Beautiful Havasu Creek and the Infamous Lava Rapids… The Grand Canyon Series: Part 10

Havasu Creek with its travertine colored water.

I had been on Havasu Creek before. Our son, Tony, who was on a break between flying helicopters for the Marines and flying helicopters for the Coast Guard, was flying helicopters for a private company that offered tours over the Grand Canyon and into the small Indian village of Supai. The town, which is located inside the Canyon, sits next to Havasu Creek.

Tony had flown his wife Cammie, Peggy and me into Supai as a treat. He was playing the theme from Star Wars full blast as we dropped over the steep edge of the Canyon and begin our rapid descent! We were greeted by the beautiful blue-green water of Havasu Creek and its interesting travertine structures when we landed  A high concentration of calcium-carbonate is responsible for both the water’s color and the formations. The process of coating objects with lime is fast. Today’s downed limb in the creek may become next month’s travertine sculpture. Peggy and I were eager to see if the creek maintained its unusual color and interesting formations at its mouth where it flowed into the Colorado. As the following photos suggest, we were not disappointed.

The mouth of Havasu Creek is a common stop for rafters in the Grand Canyon. Our rafts look small beside the large commercial tour boat.

We hiked over this from the mouth of the creek.

And were treated to views like these.

 

Don caught this lovely view. (Photo by Don Green.)

And Peggy took this one.

One of the things rafters do for entertainment on Havasu Creek is to damn it up using their rears…

And then, people scramble out of the way, creating a mini-flood! Beth was having a bit of trouble with the scramble part. She was holding onto Bone and didn’t have her hands free.

A pictograph, left behind by ancient Americans, caught the group’s attention. Maybe they used to grow people taller. (grin)

Lava Falls is labeled a 10 in the Grand Canyon’s system of scary, the highest rating given to any rapids along the Colorado. The river drops 37 feet over a few hundred yards and guarantees a quick, gut wrenching ride that seems to last forever and might very well throw you out of the raft. We had been worrying about it even before the trip. It is considered one of the top ten challenging rapids in the world by river runners. Our boatmen parked their rafts above the rapids and carefully scouted a route. We could see a huge, raft-sucking hole in the middle. It seemed that slipping by on the right  seemed the wisest choice. But what did we know. The river was going to do what the river was going to do. Steve agreed to carry us and away we went on our bucking raft… Ride ’em cowboy!

Back on the Colorado River, we headed for our appointment with Lava Falls. Eggin would be attempting the rapids in her kayak.

It was hard to imagine that Lava Falls was just around the bend. But we could hear its roar.

Everyone wanted a good view of the rapids.

They promised a quick but rough ride! Would that hole suck us in and tip over our raft?

With Steve at the oars, Peggy and I enter the infamous Lava Falls on the Colorado River, a perfect ten… that’s 10 as in rapids don’t get any more serious. Shortly after this we disappeared under the water! (Photo by Don Green)

Peggy and I are between the camera and the oars! Luckily we came out with our messy side up. (Photo by Don Green.)

Everybody made it through with the exception of Eggin, who managed to run the rapids upside down in her kayak. One of the boatman shot out to collect her and the kayak. Other than being a bit wet, she was fine. Meanwhile, her uncle, David Stalheim, had pulled over at Tequila Beach and was demonstrating why it was so named. If you manage to survive the rapids, you are expected to celebrate with a shot of tequila. Dave apparently wanted the whole bottle! The party continued after we reached camp…

Don demonstrates how he was feeling after running Lava. It’s possible that the lid was on, but just  maybe. 

Peggy and I just looked happy. We needed a T-shirt that said we survived Lava Falls.

Jonas had decided to celebrate with a little quiet reading in the river…

Bone declared that the trip had scared the pee out of him…

While Beth and Susan decided it was time to Party.

While Tom was just, um, Tom.

I will note that the party continued into the night and the natives were apparently having a heck of a good time!

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: Flying over Kodiak Island. It was green enough to be Ireland before the glaciers started.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: Another in the MisAdventure series. Bob Bray and I are chased by a hobo and my mother chases fire trucks.

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Peggy Wins the Lottery… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 2

Mule trip into Grand Canyon

I have journeyed into the Grand Canyon several times over the years. The first was in the late 60s. That’s me, second from the top on Charlie the mule. I was heavier than Charlie liked, so he kept trying to bite me. He also walked as close to the thousand foot drop off as he could. His ultimate revenge, however, was that I was sore for a week afterwards!

 

Having reported on being in Flagstaff for the beginning of our raft trip down the Colorado River on last Monday’s travel blog, I thought I should back up a step and tell you how we got there.

It started with a strange phone call.

Peggy and I were in the middle of a three-year trip around North American in our small RV when the phone rang late one night. It was 10:00 p.m., far past the time I normally accept calls. They make me grumpy. Usually they are from a Nigerian Prince who wants to make me incredibly wealthy. All I have to do is send him a thousand bucks. But this was from my old friend Tom Lovering. I’m used to him calling at weird hours. He has zero sense of what constitutes a normal day and fervently believes that no one else should either.

He wanted me to immediately stop whatever I was doing (sleeping), jump on-line, and apply for a private permit to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Permits are scarce and the number of people who apply could fill a rock concert. So the Park Service does an open lottery for interested folks. Odds of getting a permit are small— teeny tiny— and Tom wanted to increase his. He’d been scrolling through his list of friends and had already talked a number of people into applying. The clock was ticking; the lottery closed at midnight. Given the late hour, I must have been near the end of Tom’s likely candidates, which isn’t surprising. I know zilch about running rapids.

Thrill sports aren’t my thing. I have always figured that the type of outdoor things I do (like bicycling 10,000 miles around North America by myself, or disappearing into grizzly bear country alone) have enough inherent danger without my challenging raft-eating, people swallowing rapids, or climbing up the sheer face of a thousand-foot rock. Not that I have any problem with the sports. In fact, I have nothing but admiration for people who have the skill and temerity to pursue them and make a career out of flipping off the old guy in a hoodie who carries a big scythe.

My normal response would have been, “Sure, Tom, I’ll get right on it,” followed by promptly rolling over and going back to sleep. But this wasn’t accounting for the love of my life, Peggy, who actually likes water sports and enjoys jumping off cliffs. During college, she had actually attended a session of the Nantahala White Water School in North Carolina where you learn to maneuver rafts through raging rapids. She followed up on Tom’s request immediately: jumping on-line and putting in for a permit— in my name.

I was checking my E-mail the next morning when I came across the note from the National Park Service: “Congratulations you have won a permit for you and 15 other people to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon! We will be sending you a 5000-page document (slight exaggeration) that outlines your responsibilities.” Oh joy. I called Tom immediately. He was the experienced river runner. He had promised the night before that if, by some miracle I did win, he would take full responsibility for organizing and leading the event. It’s a huge job that takes considerable knowledge about white water rafting.

At first, Tom didn’t believe me. He thought I was joking. Neither he nor any of his rafting buddies had won a Canyon permit in several years. And then he was ecstatic. Yes, he would recruit experienced boat people and their boats for the trip! Yes, he would make all necessary arrangements. Yes, he would plan the menus and organize the food! Yes, he would lead the adventure!

