Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 7

(8.7 miles) Stayed at Upper Saddle 3/29/2019

We have another slow start this morning. As I finish strapping down the the last dry bag, I know we are on the verge of getting our routine down, even though we haven’t pulled out of camp much before lunch time yet. The group has our sights set on Nankoweap for the evening which has a nice large camp complete with a beach for all the activities. Stopping for our first hike of the day Buck Farm, most of us fully dressed in costumes, we anchor our rafts. Buck Farm is a popular side canyon hike. The canyon drains the east side of the Kaibab Plateau, also known as Buckskin Mountain. Buckskin is an alteration of the Southern Paiute word Bucksin, meaning mule deer. Hiking up the canyon, the group split half to the left, half to the right, after passing Jared perched on a boulder rocking out to a portable speaker, American flag waving over his captain’s hat. The path I had chosen cliffed out after a short scramble as we tried to it to make higher, flatter ground so as to continue the hike into the canyon. Eventually everyone on the left hiked back. Some tried the right side and those intrepid hikers were rewarded with finding mule deer antlers while the rest were rewarded with the beauty of the place.

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Saddle Canyon was our last stop before Nankoweap. We didn’t make it here until later in the day putting a huge time pressure on the group. The stronger and/or more determined hikers got to the waterfall, took a quick look around, and rushed back. As I was passing people on their pilgrimage towards the waterfall I knew at some point I was going to have to tell people they were going to have to turn around. I know you can’t make everyone happy and let everyone do what they want on a trip with this many people, but I really wanted everyone to have a good time and I felt like the trip just wasn’t set up for that at this point. I was trying to find a little more balance as the trip progressed. I kept checking the time compulsively finally telling people to turn around. Shortly after I realized I didn’t have to have anyone turn around, because I made it back to the boats just in time to see a group pass us. I knew right away they were headed for where we wanted to camp.

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As a result camp was set up where we were at for the night. Tonight was also my group’s turn to cook, I volunteered to set up the groover, which is the toilet, so named because back in the day they didn’t have seats and the metal box would leave grooves on your butt. This particular groover was an olive colored ammo can with a toilet seat attached on it. If you have never used one before let me give a brief description. The ammo can is for solids only, the liquids are what causes most of the smells. A separate container, in this instance a bucket, was beside the groover so you could separate the two. I personally found this difficult to do a first. The reason the liquids went in to a bucket was because on the Grand Canyon your are supposed to go number one directly into the Colorado River. Dilution is the solution to pollution.

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I felt I should take the first turn setting it up in my cook group, being the trip leader. It just happened to be the easiest task to do. I got done with the groover in no time and since we decided to stay where we were instead of pushing on to a different campsite this was the first time in four days I got to relax a little. I highly suggest volunteering to set up the groover so you can enjoy your evening.

 

Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 6

(16 miles) Stayed at Martha’s 3/28/2019

Today is a big day according to our itinerary, we plan to stop at Silver Grotto, a popular side canyon involving scrambling, wading, and swimming through deep pools, Redwall Cavern a beautiful canyon with a large beach, and finish the Roaring Twenties 5 miles of river packed closely together by Grand Canyon standards, starting near mile 20.

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We catch the eddy at Silver Grotto, shortly after finishing the Roaring Twenties. Well most of us do, C.J.’s boat just misses it and pulls in downstream in the next eddy, a boulder divides the two eddies keeping the raft from coming back up the river. I asked Oz to row down our eddy, have them jump in and float the eddy back up. Some debate arose on whether he could row back up. While this was happening Grant paddled down in his kayak feet perched on top of the bow with his skirt undone. As I watched him float back up the stream current caused by the eddy he says casually, “I just told them to jump in they will be right up.” Again more debate over why he would do that and if they would make it. I kind of laughed to myself as Grant say’s, something like, “GESH THEY WILL BE FINE I JUST FLOATED UP STEAM WITH MY LEGS OUT!” As the debating continues they arrive in short order which ends it and we set about going on the hike.

The entrance into Silver Grotto Canyon looked kind of tricky. The limestone was worn smooth by flash floods and time, but by the time I got there other people had managed to climb up and were holding a piece of webbing to help others up the smooth face which happened to be extra slippery in this case because 15 water logged people had just climbing up it. My first attempted wasn’t that great as I moved my beer to my left hand with the GoPro. I grabbed the webbing with my right hand and tried to wind the webbing around my hand as I went. As I was almost to the top, I slipped and slid down the wet face of the canyon unfortunately spilling some of my beer. On my second attempt, I made it into this beautiful pool filled slot canyon.

