The Big Ditch Part One
Day One En Route: We awoke at 5:45 and loaded into our fully laden vehicles for the five hour drive. We made a pit stop in Page, AZ for last minute provisions including river costumes. Once in Lee’s Ferry we met our ranger, Ray, and began the seven-hour task of prepping and rigging our boats. About two-hours in we were treated to a torrential rain storm. We all mobilized to cover the beer with tarps, so as to save the cardboard boxes, before we sought shelter. Ranger Ray would site this event the next day in our official ranger meeting.
Additionally Ranger Ray informed us that we could expect flows of 16,000-18,000 through the end of August, then the flows will drop to 6,000- 8,000.
That evening we enjoyed a “last supper” of sorts at the Marble Canyon Lodge. I opted for chicken fried steak smothered in green chili and my last ice-cold bottled beer for 21 days. We spent the night in the rafter’s campground along side the river and were serenaded by the hundreds of frogs there.
Day One River: Up early. It’s launch day. Our meeting with Ranger Ray was scheduled for 9am, but he showed up early and sat in on our group meeting. After our meeting was over the love fest began. Ray LOVED us! He waved us through, sighting the previous day’s comradery and attention to detail when we sacrificed ourselves for the beer cases. This was particularly cool because there are hundreds of ranger check-out horror stories out there. Groups forced to drive back to Page to buy new life jackets because theirs are slightly faded for example. But not us, we got the green light and hit the rio at noon.
The entire group at the put-in.
We floated a mellow 11 miles, the first 100’ were the most pristine green waters ever but then Pariah Creek came in and muddied the river to the color and consistency of a latte. The river would remain this way until we hit the lake 293 miles downstream. We floated under the Navajo Bridge the only automobile bridge we would pass. Now 1600’ deep the canyon walls rose above and I realized, wow…after all of the years of waiting and anticipating I am in the Grand Canyon!!!
Mile 7.4 marked our first Grand Canyon rapid. Generally accepted river ratings are I-VI. Class I being lake water and VI considered unrunnable in a raft. The Grand has so many rapids and they are so big that they use a 1-10 scale. Our first rapid was Badger a 4-6, a big wave train, it was a blast. Our first night’s camp was above Soap Creek Rapid.
Day Two: Our plan is to have early mornings and get on the water before afternoon showers and winds kick in. We woke up per the plan and hit the river. Dan and I were alone on our raft today which was nice since we are a bit shell shocked being around people again. Our social skills leave a bit to be desired after two months mostly alone.
This was an amazing day, filled with rollercoaster waves and ever deepening canyon walls. We are six layers deep in rock now and I am not convinced that we are seeing the top of the canyon from down here.
Two big rapids today. House Rock and mile 24.5 both have huge waves and the Prince William, our only bucket (non self-bailing) boat got swamped, the bilge pump got a heck of a workout. The rapids seem tame compared to the eddy lines down here. Each eddy has the power to suck us in and stops us in our tracks. Top Gun quotes started flowing right about here. A boat sucked into an eddy while another passes by in the current solicits a “we’ll hit the breaks and they’ll fly right on by”. A boat getting spun in an eddy line gets a “ Maverick, we’re entering a flat spin”. And if all the boats pass a boat stuck in an eddy cries of “never leave your wingman” can be heard.
Day Three: Eric’s 30th Birthday.
We hit the water early and made good miles to Nankoweap., mile 52. Only one rapid along the way, President Harding is essentially just one big rock in the river which you skirt on the left.
Our Nankoweap camp.
In camp we lounged in the river until it was cool enough to hike up to the graineries and the most famous (if you rate fame by number of postcards with the same picture on them) grand canyon view. The view is all it cracked up to be.
We returned to fully decorated camp and the birthday party began. Everyone put on their birthday party costumes and traded in their beer cans for margarita glasses.
A very fine day indeed.
Kip's raft early on.
A shorter river day today. Half of the group got dropped off to hike the Carbon Creek trail. The remaining folks rowed the boats down to camp where the hikers would be meeting us later. Among those of us in camp early was Blades. Blades lives in Aspen and I had never met him before. He kept us entertained with stories from his rugby days in England and we became fast friends. Dan and I served Groover Gin and Tonics. A groover is a portable crapper. Originally they were simply ammo cans which left grooves on you butt cheeks. The new generation groover is essentially a giant plastic water bottle. So before it has EVER been used for its intended purpose it makes for a nice cocktail tub. We have six groovers for this trip and we will fill them all.
Catadyn Filter, our water source. We collect clear water where we can and filter it for drinking.