Rafting down the grand canyon journal

From January 6-16 we went on an epic family adventure whitewater rafting with a group of friends, and freinds-to-be, down the Colorado river from Lees ferry below Glen Canyon Dam to Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon National park where we hiked out. We camped every night at sandy beaches along the river and woke every freezing morning to put on our drysuits and load up again.

I kept a bullet journal on my phone during the trip…. and that’s what is posted here! I’ve added comments in parenthesis for clarification.

January 6, 2021

  • Up early. Wait for truck. Load. (We had stayed the night in a house rental in Flagstaff where we got to meet a lot of the group).
  • Violet (works for the outfitter) drives van. Quick stop at Safeway for lunch and dinner.
  • Neat guys in back talking about inventions, foldable TVs, “would you rather”… (these ‘neat guys’ became great friends)
  • Spend a long time loading the boats for a short tester float down to the first camp. violet explains.
  • Up late in cold, dark listening to Violet talk. (She explained all about the chore groups, the sanitary requirements, and other camping regulations)
  • Zoe in chore group A.
  • Kat and Avi in group B.
  • Bryan in D
  • Bryan and I decide to rearrange our packing (so we only need to open two bags for camp supplies when we stop).
  • Avi and I snuggle together for bed (it was cold)

January 7, 2021

  • Good start. Fun riding.
  • Saw bald eagle and condors
  • Went under bridge (famous Navajo bridge)
  • Boat capsized at giant hole in Badger rapid. Freak accident… boat stuck rolling in the whole even after it flipped.  The worst was waiting for it to flip and holding on at such a steep angle with the right side up in the air getting pummeled. I kept pushing Avi up (on my right) and pulling Zoe up (on my left).  Felt like eternity. Then it finally flipped… Avi sucked away first.  Zoe popped up right beside me holding an oar. Said she was ok.  I yelled for Avi, and then saw him heading for another boat… they yelled he was fine.  (He was) pulled out by Harry and Jess. The rapids kept sucking me under. Felt I couldn’t breathe, so I popped off my helmet…. strap was choking me. Back floated.  Floated past Bryan who was swimming toward some junk. Kristen and Jaimie hauled me into their boat with Zoe. Jonathan grabbed my shoe as it floated by. 
  • (This was our first rapid. Ahead of time, our group leader had asked Bryan if he’d be a boat captain and Bryan agreed, not really understanding that he was to paddle the boat until that came up later in planning. Bryan isn’t really a watercraft guy, but he is good at other outdoor sports and he felt a bit pressured. They said they’d scout and give good directions before each rapid and he could follow others. He did follow, and we went second – following right where Chris had gone – but the hole sucked us in. )
  • Bryan’s tie down job was amazing.  We only lost a bag of snacks, chairs, and personal drinks. But, the rear hatch opened and the kitchen stove, fire pan, ropes bag, spare parts ammo can was torn open, and produce floated off… found some onions and peppers floating by. Lost map book. Cooler stuck in eddy.
  • Zoe had captured part of a paddle as it floated past her in the water.
  • Broke two oars
  • The team hauled us all out, got us dry…. helped so very much getting us stable and moving our stuff to a beach to camp. (We had 5 medical pro’s on this trip and they were awesome)
  • Avi very cold and in shock.  Very scared and shaken up. (Kristen was amazing with him and helped talk him through what happened, our team and the safety gear worked and we are ok)
  • Our lights kept flicking on and off – joked about it being a party. (In the tent that night, because they were wet)

January 8, 2021

  • Beach day at below jackass. (because of the capsize we had to stop and assess, contact the outfitter with the satellite phone, dry out all our stuff – the dry bags kept our sleeping bags dry but not much else)
  • Sam and Jonathan spent all day (in the little duckie boat) retrieving the cooler and a few things from it. (it had gotten stuck in some rocks up at the rapid)
  • Dried out clothes and beds. All our drybags had leaked in water.  Books ruined. Spot ruined.
  • Avi and Bryan still very shaken and make plans to hike out. (Both guys were scared. Bryan no longer wanted to paddle; felt responsible, and worried about the family. Avi was scared of flipping again. Zoe especially wanted to stay, which encouraged me to also want to stay. Bryan and I and especially Chris’s dad Cary had a lot of discussion and decision making over this.)
  • Moenkopi sent replacement stove and fire pan with another group.
  • Nice fire pit night talking and hanging out.  Avi fell asleep on my lap.

