During my trip to The Grand Canyon in 2012 I kept a diary, I’ve been talking to lots of people about the trip since then and they’ve asked me which bits to see, where to camp etc, so I decided to write it up and ad-lib a few extra bits with the benefit of hindsight, to help guide you through a trip. I was lucky to be invited by Rob Harris who had been applying for a permit for 6 years. Once he got the permit we had 9 weeks to get ready and get ourselves out there. We used Ceiba to provide the gear for our trip, and we flew out with Virgin Atlantic who would happily take our kayaks for free, simple logistics.
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Here is the video to go with the trip as well.
Here is my diary from our trip, with River Mile marks for all the good bits.
The Grand Canyon 2012
Dave ‘Scout’ Wortley
(Boring) James Bradley
Charlotte ‘Chuckie’ McAuley
Sunday 25th March
6.30 Start, drove to Cricklewood train station, got helped by 2 guys to carry my boat to the train! Checked in our boats with Virgin Atlantic, for free and missed the massive queue of people because of a computer system error as we had to go to oversized baggage check in! Result! To add to this it meant I got to sit in an airport lounge and watch the Grand Prix too! We took off late, arrived late and then had a big wait at immigration and a huge amount of faff trying to convince Hertz that we needed a bigger car and had to get one with roof racks even though we were told we would not be allowed to use a roof rack. Ended up with a huge Chevy with Satnav and roof rails. We went to a supermarket and loaded up on food and beer/wine/spirits for the canyon trip, without realising the others had already bought enough for us as well. I drove for as long as I could, most of the way to Flagstaff at a pitiful 50mph most of the way and Chuck drove the last bit and we finally arrived at midnight, checked into our hostel and crashed out.
Monday 26th March
Everyone was up at 6.30am to meet the others who had gone to bed much earlier, we went and dispatched our rental cars at the train station, a one-way rental was only about $90! The guys from Ceiba turned up and loaded all our gear and kayaks onto a small truck, drove us to a lay-by and we piled all our stuff on the back of a huge lorry with all our rafting gear on it.
Next came the unpacking, taking everything off the trucks, inflating the rafts and beginning the very long process of packing the rafts. We had to learn about every single bit of kit we had, whether that be the way part of the rafts came off to be our tables for cooking on, the pots to use for cooking and more importantly washing everything in the correct way to avoid any nasty bugs spreading between our team, how to filter water using a ceramic pump, and indeed how our toilet system was to work. It was amazing to see so much gear fitting so neatly into boxes, a system perfected over years of proving out-fitting to punters willing to go it alone down the canyon. Ceiba provided almost everything we needed for our trip. We had boxes packed with food, marked with the day to open the can on, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables kept in bags in the front of the rafts to keep them fresh, and 3 massive freezer boxes that were carefully design and packed with thick ice to allow our food to stay frozen throughout our 19 days in the canyon. We also had tins full of charcoal for our cooking and these would ultimately become our new toilets once they were emptied of charcoal.
Our permits and gear had to be inspected by a park ranger, the BAs had to conform to US coastguard standards, we had back-ups incase our european version weren’t permissible, but our ranger seemed happy enough that we all had quality gear and knew what we were doing. Everything was in order so we were free to set off. So we put the rafts in launched our kayaks and tested out our crafts for the first time. Andy and Rob started with the rafts and Claire and I had our first tastes of our new Jackson Fun-Runners, which immediately felt fast, comfortable and easy to paddle. We travelled the amazing distance of about 100m on this first day as by this point we had used up most of the day getting everything packed, only to have to unpack the camping equipment and set up our tents for the night. Ceiba drove us up to the near-by Marble Canyon Lodge and all sat down and enjoyed what would be our last meal inside until we reached Vegas. Thinking carefully I ordered some chips knowing that was going to be the last of those I’d have for almost 3 weeks. The Lodge had last minute supplies and essentials incase we had forgotten anything.
Tuesday 27th March
We got up and fired up the stove for the first of many brews of coffee on our trip. One final bit of paper-work to do which was to have a safety briefing with another US Park Ranger, they told us to watch out for snakes, not to worry too much about Scorpions even if they bite you, and beware other creatures like the Ravens which like to steal food and the wild cats which can sneak into camp. Safety briefing over, time to hit the river. We raced off to be the first of the 2 groups launching that day to depart. Into the canyon we go and immediately we’re in small waves, and Rob and Andy on the rafts are getting to grips with either rowing backwards or paddling them forwards, this is their first ever time rafting and it’s a steep learning curve of how to control something as big and heavy, a flip at any point down the canyon could potentially be a disaster, we could lose kit, lose the entire raft, it could be game-over requiring an evacuation, and losing deposits and personal kit etc… As soon as the canyon walls in, we know we’re committed. The last road bright above us signals our department from civilisation and in to the wild.
