This is my fourth summer working as a guide on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon for Arizona River Runners. My first trip launched on June 9th and I was pretty concerned that I hadn’t adjusted to the heat yet. My trip to Portland and trying to get things squared away with my Arizona Trail job meant that I hadn’t quite acclimated yet. Little did I know, I needn’t have worried- there was a tropical storm that came in that made it unseasonably cool and rainy!
On June 8th, I arrived at the warehouse in Flagstaff to pack up the boats and put them in the water at Lee’s Ferry. The crew was Joe as trip leader, Brie as second boatman, me as the swamper and Brie’s friend Nick as our work-your-way. The morning of June 9th was cool and overcast as the passengers arrived and loaded onto the boats. It’s always a flurry of activity, with lots of questions about the adventures to come. We headed downstream and I was excited to have returned to the Grand Canyon for the summer.
I was on Joe’s boat and did most of the interp- telling stories about the people, plants, animals, and geology of the place as Joe drove. It stayed overcast and got so chilly that I had to put on a fleece in the middle of the day! Never before seen- we started calling it Junuary.
At North Canyon, we pulled in and made camp and folks got settled in to their tents. We made salmon, broccoli, rice and salad for dinner and most went to sleep early. I went for a little hike up North Canyon and listened to music and played with my headlamp and camera. The crew sleeps on the boats, and I had been looking forward to sleeping under the stars, but the strange weather meant I put up a tent. The rain started in the middle of the night, big drops and intense at times.
The next morning, I was trying to cook breakfast when it started raining again. We put up a canopy and went about our business. We had to go through the Roaring Twenties, a series of rapids that are one after the other and people got cold. Joe made the decision to stop at Redwall Cavern after the Twenties were done and make hot soup. It was a real crowd-pleaser and morale booster- amazing what a little hot soup can do for the soul. Of course there was the fact that it was June 10th- a day that historically would have had us running into Redwall Cavern for shade- crazy! Joe and I must have said “Crazy” to each other a hundred times that trip because of the weather. Didn’t get a pic of the soup stop, but here’s one from another trip of Redwall Cavern.
After our soup stop, the mist and clouds began to clear and the sun came out. We stopped at the Little Colorado River for a hike and swim. The LCR was a milky whitish blue from the storms. Camp was at Crash Canyon, a short distance downstream.
Set up the tent and it rained again that night with a second morning of cooking breakfast under the canopy. The clouds cleared again and it warmed up, which was good because on the third day we were going to run the Gorge, the biggest concentration of large rapids on the whole river. Joe and Brie maneuvered through the rapids with skill and we had an amazing day. There is no rapid on the river more fun than Hermit and we hit it just perfect for the optimal ride! Here’s a video taken by one of my coworkers a couple of years ago of a run through Hermit:
We stopped at Shinumo Creek to check out the waterfall, I was interested to see what it looked like, it is a side stream that flash-flooded several times recently. The waterfall is very different and the swimming pool at the base has been graveled in, but it’s still a great place for a stop. Camp was at 110- I could see my camp spot from my 2010 Royal Arch Loop.
The next day we commonly call Waterfall Day- how could you not like a day like that? We started with the sublime Elves Chasm- a two-tiered waterfall with a perfect cave to climb up and jump off! This place exemplifies the differences between rafting and backpacking in the Canyon. When I visited on foot, it took three days of a rugged route and 20′ rappel to get there. Rafting, we pull up and it’s 1/4 mile from the boats. It’s great to give a wide range of folks the opportunity to see these amazing places.
After Joe and Brie had great runs through the technical Bedrock and Deubendorff Rapids, we stopped at Stone Creek. The warm, clear waterfall was welcome after days of the icy and silty river.
Then it was on to the main event: Deer Creek Falls and the hike up to The Patio. Deer Creek is a 174-ft. cascade just minutes from the boat and is a destination in and of itself. My favorite part of the day is the hike up to the Deer Creek Narrows and the Patio. It’s usually pretty warm for the hike up the hill, but once on the Tapeats Sandstone, you get wonderful views up and downstream. The trail turns into the canyon above the waterfall, a slot canyon with the sound of the water rushing below. The trail narrows in a couple places that make it very challenging for the acrophobic. I have ushered countless people across this piece of trail and love helping people overcome their fears to get through the journey. The destination is certainly worth it- the Patio is a wonderland of cottonwoods and waterfalls. It is a place sacred to the Paiute Indians and there are small hand outlines where the ancients used reeds to blow paint over their hands along the trail to the Patio.
We spent some time at the Patio and then hiked down to enjoy the big waterfall for a while before making camp across the river. It was Fajita Night for dinner, a crowd favorite.
In the morning we went through the narrow Muav Gorge and visited Havasu Creek, a tricky place to park and tie up the boats, because we park in a rapid. It’s often called the Swamper Olympics because there are numerous extra lines that have to be tied to make sure the boats are secure. Everyone enjoyed a swim in the blue-green waters of the refreshing creek.
After Havasu, we had a couple of hours before the grandaddy of all rapids, Lava Falls. The river falls 37 feet over the span of several hundred yards and it can often be quite a ride. Other times, you hit it a certain way and it doesn’t feel like much. On this day we had a giant full-boat soaking wave cover every inch of the 35-foot rig- it was fantastic!!
We pulled up at Angel Camp for our last night and cooked up a steak dinner and celebrated one of the passenger’s birthday with a dutch-oven cake. Afterward, everyone sat and shared their reflections of the trip. It’s always fun to see what parts of the journey stand out to each person.
I snuck away, because I had a surprise for the passengers. If the group is right, the camp is right and I’m not too tired from working all day I put on a short bellydance performance on the beach. This beach was perfect, there was a spit of flat sand that extended along the shoreline. After the group was done, I invited them down and surprised them with a show, complete with music from a portable speaker. It was quite the venue- as I danced I could see the walls of the Canyon and the sky scintillating with stars. Everyone agreed it was a great way to end the night.
The next morning we only had a short distance to go to the Whitmore helipad, mile 187, where the six-day journey ended for our group. The river brings people together and there were many hugs given and promises to keep in touch. We waved as the helicopters took the folks to the Bar 10 Ranch.
I feel so fortunate to be able to call the Canyon my home- it is the place that inspires me like no other. I enjoy seeing people from all over the world come to experience the Canyon at a deeper level than just peering over the rim for a day. Seeing people get that sparkle in their eye when I point out something beautiful or interesting or the look of satisfaction that comes from a great hike. What an infinitely fascinating place.
To find out more about the different river trips offered, visit www.raftarizona.com.
In Wildlife Rehab news, we got a Crested Caracara that was hit by a car down by Kitt Peak. The Caracara is a Falcon that acts more like a vulture and is only found in Arizona, Texas and Florida. What a treat to see one up close! To donate to help feed and house the animals at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, use the link below.