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Grand Canyon 2011

Those that know me know that I love tripping. But the fact is I think I love planning trips even more. Right now I'm full of love.

I leave on Feb. 24th for a 280 mile trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon National Park. This is my first trip down the “Ditch.”

I feel like I’ve been on an extensive scavenger hunt for about 45 years – the length of time I’ve dreamed about doing the Grand. About the time I get my to do list down to a few items, more get added. I'm doing a dry run rigging exercise this weekend. I'm going to put it all together and see what the assembled pile looks like and see if I forgot anything.

I posted my equipment list at:


A brief run down on the logistics.

A private permit comes in several flavors -- the first is the group size. Large = 16, Small = 8. We have a big group permit. The maximum length of time is dependent on the date of launch. Summer trips are limited to 16 days; Spring and Fall trips are limited to 21 days; Winter trips are limited to 25 days. We're launching on Feb. 28th so we qualify as a Winter trip and will take the maximum 25 days.

All trips launch from Lee's Ferry and flow South. Lee's Ferry is about 10 miles below Glen Canyon Dam (Lake Powell). The water is clear when it comes out of the dam. As the drainage below is desolate desert on the South and high country pines on the North. Run off brings in mud and some sticks and debris. Logs that wash all the way to the river are not rare but their path was comprised of mind boggling ricochets down a labyrinth of gullies that began 6500 ft. above. There's hardly any man made debris that can wash in. Yet the rocks reveal man's modifications in subtle and sometimes not so subtle clues. There are clues everywhere that display, in virgin ground, the magnificence of Nature. There are clues of man's presence that are sometimes ancient and sometimes from a recent era of man where machine use in pristine wilderness was noble.

Because of the dam, the amount of drift wood is very limited and accordingly by regulation, you can only burn drift wood from Nov. through Feb. (So, we can only burn drift wood the first night.) All fires have to be off the ground so we use a fire pan and haul out the ashes.

There are three take out choices. The first is Diamond Creek at mile 240 or so. There is a long rough road down through the Hualapai Reservation to the river. The Tribe charges significant tolls for the road and per passenger. The tolls for our trip would have been about $1200!

Until the last few years the next takeout was on Lake Meade at the South Cove launch. Because of the drought and silting, the lake has dropped dramatically and there is running water all the way to South Cove. The drop in the lake level has created one the most bizarre river features one is likely to see in their life time. I'll do my best to explain it.

Because of the still water of the lake, the river dumped millions of tons of sand. The top end silted up some 50? 70 feet deep? As the water level dropped the river cut through the silt in the path of least resistance. As the silt had settled in various subsurface eddys, the path of least resistance -- at least in the short run -- does not follow the original river bed. In fact in one place, about a quarter mile below Pierce Ferry, the new channel travels over what had once been a fin of rock about 40 feet high and has an outline like a camel. A rapid has developed there. Actually a fall. The silt down-stream of the rock is quickly being cut away and the fall is growing higher each day. The drop now is about 25', though not totally vertical. However the hydraulic there is nasty. Until the silt is cut around the fin and the river heads towards its orginal path, a process that will take a couple of decades at the present rate (if the lake stays low) the rapid will get more vertical and the hydraulic stronger. It already approaches Class VI.

Sean sent me this photo he had harvested from somewhere... The rock on the right edge that channels the rapid is the top of one of the camel humps.


A couple of years ago, recognizing the danger of running this temporary rapid, the Park Service and the commercial outfitters cut another access in an old road bed that served the short live Pierce Ferry. The new ramp is 280 river miles from Lees Ferry. Our group is taking out at Pierce Ferry and avoiding the new rapid.

There are no facilities at any place along the river except at 90 miles below Lees Ferry at Phantom Ranch. At Phantom, there are a few cabins and a campground that are coveted by hikers. There's flush toilets, generator electricity, a Post Office (which is served every day of the year by mules), a snack booth, and a Rangers' Station. It is where there are two suspension bridges for hikers and mules to cross the river.

A private river group can have a maximum of 16 members at any one time. We have 6 that are getting out at Phantom after 9 days on the river. We have 6, including Carol, that are joining us at Phantom.