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Continuing downstream we pull into Redwall Canyon. The group goes about taking the classic silhouette group photo, along with some double person panoramic shots. I am not sure how these turned out. I didn’t have the patients to try this for too long. I got tired of trying to run behind the camera and moving to the other side before the camera captures me again. After the photo shoot some of us played Frisbee or Boccie while others just took in the amazing scenery.

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Arriving at Martha’s Camp where we will be making our home for the night, I hop out of the raft, bowline in one hand, sand stake and mallet in the other. I make quick work of hammering the sand stake into the narrow sandy beach, as I tie a figure eight on a bite into the rope and clip it through a carabiner attached to the sand stake. As everyone else does the same, our group quickly discovers that we are down a stake and mallet used to anchor the boats, along with some other stuff that was in a bag that was left at Redwall.

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A few people were still sleeping on the rafts and trying to let line slack in and out with the shifting tide. The dam was not releasing continuously so there were daily ebbs and flows to the river volume. This process kept the rafts from being beached or from being in the current.

I was pretty stressed out that day for a couple of reason, but mostly it was feeling like we were rushing through everything not really getting to enjoy a spot, stopping just long enough to check it off the list before we rushed off to the other one. I still felt like I had some lagging effects from my recent concussion, so I went off to sit at the river and look at the stars, while listening to the water rush down the canyon trying to destress.

Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 5

(14 miles) Stayed at Indian Dick 3/27/2019

We encountered our first actual rapid today. House Rock, a class 7 on that weird scale that is used for the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon section of the Colorado River, like several other big-water western rivers, uses a rapids scale developed by Otis R. Marston consisting of 1-10 for rapids, 10 being the most difficult. The International Scale of River Difficulty, which classifies rapids from class I to VI, is more common elsewhere in the US and internationally. Instead of trying to figure out the differences between the scales we just divided by two to get what we thought was an appropriate rating for the International Scale.

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House Rock is on a bend in the river where the current smashes against the left canyon wall. We pulled in at three separate spots to scout because of limited space in the eddies to prevent the possibility of getting washed downstream. This scout took some time for two reasons. The first being the farthest rafts had to cross over rock ledges to get to the closest rafts. The second because people were in different boats from their gear and the rafts were not all in the same eddies making it difficult to get what was needed. We ran this rapid in three groups of two with kayakers setting safety throughout the rapid. I stand on a rock outcropping above the river watching the first two waves of boats pull out and run the rapid. The 18 foot rafts look tiny as they pull away from the left wall and the more immediate obstacle, the huge holes scattered along it. I watch as one of the rafts gets tossed as it comes into contact with one of these holes. It makes it though as Jake, who kayaked ahead and was now standing on a boulder above this massive hydrolic, pumps his fist in the air. Slowly working my way over the slightly crumbling red and black ledge consisting of Supai sandstone, it’s now our turn. We pull into the current almost perpendicular to the ledges, C.J. gives us a double fist pump from his yellow raft that Kelly was keeping in the eddy from shore. The boat starting to angle down stream, pulling hard away from the wall as the current tries to take us towards the holes. We are fighting the flow of the Colorado River as it slowly pushes us left, the angle of the raft changed to square up to the approaching holes of the left shore. Now our raft is facing slightly left at a 11 o’clock angle as we hit the first wave. It was exhilarating to smash into this first huge wave and feel the water explode over the bow of the raft soaking everything only to hit the next two sequential water features before giving a hoot and fist pump to Jake as we passed. The stoke was high having smoothed the first actual rapid.

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Stopping at Indian Dick Camp for the night, we start setting up slowly learning the routine. The sunset was gorgeous! My head was moving fast at first then slowing between the up and down river scenery trying to take in two equally amazing views. Up river had the gold highlights as the last of the suns rays touched the top of the canyon walls. While downstream the sunset caused a pinkish hue, then it faded away to expose a silver river of stars in the canyon sky as the opposing swash of water is slowly consumed by the darkness.

Oz and I discussed how to tie and backup boats into the night, which would be needed later!

