On a sunny Tuesday morning our group of 16 kayakers and two large support rafts pushed off from Lee’s Ferry floating atop the green, cold waters of the Colorado. Luck was with us as both the green water and sunny weather were to be with us throughout most of the trip. About half of our group were first-timers to the Colorado. The history of boat design was well represented from Jim L. in a full- size Pirouette (he looked impressive catching big air in the large wave trains.), to Patti J. in her Jackson Fun (her smile muscles were aching at the end of each day). What you bring to paddle depends on the type of experience you want to have. Let’s just say that Patti got her share of roll practice and one could have water skied behind Jim.
It didn’t take long for the group to adjust to the larger volume of the river. Badger and Soap Creek rapids, often first day test pieces, slipped by without incident. Early the next morning, with House Rock rapid serving as the equivalent of a strong cup of coffee, we were treated to an hour long surf session at Redneck rapid (we don’t name them, we just surf them). We ran the Roaring Twenties and got our first glimpse of the beautiful Redwall limestone. We hiked at North Canyon, always a great intro to the quality of side hikes found in the canyon. Our camp at South Canyon had us poised for an early visit to Redwall Cavern the next morning- Lani and Steve brought the Frisbee.
Without giving a blow- by- blow of the whole trip, some highlights were hikes up Nankoweap creek, Carbon to Lava Chuar, the hilltop ruins and view at Unkar, Havasu to Beaver Falls, Matkat, a relaxing stop at Deer Creek as well as Elves Chasm, a two hour lounge, frolic, and lunch session at the Little Colorado (someday Jim M. is going to learn that his pfd goes on the upper half or his body, not the lower), and finally, watching Rob T., one of the raft guides, belly flop in the mud while attempting to pop an empty wine bladder by jumping on it (no guides were harmed in the performing of that stunt.).
Mile by mile, day by day, the group gained confidence and comfort in the rapids, figuring out that the dynamics of the river were all (pretty much) the same as their rivers back home, it’s just that things are BIGGER. So you think BIG by starting your moves sooner, bracing a little harder, focusing on your forward posture, and most importantly, don’t celebrate until you are clear of the swirlies often found at the bottom of many of the Grand Canyon’s rapids. Speaking of swirlies- Henry L. put on one of the most impressive displays of cat-like reflexes I have ever seen amidst the swirls at the bottom of Tiger Wash. Had he been in a rodeo, he’d be wearing the silver buckle right now. “Here’s Henry outta chute 6 riding RPM Max- yeeha”.
Day six proved to be a big day. After a stop at Phantom Ranch we took on Horn (no two runs the same there), were forced into the eddies above Granite by a fifteen minute thunder shower that was spectacular, ran the super-fun wave train of Hermit (a few folks hiked back up to do it again), paid our respects at Crystal (people made good choices and had good runs here), and put some of the Gems behind us before calling it a day. No need for a bedtime story to put folks to sleep that night.
We arrived at Lava Falls early in the morning of Day 11 following a nice warm-up paddle from Cove camp. By this point in the trip, Ron N. had handed out stickers of his dog “Cubby” for all to wear on their helmets or paddles as good luck charms (I personally put mine on my coffee cup and never once did it experience an upset during the trip). As is typical of runs at Lava, no two were the same. Because of the barrage of waves from all sides, one usually only sees a fraction of the rapid when passing through. It is not uncommon to arrive at the bottom and ask another paddler, “What did I do, where did I go?” Yep- there were flips, there were rolls, and there might even have been a swim or two. It all had a happy ending and, as with Hermit, some folks carried back up for another go.
Once below Lava the canyon really begins to change and opens up as the walls fall back. We paddled past stunning examples of columnar basalt, the solidified evidence of once molten flows of lava that passed through this part of the canyon. On our second to the last morning we had our first sustained rain of the trip- helps you decide whether or not to get out of bed. After breakfast in the rain, we paddled downstream still traveling on green water. After lunch at Granite Park (mile 209), we dropped below the infamous hole there and turned to watch the rafts punch it. At the same time that one raft hit the reversal, the creek at Granite Park began to flow red from the rain. The raft appeared to have bloodied the nose of the wave as it passed through. By the morning of our last day the color of the Colorado River lived up to it’s Spanish namesake, “Colored Red” as we paddled to our take out at Diamond Creek.
Delayed a few hours by a wash-out of the lower road at Diamond Creek due to the previous day’s rain, we arrived at our cars at trip’s end in Peach Springs. The Grand is always an amazing place to spend time, it grabs your attention and stuns the senses. Thanks to Bob D., Steve and Lani H., Jim M., Jim H., Jim L., Henry L., Henry B., Galena S., Bill H., Mike W., Patti J., and Ron N. Thanks, too, to our great support crew; on throttle Rob T. and Mark J., support was Rob H., and third kayak guide was Rusty D. Great trip all- we can’t wait to do it again.
Not wanting to leave the red-rock country just yet, Mary and I thought we would pay a visit to Zion National Park. What was going to be a one-day detour turned into three. That time of year was perfect as the crowds had settled down and the partial ban on cars, coupled with the shuttle bus service, made it very convenient to get around. We spent a day hiking in The Narrows section of the Virgin River- a very spectacular part of the Park. Put Zion on your list if you ever find yourself in this part of the US!
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