Grand Canyon Expedition, July 2011

Sue and Becky

 The Evergreen State College Alumni Association announced a 14-day dory trip through Grand Canyon and it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so Sue and I signed on.  The outfitter was Grand Canyon Expeditions, owned by Greener alum Mike Denoyer, who made his first trip through Grand Canyon on an Evergreen trip.  The focus of the trip was geology, so Evergreen professor Paul Butler led the science part of the trip.  I decided not to include much of what we learned here, in case I got things wrong.

 I write these pages to remind myself about my experiences, so you might find the narrative pretty dry, but I hope that my friends and family will enjoy the pictures.  If you are considering a similar trip, I think you will find the Logistics section helpful.  If you were on the trip, you might enjoy the Quotes and Moments section, but if you weren’t there, they will probably just be bewildering.

If you're using Firefox, right-click to see a larger image.  The originals are about 5 MB each, but if you really want a copy of something, just email me.


 17 July

We flew into Las Vegas the day before orientation in order to make sure we wouldn’t be late.  We scored an exit row and got to see Grand Canyon from the air.  We got a nice suite at the Residence Inn by Marriott with a full kitchen, not that we were cooking.  Had a nice lunch at Gordon Biersch Brewery and watched the nail-biter Women’s World Cup soccer match.  We picked up a couple of cases of Mike’s lemonade at a local liquor store (the owner had been on a river trip with Mike).  They turned out to be extra-large cans and “harder” lemonade (8% alcohol).  We would have done fine with a couple of six packs.

room view

We took a cab to Town Center to watch Deadly Hallows pt. 2.  I was a nice place, with accomodations for dogs, and a play area with water for kids.  Lots of the shops were too upscale for us, but we got all of our errands done and had a nice dinner at Kabuki.  The cab driver gave us a lot of information about Las Vegas, including that Town Center does not allow gaming machines.  We didn’t even notice their absence.  According to our driver, the best deal for a steak dinner is the Circus Circus Steakhouse, but “the rest of the place should be imploded.”  She also said that the best place for cheap BBQ, frequented by locals, is Ellis Island.


18 July

After a nice breakfast buffet at 0630, we walked to the strip.  It was already getting hot.  We walked through several casinos.  Bellagio was the nicest.  It had Lorikeets and Rosellos (parrots).  They also had a chocolate fountain display.  We spent some time in the MGM Grand walking around in the cool.  They had live lions, including some cute cubs.  Sue got a shirt at Ross.  We got some postcards and Sue bought an aluminum bottle of Coke.  We took the monorail back and got off at the Convention Center, then walked back to the hotel.  It was really hot until we got to Hughes Center and were able to walk in an aisle of pine trees. 

 We took a dip in the saltwater pool and sat in the shade for a while.  I read stories from the “Worst Case Scenario” Wilderness book.  We had a nice dinner at the nearby Thai Bistro.  I ate a lot of shrimp.

 At 2000, we had our orientation meeting.  Katie, Mike’s daughter, told us what to expect and we got our ammo cans and tan bags for personal items.  We also got our cups.  Many of us bought items like river guidebooks and sarongs.  We were told to be at breakfast at 0415 and on the bus by 0445 for an 0500 departure.


Day 1, 19 July

Sue on bus
I got up at 0330. They had a Continental breakfast waiting for us.  Nineteen of us were on the bus at 0445.  Katie started to call the roll and the first name was Kris, who didn’t answer.  But she showed up about 5 minutes later and we left ahead of time.  Our driver seemed to think we wanted a lot of commentary, though most of us just wanted to sleep. I'm not sure why he complained about the lack of a hook for his microphone since he never seemed to stop using it.

 bus We met the guides in Fredonia, AZ.  Lew, our trip leader, started giving us brief “chapters” on the trip ahead.

We took another stop on the Kaibab Plateau.  Most of us got cookies and bottles of water.  I kept looking for Kaibab squirrels, but no luck.  Paul gave us some info on the geology of the House Rock Valley.


