December 01, 2010

Grand Canyon 2010 - A Moderately Functional Shitshow

On Halloween, fifteen of my best friends and I launched our boats at Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River as we set off on a 21-day raft trip down the Grand Canyon.  Our water craft consisted of five 18-foot gear boats, one kat boat, and 4 kayaks.  We were outfitted by Moenkopi Riverworks for a very reasonable price, and they did a wonderful job.  Thanks to their planning and organization, our trip went very smoothly despite our level of functionality.

The crew and their boating responsibilities are listed below:
Gear Boat Captains: Jake, Garrett, Lane, Lou, and Josh
Kat Boat: Keith
Kayakers: Kyle, Turin, Phil, Becca
Extra rowers and passengers: Molly, Jasmine, Paco, Dane, Logan, Pete

A year and a half prior to the trip, we all put into the National Park Service (NPS) lottery for a chance to float  down the river.  Dane ended up being the lucky one, drawing the launch date of Halloween.  As the designated trip leader, Keith chose Moenkopi as our outfitter and coordinated all the logistics with them.  When we showed up at the put-in on October 30, they had all our gear, food, and beverages there waiting for us and the boats mostly rigged.  After a 1-hour meeting with a couple of NPS Rangers the following morning, we set off down the river.

For the following 21 days, we rafted, hiked, and partied in about equal doses.  Many of the gear boat captains (myself included) had very little experience at the oars.  However, the rapids are set up perfectly so as to teach a novice boater the skills necessary to row the more difficult rapids towards the middle and end of the trip.  This is analogous to video games, in how they teach you skills in the early levels and gradually build on them to the end.  I remember the first Class 7 of the trip getting my attention by nearly flipping my gear boat.  By the time we got to the first Class 8, I felt super solid and confident.  Everyone more or less styled the entire river with only a couple of exceptions.

Boating Mishaps
Mishap 1 is credited to Louie for putting an 18-inch slice in the side of his gear boat on Day 10.  Three patch attempts and one layover day later, it was like it never happened.  Kudos to Logan for his amazing sewing of the gash prior to the third patch attempt.

Mishap 2 is credited to Jake for being the sole cause of our only flipped gear boat.  We encountered the most difficult rapid of the trip, Lava Falls, on Day 18.  He flipped in the very last hole in the rapid, effectively forcing himself and his two passengers to swim.  Also swimming were two oars and an upside-down gear boat.  The two oars were never recovered, but everything else turned out great!  I was actually glad Jake bumbled this rapid because I wanted to experience the righting of a fully laden gear boat.  It was surprisingly easy and I ended up learning a lot from this experience.  Thanks Jake!

Me rowing one of the rapids earlier in the trip with Molly and Paco in the front
Pretty much all the pictures in this post are courtesy of Kyle Dickman, who writes and shoots for Outside Magazine.  He did an incredible job throughout the trip of getting in position and taking some great shots!  However, Becca gets credit for the following video of me rowing through Lava Falls with Jasmine, Molly, and Paco in the bow.

As a group, we did an excellent job of being functional when we needed to be.  Lucky for us, this only constituted about 4 hours over the course of the trip.  The weather was fantastic with highs in the 70's and lows at night around 40.  We had two minor sprinkles until the last night, when it rained constantly from sundown to sunup.  As it turned out, this was way more pleasant than the summer time temperatures ranging from 85 to 130 degrees.

Typical beautiful flatwater section (90% of the river is like this)

Garrett dabbling in the anti-flatwater.  Somewhere underneath him is an 18' gear boat.
We ran Lava Falls in small groups so we could watch each other row the gnar.  Kyle ended up taking a metric shit-ton of photos, getting a great sequence of stills of pretty much all the rafts going through the first two big holes.  I posted my favorite below, but the whole sequence of my run is posted on Picassa.

You can barely make out the three heads in the front of the boat of Molly, Paco, and Jasmine.
Enough about the rafting.  The side hikes were at least as memorable.  Unfortunately, my first camera battery failed and I lost my second one (found it three days before the end of the trip), so I didn't take any photos of the cool places I hiked to.  We typically hiked in small groups and sometimes solo, so relying on Kyle for amazing photos didn't work out for me.  Let's go ahead and call that "Hiking Mishap #1, courtesy of me".   Every hike I did was worth doing.  For my own future reference, the two hikes I did not go on that I feel I need to do next time (provided there is one) are Kanab Creek and Olo Canyon.  My "favorite spot of the trip" award goes to a place 5.5 miles up Havasu Creek, where a clear side stream cascades about 25 feet into the turquoise main stream, about 200 yards below the impressive Mooney Falls, where the entirety of Havasu Creek flows over a 210-foot drop.
Picture stolen from the internet.  The waterfall is cool by itself, but the double waterfall view just downstream is exquisite. I almost had a "Rainbow Guy" moment.
Nominated for "Picture of the Trip" was this shot Kyle took at the base of Havasu Creek.

On the last night of the trip, on a recommendation from our outfitter, we ate an early Thanksgiving dinner before launching just before dark.  We proceeded to float the last 40 miles in the dark with all the boats tied together.  An hour later it started to rain, at which point we set up a total of 6 tents on the 5 boats.  If it wasn't for the occasional rock bump on the edge of the river, you couldn't tell you were floating from inside the tent.  A half hour after daylight, we pulled over at the take out, 40 miles below our last camp.  This gave us just enough time to de-rig the boats before our shuttle arrived.  Four hours later, we were organizing our personal gear in Flagstaff where there was an inch of snow on the ground.

My personal goals for the trip were to become proficient at rigging and rowing rafts.  I met these goals to the extent that I now feel I need to buy my own raft, which I'm not sure is a good thing when viewed from a financial perspective.

Rumor has it that drawing Grand Canyon raft permits will become easier now that lottery preference is not given to people who used to be on the wait list.  Consequently, I predict this trip or something very similar will occur on about 5-year intervals.  Personal trips down the river become quite manageable and easy to organize when a good outfitter is employed.

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