Then the other shoe dropped. Doesn’t it always? I was, after all, “the permit holder.” It was my job to turn in paperwork. But I also had serious responsibilities. If anything went wrong; it was on my shoulders. This ranged from people pooping in the wrong places, to how we washed our dishes, to more serious things. The Park Service had a long list of safety and environmental concerns. I’d be signing on the dotted line. There would be an inspection before we left!

I admit I had concerns. But these were countered by the fact that I love the Grand Canyon. I have returned to it numerous times over the years. I have both hiked and backpacked into it. One time I rode mules into the Canyon. Another time I flew in by helicopter. And I am perfectly happy just sitting on the edge and staring out into the vast space at the incredible rock formations. I did that for Christmas one year (and many other times). Floating down the Colorado would give me a totally new perspective. I was almost as excited as Tom and Peggy. Almost.

Between three tours of duty as a Marine helicopter pilot in Iraq and then serving as a Coast Guard pilot flying rescue missions, our son Tony did a brief stint of flying tourists over the Grand Canyon and into the Havasupai Indian village in the canyon.  When he flew Peggy and me into the village, he was playing the theme song from Star Wars as he swooped down past the steep cliffs.

Waterfalls at Havusupai

This gorgeous waterfall was the main attraction at the Havasupai Village.

I am sitting on the edge of the Colorado River, red with mud.  Peggy and I had backpacked down the Tanner Trail retracing a solo trip I had made several years earlier. Our raft trip would bring us through this section of the Canyon and over the Tanner Rapids. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Occasionally, backpacking through the Canyon requires a bit of scrambling.

But you don’t have to hike or backpack into the canyon, or raft, or fly, or ride grouchy mules to enjoy the beauty of the Canyon. You can drive up, and enjoy numerous pull-offs that give you incredible views. Short walks provide many more. Be sure to include early morning and late afternoon to capture the full beauty.

Grand Canyon 38

The rocks come in a seemingly infinite number of shapes and colors.

A final view.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We travel to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

FRIDAY’S POST: I learn that there is more to life than dead people.

MONDAY’S POST: And why is Homeland Security checking out our food containers for a bomb on the our Grand Canyon rafting adventure?

 

 

Backpacking into the Grand Canyon: Part III… My Muscles Go on Strike!

I am sitting on the edge of the Colorado, red with mud. (Peggy took this and the following photos when I returned down the Tanner Trail into the Grand Canyon several years later. I didn't have a camera on my first trip.)

I am sitting on the edge of the Colorado River, red with mud. (Peggy took this photo when I returned with her down the Tanner Trail into the Grand Canyon several years after my first trip. I didn’t have a camera the first time.)

 

At the end of my last blog on my backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon, I was getting ready to hike up the Canyon to the Little Colorado River. The day before I had made a strenuous descent from the rim to the Colorado River that had left my downhill muscles screaming for mercy.

I hoisted my backpack and mentally prepared for the day’s journey. On the edge of my campsite was a 20-foot section of small boulders I needed to negotiate to rejoin the trail. Normally I would sail through such an obstacle course, stepping on or between rocks as the situation called for. Not this time. I wobbled uncontrollably when I stepped on top of my first rock; I had absolutely zero balance. My muscles were refusing to function. They had gone on strike! While I didn’t reach the insane-cackle level brought on by exhaustion the night before, I did find myself giggling. Dorothy’s Scarecrow was a paragon of grace in comparison to me. I actually made it a whole hundred yards before declaring that my backpacking day was over.

An overhanging rock provided shade and a scenic view of the Tanner Canyon Rapids. I spent the day napping, reading a book on the Grand Canyon by Joseph Wood Krutch, snacking, and watching rafters maneuver through the rapids. The most energy I expended was to go to the river and retrieve a bucket of water. There was plenty of time to let the mud settle.

I made it as far as an overhanging rock a hundred yards from my campsite. Thirteen years later I pointed out my hideaway to Peggy. It may hold the record for the shortest backpacking trip in history.

I made it as far as an overhanging rock a hundred yards from my campsite. Thirteen years later I pointed out my hideaway to Peggy. It may hold the record for the shortest backpacking trip in history. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy tried out my seat where I sat and read all day and watched bats come though in the evening.

Peggy tried out my seat where I sat and read all day and watched bats come through in the evening.

The view I had of the Tanner Rapids from my 'cave.'

The view I had of the Tanner Rapids from my ‘cave.’ Eventually I rafted down the Colorado River and would pass through these rapids.

That evening I sipped a cup of tea laced with 151-proof rum and watched bats flit around my ‘cave’ as they gobbled down mosquitoes. They were close enough I could have touched them. It was like I was invisible, as I had apparently been to the Mousy and his stalker the night before. Strange, unsettling thoughts of nonexistence went zipping through my mind. Being alone in the wilderness is conducive to such thinking. The Canyon adds another layer.

Day three arrived and it was time to explore my surroundings and whip my protesting muscles into shape. I still wasn’t ready for primetime backpacking, so I took a day hike up Tanner Creek Canyon. Whatever creek had existed was waiting for future rain, but the erosive power of water was plainly evident. This was flash flood country where a dry wash can turn into a raging torrent in minutes. Dark clouds demand a hasty retreat to higher ground. I had nothing but blue skies, however, so I hiked up as far as I could go. The canyon narrowed down to a few feet and traveling any further called for rock climbing skills I didn’t possess. I sat for a while enjoying the silence— and the thousands of feet of soaring walls. The isolation seemed so complete it was palpable. I was alone but not lonely. Nature was my companion. Reluctantly, I turned back toward my camp.

I spent the next two days hiking along the River. I backpacked up the Colorado following the Beamer Trail to Lava Canyon Rapids the first day and then worked my way back down past Tanner Creek to Unkar Creek the second. My general rule was that if the trail appeared ready to make a major climb up the canyon, it was going without me.

At one point where Peggy and I were backpacking up the Beamer Trail we came to a fork in the trail and went left. (Yes, we did find the fork in the trail.)

At one point when Peggy and I were backpacking up the Beamer Trail we came to a fork in the trail and went left. (Yes, we did find the fork that someone had humorously placed in the trail. I was reminded of the Muppet Movie where Kermit came on a similar fork.)

I am not sure the fork provided good advise. (grin) We had to scramble.

I am not sure the fork provided good advice. (grin) We had to scramble.

The only real excitement came toward the end of the second day when I discovered my left foot poised a few inches above a pinkish Grand Canyon Rattlesnake that lay stretched across the trail, hidden in the shadows. He was a granddaddy of a fellow, both long and thick. My right leg performed an unbidden, prodigious hop that placed me several feet down the trail. There is a very primitive part of the brain that screams snake. No thinking is required. As soon as I could get my heart under control, I picked up a long stick and gently urged the miscreant reptile to get off the trail. He wasn’t into urging. Instead, he coiled up, rattled his multitude of rattles and stuck out his long, forked tongue at me. He was lucky I didn’t pummel him. I did prod more enthusiastically, however, and he got the point, crawling off the trail rather quickly. I memorized the location so he wouldn’t surprise me on the return journey.