At Lee’s Ferry we loaded up the boats and hit the river.  Sue and I rode with Chuck on the Zoroaster along with Lee and Tom.  The canyon walls gradually rose up on the sides of the river.

Last chance to back out!
The waterproof case shows up in some of my photos
Malcolm and Allen prep the Mother Shipmother ship

We saw a great blue heron, the first of a few we saw on the trip.  A goshawk spent a few minutes soaring over us, proving that it wasn’t a redtail.  Lots of swallows and swifts were hunting for flying insects over the river.  We saw the Navajo Bridges, the last car crossing before Hoover Dam.  Our first real rapid was Badger.  It seemed big at the time.  The water level was about 24,000 cfs and clear.  We had clear water most of the trip.  The silt settles out in the reservoir, so unless there’s rain somewhere, the Colorado is no longer red.  It is also fairly cold, around 50 oF, because it comes from near the bottom of “Lake” Powell.

After we ran Soap Creek Rapids at about mile 11, we turned around to watch the other boats.  Sue saw the Muav just after it had flipped.  Everyone started under the boat, but got out.  James swam for shore and was picked up by the mother ship. Jeremy got the flip straps loose and Jim, Jeff, Jeremy, and Paul got the boat upright and started bailing like mad in preparation for the next rough water.  We pulled over to get organized and check out the swimmers.  Jim had a goose egg on his head that I could see from our boat, but the swelling went way down after he iced it.  Doc gave Paul about 5 stitches in his hand. 

mike rapids

Our home for the first night
Herbert and sunset

Herbert settles in

It was about 100 degrees F, so we spent the afternoon standing in the water while we chatted.  We saw a beaver.  We camped below Salt Water Wash.  Every night was a great bat show.  It never really got cool enough to use the sleeping bag.  I slept pretty well, though the bright moon woke me up.  When the moon was not out, the stars were amazing.  We could see the Milky Way clearly.

Sue and Mike's
Mike's HardER lemonade. 


 Day 2

sleeping sue

Wake up Suebob!
Paul in camp

Paul has morning coffee

I got up around first light.  It was about 80 degrees.  We did some smaller rapids, then scouted House Rock.  It was interesting to hear the guides talk about routes, currents, etc.  Everyone had a nice run.  We saw more great blue herons and ravens.

lunch day 2
North Canyon
North Canyon

 We took a hike up North Canyon to a beautiful pool surrounded by sandstone.  I have the hike noted as “not too bad,” Sue has it as “hike from hell.”  

 After lunch we ran the “Roaring 20’s.”  They were really fun and we got DRENCHED at Tiger Wash.  I actually got a little chilly at the end. 

 We camped at Fence Fault at about mile 30.  We saw bighorn sheep about 50 m from camp.  Lew showed us how to put up the tents.  Most of us picked up a tent, but slept outside.  The sun went down earlier on river right, so it was a pleasant evening, including spaghetti and meatballs.  Allen brought out some great decals that he had designed.  We used them to personalize our cups.  I used another one to class up my water bottle.

tent lesson
Lew's chapter on tents

 Day 3

Breakfast Day 3

It was a pretty quiet morning.  There weren't any big rapids.  We did a hike to some petroglyphs and a small ruin.  We saw small pottery shards and heard about nearby caves with 10,000-year-old willow figures, known as fetishes.  Back on the river, we passed a waterfall called “Vasey’s Paradise” and some interesting sandstone formations.

hike ruin
Vasey’s Paradise

 We stopped at the famous Redwall Cavern that appears in so many photos.  It’s the giant amphitheater that Powell said would hold 50,000.  He may have exaggerated a lot, but it was an amazing place.  Paul explained how solution caverns form and Rick showed us ant lions.  Some folks tossed a Frisbee.

Sue redwall
ant lion
Ant lion tunnels

We had lunch at a smaller amphitheater a little farther downriver. 

