Tuesday, April 20th, 2004

Rafting: Colorado River Through Grand Canyon

Day 0 (4/10/2004): Gathering at Flagstaff and Preparing for put-in at Lee’s Ferry
Day 1 (4/11/2004): Mile 0 to Mile 8. Camp at Badger Creek
Day 2 (4/12/2004): Mile 8 to Mile 20. Camp at North Canyon
Day 3 (4/13/2004): Layover
Day 4 (4/14/2004): Mile 20 to Mile 38. Camp at Martha’s
Day 5 (4/15/2004): Mile 38 to Mile 53. Camp at Nankoweap
Day 6 (4/16/2004): Layover
Day 7 (4/17/2004): Mile 53 to Mile 71
Day 8 (4/18/2004): Layover
Day 9 (4/19/2004): Mile 71 to Mile 84. Camp at Clear Creek
Day 10 (4/20/2004): Mile 84 to Mile 88. Goodbye at Phantom Ranch.
The Crew: The thirteen wonderful people I spent 10 days with
The Poems: Aurora’s rhyming poems

Day 0 (4/10): Gathering at Flagstaff and Preparing for put in at Lee’s Ferry

Allen and I take a Open Road Tours shuttle from Phoenix airport to Flagstaff where the group have gathered in a local hotel. This is the first time we’ve met anyone in the group, so I am both curious and excited. As expected, everyone is friendly. After a short chat, our outfitters at Pro come with a truck and a shuttle, which take all of us and our gear to the put-in place at Lee’s Ferry. During the 2 hours of ride, we get to know the group a little better, and it seems that Allen and I are among the few who have very little river experience. On the rigging beach, we inflated the four boats and installed the frames before dark.

A pile of our personal gear on the rigging beach The rafts are inflated and the frames are being installed

Day 1 (4/11): Mile 0 to Mile 8. Camp at Badger Creek

In the morning, the Pro guy (sorry I didn’t get his name) comes over and gives us a brief overview on how the things are set up. Through them, we have purchased food and supplies for 23 days and they are distributed into 4 boats. We are given a day to day menu, which provides a recipe for each meal and instructions on which boxes to pull the material from. Then he shows us how the hand wash, the water filter, and the portable toilet are setup. We are required to pack all our trash including human waste with us until the final destination where they can be dumped. It will be quite a while before everyone sees a flush toilet again.

Then a park ranger called Dave gives us a one-hour mandatory orientation that covers facts and rules, which I find quite enjoyable. One thing I shall remember is to wear a life jacket on the river all the time, the violation of which may result in a $10,000 fine. Yike! The current river flow is around 12K-13K c.f.s (cubic feet per second), which is low in the normal flow range from 5,000 cfs to 50,000 cfs. However, I am told that low water does not necessarily mean easier rapids due to exposed rocks.

Finally, We push the boats off the beach and down the stream we go. The journey has official commenced.

Milestones*: Mile 8 – Badger Creek Rapid (4-6) Drop 15′
* Most of the milestone information on this page is from this link.

The boats in the early morning glow ready for their journey. We listen to the Pro carefully about how a portable toilet works. Ranger Dave gives us a multimedia presentation of the river rafting facts and rules.
We are all set to go. But wait! Our trip leader, Marshall, has a few more words to say. This is a motorized boat which seats about 16 people.  This kind of boad is used by many commercial trips.

Navajo Bridge at Mile 4.  This is the bridge via which people drive between the South Rim and North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Being curious, I ask Will to relinquish his oars to me shortly after we get on the river. With the paddle jacket and rain pants on, I am sweating very soon after only a few strokes.  Man, it's hard work!

Day 2 (4/12): Mile 8 to Mile 20. Camp at North Canyon

We observe a very healthy life style on the river — going to bed around 9:30pm and getting up around 5:30am. Every day a team of 3 is assigned to take care of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Food has been abundant so far and meals are all delicious. I ask Allen to take home all the recipes by the end of the trip. Not being a boatman, my life on the river is very relaxing. During the day, I sit in the boat enjoying the beautiful scenery. At the camp site, I always finish the big pile of delicious food in my plate with enthusiasm. I really look forward to gaining some weight by the end of the trip.