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Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 4

(9 miles) Stayed at Below Jackass 3/26/2019

At this juncture in the trip I was starting to become stressed for a couple of reasons. Setting up camp takes some time as people are becoming familiar with what is in their rafts and the group as a whole doesn’t have a lot of experience in multi day rafting. It will take about five days for us to figure out the kitchen set up because of the way I set up the rotation. It will be day five when there is a group in the kitchen who has experience from the first day. If I do this again, I would want four volunteers one from each group plus the first group on kitchen duty. Or even just one volunteer from the next night to help or watch who would then break out and spend time with the next groups to show them what to do until the rotation was complete and everyone had an idea and wasn’t just winging it over and over until day five! Or even better take some people with experience on the next trip. I am glad that will be people in this group. I feel these amendments to the set up would allow for a more efficient flow instead of how I did it this time where each night the kitchen crew had to figure out what they were doing. Also no-one knew what was actually on their boat because they had been so busy partying for the last two days. While the kitchen crew did their thing the rest of the group set up camp and tried to find what group gear was on their boats.

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The first game of Bocci Ball was played, no one read the rules as we decided to play intuitively and then see if we did it right when we were done. I never checked the rules so if I play again there is a chance I am doing it wrong. The balls were glow in the dark and there was much debate over the different throws. The under hand throw seemed inferior to the back spin. When the back spin was thrown it landed in a puff of sand with very little momentum forwards or backwards as opposed to the under hand throw which continued its momentum.

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Our first dinner was delicious, like all the dinners on this trip! Eating my salmon, asparagus, and mashed potatoes, I gazed into the open canyon across the large sandy beach I was sitting on, listening to the water rush passed contemplating how to make the experience better. Kevin and another raven, whose name I forget, squawked while looking for scraps of food. This pair would follow us down the river looking for an easy meal.

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Another thing I would do differently would be to have simple meals for breakfast and lunch, possibly even dinner. It was great to eat better on this trip then I normally do, but the amount of time involved in making that happen for me would be better spent exploring the side canyons or relaxing. I realize this might not be for everyone but I would definitely go with easier breakfast and lunches on future trips. I would be happy with cereals and oatmeal for breakfast and GORP, cheeses and hard meats for lunch much like backpacking food. I am still on the fence for the dinners, it would be nice to have the more hearty elaborate dinner that can be accomplished with the amount of room available on a raft. However, on the other hand some type of boil in the bag dinner would save the time of unloading all the gear and cook time allowing for even more time to explore. I guess it really depends on the river and time allowed for the trip. On a Main Salmon trip I went on we had plenty of time to kill in the evenings and the dinners were nice to have. The Grand just had so much to explore!

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Lesson number two was learned the morning of 3/27/2019 when we woke up to find all the rafts beached with somewhere around 300 beers per raft plus gear weighing them down. We set about getting the rafts floating. With a count down we lifted upwards on the yellow rafts. With a sucking sound they broke free a lot easier then I imagined. Once freed, they slid fairly easy. With that task completed we go over how we want to do things as a group; like getting the camp ready, dishes, finding the food for meals, hand signals and what rapids we want to scout before we prepared to launch. After all this was discussed and boats packed, we headed down the river to Indian Dick Camp with another late start, but we are figuring it out.

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Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 3

(9 miles) Stayed at Below Jackass 3/26/2019

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Have you ever seen a bag tossed from over 400 feet in the air? Me neither, I missed it but from the description the toss wasn’t hard enough. The bag didn’t clear the metal truss cleanly of the Navajo Bridge where it stalled almost to be lost to Ryan forever. Then it tumbled off, hit another part of the bridge, rebounded sending it plummeting again toward the river, where it then disappeared in the shrubs on a narrow sand bar on the edge of the canyon wall. I came into view of the situation to see multiple kayaks sprinting towards the sandbar and people on the bridge pointing towards where the bag had landed. “Dammit they actually threw it!” “Don’t worry.”, says Ryan “My mom asked the gift shop lady if any rangers were around before she had Dad throw it.” “My parents aren’t stupid.” Well especially your mom. (I could just imagine her saying “Here honey throw this just in case someone actually is watching.”) The kayakers recovered the bag after a short search and we were on our way to Below Jackass Camp where we will spend our first night in the CANYON!

If you have never been to the Navajo Bridge it is actually two bridges, one newer traffic bridge and the older which is now a pedestrian bridge. These two bridges combined are one of seven land crossings over the Colorado river for 750 miles.