D and J
mike, s, b

The water was mostly still, so we cooled off in the hot afternoon with a water fight.  Then we took a nice hike up to Redbud, another type of amphitheater with a pool surrounded with smooth red walls. It was sort of like being inside a giant pottery jar. Kris and Lisa climbed up the back wall a ways.

hike sue
If you look about halfway up, you can see Kris and Lisa

 We camped after President Harding Rapids at Eminence.  We saw a mule deer and a spiny desert lizard.  We saw many, many whiptail lizards the entire trip, but not many of other species.  A few of us (Herb, Chambliss, Jim, Malcom, and I, led by Paul and Chuck) took the hike to the top of Eminence, which Lew had described as a “death march.”  Paul and Chuck wisely waited until we would get some shade, we wet ourselves down, and it wasn’t all that bad.  It was strenuous and the trail was rough, but it wasn’t all that long.  The view was amazing and well worth it.  I was glad I had a trek pole. 




Sue came to meet me and ran into a cactus and got many spines in her shin.  I pulled them out and she healed up okay.

 We had shrimp stir-fry for dinner and Amy made excellent gingerbread.  The cream cheese frosting was good too.  It took me a long time to fall asleep, but I had the bonus of seeing a Peromyscus on a late night water reclamation project.  The moon was bright, but we couldn’t see it directly, just the reflection on the canyon wall.


Day 4

Anothe fairly quiet water day.  Shortly after we started, we had a hike up Saddle Canyon.  It was steep and hot at first, as usual.  Then we wrapped around into the side canyon.  This eventually less us into cool shade where everything was green and orange.  There were many mesquite and a plant that looked like holly.  We did a bit of wading.  There was some scrambling over a large, slick boulder at the end.  It was worth it for the amazing little waterfall that fell into a pool. Most of us took a dip to cool off for the trip down.  With more light in the canyon, all of the colors were different.  When we hit the sunny part, the temperature went up about 20 oF.  It was rather hot and windy.  Those who had opted out of the hike had to move their umbrella to avoid it blowing over.  Lee did a beautiful watercolor.  The wind kept up and it was a hard 5 mile row for the boatmen.

Saddle Canyon

 We camped at lower Nankoweep.  There was an active woodrat nest near our camping spot.  Many of us took a hike up to the ancient granary up near the cliff top. Native people apparently stored corn in places like these to protect then from rodents. A couple of other tours were there, one or two before us and one after.  I climbed up to the top of the trail, but the last little scramble of the face was a little too exposed for me.  Some guides there from a brewery trip invited us to stop by for some free beers.  We took them up on the offer.  They had many cases worth.

granary view
View from granary hike

 We had a nice salmon dinner with a delicious dessert that was like a giant cinnamon bun.  I had two helpings.  Then Allen was going to toss out the last one, so I ate that too.  As a public service.


Day 5

Another day of fairly quiet water.  We had an excellent side trip to the Little Colorado River.  It was a beautiful blue and warmer than the main river.  We walked up along the ledges and played in the water.  There was a great little chute for floating.  Some folks wore their PFDs diaper-style to avoid a rock, but if you just picked up your butt, it was fine.  Of course, after that, two or three waves smacked you in the face.  It was a blast.  I went 4 or 5 times.  Sue carried my fanny pack so that I could float most of the way back to the boats.  There were squirrels hanging out under the ledges.  Bonus.

Little Col
Little col
little col
Lttle Col

 We saw some female mergansers back on the big river.  There were some small rapids.  The morning was overcast and I actually got a little chilly and used my spray shirt.  We were about to run Tanner when another boat signaled for a stop.  Lew had to row hard to back out.  Turned out that it was just for a pit stop.  Lunch was in a really hot area.  I put up a sarong for some shade.  Others huddled by the wall.  This area is known as the Furnace Flats because it is so exposed to the sun.  Paul gave us a great explanation of changing shorelines, illustrated with rocks.