We have two camps where we are planning on spending 2 nights and doing some hiking to see Indian ruins and river views. We have one camp where we are spending 3 nights and about 10 of the group are going to do a 3 day backpack trip into a couple of petrograph sites that have had less than 100 visitors in modern times. (So I'm told...)

An average day will be about 12 miles and we'll probably do a really really long day/night float on the last day. Below Diamond Creek the river is mostly channelized as it was a lake until just a couple of years ago and is part of the area that is having the silt removed. The channel does appear kind of like an irrigation ditch as the silt is on both sides (most of the way) up about 15 to 25 feet. As a result there are not that many campsites in that last 50 miles. There is one that is particularly nice and we'll stay there for 2 days and then launch and float until we get to the takeout at Pierce Ferry which is over 30 miles downstream. During the night we'll lash all the boats together and drift, with one rotating watchman. We'll bounce along the bank at places and we better not miss the takeout as that awful rapid would surely wake us.

We are going in March, so cooler management is not as critical as it is in the Summer. The avg. temps for Phantom for March are about 70 high and 48 low. That's about 20 or so more than the rim temps. In the Summer, the avg. high temps for Phantom are June and July, 106; for Aug. 103.

I won't be putting any beer in a cooler on the Grand. Because the rapids are deep, hitting rocks, except around the shore is rare. Just drop your daily supply in a drag bag. Water temp will be 36 -- 39. It averages year around at 41.

Just to be clear, I'm not the permit holder or trip leader. Susan Sharp from Parkersburg, WV is our permit holder and trip leader. We met her several years ago as she is one of the few private catarafters in the area. In 2008 she invited Carol, Mack and I on an 8 day trip on the San Juan River in Utah. We had a blast. My equipment list is what I'm taking. Susan is bringing her kitchen, other members are bringing contributions to the group gear, and we’re renting some gear from our Outfitters.

Our Outfitter, Moenkopi Riverworks, is owned by Brady Black. He’s an amazing guy. For his second/retirement career he decided open an Outfitters for the Grand Canyon. He does not offer, nor do the regulations allow, a guide service. Because of the unique nature of a Grand Canyon trip, virtually no individual has sufficient gear to completely supply a trip. Brady’s business will supplement what you need or pick you and your underwear up at the airport and launch you the next day with complete equipment and provisions for your trip. He is supplying the food for the meals for the first 18 days and those will be cooler meals. I never could justify buying a Super Cooler, so as part of the rental group gear, I'm getting a 165 Icce Cool for my boat. It will be preloaded. Susan does gourmet dehydrated. She's doing the last week's meals "coolerless."

One of the trip members is bringing his 18' raft. Susan is bringing her NRS 16' Kodiak cat, and we're renting 3 -- 18' rafts that other trip members will be rowing. So, we'll have lots of hauling capacity. We'll have 2 kayaks making the whole trip and 2 starting at Phantom. (we'll haul their kayaks for the first 9 days.)

I'm going to drive out with my truck and trailer. I'll leave on the evening of the 24th. Joel, one of our fishing buds (sorta) is driving out with me. I'll be hauling all of my gear and the kayaks and personal gear of most of the other members. I also will be hauling out 8 kayaks and gear for a group from DC that is coincidently launching the day after we do.

We will all rendezvous in Flagstaff at Brady’s, he also supplies a bunk house for before and after your tip. All our gear will be transferred to their truck and trailer which will already have the 18'ers loaded. They have a huge gooseneck trailer and a 20 passenger bus. They will transport us and the gear to Lee's Ferry on the 27th and we'll rig and go through the Ranger's Safety/Regulation program and then be free to launch the next morning. We'll camp at the campground at the launch complex. Our vehicles will be left at Brady’s.

One of the trip members has been down 9 times, one 5, one 4, and two will be on their third trip.

Look at the monoclines (the tilted rock that makes hills that look like waves) in the background of one of the photo and you can see some of the strange geology.

Also, regulations and common courtesy require the hauling out of EVERYTHING. The only thing left in the canyon is urine as you pee in the river, not on the land. Crap gets hauled out.

Brady will be waiting for us at Pierce Ferry on March 25th and will take all our gear and passengers back to Flagstaff. We'll transfer back to my trailer and Carol, Joel, and I will start the boogie back.

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