Milestones: Mile 10 – Ten Mile Rock
  Mile 11.2 – Soap Creek Rapid (5-6) 16′ Drop. It’s a long one, and seems to be very moderate.
  Mile 14.5 – Sheer Wall Rapid (2-3) 9′ Drop. Allen rowed this one without dumping me and Will into water.
  Mile 16.9 – House Rock Rapid (4-7) 9′ Drop
  Mile 18.5 – Boulder Narrows

Ten Mile Rock. This is a boulder that tummbled down the cliff and landed in the middle of the river.  Quite amazing. Sometimes you would think the river ends right in front of you. A perfect demonstration of the force of water.
I don't remember taking this picture. It must be Allen then.  I like the composition. Another one by Allen. Lunch is usually cold cut that is simple to make but still tastes good.
One side of the canyon. Another look at the same side. our camp site.  Everyday after dinner, people would kick back in their chairs around the campfire.

Day 3 (4/13): Layover

Before I came to the trip, I already read that Colorado river rafting was not all about rafting. A hike in a side canyon usually makes the experience more interesting. Today, a few of us hike into the North Canyon where the geologist, Mike, gives us a geology tour.

My adventure is turned back by a slime pond, but it does not stop other brave ones who either wade or swim across depending on their heights.

In the afternoon sun, people, mostly the kids, jump into water to chill. Since we do not have shower facilities, this also seems to be a convenient way to wash off sweat and dust. I am tempted and with everyone’s encouragement, I jump into the water from a boat. Oh Gosh! It is cold! I immediately swim back on shore. The water is about 48 degree Fahrenheit (9 degree Celsius).

Our tent by the river.  At night, I can hear the river sing. Someone else's tent.  I wonder what the canyon whispers to him at night. It's another beautiful day
Mike tells us about the origin of the rock.  But I'm distracted by the camera behind me. A bear hug. The side canyon keeps unfolding itself as we go further in.
Lucinda swim across the slime pond while Brian is tall enough to wade across. Mother Nature didn't cut this cake straight. An overview of the campsite by the North Canyon.
  We can find entertainment even when it's windy.  Can you see the soap bubbles?

Day 4 (4/14): Mile 20 to Mile 38. Camp at Martha’s

We are getting more efficient at it. At 8:30am, we have finished breakfast, broken down camp, rigged everything on the boats, and are ready to go. It will be a long day ahead of us according to our plan — Marshall wants to get us to Mile 44 by the end of the day. We make a good progress in the first few miles because of the continuous current and rapids. However, the wind picks up around 11am, and pretty soon it is pushing the boats backwards. Our boatmen have to work very hard to make further forward progress. We stop at the Silver Grotto where most people hike up to take a peek while I stay in the boat trying hard to cry just to get sand out of my eyes. We also take a tour in the huge Redwall Cavern that is scooped out by the constant flow of river. It’s an amazing piece of work by Mother Nature. Despite the wind, we covered 17 miles on the river by the time when we pulled into the Martha’s Camp at Mile 38.

Milestones: Mile 20.5 – North Canyon Rapid (5) (beginning of the “Roaring 20’s”)
  Mile 21.5 – 21 Mile Rapid (5)
  Mile 23.3 – 23 Mile Rapid (4-6)
  Mile 24.2 – 24 Mile Rapid (6-8)
  Mile 24.5 – 24 1/2 Mile Rapid (5-6)
  Mile 24.9 – 25 Mile Rapid (5-7)
  Mile 25.3 – Cave Springs Rapid (5-6)
  Mile 26.6 – Tiger Wash Rapid (4-5)
  Mile 29.2 – Silver Grotto and Shinumo Wash
  Mile 31.8 – Stanton’s Cave
  Mile 31.9 – Vasey’s Paradise
  Mile 32.8 – Redwall Cavern

Joel is running the North Canyon Rapid in this inflatable kayak.  It looks pretty exciting and a little scary. Uhh Ohh, the kayak is upside down, and where is Joel?  He managed to get back to the kayak pretty fast and he is safe. Whew! This feature is called Indian Dick. Please don't ask me why.
Now it's Allen who is running kayak.  He looks so small in the river. Vasey's Paradise. Redwall Cavern.  It is bigger than it looks from outside.
  The wind is so strong that it takes three guys to row the oars in one boat.  Or, they are just having fun.