The group stopped at Sixmile Camp for a short hike which was inaccurately but officially named Sevenmile Draw. We only pulled over to check it out based on the recommendation of a couple of the guys from Moenkopi, the outfitters where we rented our gear, that stopped by to party with us for a little while on the night before the ranger talk. This hike really set the expectations high for the rest of the trip! The draw ended at a huge dried up pool where in the rainy season I could imagine brown sediment laden water plummeting down into the pool from the rim of Sevenmile Draw. As I follow the thin line of rock worn smooth by the water, my eyes continue to be drawn upward passed the red and brown colored canyon rim into the sky where the narrow draw forms a mirror image of itself contrasting the white clouds and blue sky leaving me to stare at a river of clouds flowing down the canyon of the sky.

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We decide to scout Badger Creek Rapid a class 5 on the scale for western big-water rivers, which is based on a 1-10 scale as opposed to the 1-5 scale everyone else uses. If anyone knows why this is please explain it to me. I just divide by 2 to get an appropriate rating. According to my logic this makes Badger a class 2.5 which would normally not be scouted by this group, but since none of us really know what to expect and the book lists it as an area to scout we did. Finding our line easily, we run the rapid only to have one of many new learning experiences. The rapid went fine, but a boat missed the eddy for our proposed camp so we all follow and end up staying at Below Jackass Camp. Apparently with oar rigs you really need to pull not push your way down the river. As a kayaker and paddle raft guide all of my experience has been to point away from an obstacle and paddle (push). WIth an oar set up it is easier in most circumstances to point your boat towards the obstacle and row (pull) away from it. Typically an oar rig has more weight in the form of gear and less passangers to help produce power, therefore all your power comes from using your larger back muscles in conjunction with your arms (pulling) to produce more power going backwards then using your chest and arms (Push) to go forward. This pull vs push will be an ongoing theme for most of the group for a short time because the notion is so foreign to us and years of muscle memory is telling you to push. The next morning we will have our second learning experience.

Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 2

(0 Miles) Stayed at Less Ferry 3/25/2019

It’s hard to believe it’s already been two days since we started this trip early Sunday morning , March 24, 2019, with a cancelled Uber ride with hardly any notice given. There is nothing like starting a trip of a lifetime with, “Oh by the way, we are not picking you up.”  Good luck getting to the airport at 3 a.m. Panic starts to set, its hard to think being only a few sips of coffee in, but as luck would have it, Jackie’s roommate was just getting home from her shift working as a bartender! Finished the life giving coffee, loaded bags in car: check, reload bags because rear hatch won’t shut: check, damn we have a lot of shit, and then we’re Grand Canyon Bound!

Meeting up with friends at the airport there is excitement in the air as we get preflight drinks. This was also my first time flying with SouthWest. I was not a fan of the free-for-all seating and haven’t flew with them since. I had gotten a SouthWest branded credit card for the trip, but promptly cancelled and went back to using my Delta Amex right after the trip. The yearly fee is worth the better flight for me. even the flights themselves are slightly more expensive but the perks are better in my opinion.

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We arrive at the River House, a rental where we will prep and consolidate our personal gear which at this point consists mostly of alcohol while the rest of the people going on this trip trickle in. The crew is comprised of mostly current or previous river guide staff from Laurel Highland’s, a rafting company located in Ohiopyle, PA. Micah was the last to arrive because he got the wrong flight. Once everyone was there, we wrapped up the National Park’s pretrip information packet.

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We woke up to coffee and breakfast the morning that our trip actually begins, March 26, 2019, complements of Tim and the other dude from Moenkopi, the outfitter we rented our gear through. After eating, our group met the other group launching that day. Our first impression of them was “what a bunch of ass hats.” Baldy, as I will affectionately refer to the chief ass hat, informed us they were doing 17 miles that day and were in a hurry and would appreciate it if we didn’t ask any questions. Some of them then showed up late to the presentation. During the orientation, the ranger asked by show of hands “Who’s been down the Grand Canyon before?” as expected every hand in their group went up and one hand in ours went up. I heard sounds of haughtiness escape their sneering lips. Then the ranger asked how many people were river guides and almost all the hands in our group went up compared to a couple in their group. That’s right Baldy, take that, you guys actually suck! After we adjourned from the rangers meeting, we packed all our stuff, and picked up all the beer cans from the party the night before. We then made our final trips to use the facilities with running water because, with the exception of Phantom Ranch, this will be our last opportunity for the next 21 days. Pushing off at around 11 a.m., watching Ryan on shore talking frantically into his phone trying to come up with a plan for his parents to get him some last minute gear, as we row towards our adventure where we will have a steep learning curve. Most of us have never used oar rigs before since our guiding was chiefly done by stick. We pass Baldly and his well oiled experienced crew, screaming, “You better hurry up you have 17 miles to go!” as some of us crack our fist beers and while starting to figure out how to row our rafts.