The first section were nice and easy, small waves and rapids, nothing too technical. The Canyon is graded with rapids of 1-10, unlike the English White-water system which is graded 1-5 with 5 being extremely difficult and risk of injury or death if messed up. We stop for a bite of lunch above a grade 5 rapid, we can hear it just around the corner but we can’t see it…. I run ahead and set up a camera below, the rapid isn’t difficult, in a kayak you wouldn’t think twice, it’s just a rapid on a bend, pushing towards the wall and there was two holes you wanted to avoid. But in rafts weighing a ton, to get them to go where you wanted was tricky even with some strength. Andy and Rob guided the rafts down keeping them pointing the right way and avoiding the first holes. Grade 5 it would seem was quite easy… but what of grade 8 or 9, or of the biggest rapid on the river Lava, Grade 10. The second grade 5 we got to of the day was a long wave train, the canyon was bathed in spectacular sunshine and even by this point 12 miles into the canyon the walls were high.
We camped on a small beach with great view up and down the canyon at RM (River Mile) 16.7 called Hot Nana, as soon as we started to unpack our food for the evening we spotted two ravens perched on the cliff above us. Occasionally when were we distracted trying to coordinate unpacking and hooking up gas bottles we would be victim of a fly-by, each time they’d get close to stealing something and on one occasion they managed to steal a bar of butter. We cooked up our first meal of grilled salmon, with broccoli and rice, enjoyed a few drinks under an amazingly clear sky with no moon or clouds or light pollution for almost 100 miles in any direction.
Wednesday 28th March
We started a little late with a hot breakfast of sausages. I took a nice little time-lapse of the morning sunlight bleeding into the valley. Antoine lept to the rescue of the Sat Phone Charger when it fell into the water. The day had lots of easy rapids, and big wave trains, there was lots of long flat sections but the sheer-sided nature of the canyon was just stunning. (RM 28)
We camped at South Canyon RM 31.9 a wide beach with sound sandy grassy areas and lots of areas to explore, and side canyons to go climbing up. Dr. Chuck became the first medical casualty of the trip by trapping her finger in an ammo can as she was closing it. Dinner was a fantastic beef burritos and I had amazing gluten-free wraps which I could actually roll! We had an early night but packed up almost everything we needed so that we could get up and go first thing in the morning.
Thursday 29th March
We got up early and packing our camping gear in the raft and departed for our early morning stop at Red Wall Cavern. BJ took the helm of one of the rafts for the first time and within 1 minute had managed to ground it out on a rock when he took his own route down the left channel instead of following everyone else down the right. Thankfully a bit of bouncing and he was free, and we floated around the corner to be blown away by the magnificent cavern, where we couldn’t camp the night before as camping is prohibited in the cave. Red Wall Cavern (RM33.3) is a huge cave carved out from years of erosion when the river was higher. Trying to imagine the height and power of the river that did this is quite incredible. We stopped for breakfast and to take loads of photos.
The day only had a few small rapids so we proceeded quite quickly and stopped for lunch at another cave called the Royal Arches (RM 41.8), not as deep as Red Wall it was about 10 times higher and we climbed around exploring the area. After a quick lunch we continued down a few more interesting rapids ad found a few small play waves to enjoy front-surfing. We spotted a dee on the banks and stopped on a beach a the bottom of a side canyon to go for a walk. We walked up what seemed like an endless rocky scramble to find a beautiful lush green area with lots of plants and flowers and even humming birds, like an oasis in a desert this felt immediately out of place, with intense aromas and a small river making the area feel less dry than the canyon below. Saddle Canyon (RM 47.4) continues up and we climbed up the river, canyoning up to find a beautiful tall waterfall stream. We messed around swimming (in rather chilly water) and trying to bridge the gap from one side of the canyon to the other.
We decided that we’d continue on and find another campsite as it didn’t look like an amazing place to camp at the base, as we were walking down Ted, who had been ahead, comes rushing back shouting that he’d just seen one of the Rafts floating down-stream! We were still 100m or so above river level, so Rob charged down the mountain, I follow suit, as I pass Ted I hear him whisper “There’s a rumour going around that I might be joking…” Because of the lie of the land and some trees Rob could only see one raft until we got right down to the waters edge, to find of course that Ted had been winding him up. We had however been attacked by our friends the Ravens again who had got into a garbage bag and ripped it open, thankfully they hadn’t been able to get to our steaks which had been defrosting out of the freezer.
We continued down to the Dinosaur Campsite (RM50.1) which turned out to be one of my favourites of the whole trip. The night-time view was incredible, we had massive steaks and sat playing guitar, singing songs and drinking till 10pm. I took some photos of the incredible night-sky and walls of the canyon. BJ is still trying to spot his first-shooting star, Rob has seen 12 at this point.
Friday 30th March
Today I took the helm of a raft for the first time, paddling 12miles down some grade 4-5 rapids. Managed to have a small collision with a rock on the outside of a bend, almost breaking my oar but managed to get through ok. It was pretty physical and I found that I couldn’t really get much power on the oars with the setup as if I stood up I was too high to push with my shoulders, but thankfully it wasn’t hurting my injured back. BJ took my Fun-runner out for a play and managed to find a few holes to get some whirl-pools to get some beat-downs in.