Day 5 (4/15): Mile 38 to Mile 53. Camp at Nankoweap

It is another beautiful day although the wind again starts blowing around 11am. We take it easy and pull into the camp at Nankoweap pretty early before lunch. There is another Seattle/Canada group occupying the camp site upstream. This is the only time on my trip when we had other people near our camp. April is still off season for running this river. During the peak season from May to October, there can be hundreds of people put in every day at Lee’s Ferry. During that time, people do not have the luxury that we are having now with a whole campsite to ourselves. Oh, did I mention that every year, the Colorado river sees 29,000 people? After lunch, Allen, me, Lauren, Ted, and Will hike up to the Indian granary. It’s a pleasant hike up a steep switchback. This is a popular spot to take nice photos of the canyon.

Milestones: Mile 43 – Point Hansbrough and the Anasazi Bridge
  Mile 43.7 – President Harding Rapid
  Mile 46.6 – Tripple Alcoves
  Mile 47 – Saddle Canyon
  Mile 51.9 – Little Nankoweap Creek

The water is so calm that you can see the canyon through its reflection. I sit in the boat looking down at the canyon. One of the tripple alcoves.
These cactus flowers are interesting.  They close up during the night and reopen when the sun comes out.  It's like they don't want to waste their beauty in the dark. Allen in front of the Indian granary. And that's me.
  The Indians picked a beautiful place to build their granary.  You can see the river meander through the canyon.

Day 6 (4/16): Layover

It’s another layover day. Marshall wants to give the 6 of us (out of 14) who are only doing the upper canyon and are hiking out on the 10th day the most opportunities to enjoy the river and the other amazing features that come along with the river. We all appreciate his consideration. It’s a warm day. Allen and a few others hike up the Nankoweap Canyon and the Little Nankoweap Creek to explore. I am more in a kick-back-and-enjoy mood, so I sit in a chair by the river writing my journal and reading books.

After dinner, as usual, everyone sits around the fire. But this time, it is a bit more formal of a chat. Per Marshall’s request, everyone shares his/her experience and impression about the trip so far. I make an honest statement that this is the best river trip I’ve ever been on, but somehow people laugh at that comment. Maybe they all know that this is also the first river trip I’ve ever been on. Obviously, everyone is having a great time. Oh, Aurora also reads us a beautiful rhyming poem the Fellowship in which everyone takes a part. I remember being portrayed as “quite and a queen in the kitchen (note: I like to clean), but the violence underneath is yet to be seen.” Or something like that. I’m impressed by her sharp observation. She, Joel, and Lauren are all supposed to write a journal for a school assignment about the trip. You never know what they write and what their teachers will read. I have got to behave on the rest of the trip.

A picture taken by Allen on his exploration. I think Allen has got an artist's eyes.  What do you think? Another photo he took on his exploration into the side canyons.

Day 7 (4/17): Mile 53 to Mile 71

Top Day 0 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Crew Poems

This morning, our trip leader, Marshall, wakes up with another brilliant idea: why don’t we shuffle people around so everyone gets chance to be in a boat with someone he’s never been with before? Although that means Allen and I have to leave Will’s boat and be separated into two boats, I support the idea. When you spend a whole day in a boat, you usually get to know your peer boaters pretty well. Some kind of intimate bond secretly forms. Again, river rafting is not just about going downstream day after day and reach a certain destination. It’s about getting to know the group, to know each other, and to enjoy the trip together as a whole. I think Marshall and I are both the romantic type.