January 9, 2021

  • Bryan and Avi hiked out. (up a wash and a bit of rock climbing out of the canyon into Navajo nation where they planned to get to the first house they could find and then contact the outfitter with where they were so he could pick them up.)
  • Waited for a text from them at the rim before starting around 11 (for safety we waited until we knew they were out of the canyon where they could find help)
  • Zoe rides with Chris and Natty (our friends from the bike shop, and also the trip leaders. Chris has done this float many times)
  • Eric is now boat captain on my boat, Cary rides along.
  • Found the cooler cover at Soap Creek.
  • Took a long time scouting House Rock (the next rapid). Many were quite nervous… it’s very dramatic around a bend but with a big boulder in the middle to miss, and a huge side wave.
  • Jonathan was especially nervous, as was Kristen riding. They went after Chris (he is always 1st), and nearly flipped.  Jonathan popped out of the boat… came up and grabbed the line along the side. Kristen and Jaimie didn’t notice at first. Jonathan broke an oar running into a cliff. Duckie paddle also broke.
  • Very cold hands and feet (all day)
  • Used seam seal on my dry suit crotch since my butt keeps getting wet as water seeps in from the wet raft seat. Helped Jessica with hers too.
  • Zoe on cooking  duty… made green beans and chicken.
  • Harry’s birthday. Nice night around the fire. Miss Avi and Bryan being here to enjoy it.

January 10, 2021

  • Roaring twenties day!! Super fun. (Lots of rapids today. Zoe and I were nervous at first, but slowly started to really enjoy them after we realized the first flip was truly a freak accident)
  • Lots of rapids  4, 5,5, 4, 6,6,6 in a quick row, 2, 3 (these are the ratings)
  • Got a cell signal, text from Bryan that he and Avi built a greenhouse, went back to Tucson.  Gram died of COVID Friday. Buried today (This was hard to hear. We were so disconnected from civilization that if Bryan hadn’t been out I would never have even attempted to get a signal. I just wanted an update on them since last I heard they made it to the rim. This was the last spot for any potential contact beyond the sat phone, so I was glad for an update, but sad to hear about Gram and wished I could talk to my Dad and Mom)
  • Saw bald eagle
  • Chris’s boat hit a hidden boulder hard and flung rear stuff off. Lost a bucket
  • Sams boat lost their beer bag in a rapid.
  • Eric (and me and Cary) were watching for Jonathan to come down a rapid and went over a spillway around a Boulder. Sketchy.
  • Eric is a geologist works in water quality, environmental monitoring company. Was a medic in Army reserves to pay for college at School of Mines. Durango. (most folks on this trip knew each other from their time at Colorado School of Mines or University of Arizona. Lots of engineers and scientist – was fun for Zoe to hang out with. We were kind of the add-ons as we only knew Chris through Bryan’s obsession with bikes.)
  • Cary is Chris’s dad. Geologist for oil and gas then banker for same. Retires soon. Wyoming
  • Wore triple layers and puffy under dry suit for warmth. (this became the norm and I was warm enough to not be shivering cold most of the time. Zoe and I started wearing Bryans layers on top of our own)
  • Lots of elevation loss, down into the red wall limestone.
  • My day on kitchen duty – made ravioli, green beans, garlic toast. Boiled eggs last night for breakfast. Mostly me and Kate did breakfast and lunch.  She is fun to talk too… had rough emotions today. She was scared today while the rest of us were scared yesterday. (Kate was Chris’s cousin – still in school at Princeton, plays sports)
  • Zoe on dish washing
  • Jonathan and Jess took a quick dip in the river at camp (it was a sunny spot!)
  • Using ground cloth as tent front porch and changing area – load last into boots daybag (this logistical change made a huge difference in the amount of sand, and kept our drysuits cleaner.)
  • Boats today:
    • Chris, Natty, Zoe
    • Harry, Jessica
    • Eric, Kat, Cary
    • Sam, Emily, Kate
    • Jonathan, Kristen, Jaimie