We stopped for lunch at the confluence of the Little Colorado River (RM 61.7), we had lunch with local wildlife watching on, and Rob decided to re-enact a scene from a film by submerging himself in the brown sludge that was the Little Colorado and walk out holding his paddle like a rifle. Them mirky flow joined the pristine flows of the main Colorado and mixed with an incredible blend of brown and blue water to turn the river to a silty-brown colour for the rest of our trip. This river is ofter crystal clear and blue but due to rain and snow-melt the river was flowing fast and gave us a few extra 1000cfs to add to the daily release of about 12,000 meaning we had a spring trip, with spring weather but with winter levels! Immediately after lunch we noticed the river change, the tempo, the power in the rapids and legibility all became more intense. Reading a river that is clear with light airated white-water is a lot easier than reading a river that is thick and brown, the water reacts different, doesn’t froth so much and you can’t see what you’re about to paddle into until much later. The first few rapids are a real step-up from the first 6 days of paddling and we’re soon in some huge wave-trains, and dodging some meaty looking holes that I wouldn’t want be inside in a raft or a kayak. The team was working really well, kayaks ahead scouting rapids and signalling back so the rafts had time to adjust their lines and set up their position as best they could at the top of the rapid, there was sometimes quite a distance between us but we were careful to keep a line of sight and to relay the message all the way to the back of the group.
As well as having extra volume in the river we were also at this point paddling with the highest levels released from the dam. The dam releases during the day so there’s waves of water coming down in 12 hour cycles so the river could be higher at the same point in the morning than it was in the evening for example, this almost meant you had to plan carefully where to camp and where to leave the rafts over-night, leaving them tied up high on a beach at high tide could mean you couldn’t float your raft the next morning. We had picked our campsite to go to but unfortunately and some-what surprisingly we saw other groups! The first other people we had seen in over a week. I had almost forgotten that there would be other people who had set off the day before us and the day before that going at different paces, we had been pushing fairly hard and had caught up with 2 groups. We found a campsite called Unker (RM72.7) in the dunes to stop at just before grade 6 rapid, which was at one of the most open points of the canyon, a very wide view and got us an extra hour of sunlight. Ted and Andy cooked a delicious dinner of stir-dry with canopies to start with. It was this day that I found out that I had a crack in my paddle blade and the shaft of my paddle was full of water, exactly what you want on a 19 day multi trip, an extra heavy paddle. Tomorrow we get to find out what a grade 8 rapid is like….
Saturday 31st March
We started the day straight into a big rapid, which other groups were inspecting carefully. We bombed straight down and quickly caught up with another group who were at Hance Rapid (RM 77.1), our first Grade 8 rapid of the trip. Ted jumped out on the river-right bank, signalled to myself and Claire O that it was good to go on the right and we headed off reading and running as we went through some boiley rapids with some pushy holes around us, this was the biggest rapid so far and was our first challenge. For the rafts it was a tricky line, you didn’t want to go too far right but at the bottom there was a large hole that looked like it could flip a raft in the middle. Antoine and Anne successfully managed to steer the rafts down between the dangers. We found out later that this was a very high level for Hance, a rapid which due to it’s rock formations of boulders is constantly changing so the guidebook isn’t much help. The other group had been inspecting and expected to run the ‘normal line’ down the left hand side of the river. They rushed over as soon as we had gone down the right to ask Rob (who was at the top of the rapids filming) if everything was ok? The exchange went something like this…
American Rafter – “Did those guys just go down the right???”
Rob – “Umm, yeah…”
“THEY’RE CRAZY! No-one ever goes down the right! That’s where all the rapids are”
“Umm, looked ok to me….”
“Are you going to go down the right?”
It was at this point we realised that our experienced group of eurotrash kayakers was some-what bravado in our approach to reading and running, a tactic which required a bit of luck, but before this point everything had gone ok down the middle anyway.
We tried to stop for lunch at Clear Water Creek and ended up getting out on a big rock, with our group split we had to climb back to the rafts, we had lunch and looked at the map and tried to decide if we were at Clear Water Creek or not… The sun was baking us and there was no wind, this was the hottest we’d been in the canyon so far, so upon deciding we hadn’t quite reached the creek yet, we floated off with those of us who had left our kayaks behind jumping on a raft then jumping off the raft to swim into the side creek. I lost a wetsuit boat in the process. Unfortunately it turned out we had been at the creek all along, and with no way to paddle back up stream that’s one we’ll have to save until next time.
We rocked up at Phantom Ranch at 3, this is the only place on the entire river where there is anything close to civilisation, a small campsite about 40minutes walk from the river, there is a pay-phone and basic amenities, a toilet a small shop for campers. We got some extra sun-cream as one of ours had gone missing, presumably lost in the river somewhere, feeling uneasy in a place with walls and roof and with the rumours of there being ice-cream fictitious we headed back to the rafts and headed downstream to camp at Below Pipe Creek (RM 89.9) We had pork chops for dinner and we caught sight of a wild-cat on the steep hill next to our narrow rocky campsite.
Saturday 1st April
We ran a few large rapids that may have been easier due to the high levels, one of the rapids seemed to be missing a large hole that we needed to avoid. The rapids were narrow and long bouncey wave trains, my GoPro mount came unstuck, thankfully my GoPro was attached by a piece of string, but that didn’t stop me doing an April Fools wind-up on Claire and BJ trying (quite sucessfully) to convince them that I had lost it into the bottom of the river.