My leg’s miraculous leap suggested that my body was beginning to tune up. There would be no more malingering and feeling sorry for itself. The next day I camped at Tanner Creek again and the following day out I hiked out. The trip up took me three hours less than it had taken to hike in. I was tempted to go find the Sierra Club fellow who had demanded that I use a more civilized trail, but opted out for a well-earned hamburger and cold beer instead. My body was demanding compensation for its forced march.

I’ll return to my Grand Canyon adventure next week when a friend joins me to hike back into the Canyon a few days after I returned to the rim. Hostile spirits from another realm join us. Or at least she believes they do.

NEXT BLOG: I start my series on my recent trip up the North Coast of California. First up— Olompali State Park. Located just north of San Francisco, it has a fascinating history stretching from the Miwok Indians to the Grateful Dead to a hippie commune.

Backpacking into the Grand Canyon… Part II

Looking down from Lipan Point at the start of the Tanner Trail. Then sharp bend in the Colorado River... far away, is where I am heading. (The photos of the trail down I actually took several years later when I backpacked down with Peggy.)

Looking down into the Grand Canyon at the start of the Tanner Trail.  By the end of the day I would be near the sharp bend in the river. At the beginning, my body was having serious doubts about whether it wanted to go there. It wasn’t the distance. It was the drop of several thousand feet which can be tough on both knees and downhill brakes.

You may (or may not) recall that I left you hanging on the edge of the Grand Canyon when I took my summer break from blogging starting in July. I had hoisted my 60-pound pack and was preparing to drop off the edge of the world following one of the Canyon’s toughest and least traveled trails several thousand feet down to the Colorado River. My body was having a serious discussion with my mind over the wisdom of the decision. You may want to go back and read Part I of the Grand Canyon Odyssey to refresh your memory.

Tanner trail dropped away under my feet as I began my journey and descended through millions of years of earth history. About a half of mile down it disappeared, having been washed away by winter rains. “I told you so,” my body whispered loudly as I mentally and physically hugged the side of the Canyon and tentatively made my way around the washout.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another non-maintained Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park Service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Steep drop offs are a common factor in all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

Steep drop offs are a common factor in all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones. The top of the photo reflects the different rates of erosion that create bluffs.

I am not sure when my legs started shaking. Given the stair-step nature of the trail and the weight on my back, not to mention an extra 20 pounds of winter fat, my downhill muscles were not having a lot of fun. Fortunately, Mother Nature provided a reprieve. The erosive forces of wind and water that have sculpted the mesas and canyon lands of the Southwest are less challenged by some types of rocks than others.

Somewhere between two and three miles down I came upon the gentle lower slopes of the Escalante and Cardenas Buttes, which allowed me to lollygag along and enjoy the scenery. I escaped from the sun beneath the shadow of a large rock, drank some of my precious water, nibbled on trail food, and took a brief nap. It would have made a good place to camp. Others had obviously taken advantage of the shade and flat surface, but the Colorado River was calling.

Ignoring the screams of my disgruntled body parts, I headed on. At mile five or so my idyllic stroll came to a dramatic halt as the trail dropped out of sight down what is known as the Red Wall. (It received this imaginative name because it is red and looks like a wall.) Some fifty million years, or 625,000 Curtis life spans, of shallow seas had patiently worked to deposit the lime that makes up its 500-foot sheer cliff. It is one of the most distinctive features of the Grand Canyon.

My trail guide recommended I store water before heading down so I could retrieve it when I was dying of thirst on the way out. I could see where people had scratched out exposed campsites here as an excuse to stop for the night. The accommodations weren’t much but the view was spectacular.

The rest of the five-mile/five month journey was something of a blur. (It was closer to five hours but time was moving very slowly.) I do remember a blooming prickly pear cactus. I grumbled at it for looking so cheerful. I also remember a long, gravelly slope toward the bottom. My downhill muscles had totally given out and the only way I could get down was to sidestep. I cackled insanely when I finally reached the bottom. I was ever so glad the Sierra Club guy (see Part I) wasn’t around to see me.

As tired as I was, I enjoyed the beauty of the inner Canyon.

I was so tired, I could hardly enjoy the beauty of the inner Canyon. (These photos are from a later trip I took down with Peggy. I waited until after she said “I do” before introducing her to the Tanner Trail. Otherwise she might have said “I don’t.”)

I smiled at the Prickly Pear Flowers on my way out of the Canyon that I had growled at coming in.

I growled at a prickly pear for looking so cheerful.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower, about a mile away from the Tanner trailhead.

Setting up camp that night was simple. I threw out my ground cloth, Thermarest mattress, and sleeping bag on a sandy beach. Then I stumbled down to the river’s edge and retrieved a bucket of brown Colorado River water that appeared to be two parts liquid and one part mud. I could have waited for the mud to settle but used up a year of my water filter’s life to provide an instant two quarts of potable water.

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip down the Tanner Trail.

All I had left to do was take care of my food. Since people camped here frequently, four-legged critters looked on backpackers as a major source of food. I could almost here them yelling, “Dinnertime!” when I stumbled into sight. Not seeing a convenient limb to hang my food from, i.e. something I wouldn’t have to move more than 10 feet to find, I buried my food bag in the sand next to me. Theoretically, anything digging it up would wake me. Just the top was peeking out so I could find it in the morning.

As the sun went down, so did I. Faster than I could fall asleep, I heard myself snoring. I was brought back to full consciousness by the pitter-patter of tiny feet crossing over the top of me. A mouse was worrying the top of my food bag and going for the peanuts I had placed there to cover my more serious food.

“Hey Mousy,” I yelled, “Get away from my food!” My small companion of the night dashed back over me as if I were no more than a noisy obstacle between dinner and home. I was drifting off again when I once more felt the little feet. “The hell with it,” I thought in my semi-comatose state. How many peanuts could the mouse eat anyway?

The river water I had consumed the night before pulled me from my sleep. Predawn light bathed the Canyon in a gentle glow. I lay in my sleeping bag for several minutes and admired the vastness and beauty of my temporary home. The Canyon rim, my truck and the hoards of tourists were far away, existing in another world. My thoughts turned to my visitor of the previous evening.

I finished my last blog with a picture of the view across the Colorado River from my camp near Tanner Rapids. This and the photo below demonstrate how much colors change depending on the time of day.

The early morning view from my camp site near Tanner Rapids on the Colorado River.

Out of curiosity, I reached over for my food and extracted the bag of peanuts. A neat little hole had been chewed through the plastic but it appeared that most of my peanuts were present and accounted for. My small contribution had been well worth my solid sleep. I then looked over to the right to see if I could spot where the mouse had carried its treasure. Something on the edge of my ground cloth caught my eye. It was three inches long, grey, round and fuzzy.

It was Mousy’s tail!