 We ran some more small rapids and camped at Cardenas when it was still really hot.   We hung out in the water.  I washed my hair for the first time on the trip.  There were a lot of helicopters flying around.  A few of us took a final dip in the water, then took off on a hike.  Lew set a pretty fast pace at first.  I really liked the dark red rocks.  We went around the back of a hill to an overlook that showed us two rapids we’d run the next day.   The big one in store was Unkar.  Nearby, at the canyon bottom, was a site of an ancient village.  We could see a natural arch on the wall opposite us.  We climbed to the top of the hill to see an old ruin and speculated on its purpose.  I lean toward it having been a watchtower.  There were woodrat nests in the wall.


 We had our campsite in a little grove.  Something there peed on the sleeve of Sue’s shirt while it was hanging up.  When the sun finally went down, it was actually a nice camp. 

 I felt fine after the hike, but instead of drinking a lot of water, as I should have, I drank a Mike’s harder lemonade.  I also stuffed myself at dinner, which was delicious.  We had pork loin, applesauce, stuffing, vegetables, and peach cobbler.  I had a lousy night as a result.  


Day 6

 Some of us were also nervous about the big rapids after 2 quiet days.  Four people opted to ride the mother ship.  I was still feeling a bit sick and skipped the sausage and egg muffin sandwiches in favor of a cup of tea.  By the time we were ready to leave I was able to think about eating again.  We asked to ride with Paul, but they decided to do some arranging, and we didn’t qualify for Team Muav.  Sue ended up on the Temple Butte with Doc, while I was with Lew on the Vishnu.

It was a big day for rapids and they were a blast!  As soon as we got into Unkar, I wasn’t nervous anymore.  We were more serious about keeping the boat trim.  We scouted Hance rapid.  It was big and tricky, requiring quick changes in direction.  After that, the rapids were pretty fast and furious.  We could see the Desert View Watchtower.

 We moved into some of my favorite rock formations; black Vishnu schist shot through with pink Zoroaster granite.  Just before our lunch stop, we saw two female bighorn sheep.  We were in a nice amphitheater for lunch.  My sleepless night caught up to me and I spent the time on either side of lunch dozing.  I heard that Paul gave a great talk about rocks that suture together after long periods of time vibrating together. 

 The mother ship stopped at Phantom Ranch, but we kept going.  We saw the trails and bridges, but no mules.  We ended on Horn Creek Rapid.  This was a really tricky one.  It looked like we might hit the wall, and an oar came out of the lock briefly, but Lew got us out.  It was fun and exciting.  We camped above Salt Creek.  It was pretty crowded and quite hot.  The walls were close together and radiating heat.  The hike to the commode was particularly long and rocky.

Suddenly, it's tent city

I took a brief walk up a slot canyon.  It was in the shade, but still hot.  We all lolled in the shade and water, hydrating.  About this time, I noticed what I thought was a blister between my toes [foreshadowing].  There were clouds, so lots of folks put up tents.  We helped, but didn’t put up one of our own.  I figured that since our stuff was in dry-bags, we could just put our bedding into bags until we could get under cover.  Jane said we could share her tent.  I was lying on my pad when an ant ran across my face.  I brushed it off and it went down my top and bit me.  It was one of the red ants we’d been warned about.  Mike gave me some stuff to kill the sting. 

Hot winds were blowing, so I didn’t even unpack my sleeping bag.  I was so tired that I had no trouble sleeping, despite the heat. 