Crystal Rapid, this was our first Grade 9 of the trip. A rapid with a reputation and it certainly seemed intimidating at first. There was a choice of lines, with no obvious safe line and the added complication of further rapids just down-stream, a flip here would have been serious. A large hole at the top on the left and a powerful hole on the right meant we had to go down the middle and try to avoid the hole at the top on the way in. Andy and Antoine did great jobs of piloting the rafts through this challenging rapid even if it did look like Andy had gone straight into the hole at the top. Chuck decided to take a different line down the right hand side which was probably in hind-sight more challenging, Antoine parked his raft and raced up to run it again in a kayak, which added some confusing faff as we had become spread out over the next rapid waiting.
We ploughed on with a lot of mileage to cover, but this was the first day the weather changed, from a nice sunny bit chilly morning turning round a bend in the canyon to a head-wind with clouds and freezing chill, this was our first taste of a tough canyon. We set up camp as carefully as we could with the wind, and expecting rain we set up a tarp over our cooking area, which was difficult with not much to tie on to, we had to make it only a few feet high so everything was prepared and cooked at ground level with howling wind and rain lashing down. Antoine’s roll-mat got blown upstream, BJ was still in kit so he jumped in his boat and went and rescued it. A delicious Thai Chicken dinner raised spirits and we had an early night. (RM 103.5)
Monday 2nd April
We had a pretty late start due to the weather and went down a few large rapids, the wind was still pretty strong but had to paddle pretty hard to keep up our average mileage. We stopped at Shinumo Creek where the weather had improved dramatically and walked up the short stream to find a beautiful 10ft high waterfall with a lot of water coming over. We climbed around in the cave behind the water-fall, it’s days like this that dry-suits were made for, even if Rob was just in boardies! Andy went for a bit of a scramble up the side, we were eager to see if there was a way to get a kayak above the falls so we could run it, but there was no easy way to do this.
We continued down some more large rapids and we paddled hard to find Elve’s Chasm, but we got out early and found a small dry creek and a large chasm, but with no water we ventured on to find what we were looking for. (RM115)
After reading the map again, and again, we found Elve’s Chasm and walked up to find a tall waterfall that we could climb up and jump out into the plunge pool below. (RM117.2) As we were not allowed to camp there we continued down river, but Andy hadn’t got quite got the message so had got changed, so he sat on the back of the raft trying not to get wet as we went down some small rapids to find a good campsite. We were out of the wind but it was still pretty cold. My Alpkit Down Jacket was a good investment! (RM117.6) We went passed a massive tree broached atop of two large boulders, 20ft high that had been there since the 1940s/60s when the river was last at it’s huge flows before the dams were built. I went for a walk and took a few photos from high up looking down into the valley below.
Tuesday 3rd April
We had an early start and paddled a load of easy rapids in the morning, we had lunch in a small beach outlet where it was nice and warm as the morning had been really cold! (RM 129,7)
After lunch we ran a grade 7 rapid called Bedrock Rapid, a tricky rapid split in two by an island on a right angle bend. This was a really technical rapid, the line was to go down the right side channel but the water was mostly pushing down the more difficult left hand channel. The first few of us and the first raft made it down the right hand side, Rob paddled hard but missed the line and Ted followed in his kayak to make sure Rob got down ok, thankfully he didn’t get stuck in the recirculating eddy on the left side and drama was avoided. The guidebook says to “Go right at all costs!”
We found a nice wave to surf after lunch and to confirm just how chilly it was in the canyon we could see snow on the very tops of the hills. We got to Deer Creek at about 4pm and spent 2 hours hiking up and looking at the waterfallss and amazing rock formations created from thousands of years of erosion in a narrow gorge.. (RM136.9) The view from the top of the gorge was spectacular, Lots of other groups were around there, we got some nice fresh water from the springs, it would have been easy to spend an entire day there with so much to explore and I think the photos would be best at the middle of the day with the lighting coming into the narrow gorge at the top.
We headed down to a campsite called Football, which had a massive sandy beach the size of a football field funnily enough, (RM 137.6). We randomly had some goats come visit us… My camera batteries are running out and our solar charging mat isn’t doing as much as we hoped.
The basic routine of the day consists of waking up, hoping no gear had floated off during the night and then a strong brew of Coffee, and whatever was for breakfast that day. Breakfasts had cereals, fruit, sometimes eggs, bacon, sausages, porridge, pancakes and even gluten-free bagels for me! We would then have to pack up our sleeping bags, tents, and all our dry gear into our dry bags, with our camping chairs and all the kitchen supplies. The whole process took up to an hour to do each day, and at first we were quite slow trying to work out how all the pieces of the jigsaw fitted together.
Once fully loaded we scoured the site for any litter or anything we’d left behind, there is a ‘leave no trace’ policy in the canyon and it works amazingly well, every campsite or beach you get to you feel like you’re the first people to ever get there.
We’d plan our itinerary for the day, which sites we wanted to stop at, any big rapids to worry about and where we’d be stopping for lunch and dinner.
At our lunch spot, the lunch boxes would be unloaded, a table set up and hand-basins to keep the hygiene standards up. We’d have lunches of sandwiches, left-overs from the night before, salads, and Chuck always insisted on us eating lots of fresh fruit. Ceiba had said we would never get through all the fruit, no-one ever does, and somehow we actually managed it!