Something had sat on the edge of my sleeping bag during the night and dined on peanut stuffed mouse. Thoughts of a coyote, or worse, using my ground cloth as a dinner table sent a shiver down my spine. I ate a peanut in honor of Mousy’s memory and threw a few over near his house in case he had left behind a family to feed. I also figured that the peanuts would serve as an offering to whatever Canyon spirits had sent the night predator on its way.

I visited a bush to meet the demands of my bladder, fired up my MSR white gas stove, and soon had a cup of coffee in my hand and hot morning gruel (oatmeal) in my tummy. I dutifully downed my daily ration of five dried apricots. (This may be more than you need to know, but they help keep you regular, an important consideration in wilderness travel.)

With breakfast out of the way and a second cup of coffee to enjoy, it was time to get out my topographic map and contemplate the adventure of the day. My intention was to work my way up the Colorado River following the Beamer Trail to where it was joined by the Little Colorado. The odds were I would have it to myself. The trail was named after a prospector who had searched the area for gold in the 1800s but it also incorporated ancient sections of trail the Hopi Indians had used to reach their sacred salt mines.

Hopi legend claims that their ancestors emerged into this world from a cave in the bottom of the Little Colorado River Canyon. I found the combination of history, mythology, isolation and scenery quite attractive and was eager to get underway. Unfortunately, my body had other plans. It was going on strike.

NEXT BLOG: I declare a layover day where I hardly move and then begin to explore the beauty of the inner Canyon.

Grand Canyon Odyssey, Part I… The Wilderness Cure

The Grand Canyon is a world treasure. I've backpacked into it several times and rafted the Colorado River through it. Once I even rode a mule into the Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is a world treasure. I’ve backpacked into it several times and rafted the Colorado River through it. Once, I even rode a mule into the Canyon. The mule carried me over the trail you can see right front center.

I followed Highway 50 east out of Sacramento, cut off at Pollock Pines and picked up the Mormon-Emigrant Trail. Soon I was on Highway 88 climbing up and over Carson Pass. Newly dressed aspens, snow-covered mountains and frothy creeks reminded me that summer was still two months away.

Kit Carson came through here in February of 1844 along with John C. Fremont. The snow was deep and food was limited. They ended up dining off of their horses, mules and the camp dog. The dog apparently went quite well with pea soup. Later, the trail they discovered would become a major entry point for the 49ers and run through the foothill town of Diamond Springs where I was raised.

By evening I had driven down the east side of the Sierras and made my way into Death Valley. I was setting up my tent under a convenient Mesquite tree when the sun sank behind the Panamint Range. Coyotes howling in the distance lulled me to sleep.

I walked out from my campsite in Death Valley as the sun set and listened to coyotes howl in the distance.

I walked out from my campsite in Death Valley as the sun set and listened to coyotes howl in the distance.

By ten thirty the next morning I was in another world, investing quarters in a video poker machine at Circus Circus on the Las Vegas Strip. Luck was with me. Two hours later found me crossing over Hoover Dam with an extra hundred dollars in my wallet. It represented two weeks of backpacking food. I zipped across the desert, picked up Interstate 40 at Kingman and cut off toward the Grand Canyon at Williams.

Circus Circus Clown.

A little treat for those of you with Coulrophobia, the Circus Circus Clown. No wonder people fear clowns.

I wasted little time checking in at Mather Campground. The Canyon was waiting. An unoccupied rock off the trail near Yavapai Point provided a convenient spot for dangling my legs over the edge. Nothing but several hundred feet of vacant space existed beneath my hiking shoes. A slight breeze on my back reminded me of my mortality.

Sitting on the edge of the Canyon isn't for the faint-hearted. One can fall hundreds of feet.

Sitting on the edge of the Canyon isn’t for the faint-hearted. One can fall hundreds of feet.

My musings were interrupted when a fat Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel poked his furry head up next to me and demanded payment for my front row seat. I recited the Park’s rule on feeding animals and told him to go eat grass. He flipped his tail at me and squeaked an obscenity as he scrambled off in search of more gullible victims.

Twilight was painting the Canyon with a purplish tinge but I could still make out the distinctive colors and shapes of the rocks. While my right-brain admired the beauty, my left-brain was busy considering eons upon eons of earth history. The dark, tortured walls of the inner canyon, now obscured by evening shadows, reached back over a billion years to the very beginnings of life on earth when our ancient ancestors had frolicked in even more ancient seas.

While the sun still touched the rim of the Canyon, the inner walls turned a dark purple. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

While the sun still touched the rim of the Canyon, the inner walls turned a dark purple. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Erosion had given these Precambrian rocks a flat top, shaving off some 500 million years of earth’s history and creating what is known as the Great Unconformity.  Since then vast seas, Saharan size deserts, lakes and rivers had patiently supplanted one another as they marched through Paleozoic time depositing layer upon layer of the canyons walls.

My present perch was made of Kaibab limestone created by an inland sea some 250 million years ago. Dusk slipped into dark and my thoughts turned to my impending backpack trip.

I had backpacked into the Canyon several times. My objective this time was to explore the Tanner Trail on the eastern end of the South Rim road.

The next day was devoted to careful preparation. Seventeen years of backpacking in all kinds of terrain and climate had taught me that there was no such thing as being too careful. I approach compulsive when it comes to backpacking alone. Had I resupplied my first aid kit? Was my stove still working? Did I have adequate fuel? Did I have my flashlight, signaling mirror, whistle, compass and maps? Did I have enough but not too much food, water, reading material, etc. etc. etc.?

Safety, comfort and even entertainment are important but weight is always an issue.

Having satisfied myself that I could survive seven to nine days in the Canyon, I headed off to the backcountry permit office. The more environmentally inclined within the Park Service are seriously into minimizing impact and promoting safety. Requiring wilderness use permits is their primary tool in achieving these goals.

I patiently waited behind six other would-be canyon explorers and had memorized the minimum impact lecture by the time my turn was up. The ranger frowned when I mentioned the Tanner Trail.

“The trail is poorly maintained, rarely used, 10-12 miles long and arduous,” she cautioned strongly.

“And that,” I replied, “is exactly what I want.”  I was especially enamored with the ‘rarely used’ part.  I had no desire to share my experience with dozens of other people, much less armies of cantankerous mules that leave lakes of fowl smelling pee on the trail. If I had to face a particularly tough physical challenge and be extra careful to avoid a tumble into the Canyon, it was a price I was happily willing to pay.

I was leaving the office when a skinny guy wearing a short-sleeved khaki shirt, blue shorts and hiking boots stopped me.

“Excuse me,” he announced, “I am with the Sierra Club and I couldn’t help but hear you are headed down the Tanner Trail. Given your condition, I would strongly advise against it. You should hike down the Bright Angel Trail. It’s a lot easier and there are lots of other people hiking it in case you get in trouble.”

Now I confess that having just emerged from nine months of hibernating in Alaska I was pasty white and pudgy. I will also allow that the guy was operating under good intentions.

But his arrogance, especially in announcing his Sierra Club membership as somehow making him a wilderness expert, irritated me. Over the years I had known and worked with lots of Sierra Club folks. I am a strong supporter of their efforts to protect the wilderness. I have even run into some who have had more wilderness experience than I. John Muir, the Sierra Club founder, is one of my all time heroes.