We take a long lunch break at the Little Colorado River, which is shimmering turquoise due to the travertine deposits. Half of the group take a bath in the nice and warm mud pool in the river, and they spread mud onto each other. Adults or kids, everyone seems to enjoy doing this.

Milestones: Mile 56 – Kwagunt Rapid (6)
  Mile 61.4 – Little Colorado River
  Mile 64.7 – Carbon Creek
  Mile 65.6 – Lava Canyon (Chuar) Rapid (3-5)
  Mile 69.2 – An unrated riffle where one of our boats slips into a hole and stands side way. Joel, Ed, and Ted all fall into the water.

The sky is also so blue. I climb high to take this picture of the Little Colorado River.  In the middle of the picture is the island at the intersection of the two rivers. Looking upstream at the Little Colorado River.
People playing in the mud pool in the Little Colorado River. After a muddy bath, it feels nice to bathe in the sun. After the break, we get back on the river, and the clouds start to gather.
The clusters of clouds give the canyon a whole new look. And then there is the canyon decorated by the shades of the ever changing clouds. It's a postcard view around us.
I just can't get enough of it. After we pull into camp, Allen and a few take a short hike to this cliff above Unkar Rapid. The canyon in the sunset.
  It rained around dinner time, so people put on their rain gear.  But the rain is just fast enough to settle the dust.  We are still able to light up camp fire and have our regular after dinner chat.  

Day 8 (4/18): Layover

It’s true that the rain last night settled the dust. It’s a beautiful windless day. We take a pleasant morning hike around the camp site. It’s an open view once you get a little high up. I immerse myself in this endless beautiful scenery.

There is one setback though. Allen has started to develop an allergic reaction. There are skin rashes in the back of his hands which itch when it’s warm and hurt when touched. he suspects that he got scratched by a poison tree while hanging a clothe line (for my laundry) on Day 6. I feel sorry seeing him suffer, but he maintains a cheerful spirit. I just hope the reaction recedes soon.

I am totally taken by the open and breathtaking view. That is Ed hiking on a ridge line.  Allen captured this moment with my camera.

Day 9 (4/19): Mile 71 to Mile 84. Camp at Clear Creek

Top Day 0 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Crew Poems

Today is our second to last day on the trip. In order to dilute the sadness, the river presents us the excitement of 5 or 6 big rapids in one day. On the top of the list is the infamous Hance Rapid, which has flipped many boats. People put on their wetsuits if they have one. It seems almost inevitable that someone will end up in the water or a boat will end up upside down.

Surprising enough, One rapid after another, we all survive. Of course the credit goes to our mighty boatmen, Marshall, Will, Mike, and Ed. Due to the continuous current, we move along very fast, and in the early afternoon, we are already at Mile 85, 3 miles upstream from Phantom Ranch.

At dinner time, a sad sentiment settles in — this is the last dinner we are having together on the river. I have just got used to the simple life style on the river — no shower, no flush toilet, weathered skin, etc. And I’m leaving soon. I go around taking close up pictures of everyone on the crew. At the camp fire, Aurora reads us another rhyming poem The Parting of the Fellowship.

It is a peaceful night with the sky filled with stars, more than you can imagine when you are in the urban area. We sleep without a tent. I look at the stars trying to remember this moment.

Milestones: Mile 72.5 – Unkar Rapid (6-7)
    Mile 75.5 – Nevills Rapid (6)
    Mile 75.5 – Hance Rapid (8-10)
    Mile 78.7 – Sockdolager Rapid (8-9) – (Sockdolager is an archaic slang word for knockout blow!)
    Mile 81.5 – Grapevine Rapid (8)
    Mile 83.5 – 83 Mile Rapid (3-5)
    Mile 84.6 – Zoroaster Rapid (5-8)

Who put that rock on top of the wall so delicately? Mike shows us that dental hygine shall not be neglected even on the river, even when you are rowing. A boat looks so small in the Hance Rapid.
Will's boat brushing by the big hole in Hance Rapid. Here goes Ed's boat (Allen in yellow jacket). One glance to the shore, my breath is taken away.
When we approach the Upper Granite Gorge, the canyon closes in on us. The rock is no longer the same color as we have seen earlier. Allen stands on the front tube of the boat breaking the waves.
Mother Nature's art piece. Here is an interesting rock formation -- a sand color band of rock extrudes from the surrounding black granite. We have the whole canyon to ourselves.