Once at our camp-spot for the evening we would begin the process of unloading the raft of all personal gear, then the cooking equipment and we’d take turns preparing and cooking food, whilst others set up the rest of the camp, and someone would have the long and strenuous task of filtering water into the jerry-cans using a ceramic pump, which once we had gone passed the Little Colorado river with it’s silt content made the task a lot harder, and required regular cleaning of the filter. If there was any light left in the day we’d go exploring, or play some boules.
One item that was the least favourable to have to deal with was the toilet of course. There is a rule in the canyon that everything that goes into the canyon has to come out of the canyon, everything except fluids which go into the river! Yes that includes human waste, which meant one of the rafts was designated the pooh raft. The Red ammo cans were our stores for charcoal and as we proceeded to use all our charcoal the can would then be the next human waste bin. Each day we would have to put the red can in an area which was discrete, but also wasn’t too far from our camp for any middle of the night dashes. A ‘riser’ was used to give a bit of distance from loo seat to the can, but for those who have ever had to use a ‘long-drop’ toilet, well this is a short-drop! Liquid human waste has to go in the river, which proved to be an interesting biological logistical challenge at first. The very important hand sanitation station had to be set up next to the toilet, complete with foot-pump to make running water. All these pieces packed carefully into another ammo can and daily someone would have to pack and unpack the loo. The smell was contained by using powdered bleach to mask the smell and absorb and liquid content, which worked amazingly well.
Wednesday 4th April
Today we had a really late start as our campsite was bathed in glorious morning sunshine and it was a nice and warm so people had a chance to have wash and wash some clothes. We had 10 miles of easy rapids ahead, the flow was fast and we covered it in 2 hours. We arrived for lunch at Matkatamiba Canyon, a difficult eddy to make in rafts, we almost lost one raft back to the flow but we got a line on, Rob unfortunately slipped and banged his ankle. Andy took great glee in tying our rafts onto the rocks in the most complicated way possible, very secure, and having seen videos since of how fast Matkat can flash flood at any time of year I’m quite glad that he did! Instead of taking the normal path up next to the creek we swam/walked/scrambled/fell in up canyoning, we went for a walk at the end of the narrow section but just found miles of boulders, this section with water charging down it could be an amazing paddle, but filled with horrible pour-overs and siphons I’d imagine.
We ran some more easy rapids before coming to the grade 6 rapid called Upset Rapid. I got out to scout it, saw an easy line down the middle and signalled so… but then I saw a big hole in the middle a bit further down. The guidebook had warned us about a big hole that was capable of flipping rafts, I signalled back that there was a hole but wasn’t clear enough to suggest going left after going down the middle to avoid the trick top section on the left. Antoine and Anne floated down on the raft together narrowly clipping the hole and looked back in shock. Andy, who had read the guidebook took the correct line, with BJ, Claire and Chuck all heading straight through the guts of the hole, with Chuck getting a nice little beat-down in the process, a super fast cart-wheel and then surfed off. I had it all on video and signalled back to Rob and Ted that maybe they should just head left. (RM 150.2) Good carnage for the film anyway!
We continued on a short journey to get to Last Chance Campsite (RM156.3), where there were already 2 other groups parked up for the night. This being the last campsite before Havasu Canyon, we had no choice but to take the last eddy and find small gaps between rocks to pitch our tents in. Wet a nice girl called Cece who was with one of the other groups who promised me gluten-free brownies from her camp, she was a climber so sat and talked to us for a while whilst I made myself busy cooking dinner for everyone with a slightly sheepish smile, trying not to be too embarrassed for almost causing carnage. It turned out that Cece’s group had Tom Martin the author of our guide-book along with them, they were recreating a trip fro the 1960s with wooden dorry rafts, recreating photos from history, amazingly these wooden crafts are very stable.
“Upset Rapid – There is a dry but tight run down the right, a wet left hand run, and a down the middle through the hole line that is not recommended”
Thursday 5th April
A ‘day off’ , we got up early and headed down Havasu Canyon (RM 157.3), we made it into the small eddy with all the old boats upstream in the canyon recreating a photo from 1960. We walked up and had a lunch at a waterfall and the continued up and found the magical stair-stepped waterfall. Andy decided to try and kick a small boulder in sandals and managed to dislocate his little toe in the process. Thankfully with Dr. Chuck and experienced expedition leader Cece in our team, a rather undramatic toe-relocation was popped back into place.
At this point we lost Rob, I had a gluten-free lunch with Cece, almost fell of a rock with my camera trying to climb to another water. It was pretty busy, very strange from the isolation of the rest of the trip, this is a tourist hot-spot with people able to walk down a few hours to reach the point we had taken a few hours to walk up to, so be surrounded by families with children was quite bizarre. It is a stunning location and the water really is that colour. We walked down to the rafts, still no sign of Rob, Claire entertained doing some freestyle in a borrowed Jackson Star, and being the ‘world champion’ star of the moment talking to the other river runners.
One of the rafts from another group got stuck as it was leaving Havasu, it was beached on a rock and it was the last raft from their group with a Japanese woman a 10 year old child on, we immediately sprung into action to rescue them. Andy jumped in a kayak and jumped on-board. I threw a throw-line about 20metres to about 1 ft shy of the raft which the woman could easily reach. Andy tied the rope onto the frame of the rafts and we got 6 people on the line and managed to shift the raft off the rocks. Rob appeared shortly afterwards, out of breath, he had gone to see the very top waterfall and then felt bad that no-one else had followed so had sprinted all the way down. We had been relaxing and useful in our rescue so everyone was happy and the Solar mat had a good charge whilst we were waiting, I kept moving it further up the rock to keep it in sunlight with the hope of charging a Canon battery.