Had my unofficial advisor started off with something like, “I have been up and down the Tanner Trail several times, would you like some suggestions?” I would have been quite willing, even eager, to hear what he had to say. But his uneducated assumptions about my lack of knowledge absolutely turned me off. It was everything I could do to maintain a civil tone of voice as I thanked him for his advice and politely told him to screw off.

At 8:30 the next morning my pasty white pudgy body was having an animated discussion with my mind over why I hadn’t listened more carefully to the Sierra Club ‘expert’ the day before. I had started my day by splurging for breakfast at the elegant El Tovar Hotel and then driven out to Lipan Point.

I was now poised to begin my descent into the Canyon. It looked like a long way down. I gritted my teeth and banned any insidious second thoughts.

They came rushing back as I struggled to hoist my 60 plus pound pack. It was filled with seven days of food, extra water and all of my equipment. I had cursed the day before as I struggled to find room for everything. Now I was cursing I hadn’t left half of it behind. I had the irrelevant thought that my journey down would either kill me or cure me.

 

Sorry to leave you hanging here as I begin my descent down into the Canyon, but I am going to take a break from blogging for a couple of months. It’s going to be tough. I love blogging and I enjoy keeping up with all of my Internet friends. It’s a special group. But five grandsons are descending on our house and I think Peggy and I will be a little busy (understatement). After that I am going to do some traveling— who knows where? (Peggy will be off in London with her sister Jane.) I also need to spend some time marketing my book. Time simply hasn’t allowed me to put in the effort I should.

And finally, I received two notices from Word Press this past week. One congratulated me on my fifth anniversary with Word Press. The second congratulated me on posting my 500th blog. I realized I hadn’t taken a break from blogging since the beginning. So it’s time I did. I will be off Word Press until the second week in September when I will once again be posting blogs, catching up with the folks I follow, and making comments. Have a great summer and thanks ever so much for following me. —Curt

A final view of the Canyon with its multiple layers that represent deposited from oceans, deserts, rivers and lakes.

A final view of the Canyon with its multiple layers that represent deposits from oceans, deserts, rivers and lakes over hundreds of millions of years..

Floating with My Head Underwater… Rafting Through the Grand Canyon

Beautiful views like this along the Colorado River would have been lost if efforts in the 50s and 60s to dam the Grand Canyon had succeeded.

I will feature two major sites in our journey down the Colorado River on my post today: the Anasazi Granaries at Nankoweap and the Little Colorado River. Then, unfortunately, I will have to put the trip through the Grand Canyon on hold.

Peggy and I leave our home in Southern Oregon on Sunday for a 32-day repositioning cruise on the Mediterranean plus visits with various family members. We won’t be back until January. My already organized wife tells me I have to get ready. That translates into, “You’ve run out of time, Curt.”

On Friday I plan to post photos featuring our property on the Applegate River. (It’s beautiful this time of the year.) On Sunday I will begin a series on another adventure: my two years of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. The Africa posts are already written and scheduled to go up every other day for the time I am gone. When I return my intention is to publish them as a digital book.

Meanwhile I will be gathering materials for numerous posts on the Mediterranean. But back to the Grand Canyon…

Steve Van Dore and Jamie Wilson serve as our boatmen for the two days we are on the river travelling from our camp at Redbud Alcove (mile 39) to our camp at Upper Rattlesnake (mile 74).

Steve, I’ve already introduced. Like Tom, he is an experienced Colorado River Boatman and loves the Canyon. He is also a specialist. His catamaran is outfitted with groovers: large ammo cans that have been modified to serve as portable potties.  Before toilet seats were added as a convenience, you sat on the rim of the can. It left grooves in your butt… hence the name.

We are all given training in setting up, taking down, and using the groovers. One of the first chores in arriving camp is to find the perfect place for the port-a-pot: a secluded location with a view. One time I found myself sitting on the pot and waving at rafters as they went by. The site received an A for the view and a C for the seclusion.

Steve is very knowledgeable about the Grand Canyon and readily shares his knowledge. Almost immediately he points out a site that was once proposed for a dam that would have covered much of the upper Canyon’s beautiful scenery, geological wonders and archeological treasures with water.

A similar effort was planned for downstream. Fortunately, the Sierra Club was able to stop the dams from being built. Otherwise, one of the World’s greatest natural wonders would have been lost.

A view of the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River between Redbud Alcove and Nankoweap.

When we arrive at Nankoweap (mile 53), Steve points out the granaries used by the Anasazi Indians somewhere between 1000 and 1150 CE (Common Era) or AD, if you prefer. The granaries are located high up on the cliff for protection from animals and insects. I think they are well protected from me as well. Tom has scheduled a hike up, however; I willingly go along.  I am curious about the granaries and think there will be spectacular views.

The granary is interesting and the views great. The climb is definitely worth it.

Our intrepid group hikes up the steep trail to the Granaries at Nankoweap in the Grand Canyon.

The Nankoweap Granaries built by the Anasazi Indians between 1000 and 1150 CE.

A view looking down the Colorado River from the Nankoweap Granaries in Grand Canyon National Park.

Jamie Wilson is our Boatman on the fifth day. He’s a delight. First of all he is funny and positive. Second, whenever a chore needs to be done, he is first in line. Finally, he is incredibly strong, which is a valuable asset when you get in a tight spot on the river. Jamie has his own business as a contractor in the Woodland/Davis area of California.

When we arrive at the Little Colorado River, it is time to play. The Little Colorado has two colors. First is a muddy reddish-brown. The River drains over 25,000 square miles. When it rains upriver, it carries tons of red topsoil.  The second color is a beautiful turquoise blue. When it doesn’t rain, much of the water comes from springs and is loaded with minerals that provide the turquoise color and very interesting deposits.

Looking up the Little Colorado River just above where if flows into the Colorado River. Note the unique water color and mineral deposits.

Another view along the Little Colorado River.

We hike upriver and don our life vests upside down over our legs.  It looks like we have put on huge diapers. We are going to float down the river. At first I carry out my photographer responsibilities but then I too don my diaper and jump in. Just as I go over a small waterfall my life vest slips down to my feet. My feet float fine but my head bobs along under the water.

Peggy models the life vest diaper look.

Hanging on to each other, our group forms a Conga Line Little Colorado River style and makes its way through the rapids.

As my life vest slipped up around my feet, my head dipped under the water.

I will close this post with an appropriate view of the sun setting on the Colorado River as I temporarily leave the Grand Canyon for my trip to Europe. I will return to finish writing about the journey in 2013. (Photo by Don Green)

 

Rowing House Rock Rapid… with One Oar: Rafting through the Grand Canyon

We started with an icy cold rapid. Peggy and I are in the first boat with Tom Lovering rowing. (Photo by Don Green)

Day two starts as day one did: early.

Even the birds are sound asleep. Tom argues it’s six AM, not the five my watch is showing. “Arizona does not honor Daylight Savings Time,” he primly informs us. He’s right. Adjusting my watch adjusts my attitude… a little.

