When my children were younger, they did not like giant water slides. And it suited me fine. These kinds of adrenalin rush are not for me. Nevertheless, this summer I went rafting together with 18 people (including my now more adventurous teenagers and four guides) for several days on one of the greatest natural water slides, the Colorado River. Colorado River runs through Grand Canyon and is known for its difficult whitewater rapids!
Paddling, swimming, and rocking through whitewater
Our fleet consisted of an inflatable raft with room for eight paddlers + guide, a single inflatable kayak and an inflatable motorized raft with room for the rest of the party as well as supplies and camping gear.
After a short instruction given by our guides, we took turns throwing ourselves into whitewater paddling through rapids and eddies (whirlpools). At times, the paddle raft turned almost vertical in the water, and everyone laughed and hooted in delight. I paddled the first day, and it was no easy start, as we went through some of the biggest rapids on the trip. How did I end up here ?!! Admittedly, it was fun and cool when we made it through a rapid, but I shuddered of the thought of falling into the cold water and having to swim through powerful rapids. This actually happened to several of us. One day, four or five people jumped intentionally out of the paddle raft and into the river, just to experience swimming through a rapid. One of them was my husband. He got caught in an eddy and had to struggle hard to avoid being sucked down. He was rescued by a kayaker and hauled aboard the motorized raft. The next day he was fine and ready to paddle again. I, on the other hand, paddled only one more time. After that, I took a seat on the motorized raft and enjoyed the rocking ride through rapids, which often sprayed us and required a firm grip.
Walkway to waterfalls
Second element of the trip consisted of hiking through gorges towards waterfalls and blue holes. This was more for me.
Despite the heat (47 degrees Celsius /117 degrees Fahrenheit) and steep mountainsides, I enjoyed walking and climbing on narrow paths, surrounded by cacti and rocks in golden colors, with my water bottle in hand and bucket hat pulled down low in front. Not all participants were equally enthusiastic about the steep and narrow paths – optimistically described by our trip leader as ‘walkway wide’! But how rewarding it was to find a waterfall bursting straight from the rocks and take a cool shower.
Basic camp life deluxe
Third element – also in some ways adventurous – was camp. I had imagined plenty of time spent on reading and looking at stars, but I did not even get halfway through my book. The daily camp routine started with participants jumping ashore to find a spot for setting up their individual camp beds on the riverbank (After the hot first night we learned to look for windy spots close to the river). Then, we all formed a bucket line to pass the gear from the motorized raft and onto the beach. Kitchen, chairs, and camp beds were set up, and everyone took a break, had a beer, and/or played games. The guides started cooking dinner, which was always delicious, fairly healthy, and varied. I had mentally prepared my kids for canned food, but meat and vegetables were kept fresh at the bottom of the motorized raft, constantly cooled by the river.
Hygiene was taken seriously, and meals were announced with a shout: “Wash your hands”. We all had dinner in a camp chair circle, balancing plates on our laps. Lively talk, jokes, cozy atmosphere. As the only non-Americans, my family struggled a bit to keep up; sometimes we simply needed to sit there and stare into space.
In Grand Canyon, you wake up early and sleep early. Simply because you want to get on the river before the sun heats up, and because it is difficult to navigate after sunset.
So, we heard a “hot coffeeee” call at 5:30 am, and around 8 pm most people went to bed. The first two nights we slept with wet towels on top of us because of the heat. Then came the monsoon. We had clear sky and calm weather during dinner, and all of a sudden storm and rain broke out. Quickly we found plastic covers to pull over our sleeping bags, and we lay like glistening cocoons in our camp beds. The second rainy night I was soaked, and I sighed when spotting a tent set up by our “neighbours”. We had tents the last night, and it was a pleasure to wake rested and dry the next morning!
Reptiles and other wildlife, but no mosquitos, hooray!
We spotted small scorpions, ants with white or orange hair, longhorns, small birds, bats, squirrels, herons, and snake tracks. No mosquitoes. One of our guides told us that the Glen Canyon Dam construction has caused changes in tides, which inhibit living conditions for bugs and thus also for some fish species. All of our guides were knowledgeable about geology, flora, and fauna, and they told about rapids, rocks, lava, and genesis of the canyons. I have to say that most of it went over my head, partly due to my modest English geology vocabulary; partly because it was enough for me to enjoy the scenery, colors, and grandeur without knowing the geologic names.
Longterm planning and scenic flights
Unlike our normal travel planning, we booked this trip more than a year in advance, because we knew places are limited.
It was a seven days trip starting with a 9 miles /14½ km hike from Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim of Grand Canyon down to Colorado River, where our rafting trip started with CRATE (Colorado River And Trail Expeditions), who provided rafting and camp gear and food. We rafted every day, distances depending on camp opportunities and hiking destinations. In total, we covered 90 miles / 145 km of Grand Canyon National Park, from Phantom Ranch to Whitmore Wash, where we were flown out by helicopter to Bar 10 Ranch. From there, we had another scenic flight to Las Vegas. Quite a contrast to our previous seven days in the hands of mother nature!
More information about Grand Canyon National Park.
More pictures from California, Nevada, and Arizona.