It was late by this point so we floated down to First Chance Campsite (RM 158.3)
Good Friday 6th April
A day of very little rapids, we stopped for lunch/walk at Tuckup Canyon. It turned into an epic climb and scramble (RM 165.1) We went to find an arch/bridge but after 1 hour of walking we gave up but the Frenchies carried on and disappeared, which caused a bit of friction and frustration, which after spending some much time together is only to be expected. After an emotional difficult climb down we had lunch and paddled down lots of small rapids for 12 miles and camped Lower Cove Camp (RM 174.8)
We had Chicken for dinner and Andy improvised many songs about everyone with Antoine playing the guitar. “Ted, Ted, it’s a wonder you’re not dead!” We had a few games of Boulle, the Frenchies won….
Saturday 7th April
Lava Falls Day, the grade 10 rapid (RM179.7), we got up early and paddled down and met a load of other groups inspecting Lava Falls. After a quick boat-based inspection by Claire and Anne, much to the amazement of the crowd standing on the right bank high up on a boulder, they watched Claire lead down with Anne just behind. Anne got a huge back-loop which caused a roar from the crowd, she struggled to roll up battling the diagonal waves that constantly pushed her back each time she was almost up. After 5 attempts she’d had enough and had the first swim of our trip, Claire picked up the pieces and they walked back up again to run it again.
It seemed unusual for most of the other groups watching us to think that anyone would want a second run down Lava if they had survived the first. But after Andy and Rob had used great skill to get the rafts through the hardest rapid on the river we all had several runs down, taking advantage of one of the only big rapids that actually had a path that you could walk up to do extra runs, most rapids in the canyon are one-hit wonders with no way to get back up. We watched the other groups run the rapid with a few swimmers and the dorry boats loaded up with 3 people somehow managed to just stay upright!
Antoine took the left line and found himself almost in trouble, as we saw him backlooped in a hole. I had my first roll of the river on my second run at the big crushing V wave that you had to try and traverse through. Cece provided me with some delicious home-made gluten free brownies and we were also rewarded for our rescue at Havasu with a nice bottle of wine and some base-ball hats and T-shirts, which was useful as a sunhat was something I’d forgotten to bring! We stopped for lunch a little further down the river (RM 183.3), Antoine dived after a frisbee that went into the river, with his dry suit undone and promptly filled up with water. The rock at this point in the canyon is metamorphic from the lava flows, and much darker in colour. It’s amazing being in the canyon surrounded by pretty much nothing apart from rock and being bale to see such a range of colours, shapes, textures and features. Every layer the river goes through is a period in time thousands/millions of years old and it tells a story.
We camped at 193.3 Mile Camp and had steak for dinner, again there were too many steaks so some-one (me) had to eat 2 entire steaks I enjoyed the gluten-free brownies whilst the others tried to use the dutch-ovens to cook their own. The ovens are thick pans which you put hot coals from the barbecue on top to create enough heat to cook whatever is inside, this was a bit of an experiment as we of course had no way of knowing if it was too hot or too cold.
Easter Sunday 8th April
We had a late-ish start, and a few other groups overtook us (Toilets near the river bank can be entertaining sometimes!). We caught up with Tom’s group and Anne and Antoine had a go rowing the old boats. As we had a lot of miles to cover we decided to have lunch on the rafts. We floated for 3 miles with the rafts loosely tied together and we drifted down some fairly easy rapids, with Antoine playing his guitar and Claire and Chuck doing their best ‘Dead Salmon’ impressions jumping into the water, and Chuck managed to fall into the river whilst attempting to pee off the side of the raft. We split the rafts at the next rapid and Anne sat on the back of my raft, not realising it was a grade 6 rapid (RM 205.6), I paddled hard to get to river left, but ended up running a medium sized boulder pour-over which had a slight heart-in-mouth moment, but thankfully we had enough speed. Anne then took over paddling and whilst distracted yelling at another group on the side of the river, we hadn’t noticed on the start of the next page in the guidebook was a grade 5 rapid (RM 209.2) , we drifted around a bend to see a large wave and hole, I frantically put my camera in my waterproof bag and put my helmet back on whilst putting Anne’s back on her head, we dropped into the hole slightly sideways and me Anne and I jumped onto the high-side of the raft to keep it level as we had a momentary surf before being released. We looked up river to see a similar panic befalling the other raft. Chuck was at the helm and shouted at BJ to take the oars. James who was mid-way through trying to peal off a tight-fitting dry-top had to get his BA and helmet back on but there was no time for Captain Safety to gear up. He grabbed the oars and had a similar high-siding moment, with BJ’s BA and helmet both ending up in the river, his helmet had his GoPro camera on, for a brief moment Captain GoPro Safety thought he had lost his GoPro complete with all his footage from the entire trip, but thankfully his helmet popped up from underneath one of the rafts. We carried on down to Little Bastard Rapid, which turned out to be fairly easy.