Adding injury to insult, something akin to Folgers has been sewn up in burlap, thrown in boiling water, and called coffee.  Oh well, it’s a hot, it’s brown, and we have a beautiful day of floating down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon ahead.

For those of you who like facts, here are a few about the river. At its widest point it reaches 750 feet from one bank to the other; at its deepest, it plunges down 90 feet. It flows along at a decent 3-4 mile clip but can speed up to 15 miles per hour in rapids. Since the water comes out of the base of Glen Canyon Dam, it is cold: somewhere around a frigid 46 degrees Fahrenheit during the upper part of our trip. Over the course of our adventure the river will drop 1700 feet in altitude, which is an average 8 feet per mile… 25 times that of the Mississippi River.

Our boatman for the day, Tom Lovering, with his wild, Canyon hairdo.

Tom is our boatman of the day. He checks to make sure our toenails are painted and then lets us board. The wind is still blowing but it has lost its ferocious bite. A mile down the river we pass Ten Mile Rock, a prominent landmark that has fallen from the cliffs above and now juts up out of the river. Made of Toroweap Sandstone, it was laid down in shallow seas that covered the area some 250 million years ago.

Ten Mile Rock on the Colorado River. I thought it should have a more impressive name.

Shortly afterwards we hear our first rapid of the day, Soap Creek. You always hear rapids before you see them; it builds anticipation. Soap Creek roars like a teenage lion. Tom maneuvers through it like the excellent boatman he is but makes sure we get suitably wet. It’s like taking a cold shower outside on a frosty morning with a 15 mile per hour wind blowing.

“I love rowing,” Tom tells us– and it is obvious he does. It is more than the heart-stopping, adrenaline-pumping moments of major rapids where the boatman’s knowledge and skill is matched against the tremendous power of the river with its dangerous rocks and grasping holes. And it is more than the opportunity to enjoy incredible beauty of the Grand Canyon that rowing provides. Tom enjoys the rhythm and the hard work. He even liked the backbreaking challenge of rowing against the wind.

At mile 17 we come on our first, and only, major challenge of the day, House Rock Rapid, where we learn another fact about rafting through the Canyon: water levels depend on electricity needs in the West. Peak demands require large releases of water from Glen Canyon Dam to run its huge generators. Eventually, these releases catch up with rafters. The fluctuations in water levels have significant impacts.

House Rock Rapid demonstrates one of the more serious. The river is at its low point. More rocks are exposed and a massive hole lurks downstream from the largest rock. Even the most skilled boatman will be challenged to avoid it. We all land and climb off our boats to scout the rapid. Tom is eager to move on. Steve is adamant about waiting for more water. After a long discussion between the boatmen, a decision is made to take the more cautious approach.

Our group worriedly scouts House Rock Rapid. Peggy shows more enthusiasm than may be called for.

We have lunch, take naps, go for walks and watch as three large boats of commercial rafters chug through the rapids with their large engines. It is mid afternoon when the boatmen finally decide that enough water is flowing to reduce the hazard to a barely acceptable risk.

Tom’s fist bonks me on the head when we are halfway through. One of his oars has popped out. I look left and all I can see is churning, raft-eating water. We are poised on the edge of the hole… about to be sucked in. Tom becomes a virtuoso of one-armed madness.  Ever so slowly, like about a thousand years, the boat decides to go where he wants. We land, and for one of the few times in his life, my ever-talkative friend is silent.

We looked to the left and saw we were poised on the edge of a massive hole.

The next day, Megan Stalheim, Dave’s niece, is our boat woman. This is Megan’s first time rowing a raft and her first time rowing through the Grand Canyon. It would seem insane except Megan is a world-class kayaker. She is an expert at reading water. The problem is that our large, fully loaded rafts do not move like feather light kayaks… picture driving an 18-wheel Mack Truck with a Ferrari 458 attitude. We have some adventures.

This shot of Jamie’s raft provides a perspective on what our fully loaded rafts looked like.

Megan keeps the messy side up, however, as rafters say. (The non-messy side is the smooth bottom of the raft.) So it’s all good. Megan, like me, has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. When she gets off the river she is heading for Tanzania where she will work with a women’s craft co-op.

Beyond our “kayaking” experience with Megan, the big news on day three is that we began our side-trips. Almost all journeys down the Canyon include stopping off to see the sights. Some are quite beautiful and others provide unique challenges, as if our daily challenges of negotiating rapids aren’t enough.

Our first stop at mile 29 is the Silver Grotto, which includes both beauty and challenge. Wanting a little downtime and solitude, I opt out and take photos. Peggy tells me, “We climbed an 8 foot wall, repelled down a rock face, slogged through a murky, cold pool and slid down a 20 foot rock slide.” The rock slide was more like free-fall.

As the group disappeared into the Silver grotto, I took some much needed Curt-time.

A raven stopped by to visit and checked out the “Captain’s Chair” on Steve Van Dore’s boat. These large birds are one of the primary reasons food needs to be carefully stowed.

I didn’t get a photo of our group members leaping but this is what they leapt off of into the muddy water below. Water was splashed on the rock slide from a pool behind the lip to make the slide more smooth. Or so they said.

Next we stopped off at Paradise, as in Vasey’s Paradise. A beautiful waterfall shoots out of a Redwall cliff and creates a Garden of Eden at it base. It is worthy of the name.

The waterfall shooting out of the Red Wall at Vasey’s Paradise, Mile 32.

Dave Stalheim and his niece Megan perched on a rock at Vasey’s Paradise in the Grand Canyon.

Our final stop of the day is at Red Wall Cavern. Major John Wesley Powell was the first non Native American to admire the Cavern’s unique beauty. Powell was a Civil War Veteran who had lost his right arm at Shiloh. His exploratory expedition through the Grand Canyon took place in 1869. Powell thought Redwall Cavern could accommodate up to 50,000 people. Modern estimates are closer to 5000, but it is still big…

Coming around a bend in the Colorado River, we saw our first view of Redwall Cavern.

This photo provides a perspective on the sheer size and beauty of Redwall Cavern.

A view of the Grand Canyon looking upriver from the Redwall Cavern.

In my next post we visit an ancient Anasazi storage facility high on the cliffs above the river and play in the beautiful Little Colorado River.

Rowing Hard and Going No Where… Rafting Through the Grand Canyon

Peggy captures Dave Stalheim and me before we hit the river. Note my clean and shaved look. It’s the last time you will see it.

With thoughts of facing wind gusts up to 60 MPH, we begin our journey down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park.

Peggy and I perform the ritual of asking a boatman if we can ride with him. It seems like a strange practice to me, designed to remind us who’s in charge. But we have entered the world where each boatman/woman is the captain of his or her ship, even if the ship is a 16-foot raft with two or three passengers.

“May I have permission to come aboard, sir?” Although it’s more like “Can we ride with you today?” It is courteous but I would prefer to be assigned and have the assignment changed each day.

The tradition is so old that it fades into history. Democracy is not an option on a raging sea or, for that matter, in the middle of a roaring rapid. When the captain yells jump, you jump.