Day 10 (4/20): Mile 84 to Mile 88. Goodbye at Phantom Ranch.

Finally today comes. We still have 3 miles to go before we say goodbye. To our surprise, two boats are sucked into a hole at an unrated rapid, and two persons are dumped into the water, and Allen is one of them. He swims back to the boat and crawls in. We get a good laugh at this instance. I am relieved to see that a swim in the water is not as terrible as I have thought. This gives me some assurance since Allen is one of the 8 people who will stay to finish the whole trip (>280 miles).

Very soon, we reach Phantom Ranch. There I unload most my gear and stuff everything into a backpack. Everyone pays a visit to the store where everything is carried in and out by mules. People write postcards to their family and friends. And then we say goodbye to the bigger half of the group who are staying. With tears in my eyes, I set my foot on the Bright Angel Trail.

This trail is about 10 miles long and gains 5000 feet. The six of us who are hiking out include Paula and her son Joel, Brian, Lucinda, and their daughter Aurora, and me. Since we have different flight arrangements and I hope to catch a ride to Phoenix so that I can fly back the same night, I hike ahead of others and gradually, others except Aurora fall out of sight. The weather is perfect for the hike and the trail is good quality. It takes me four hours to reach the South rim including a 20 minute break at Indian Garden which is at about half way. I end up taking a shuttle to Flagstaff, and spend a night there in the very cool and friendly Du Beau Hostel. Next morning, I take a shuttle down to Phoenix and by afternoon, I’m back to work. My Colorado River rafting trip has officially ended.

Milestones: Mile 85 – 85 Mile Rapid (2-6)
    Mile 87.5 – Kaibab Bridge
    Mile 87.8 – Bright Angel Rapid and Bright Angel Bridge

People sit down in the store busying themselves with postcard writing. Most of the trail is covered by dirt.  This stretch shows what's under the dirt -- a ladder of wood trunks and crushed gravels that provide the integrity of the trail. The view continues changing as I gain elevation.
A mule train is leaving the India Garden.  It seems that this is group of tourists led by a lady guide. The higher you go, the more you see. I pop up at the South Rim here -- the trailhead of Bright Angel Trail.

A look at the Grand Canyon from the South Rim. Many tourists would go visit the Grand Canyon without leaving the South Rim.  But they still can get a beautiful view.

The Crew: The thirteen wonderful people I spent 10 days with

As soon as I left Phantom Ranch, I missed the crew already. They are all wonderful people with interesting and fun loving personalities. Among them, there are three families. Joel and Jenny come with their mother Paula. Aurora is with her parents, Brian and Lucinda. Lauren is Ted’s son. Then there are Marshall, Ed, Will, Mike, Allen and me.

First, here are the people who are doing the whole 282 mile trip:

Marshall, our great trip leader.  If you ask him what life is about, he'll tell you life is about love.  Can you see the sadness in his eyes?  I took this picture the night before the parting. Here is Allen, hands covered with rashes, but still smiling. Will: The mighty boatman of Allen and I's loveboat (so called by other people).
Ed. In his sixties, but he is in thirties as soon as he gets behind the oars. Jenny with her beautiful smile.  She is the only girl doing the whole trip.  What she's holding will bring her good luck on the river (there is a word for that, but I don't remember). Oh our Mike, always full of energy. He is trying to look serious here.

Ted, the most mellow fellow I've ever met.  He is always listening to the singing of the river. Lauren, a teenager, but just as mellow as his dad.

Then, here are the “quitters” who only run the 88 mile upper canyon.