We camped at Pumpkin Springs, which has an arsenic spring, very yellow pool of ugly poisonous water. Myself and Rob went hunting from a small pot-hole listed in the guidebook as fun explore… we spent a while scouring the bank before coming across an innocuous looking hole. We dropped in and tunnel out onto a hidden ledge looking into the canyon. (RM 213.2)
That evening we were sitting observing the stars after dinner. Chuck was laying on the sand looking up, just drifting off to sleep when suddenly she lept up off the ground with a scream of “Jesus Christ, something just bit me!!!” We switched the torches on and looked on the ground for any sign of snakes or scorpions, but could see nothing so assumed it must have been ants, we started checking the pockets of Chuck’s jacket when Antoine spotted a small orange scorpion on Chuck’s chest looking right up at her, ensuring another girly scream, Andy flicked it off onto BJ and Anne manned up using her book to scoop it up and take it to the other end of our campsite. Scorpion bites aren’t serious enough to warrant an evacuation thankfully, but are very nasty and left Chuck in a lot of pain.
Monday 9th April
We had a very late start as everyone was tired and it was a nice morning so we chilled out, other groups came down to Pumpkin Springs and joined us for a chat. I took the others up to the pot-hole rock to play around and take some silly photos. We floated down a few miles to Two Hundred and Twenty Four Mile Camp, with Diamond Peak the Diamond Creek confluence. A large formation that sticks up in the middle of the Canyon like a Diamond it’s a high point that isn’t really connected to the side of the Canyon. We had our last night with Chuck at this point. Unfortunately she had to get back earlier than the rest of us because of work, so had arranged to leave the Canyon at Diamond Creek with another group. We made sure to send her off with style and all enjoyed a few drinks, with Andy and Antoine making a good team effort to make a dent into our vast alcohol stash! We’d seen other groups drinking their way down the river, and had even exchange a few drinks on the river, but our doubling of beer purchasing back in Vegas had meant we were never short.
Tuesday 10th April
Another ‘Rest Day’. Rob had come up with an exciting plan to climb to the top of Diamond Peak for sunrise… Which in theory sounded easy and the guidebook said there was a route all the way to the top, so somehow we got up at 3am with a very drunk Antoine stumbling his way out of his tent. Andy, Claire, BJ and of course Chuck stayed at base camp. We had the small matter of 2000ft vertical to climb in 3 hours to make it there for sunrise. Our route was a little bit sketchy, a slight misinterpretation of where we needed to turn right meant we went right too early and had to traverse a massive scree field. It was difficult scrambling on the loose rock and there were some small avalanches. My foot dislodged some small boulders which dislodged a boulder bigger than a football which bounced down and almost took out Antoine who had to move fast to avoid it. We got to the saddle of the mountain and realised our error but we had made it this far so it was time to push on further.
The next section was less loose but much steeper, it was now scrambling to 4a climbing grade, with no ropes, and very little light, the moon had disappeared and we were relying on our head-torches. We had to space out as the rock was still loose and it was easy to dislodge chunks at a time so we moved slowly and with some good communication we avoided any mishaps, a tarn showed we were on the right path, even if Rob was slightly bricking it. The sky was beginning to lighten and we were panicking that we were going to miss sunrise but all of a sudden we were at the top.
We sat there and watched the canyon come to life, the pink light slowly illuminating the great walls and layers of rock. It was quite spectacular and having not been to the South Rim before the trip this was my first view of the Grand Canyon from up high. We were 2000ft above the river which was just over the amount we had descended in the days on the river so we could see all the layers of rock we’d gone through and it really gave you an impression of just how many rapids we must have done to descend that far. There was a second peak with a slightly different view, on the way across I was attacked by some wasps and got bitten on my scalp, Ted managed to scare them off. We took some photos of the stunning view and began the equally difficult descent down, made harder by the fact we couldn’t work out where we had come up from. We took it really slowly and made it back to the saddle of the mountain to see the group collect Chuck and float off down stream. We spotted an easier route down which didn’t involve a scree-field and made it back down to base camp by 10am.
Claire, Andy and BJ decided they’d do the same climb in the daylight, whilst the rest of us relax in the nice warmth of the sun under a tarp we set up to give us some shade. As I sat down on one of the camp-chairs the guitar next to the chair fell and landed with the head of the guitar right on Ted’s forehead a loud “Ow!” woke him up from his nap and two bumps appeared on his forehead….Sorry Ted! We had chilli for dinner and had an early night.
Wednesday 11th April
Our last day of whitewater in the canyon. We had another lazy morning and headed down to Travertine Canyon, where we found a few small waterfalls and a large one in a cave. Antoine being a crazy French Monkey climbed up the waterfall and went all the way up with Andy and Anne just behind. The rest of us went for lunch and waited for them to come down, which after a while I discovered was proving difficult to do so I went in search of ropes before finding they had found a way down.
We ran vampire and our last grade 5 rapid called ‘Killer’, (RM 232), which proved quite fun and Antoine got a few seconds of down-time. Just when we thought the river was over, there was a small play-wave which was PERFECT! Around RM 237, it was like a mini Big Joe Wave, perfectly smooth, fast, one of the nicest waves I’ve ever surfed. I jumped into Antoine’s boat to have a few rides. Ted in his old-school rainbow kayak was through blunts. We left the last of the rapids and headed down to Separation Canyon where two tributaries join the canyon from either side forming a rare breaking in both canyon walls. (RM 240)
This was the place where 2 explorers from the first descent by John Powell’s team separated from their group and were never seen again, it had taken them months to reach this point and tragically they would have reach civilisation in just 2 days if they had stayed with their group.
