped directly overhead on a ledge just off the Tonto Trail on 10/10/10 and hear the whoopin'-hollerin' party going on down at this site. It was early enough for us to take a small group around the corner to the Silver Grotto at Shinumo Wash. The waterfall here was not only clean and clear, but slightly warm - especially compared to the freezing river! We explored and played, then headed back to Bass to have a great dinner @ this amazing beach.

I think dinner was hamburgers and brats that night. Yumm!

Day 5

Though we'd originally planned to revisit Shinumo in the morning, another trip had taken the only good parking spot, so we pressed on. We'd already made the decision not to visit Elves' Chasm - this particular group was not terribly good at the scrambling required to reach the falls, and it was always a crowded attraction at best. I wasn't broken hearted - after my last visit and attempted visit, I've not grown fond of Elves' Chasm. I suppose it might have been nice to see it in the sunshine and to not have to hike that miserable trail from Toltec Beach - but another time perhaps. With people who might actually appreciate it.

Oh, wait - I said I wasn't going to talk about them again. Sorry.

Floating down Steven's Aisle was a treat - such a beautiful stretch of river. We did make a stop at Blacktail Canyon, which was among my favorite side trips. A very easy hike brought us into a marvelous slot canyon. The acoustics in this particular area are said to be near perfect - so of course I had to break out the Irish tunes. Such a beautiful place deserved the most beautiful, heart-wrenching song I knew. I might not have had much of an audience, but the folks who counted were there and I could feel the rocks and birds and critters listening in, too.

Have I mentioned yet that the boaters nicknamed me Mary Poppins? Yeah. Obviously don't know me too well ;)

The Aisle and the stretches after it were dotted with cool side canyons, ledgy camps and massive lava flows. Great day for just floating past - not much whitewater, and not much excitement. Just right for a 'recovery' day after the excitement of Upper Granite Gorge!

After our lunch break at Randy's Rock, we passed through the Granite Narrows, the narrowest spot on the river. This meant that Deer Creek was just around the corner - and the falls that I've wanted to visit again for so long (last time I was here was November 2008). It was a hot afternoon, no clouds, and the climb up to the patio was brutal. Luckily, we were escorting some of our more adventurous guests, so I could move a little more slowly than I would have if it'd been a bunch of hard-core hikers up there. The patio was crowded - there were at least 3 groups from the river who'd hiked up - so we didn't hang out too long. We got good and wet, then hiked back to the boats. Walking back to the boat was a fun exercise: hop up on one boat then use them like giant stepping stones - there were at least 4 to cross before I got to my own!

We camped at the Football Field just downstream of the falls, with another of our company's trips moored up just around the corner. After making another delicious dinner, a couple of us went to hang out with the other boatmen. I stayed behind, having some much needed alone and quiet time to rinse out some clothes and my grubby self. I slept SO well that night!

Day 6
The last day for this group - by the end of the day we'd be camped at Whitmore Helipad, and tomorrow they'd be off. I'd like to say we were sorry to see them go, but it wouldn't be the precise truth...

This day meant one thing to me: Lava Falls! I'd read about it so many times, and I was so excited to see it... It was actually a bit of a let down to tell the truth. A big rapid, no doubt, but the boatmen were so good that it was as smooth as silk! I suppose that's a tribute to them, and I'm glad it went off without a hitch. But, I must admit, Hermit was MUCH cooler!

Sirena was excited to explore National Canyon. This narrow side canyon was originally the site of a cool waterfall at the bottom of an intriguing narrows - but the climb up above the waterfall was too difficult for a river-side trip. The canyon flash-flooded a couple weeks before, however,at over 15k cfs (that's as much flow as there is in the river at times). The debris deposited filled in the canyon floor and made the narrows accessible after an easy, brief scramble. There was even a cool sit-down-water-slide up there! We had a great time playing up in the slick narrows (and I have to thank Brian for his boost up there - he really hauled my butt!). On the way back to the boat we ooh'ed and aah'ed about the massive flood damage. I have always respected the power of the flash flood, but it's never a bad thing to be reminded of their raw destructive energy.

Afternoon storms built up as we floated past the remains of the massive lava dams that once clogged the canyon. It was so impressive to see the remnants of these flows hundreds of feet overhead on the canyon rim. That's a lot of lava, my friends!

Dinner the last night for this group: steak, and well cooked steaks by our man Kenny. And awesome mashed potatoes - most of which ended up wasted because of our group's abhorrence of the evil of 'carbs'. Oh well - more for us!

Day 7
The helicopters arrived early in the morning to ferry out our passengers and bring in what's called 'The Tag' or the 'Jet Boat'. This is a second group of 28 that only get to ride the river for a day and a half. Normally, the boatmen are all tired and grumpy and the tag gets the short-end of the stick as it were as a result. This time, though, we were so psyched to see a new group of enthusiastic, excited people that we felt a burst of fresh energy!