January 11, 2021

  • Slower rapid day
  • Me in Eric’s boat, Zoe in Chris
  • Red wall grotto huge cavern (this was a highlight, and it was sunny in the area)
  • Chris switched up boaters after that.  Zoe and I road with Jonathan.
  • Jonathan – PhD study at U of A in geoscience. Study’s climate change, tree rings, went to Tasmania. From northeast. Dartmouth for bachelors.
  • I rowed a long time after. Did a class 2!
  • Stopped at spring for water refill
  • Zoe rowed for a long time for the rest of day! Did a couple ruffles ( she and Naty made their own classifications for the smaller not-rapids).
  • Zoe did class 2! Awesome! just after 36 mile rapid
  • Camp was chill in some scrub bushes, and Spread out
  • Zoe took a hike up canyon with Kate and Jonathan and a few others.
  • Zoe has been taking some water samples and tests at each of our stops so she can do a report for science class when we get home.
  • I stayed back and brushed my hair and braided. so tangly. Read & Reordered our stuff (This was a gamechanger. I went through all 4 of Zoe and my drybags…we still had Bryan and Avi’s stuff. Made one bag of stuff we weren’t going to use, then one bag of just tent stuff and then we each had a bag – split out Bryan and Avi’s extra layers to each of us. We needed the extra bedding since we were in a four person tent, but only two of us, so it was cold. I also counted all our Hot Hands packs and rationed them – we each got three a day – used in the sleeping bag by my feet and on my belly and that kept us super super toasty at night. Also doubled over the sleeping mat and used three sleeping bags zipped together to share, with an extra on the mat. We were pretty cold before all that).
  • Jess peed in her suit again. The she-wee contraption is hard. (This was so tough. To go pee, we had to peel out of our drysuits, get cold and try to get back in. But there was a she-wee contraption intended to help – so we just needed to zip down, but clothes and everything were so bulky that it was impossible to get it tight to the body and it would leak out.)
  • She always tells me I’m like a mom. She is working at Home Depot with Chris. went to NAU for a while in theatre – got into the drug scene dropped out.  May go back to school for science not sure. Introvert, goes to bed early to journal and read bible. Doesn’t drink, recovery (I thought it would’ve been nice for Bryan to still be along to hang a bit with Jess and see another adult who didn’t drink every night. I wasn’t going to be me – I soooo looked forward to my one White Claw. Was rationing the one case that didn’t go down river)
  • Dish duty
  • Harry is a phd cand. at U of A in astronomy, monitors satellites and surveillance stuff. He is our techie go pro and video guy. (Takes a lot of pictures, and they will be the good ones we have from this trip) Likes some alone space.

January 12, 2021

  • Rode with Eric. Easy day. Chatted with Cary ( a lot, he was Chris’s dad and the oldest of the group. He would make cup o noodle and coffee with his little stove on the raft seat while we floated calm spots. I loved riding with him and having warm drinks, plus he had done this before with Chris and had every confidence.)
  • Harry’s hair donut in belly button (this was funny at the camp)
  • Bob – Dino likes Stevie nicks – dragon. Mr bill needs cpr to “oh no” (these were all our boat mascots. ours was Bob the dino and he thought he was a dragon. Amazingly he made it through the rapid tied to our boat … I had tied him down)
  • Nankoweep camp. Granary hike. Gorgeous. 4 windows. Whole group (This was a highlight of the trip, to see an old Native granary in what today feels remote, but must’ve been ‘on the way’ for people a few thousand years ago.)
  • Joke about 10 year reunion. (all of us coming back and doing this again, but in the summer)
  • Cary made amazing grilled cheese. Ham, avocado, tomato, Swiss. (At first I was skeptical about all the food and the prep being stuff that took work, but at the end of every day and in the mornings it was SOOO nice to have hot food. As a group we did agree to give up on all that at lunch since getting the supplies out was too much work, so we’d put out sandwich making stuff and snacks at breakfast for everyone to grab)
  • Kristen is funny. Loud. Silly. keeps the chat going.  Kristen, Naty, Jamie, Emily all know each other from medical school or TMC.
  • Sam is from CT. Finally found a good stick for his flag. He is Emily’s boyfriend. (these two got engaged and married not long after the trip)