We had ham and cheese sandwiches for dinner, but as the French cooked them they were Croque Monsieur’s so were delicious!
Thursday 12th April
Andy decided the time was right to have his first proper wash of the trip and needed a team effort to wash his hair! As we had no more white-water left we put the rafts together and floated down the river having lunch on the rafts again, casually floating down tiny waves hinting at the rapids that were once below us. The river at this point is flowing into Lake Mead, which was created following the creation of the Hoover Dam, this lake at it’s highest stretched far up into the canyon but due to low annual rainfall over the passed decade the lake has been receding ever since. Even Separation rapid is starting to appear again but it will be a long time before it is back to it’s former glory. The hardest rapid on the entire river is still buried somewhere in the flood-waters and maybe one day will appear again, if it does, I’ll sure to be back.
We came across the first motor-raft of our trip. These monsters are huge, too big to flip and carrying passengers who want to enjoy the rapids in a quick journey and with some degree of comfort, the noise seemed completely out of place. They gave us some extra ice for our coolers which had started to run low. We had started off with 3 freezer boxes, once we had emptied 1/3 out of each of them, ensuring we only opened them for the minimum time possible, our Quartermaster Claire would split one of the coolers across the other two, and later we had done the same dropping down to just one cooler and keeping beer in the others.
We floated down to Surprise Canyon and stopped for dinner, Andy and I did some rather sketchy bouldering and climb up about 50ft on some fairly lose rock which made descending quite tricky. Dinner was Burritos and once it was over we loaded up the rafts for the night drift. (RM 248.3)
Due to the lake dropping, the end of the Canyon is a bizarre journey through carved silt deposits, the banks are metres high and too loose to climb up, this means there is nowhere to camp and you have to do a night-drift for your last night. Because we had gone early to Diamond Creek to get Chuck out we decided to do our night-drift a night early and stay at what we thought would be a nice spot to camp at…. There was no moon, no lights and our torches weren’t powerful enough to see anything so we turned them off and adjust our night vision. We had the rafts tied together and we steered them in the night with our night-vision proving occasionally incorrect with us bouncing off a rock or two, but the near misses were few and far between, the general flow kept us going in the right direction. I did the first shift and Rob took over a bit later, but he got tired and decided we needed to stop, but where…. I awoke in a fluster as we glanced a rock and almost got knocked into the river. We suddenly realised that it was enough of a rock to camp at so we hauled ourselves to the side of the river, and at 4am in the morning moored up and perched ourselves on the ledges. I choose to sleep on the raft, at least it was dry all night….
Friday 13th April
We awoke to see just how high the silt banks were, we had found the only place you could stop at by the looks of it. The silt backs occasionally gave way and we realised we had been somewhat lucky not to have any incidents in the night. We calculated that we were near Columbine Falls so drifted down and despite it looking nothing like the guidebook map we pulled in and had brunch. It was heavily over-grown now the lake had dropped. We walked up to the beautiful falls and scouted around for a route up above the falls. Antoine’s guidebook (the same one that had said climbing Diamond Peak would be easy) described a route up, so we went for a scramble and several hours later we returned having found nothing spectacular and picked up more war-wounds from sketchy rocks, thorn bushes and sharp plants than we had in the entire 3 week trip.
Dinner was served by BJ and it was what could only be described as Shepherd’s Delight, not quite a pie, the Mash had been made by Antoine and was some-what watery. We drank the last of the Vodka and made cocktails with the last of our ice. I gave out some random cheeky awards for various antics on the trip, and we slept up by the waterfall going to bed just as a huge storm came through the canyon.
Saturday 14th April
We awoke some-what damp but it didn’t matter as it was our last day on the river, only 7 miles to go to the take out, so we casually floated down, it was the coldest day and there was a head-wind, but in some ways this made it easier to want to leave. It was time to go, we had completed our voyage and we had survived. At the take out we were met by the guys from Ceiba who helped us quickly unload the rafts, finding our missing suncream in the process! We loaded up the trucks, left our Red Ammo cans to be dealt with by someone else! A bit further downstream is the Pearce Ferry Rapid, just around the corner we didn’t have time to go and have a look, this rapid is formed in the lake where the river is trying to find it’s natural path again, it varies from day-to-day and can be a really challenging rapid, if you continue your trip to the South Cove take out further along the lake then you’ll need to run this rapid. All our gear packed onto a truck we headed on the 2 hour drive to Las Vegas!
River Miles Completed 282
Arriving at a nice Casino Hotel in Las Vegas looking a little bit of a mess, we were told to go around the back and unloaded our gear into a storage room. We went to our rooms, washed huge amounts of river silt out of our hair, had a shave and transformed into something resembling normal creatures and proceeded to venture out into the town and see the bright lights of the city and the impressive water fountains at the Bellagio. The contrast between the previous night and this one couldn’t have been greater, from having no-phone, no-internet, no-running water, only torches to going somewhere which shows off the excess of the western lifestyle, with bright lights so bright you couldn’t see the amazing stars.