The tag group was a blast! There were quite a few kids, but they weren't too annoying (you all know that kid's aren't really my thing). They whooped and hollared at all the right moments, oohed and aahed when it was called for, and helped out with all of the camp chores.

We stopped to swim in the river at Pumpkin Spring. There's a special spot with a rock outcrop and a safe bit of flat water where boat trips obviously regularly stop. Everyone brave enough jumps off a 12' ledge into the brown Colorado, much to the delight of all the young folks in the group.

Sirena was convinced she could make me do it. I acted like it was no problem, but once I got my butt up there, I couldn't make myself jump! I just froze up at the edge like a scardey-cat! It was embarrassing as were these 9 year olds, leaping of and doing flips, and I couldn't even take a simple step. Finally, Sirena had to get firm with me, and I decided to try 'scooting' off the rock. I sat down, legs dangling, and told everyone to scream at the top of their lungs. Then I pushed off.

It was like not even a half second and I was in the water. That made me feel even sillier, it was such a short drop! But, I also felt cooler, and could say that I did it, which meant I was cooler as well! Next time, it's feet first, absolutely. Yup. Gonna do it.


The rest of the day was some little whitewater, a fun ride down the river, and lots of great fun with the guests. At camp, we had a delightful evening with Spaghetti for dinner (it's one of my faves, so I don't mind it over and over). I was getting the hang of the river thing, I thought. Just in time for the last day...

Day 8

A little more time left...and the canyon's still giving out the wonders. We stopped in the morning at Travertine Grotto for some fun rock scrambling and travertine waterfall action. The grotto was beautiful, with not only a big waterfall at the back, but tons of little tiny 'spouts' of water shooting straight out of the travertine walls. As the guests climbed back down the rope ladder, I got a little time in the quiet solitude of the cave. Those are really the best moments, I think, when you can be quiet and listen to the canyon speaking to you... She has so many voices, and each one has it's own beauty, and it's own danger. That's what makes her song so exciting!

We stopped again at Separation Canyon, which has such a wonderful side-story... Because we were entering the lake waters, we stripped the pontoons off of the boats and tied them together into a massive flotilla. Talk about a party barge! Since we were all crammed together, I had the group throw a big Wendy for me. They were so into it - I'm just happy no one fell off the boat!

It was a slow ride down the river to Spencer canyon, where we'd part with this group. They were hopping onto a jet boat, which would muscle them down river FAST, so they could continue with their fun vacation plans. Kenny, Chelsea, Sirena and I would then 'run out' the boats to Pearce Ferry. The boatmen all look forward to this part of the trip, having the lake to themselves and a whole boat full of snacks and what not to party on...

It was a blast. All the tension we'd built up began to release. We hung out in the shade of a cliff, swam, napped, ate and drank the first group's leftover beer. We played our music loud on speakers and put on costumes (okay - they put on costumes - I guess I forgot to pack mine).

It was great.

In the afternoon, a big storm blew up, and though we didn't get much rain, we got cool weather and shade when we might have been baking in the sun of Lake Mead. When we moored up at Pearce Ferry, it was dark, stormy and perfect for sleeping. Not bad for the end of the trip.

Day 9
The rest feels anti-climatic in retrospect. Pull the boats out of the water and load them onto the big rig again (I guess it got fixed while we floated). Try to sleep on the bumpy, hot road to Kingman, where we wolfed down a big breakfast. Then more driving to Flagstaff, unload the boats, unpack the gear, wash everything down. A nice little summer storm made this day even more fun, too. Gotta love monsoon season.

We were back on the road by 3pm, and driving like madwomen home. I was glad Sirena volunteered to drive, because though I managed to stay awake, I was so tired that I probably could have made stupid mistakes.

Lessons Learned:
  • Mio Energy: if you shoot it straight, it acts like a caffeine injection straight to your heart!
  • Keens are comfortable, but hold in sand in an inconvenient way. No wonder the real boatmen wear flip-flops.
  • Even inflated rubber boats can have very sharp edges which bite when you hit them hard.
  • All the money in the world doesn't make you a fun person to be around
  • No amount of plastic surgery makes a 65 year old woman in a string bikini and neoprene water socks sexy.
  • Nudity and river folk go together like sailors and swear-words. (I knew this already, but had not been exposed to the full extent of it)
  • Wag-bags ain't so bad
  • Groovers are less fun than Wag bags
  • Excellent tip for controlling an ant problem: a can of Pam and a lighter
  • 7 days on the river is not NEARLY enough

So, when do I go back? :y:
Bighorn Sheep
Throwing a Wendy
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.- Barack Obama
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