Our boatmen are mellow people, however; good folks. There are no Captain Blighs. If they are slightly more than equal, it goes with the territory. We are committed to riding with each boatman. First up is David Stalheim. He makes his living as a city and county planner in Washington.

“I’ve been applying for a permit to go on the Colorado River for 15 years,” he tells us. Our ten-minute effort of obtaining a permit seems grossly unfair.

We push off from shore, excited and nervous. The wind strikes immediately, like it was waiting in ambush. “Are we moving at all?” Dave asks plaintively.

An old rock road makes its way tortuously down from the canyon rim on river left. (Left and right are determined by direction of travel.) They are important for giving directions as in “There is a raft ripping rock on river right!” Since boatmen often row with their backs facing downriver, they appreciate such information.

Up until 1929, this is how travelers made their way to Lees Ferry. It would have been a bumpy ride.

The old road is how people once made their way to Lee’s Ferry, which was one of the few ways to cross the Colorado River between 1858 and 1929. The infamous Mormon, John Doyle Lee, established the Ferry. Brigham Young assigned him the job. Later, Lee was executed by firing squad for his role in the Mountain Meadow Massacre where Mormons and Paiute Indians murdered a wagon train of immigrants near St. George, Utah.

After fighting the wind for what seems like hours, we finally come to the Navajo Bridge, which replaced Lee’s Ferry in 1929. It towers some 467 feet above the river and reminds us that we are already miles behind our planned itinerary.

A view of Navajo Bridge and its newer sister looking downstream. The first bridge was built in 1929 and is now used as a walking bridge. The second bridge was built in 1995 to handle modern road traffic.

A second view of the bridges; this time looking upstream. The newer bridge is in the foreground.

Just beyond the bridge we catch our first glimpse of Coconino Sandstone. It’s geologic history dates back some 250 million years when a huge desert covered the area and the world’s landmasses were all part of the large continent named Pangaea.

During our journey down the river we will travel through over a billion years of the earth’s history.

The wind continues to beat against us as we make our way down the Colorado River. Only Dave’s strenuous effort at the oars keeps us from being blown up-stream. “Go that way,” I suggest and point down the river.

The group pulls in at a tiny beach in hopes our mini-hurricane will die down. It doesn’t. Dave develops blisters and I develop guilt. A manly man would offer to take over at the oars.

An option floats by. Dave’s niece, Megan Stalheim, is also one of our boatmen. Don Green, a retired Probate Judge out of Martinez, California, is sitting opposite her and pushing on the oars while she pulls. It inspires me. I join the push-pull brigade. Peggy also takes a turn.

The push-pull approach to rowing where Don Green was helping Megan. Peggy and I have been friends with Don for over two decades. He belongs to the same book club we do and joins us on our annual journey to Burning Man (as do Tom and Beth). Don is also quite generous in sharing his excellent photos.

Word passes back to us that Tom wants to scout Badger Rapids. In Boatman terminology this means figuring out the best way to get through without flipping. Badger isn’t a particularly big rapid for the Colorado, but it is our first. We are allowed to be nervous.

There is good news included in the message. We will stop for the night at Jackass Camp just below the rapids on the left. We’ve only gone 8 miles but are eager to escape the wind.

Dave is a cautious boatman. He takes his time to study Badger Rapids from shore and then stands up in his raft for a second opinion as the river sucks us in. Time runs out. Icy waves splash over the boat and soak us. Our hands grasp the safety lines with a death grip as we are tossed about like leaves in the wind. Mere seconds become an eternity. And then it is over.

“Quick, Curt, I need your help,” Dave shouts. We have come out of the rapids on the opposite side of the river from the camp. The powerful current is pushing us down stream. If we don’t get across we will be camping by ourselves. Adrenaline pumping, I jump up and push the oars with all my strength while Dave pulls. Ever so slowly the boat makes its way to camp.

Our horrendous day of rowing complete, we have time to enjoy beautiful evening views of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon from camp. (Photo by Don Green)

Painted Toe Nails and Other River Rules… Rafting the Grand Canyon

On a private trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon National Park, everyone pitches into help. Here we are rigging the rafts. Straps and more straps! (Photo by Don Green)

It is time to make the leap from life on the road to life on the river. Laptops, cell phones, good clothes and the other accoutrements of modern civilization are stuffed into bags and dumped into the van.

Plus I have to paint my toenails. It’s a virgin experience. Grand Canyon boatmen are a superstitious bunch. Many believe their boats will flip if a person is on board with naked toes. And it’s true; boats have flipped under such circumstances. It makes no difference if the opposite is also true.

We were required to paint our toenails so our rafts wouldn’t flip. We didn’t. Maybe it worked. I don’t think, however, that it made our feet prettier.

Tom lectures me. “I will not let you on my boat unless your toenails are painted.” He’s serious. Peggy dutifully applies blue polish on four of my toes. Does this mean we will only half flip?

Two acres of paved boat ramp greet us when we arrive at Lee’s Fairy. The transport van disgorges us as the gear truck makes a quick turn and backs down the ramp. Another private party is busy rigging boats.

From off to the right a longhaired, 50-something man emerges. I think 60’s hippie or possibly the model for a Harlequin Romance cover. The pirate flag on his boat suggests otherwise. A ‘roll your own’ cigarette dangles from his lips. It’s Steve Van Dore, the last member of our group and a boatman out of Colorado.  No one in our group has met him but he comes highly recommended.

“Please let this be the truck driver,” Steve later admits is his first thought when he meets our green and purple haired trip leader.

He also confides that Tom hadn’t told him we were a smoke-free group. “On the other hand,” Steve confesses, “I didn’t tell him I am on probation.” Somehow this balances out in Steve’s mind. There is no time to become acquainted; we have work to do.

The dreaded pirate Steve threatens our mascot Bone with a knife and demands to know where he has buried his treasure.

There is an unwritten Commandment on private river trips: Thou Shall Do Your Share. No one is paid to pamper us. Not helping will lead to bad things, like banishment from the tribe.

The truck we loaded in Flagstaff demands unloading. Everybody does everything. There are no assignments. Peggy and I become stevedores. Piles of beer and soda and wine and food and personal gear and ammo cans and hefty ice chests quickly accumulate around the truck.

There is no shade and the desert sun beats down ferociously. It is sucked up by the black asphalt and thrown back at us. We slather on sun block and gulp down water.

The rafts are unloaded last. Rigging our five rafts is technical but relatively easy, assuming of course one is mechanically oriented. I make no such claims. Steve’s Cat (catamaran) is already set up and in the water, its pirate flag flapping in the breeze. Our other four boats are self-bailing Sotar Rafts with aluminum frames. Tom owns his own, a blue 14 footer named Peanut. The three we have rented are yellow, 16 feet long and nameless.

Work also requires that we get our feet wet. (Photo by Don Green)

Tom is the last to rig his boat and it is approaching dusk. I hike down the river to find a campsite for our group while the rest boat down. Peggy and I are totally exhausted. We struggle to set up our new tent in 30 MPH winds. A van is coming to pick us up for dinner and we are late.

