Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Grand Canyon

A trip down the Grand Canyon was something that I had always wanted to do, but stories of 10 year waiting lists for permits, the difficulties of flying with kit out to America and the sheer scale of it never made it an option I pursued. That was until Jonny asked me to join himself, Dan and Paul on their trip last April and I learnt just how easy it is.

We left Lees Ferry with 226 miles of river and countless rapids in front of us and began our 12 day journey through the Grand Canyon. I had relatively little knowledge of what was in store for us as we set off, apart from that it would be the ‘experience of a lifetime’... and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The quickly got settled into river life and by day two we had learnt how to paddle the raft in time for the Roaring Twenties, a section of the river with one rapid after another with big waves trains and a few holes to dodge as well. The kayaks led the way picking the line for the raft to follow until we arrived at Red Wall Cavern.  This massive cave is incredible, with huge bright red walls, and was the perfect place to have an ice cold beer and a game of Frisbee. 
The raft, 'Vanessa' as we came to affectionately call her, was a four oared cataraft which turned out to be an uncommon sight in the canyon. Every group we passed would comment on how unusual it was - it seems this cataraft has a tendency for rafters to argue about who was in control. We luckily didn’t have these problems and got the most out of the power the four oars gave us. When fully loaded up it was very heavy, so this definitely helped given our limited experience in rafts. Our lack of skill did make for a much bigger thrill down rapids than the kayaks with much less control due to its size and weight. This size did have an advantage though, allowing us to take all the comforts usually left behind on a multi-day kayak trip. We ate like kings. Steaks, nacho mountains and many lunch time burritos were all washed down with cold beers, gin and tonics or glasses of wine. 

Being a small group we were unrestricted as to where we could camp and would pull up to any of the numerous beaches that took our fancy. With no tents we lay under the stars until we fell asleep listening to the river. This was perfect apart from the night it rained, which resulted in a sleepless night trying to shelter under anything waterproof we could find. It didn’t help that this was the night before we were faced with some of the hardest rapids of the trip and we all set off cold and nervous towards Horn, Granite, Hermit and Crystal.
Our guide book gave us very little information on the rapids, just a grade from 1 to 10 and the elevation it dropped. This led to some apprehension as we approached a big horizon line with just a huge splash of water appearing every now and then as we drew closer. We soon learnt though that most were just big wave trains that should be run straight down the middle and once you were on line you just had to hold on for the ride. These massive waves, that were easily large enough to throw around the Liquid Logic Stingers we had hired, were often followed by swirling water and whirlpools as it flattened out, and always followed by cheers as we'd made it down safely. 
The best rapid for me was 'Upset'. We had been told to run it river left, however I lead the way down only to discover I was not far enough left, crashing into a diagonal wave and thrown right. Luckily the speed of the Stingers let me get back on line and miss the hole at the end on the right. I then sprinted to the bank to watch Dan and Paul on the raft take the exact same line and having to hold on as Vanessa bounced about. They surfed their way out of the same hole before getting safely down to the rest of the rapid.
We managed to spend some time away from the water too, exploring some of the tributaries that feed the Colorado as it made its way to the Hoover Dam. A few highlights were Elves Chasm, Deer Creek and the Little Colorado and Havasu with their bright blue warm water. Deer Creek involved a steep climb up to the top of a waterfall giving breath taking views up the Canyon and then a stunning walk through a very high but narrow gorge.
Even after 12 days I couldn’t get over how amazing the scenery was. I was constantly finding myself going around a corner and being amazed at the view, only to go around the next corner and be amazed again. All too soon Diamond Peak appeared in the distance marking the end of our trip and our lift back to Flagstaff for a hot shower and comfy bed. 
Before this a trip down the Grand Canyon appeared to be something that I would never get around to planning due to the logistics and costs involved. However it turned out to be much easier than I ever expected and something that anyone can accomplish. Dan got the permit on his first time applying, which is apparently pretty common, and Brady at Moenkopi River Works sorted us out with all the kit meaning we could travel hassle free. All we had to do was to get on a flight to Vegas and from there to Flagstaff to pick everything up and start our adventure.


Thank you to Jonathan Noblett for the photos and video