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Ryan catches up to us and informs us that in 4 miles his parents were going to throw a bag of his stuff off Navajo Bridge located 467 ft. above the Colorado River. There was much speculation and debate about this over the next hour. “Can he catch it?” “It will kill him!” “They should put it in a dry bag.” “Yea and add air so it floats better.” “Will it reach terminal velocity?” “We are going to jail!” “The rangers will think we are doing a drug drop!” “Great, they will search our bags!”

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Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 1

I recently came across an article: How to Snag 10 of the Most Coveted Private River Permits. Somehow I ended up experiencing 3 of these on my quest to bag the hiking Triple Crown. I was fortunate enough to snag a first round Grand Canyon permit for March 2019 with the original dates we wanted. “The Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is the ultimate river trip. It’s one of the longest trips, with the biggest whitewater, in the most dramatic setting. And no surprise it’s also the toughest private river permit to snag”, according to the article. I am a lucky individual, but I believe we make our own luck. I try a lot of things and just putting oneself out there for possible experiences and learning from ones failures makes for opportunity “luck”. Having choices helps greatly in what others might view as luck.

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“I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession that doesn’t appeal to me. Once I reach 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different”

Yvon Chouinard

Being an 80 percenter myself, I am competent in a lot of things instead of great at a few. I have used this philosophy in my academics and work as well as sports which have lead to multiple choices in about everything in my life.

A strategy was applied when applying for the Grand Canyon Permit. However even with the program, and my outlook on life I won a lottery in which over 6,000 people applied for around 472 permits. I will agree I was lucky.

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It was probably a life changing experience, hell CJ and Kelly got engaged! Have I become so used to natural beauty that I overlook it when it is not on my bucket list? Have I been so hung up on the Triple Crown, I can’t live in the moment? Or was I worried about what I wanted everyone else to experience and not what I wanted to experience? A few months ago before I tore my A/C and gave myself back to back concussions I was excited and looking forward to the trip. Afterwards looking back, it was one of my least enjoyable experiences. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying it was horrible, like I said before I am “lucky” and have had a lot of once in a life time experiences. It was still an amazing place and opportunity it just wasn’t what I hoped for or as great as it could have been.

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Floating in a yellow 18 ft Maravia raft at Lees Ferry on the first day, surrounded by what is going to be my world for the next 21 days my emotions are mixed I am both exhilarated and nervous for what is to come. Oz is at the oars sitting on a white Yeti cooler, which doubles as a seat, stuffed with dairy products for the duration of the trip; unbeknownst to us there was not enough creamer to make it passed the second week of this journey. If only we had known what hardships awaited us then, BLACK COFFEE for a week! On each side of his legs are boxes, in our case they are filled with beer and personal gear for the most part with the exception of a spare battery for the water filter. We got the luck of the draw other boats’ side boxes were filled mostly with group gear and the occasional beer. One group got the raft known as the Grover Boat, this boat had assorted brown 20 mm ammo cans that were either empty at the moment or stuffed with charcoal and toilet paper. As the contents of the ammo cans were consumed they would be rotated into use as grover boxes. Have you figured it out yet? Yep, that’s right, the grover boxes are where you shit.

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Sitting in the front of the raft on a blue inflatable Paco Pad, it’s hard to believe that just over a month ago I was popping pain pills and washing them down with a Porter, while jamming my face with chicken nuggets. Under us are the day boxes, which include food for the trip; then when removed becomes the trash container, the Aqua Partner water filter, and the ash box. Yep that’s right, we pack our ashes out also! To our right and left sides are 20 gallon water jugs lashed to the oar frame. Behind Oz are our grill/fire pan, water stations for washing our hands, personal gear, and over 18 cases of beer.

Shoving off after rigging the boats and floating to our camp a few hundred yards down river to await the ranger talk in the morning before we properly begin our adventure.