The walls of the restaurant are covered with photos of rafts and rafters being trashed by rapids.

The windstorm has changed to a dust storm as we crawl into out tents. It covers everything and gets into my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. I pull out a handkerchief to cover my face. I finally fall asleep with the wind ripping at our tent.

We are awakened at five AM the next morning, as we will be every day of our trip. There is personal gear to pack, breakfast to eat, and boats to load. Any thoughts of a leisurely trip down the river are dashed in the cold reality of the early morning’s light.

We also have a lecture on the Grand Canyon’s numerous rules by Ranger Peggy. Somewhere in the middle of rigging boats the previous day she had stopped by to check our equipment. Life vests had been dutifully piled up; stoves and bar-b-que were unpacked. Even the groovers, which I will describe later, stood at attention. You don’t mess with Ranger Peggy.

She knew Tom from other river trips and was amused by his hair-do. He introduced me as the permit holder. “Tom’s in charge,” I noted. The smile dropped from her face. “You are responsible,” she said icily. “I’ll try to keep Tom under control,” I replied meekly. Yeah, fat chance that.

Bells, whistles and alarms started going off in my head. I will face heavy fines if any of our party misbehaves. Dang, why hadn’t I read the fine print?

Our second encounter with Ranger Peggy begins after the boats are packed. Tom starts off with a discussion on river safety. Naturally we are required to wear our safety vests any time we are on the boat.

Tom, with his interesting hairdo, and Ranger Peggy check their lists to see which of the many rules they have forgotten to inform us about.

What’s the first rule if we fall overboard: Hang onto the boat. What’s the second rule? “Hang onto the boat,” we chant in unison. And so it goes. Tom saw his wife, Beth, go flying by him last year as he bounced through a rapid. He caught up with her down river.

If the raft flips, what do you do? Hang onto the boat! “Easier said than done,” I think.

“Your head is the best tool you have in an emergency,” Ranger Peggy lectures. Right. When the river grabs you, sucks you under the water, and beats you against a rock, stay cool.

For all of the concern about safety on the river, the Park Service seems more concerned about our behavior on shore.

Over 20,000 people float down the river annually. And 20,000 people can do a lot of damage to the sensitive desert environment. Campsites are few and far between and major ones may have to accommodate several thousand people over the year.

Picture this… 20,000 people pooping and peeing in your back yard without bathroom facilities. It isn’t pretty. So we pack out the poop. And we pee in the river…

Packing out poop makes sense. But peeing in the river, no way! I’ve led wilderness trips for 36 years and for 36 years I’ve preached a thousand times you never, never pee in the water. Bathroom chores are carried out at least 100 yards away from water and preferably farther.

The first time I line up with the guys I can barely dribble out of dismay.

The rules go on and on. Mainly they have to do with leaving a pristine campsite and washing our hands. Normally, I am not a rules type of guy but most of what Ranger Peggy is preaching makes sense. Sixteen people with diarrhea is, um, shitty.

And I enjoy the fact our campsites are surprisingly clean. The least we can do is leave them in the same condition we find them, if not better. The rules work.

Finally… we are ready to launch. Eighteen days and 279 miles of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon lie ahead. Ranger Peggy has checked our IDs and we are who we claim to be. The boatmen have strapped down the gear… and Tom is anxious.

The same up-canyon winds that whipped sand into our tent last night are threatening to create a Herculean task of rowing. Headwinds of up to 60 MPH are predicted.

Next blog: Our first three days on the river.

The group, ready to launch. Wife Peggy, as opposed to Ranger Peggy, is holding her and my purple life vests.

A Ton of Food and Homeland Security… Rafting the Grand Canyon

Preparation for our 18-day raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon quickly taught me that eating was going to be a central part of our adventure. This is the back of my 22-foot travel van after a trip to Safeway in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Great adventures start with the mundane. For example, did you cancel the paper? Common sense (and probably your mother) admonish that devious burglars have nothing better to do than to cruise the streets looking for rolled newspapers in front of your home.

More importantly, what about the cat?

Once upon a time Peggy and I had a cat named Effie. Vacations meant I would carefully measure out twice as much food and water as she could possibly eat or drink and four times the kitty litter she might use. The likelihood of her pooping all over the house was much greater that the likelihood of her starving. As a reward for my thoughtfulness, she would shed enough fur in our absence to fill a dump truck.

Now we have food to worry about. Lots of it. Tom Lovering, the trip leader, his wife Beth and their friend Jamie Wilson arrived in Flagstaff three days in advance of our Colorado River trip. Their car was packed to the brim with empty ammo cans and other watertight boxes waiting to be filled with food and the miscellaneous paraphernalia of river trips.

The Department of Homeland Security delayed their journey at Hoover Dam. The Agency is paranoid about mad bombers. Its normally low sense of humor dropped to zero when the agents saw all the ammo cans. The whole car had to be unpacked.

Tom Lovering, our trip leader, has been running rivers since the 70s. I first met him in 1974 when I persuaded him that his outdoor/wilderness store, Alpine West, should sponsor a hundred mile backpack trip I was organizing for the American Lung Association in Sacramento.

Tom is even more paranoid about food than DHS is about terrorists. In addition to being a highly experienced rafter and trip leader, he’s an old restaurateur who had spent months planning the menu.  Each dish has been tested several times and quantities have been measured down to the teaspoon. Recipes are spelled out in minute detail. We will eat gourmet on the trip… or die. The options are clear.

Beth, Peggy and I are dispatched to Sam’s Club with marching orders. We fill seven large shopping carts with food. Think of it this way. There are 16 people going on an 18-day trip and eating three meals a day. This equals 864 individual meals.

When we arrive back at the motel, Tom and Jamie have set up a staging area. Food needs to be organized by meal and day and then stuffed in the appropriate containers. The containers will then be assigned to rafts. It’s important that we know where to find the beer.

We have yet to shop for perishables and more food is coming from Sacramento. Our room, we discover, is to be the recipient of most food. There is barely space to sleep.

Food purchase and storage for an 18-day river adventure depends upon numerous lists. First you have to plan out menus and quantities. Next the food needs to be purchased. Finally it has to be carefully stored so you will find the right food on the right day. Tom’s wife, Beth, was in charge of the lists. (Photo by Don Green)

One of our participants obviously felt that tequila and oranges needed to be stored together.

Our bedroom was packed with food. Personal gear is on the bed.

Food organization took place outside of our motel rooms.

The next day is more relaxed. Other trip members begin to arrive and Peggy and I assume airport shuttle duty. Tom takes time for a makeover into something resembling an English Punk Rocker from the 70s with green and purple hair. Homeland Security was right to be suspicious.

Tom is 50% businessman, 30% adventurer, and 20% character. Or maybe I have the percentages reversed. Here he is having his hair bleached for the trip. You will see the results in future posts.

Next blog: Three days and 39 miles: The Journey Begins.

The morning of the adventure has arrived. Everything we have packed… our food, personal gear and rafts are stuffed into this truck in preparation for our drive to the takeoff point, Lee’s Ferry.