January 13, 2021

  • Kristen dirty thirty birthday!
  • Costumes. Zoe and I were vikings.
  • Zoe cooked breakfast burritos
  • Zoe and me in Harry’s boat today.
  • Zoe rowed more riffles and a small rapid. 
  • 2 bald eagles
  • Salt mines on side
  • Little Colorado river gorgeous blue.  Looked like blue lagoon in Iceland.
  • Now in grand canyon NP
  • Sunny day, though cloudy, but still not as much cold shade as other days.
  • Saw a herd bighorn sheep!
  • We can see the desert watchtower. (This was a big deal to everyone as it indicated civilization and that other people could see us and potentially be contacted)
  • Eric told me about the fault lines and volcano stuff.  All the guys were dorking out about stratigraphy this afternoon. (They all went to School of Mines back in the day and were also joking about how few girls were there, and that Zoe should go because she would have her choice of dude)
  • Joking around the fire… would you rather.

January 14, 2021

  • Got up early to make breakfast with Kate. Bagels eggs bacon
  • Getting packing and unpacking down to a science (this really was something Zoe and I had down pat by this time. We wanted to always be done early or with everyone else and never be the stragglers, even though half our fam was gone.)
  • Rode with Eric Zoe and me
  • Stopped at Unkar to see ancient ruins. (Another amazing site to think of a small village down here in the canyon)
  • Sunny most of the day, very open
  • Got to camp Neville around 1;30 early. Nice afternoon of sun and hanging out
  • Took a quick dip in the water! Zoe even swam a bit. Cold but refreshing and the sun felt amazing after. 
  • Played games – exploding kittens, burrito.  Zoe got tackled by the burrito a few times
  • Made Tacos for dinner with Kate and Chris.
  • Kristen and I had a heart to heart moment – she’s gonna miss us. I’ll miss the river family too!  But I am glad tomorrow is our last full day.  Ready to be warm again.
  • Nervous for the rapids. tomorrow is an 8 and two 7s.  Hoping to ride with Eric; he is good and calm.
  • Lost pee bucket off Chris’s boat. New one is bent
  • Great night by the fire sharing goals and stories and life

January 15, 2021

  • Morning cooks used every pot, and I had to clean them since I’m on cleaning duty. Gave them a funny hard time all day – Eric Kristen Harry
  • Everyone nervous for Hance rapid 8 (rating) scouted for a long time. Went over the main pour over like Chris did on the day we had the accident on Grapevine, but ok
  • Two more 7’s – these were fun.
  • Deep in the inner gorge Vishnuschist and Zoroaster granite. Very different looking
  • Cold dark deep
  • Cold day
  • Rode the left part of the tongue 😛(on one of the 7’s, and this became the saying for the rest of the day)
  • Nice camp at Cremation
  • Spotted a support for bridge at phantom
  • Another bonding fire night
  • Will miss everyone immensely such a great group. Seems funny to be leaving them down here and they aren’t sure about getting new folks either. feels weird. (Zoe and I were hiking out while the rest of the group continued another 2 weeks. A group of four was coming down to replace our original 4, and they were – like us – only friends that Chris knew. We tried to spot them on our hike up, but no one fit the description. Found out later they split up for the hike, so we were looking for the wrong number)

January 16, 2021

  • hiked out from Phantom Ranch.
  • rest of the group was super excited to see the little shop and real toilets. Niceties we’d missed for the last ten days
  • Did a group pic and quick goodbye

In the end, our rafting trip turned out to be an amazing and unexpected bonding experience for me and Zoe. We hike out at Phantom ranch, and Bryan and Avi met us along the trail at Supai Gardens. It was funny seeing them, and we were sore. But it was incredible to get a long hot shower at the rim hotel; so worth the cost! And we hung out that evening, both of us feeling funny to be among so many people again, and especially knowing the rest of our team was still cold and wet in the canyon.

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