Brian: Standing at 6'6, he is as tall as a tree. Lucinda: She talks strong and she IS strong. Aurora: she is so gifted.  I envy her teacher because she will read her journal about the trip.
Paula, undenieably a mother figure -- and not just to Jenny and Joel. Joel. I think he is more interested in fishing than boating. Ok, that's me.  It is not easy to take a picture of the self.  I wish my arms were longer.

Aurora’s wonderful poems

The Fellowship

by Aurora Clark-Grohman

Marshall is our stalwart Captain,

A master of his craft,

His nostalgia trips are good for raftin’

Not to mention that roaring laugh

Mike is known as Gnar-Boy

And enjoys launching for cold dips

His sense of humour shies from coy

He’s got the shitter right midship

Allen’s got some killer hair,

He’s wicked at the oars,

He kayaks down without a care,

In the evening it’s tea he pours.

Mei gives us a show of silence,

But in the kitchen she’s the Queen,

I’d bet her demeanor hides some violence

But..that remains to be seen.

Ed, of course, has all the style,

And dark skin that all desire,

He’ll row and row that extra mile,

Then kick back by the fire.

Ted we call the Mellow Yellow,

Very quiet and relaxed,

He’s really quite a noble fellow,

But deprive him not of snacks.

Loren’s got on ear phone on,

He’s helpful to the last,

For solitude, he’s often gone,

But returns for the repast.

Will I’ve christened Meat Man,

For his broad shoulders and that height.

He thinks he needs to lose some weight,

But we think he’s just right.

Lucinda frolics about in shorts,

She lies on board in state,

Accomplishing tasks of all sorts,

She’d make a great first mate.

Brian has the snowy skin,

He’s got recipes for all,

When he’s cooking your in-like-flynn,

You’ll eat until you crawl.

Jenny thinks she’s in the way,

But we all know much better,

I value all she has to say,

And laugh when she gets wetter.

Joel knows how to fry a dish,

Though he’s dreaming of his biking,

He’s out to catch a few fine fish

and cook them to his liking.

Then there’s Paula who’s got it all,

Prepared for rapid’s smashing,

You’d best come running at her call,

Or earn yourself a bashing.

The Parting of the Fellowship

by Aurora Clark-Grohman

Marshall’s been a wondrous leader,

Despite his flair for drama,

He’s really quite a handsome bleeder,

And husky as a brahma.

Mike’s boat rode the gnar-est waves,

With cheer and greatest glee,

Without a doubt the king of knaves,

He’s the greatest he could be.

Allen’s hit his share of rocks,

But the more the thrill the cooler,

He’ll cure with chiropractic shocks,

And in blue he is the ruler.

Mei’s dish skills haven’t waned a bit,

She’s scrubbing as much as ever,

We’re hoping someday she’ll finally sit,

But there! The next endeavor.

Ed’s hair armor has washed away,

He’s got more style than he knows,

He’ll row to see another day,

Then home again he goes.

Ted has shown us how to chill,

He’s quiet and demure,

But not averse to a good thrill,

That smile is always pure.

Loren’s got some mad ambition,

His hikes are never ending,

That silence is but a small partition,

Despite what he’s pretending.

Will’s collected several nicknames,

Among them “Muscle Beach”,

Small, admiring claims to fame,

He’ll soon be out of reach.

Lucinda’s skin is getting darker,

She’s told many a funny tale,

But in the driver’s seat we’ll soon park her,

As on to Reno we must sail.

Brian’s done his share of oaring,

Only 3 passengers he’s dumped,

He delights to hear the rapid’s roaring,

At the sight of holes he’s pumped.

Jenny’s soon to be left alone,

The one female among teasers,

She’ll have to fight like Al Capone,

And fend them off with tweezers.

Joel is ready to go home,

His dirtbike is getting nearer,

On trails, off jumps, he longs to roam,

As the siren’s call gets clearer.

Paula’s planning has proved delightful,

She’s had all firmly in hand,

I’m sure she’s ready for next nightfall,

When en suite she escapes the sand.

My own time here is almost up,

I’ll miss the crew so much,

No longer with you shall I sup,

But I’m sure we’ll keep in touch!