May 19, 1996 - Grand Canyon - 6 Days
Colorado River, Bright Angel Trail
Our trip started at the Days Inn on Route 66 in Flagstaff the evening before we launched the rafts. Robby was the OARS trip leader, and gave us a 7PM briefing, some safety tips, and passed out two waterproof bags each into which we needed to stuff everything we would be taking for the 5 day trip and the hike out. Food and tents were provided by OARS, and were packed separately in the rafts. In retrospect, we took way too much clothing and other stuff we never touched.
Sunday (day 1) - At 7AM the next morning, we boarded two vans for the trip to Lees Ferry where the rafts were waiting. Lees Ferry is where all of the river trips put in, and is the only place for more than 200 river miles where you can drive down to the Colorado River. Lees Ferry is river mile 0 where all river points through the canyon are measured from. After some additional safety instructions and the issuance of life vests, we finally cast off on our adventure at 11:10 AM. There were 15 passengers and 6 guides on this trip, with four passengers and a guide in each of four rafts, and a fifth raft loaded with supplies with two guides. The river is pretty flat in this area, and we drifted down toward Navajo Bridge where we stopped for a lunch of roast beef and turkey sandwiches.
After lunch, we started down the river again. Up ahead, we saw some riffles in the water, and held on tight as we went through them. By the end of the day, we would not even have noticed those riffles. At mile 8 we hit our first significant rapids at Badger Creek. The guides said that rapid would measure a 6 on the Colorado River rapid scale of 1-10 (this is different from the normal rapids scale which goes only up to 6). We got a face full of 48 degree Colorado River water on that one. At 4PM, we pulled over at some ledges where we would camp for the night, and where we would get our first real taste of the terrific meals our guides would prepare for the rest of the week. Dinner that evening was chicken cordon bleu with rice, cauliflower, salad, beer and wine. Kathy and I had brought bivi sacks, so we passed on the tents and slept under the stars.
Monday (day 2) - Up at 5AM, we had a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and strawberries, and were back on the river by 8. We stopped after a short while and took a hike up a side canyon where we found a pool of water and lots of frogs. Continuing the trip, we went through some more rapids, had lunch along the way, and pulled over for the night at 4PM on a sandy beach. Dinner that night was salmon steaks, mixed veggies, potato, salad, beer and wine. After dinner, the guides set up a horseshoe court, and we all enjoyed the warm and clear evening.
Tuesday (day 3) - This was a busy day, starting off with a breakfast of bacon and eggs. We did a hike at South Canyon where we saw some Anasazi Indian ruins, and found pottery shards and petroglyphs. Just after South Canyon, was a stream pouring out of the cliff with an abundance of greenery around this oasis called Vassey's Paradise. A bit further down river, we came to a huge cavern carved in to the redwall, appropriately called Redwall Cavern. We all went into the cavern, the guides set up flotation cushions in a diamond formation, and we had a Whiffle ball game. Lunch was at a small sandy beach where we found some fresh and rather large cat prints, which we assumed were mountain lion. Whatever made the tracks, we were certainly a bit more cautious and aware of our surroundings while we were there. We continued down river and stopped for the night at saddle Canyon. We found a high sandy spot with magnificent views of the cliffs and the river. We took a rather rugged hike to a mossy waterfall before dinner, and ended up eating in the dark by headlamp light.
Wednesday (day 4) - After a breakfast of melon, bagels, cheese and eggs, we headed out on our last full day on the river. After a long float, we reached the confluence of the Little Colorado River on the left side at mile 61.5. In stark contrast to the cold, green water of the Colorado River, the Little Colorado was a brilliant azure blue, and more than 30 degrees warmer. It makes a stunning visual contrast as the different colored waters merge together. We hiked 4/10 of a mile up the Little Colorado to a swim area with a natural water slide where we spent a couple of hours enjoying the first warm water we had felt since Sunday. Unfortunately, the Little Colorado gets its blue color from the large amount of calcium chloride dissolved in it, and it is necessary to wash off in the Colorado afterwards to avoid getting all red and crinkly and feeling like sandpaper afterwards. It is something like getting out of a nice warm tub and jumping into ice water.
After a lunch of fruit and salad, we continued down river and hit some impressive rapids. The wind was picking up and blowing up river, so we pulled over to a shady spot and rested. We camped for the night on a sandy delta, and were sandblasted by the wind for most of the night. Kathy and I picked a camping spot away from the river and high up in some bushes and rocks to try to get some protection from the blowing sand.
Robby was cooking that evening and, despite the adverse conditions, made some very excellent filet mignon wrapped in bacon that would rival those of any first class restaurant. The guides also baked a birthday cake for one of the passengers, and we celebrated with cake and champagne.
Thursday (day 5) - After a breakfast of pancakes and eggs, we headed out into the largest rapids we had yet experienced on the trip. The routine was something like get drenched, bail out the raft, get drenched, bail out the raft, etc. This was the most exciting part of the trip, and the best fun. The guide noticed a scorpion crawling up the arm of one of the passengers and, trying not to alarm him, asked him to flip it off into the river. Well, the passenger reacted as most of us would, and jumped up and brushed the scorpion off of his arm, and right into the raft. The scorpion promptly high tailed it under the seats and equipment.
After the stretch of rapids, we pulled over to a beach for lunch and some farewell pictures. While we were there, the guide with the scorpion in his boat kept searching and eventually found the little critter and quickly dispatched him. The guides sleep in their rafts at night, and this guide was not about to share his bed with a scorpion. After lunch, we continued another 45 minutes to the beach at Phantom Ranch, river mile 88, where Kathy and I and nine other passengers were to disembark. A group had hiked down the Bright Angel Trail that morning, and would take our places on the rafts for the duration of the trip down to the Diamond Creek take out point at river mile 226.
At the beach, we unloaded our waterproof bags and transferred our stuff into trash bags for the 1/2 mile or so hike up to the Phantom Ranch where we were to share a 10 person bunk house for the night. Phantom Ranch is the only place at the bottom of the grand canyon where you can find a hot shower, and we could not wait to enjoy the warm water and clean bodies. Dinner that evening at the ranch was a heavily seasoned beef stew. We got to bed early to be up for the 5AM breakfast and the 9 mile hike out of the canyon on the Bright Angel trail.
Friday (day 6) - The morning was foggy and cool, but good weather for the hike out. In May, the daytime temperatures in the inner canyon can exceed 100 degrees, but we were lucky that this day was relatively cool. After a breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes and peaches, we picked up a box lunch and headed out for the rim. The Bright Angel trail is known as a corridor trail. It is well maintained, wide and well worn. It is one of the two trails used by the mules taking tourists and supplies in and out of the canyon. Personally, after seeing how close the mules walk to the edges of the cliffs, I would rather walk.
We were at the mid point, Indian Garden, for lunch and relaxed there for quite a while. The hike out was slow but uneventful, and afforded lots of nice views. Above Indian Garden we started running into tourists day hiking down from the rim. We reached the rim at 1:40 in the afternoon, and headed out for the Yavapai Lodge where we had made reservations for the night.
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