Day 7

We had potato pancakes for breakfast, then hit the river for a full day of rapids.  It was overcast all day. In Hermit Falls, we nearly flipped, but Doc put the stern into the wave. The Muav flipped.  Sue saw it go up a big wave, then tip back over.  Everyone got out, but Amy got smacked on the side of her head.  James grabbed her as she was a bit stunned.  Jeremy got washed downriver and we tried to pick him up in the Temple Butte, but he just kept swimming until he was able to swim back to the Muav. He was determined to help his team. James got the straps loose and got on top of the boat and the team got it back upright.  We stopped just downriver to make sure everyone was okay.  The swim team was feeling nostalgic for the sunny days.  Amy developed a real shiner, and was cold, but after about an hour, we hit the river again.  Amy went back on the Muav.

post tip

Team Muav recombobulates
post tip
bright angel

 We had lunch above Crystal Rapid and scouted it.  This rapid has the most fatalities.  We didn’t get to do it.  We climbed up to watch some motorized rafts go through, but it didn’t look all that exciting.  A private group went through and did well.  We had a sort of complex procedure to get us back on our boats.  We stood in the water on the far side for a while.  Lou and Doc ran the rapid.  We caught their boats and hopped in.   Then we ran the lower rapids and waited in an eddy for a long time.  Malcolm rode with Paul.  The missed the turnout, so Team Muav had to hike back to the mother ship.  We stopped to get everyone back on the dories, then ran the “Gems.”  Between Serpentine and Bass, we came on the private group that had gone through Granite with their beer bag out.  One of their rafts had flipped, and they went through a couple of rapids that way.  They got the flipped boat tied up, but were too tired and inexperienced to right it.  We pulled in to a shallow area just below them and Lew got them organized and got them back on their way.


This private group flipped their blue raft and needed help.
Note Mike in the background.  He climbed up to video the righting of the raft.
The dishwashing setup

 We saw a metal boat that had been abandoned by filmmakers back in about 1915.  They started with two.  They used anchors to slow them in the anchors.  They sank one, then punched a hole in the other.  They hiked out.  We saw a bunch of helicopters.

 We camped at mile 110.  There was a nice long beach and lots of space.  I washed out some clothes and washed up.  Dinner was steak and potatoes, with German chocolate brownies for desert.  There was lightning in the night on the rim.  Sue wanted to set up a tent in the middle of the night. I helped, but slept outside where it was cooler.  My right foot was really bothering me.  It hurt to put my Keens on.


Day 8

 Lew said I had athlete’s foot.  He gave me some cream for it.  Of course, keeping your feet clean and dry is important, but also pretty difficult on the river.  We saw barrel cactus for the first time. They can do with very little water, but can’t handle frost or too much water.  They have moved 7 or 8 miles upstream in the last hundred years due to global warming.  Chuck told us about a former Evergreen student who had taken a river trip.  She died young and her mother asked that her ashes be scattered in the river.  Her mother also established a fund to allow a low-income student to attend the Evergreen trip for free each year. 

 We had a bit of rain, but it wasn’t a problem since it’s so warm.  We did a couple of good rapids.  Waltenberg was fun.  We saw an abandoned asbestos mine.  It’s considered too big a health hazard for visits, but the miners who worked there with no protection lived into their 80s.

We had a bit of a scramble up to Elves Chasm waterfall.  This was a beautiful site.  Sue, James, Lisa, Jeremy, Herbert, Jim, and Amy jumped off the waterfall into the pool.  I wasn’t brave enough for that, but did swim over to go up behind the falls and look.  It was all green with ferns and moss.  Paul gave us a geology talk.

Elve's Chasm.  James is waiting to jump

 We had lunch at mile 120 and camped at Blacktail.  We took a hike up Blacktail Canyon.  Paul showed us the “Great unconformity” where a billion years of rock are missing.  We hiked further up until the way was blocked.  I was hobbling pretty badly on my fungus foot.  Jim started having problems too.  Lew was talking about a hike at Red Deer the next day.  I showed him my toes and he looked pretty shocked.  I heard later that it was the worst case he’d seen.  He suggested that I ride the mother ship, but I wasn’t interested.  I just started taking of my shoe in the boat and putting my foot up on the deck to air dry. We had a slightly cooler night.



Day 9

We had some great rapids.  Spektor was interesting because it was very technical.  It didn’t look too dramatic, but avoiding the rocks was a real job for the boatmen.  We got drenched in Dubendorff.   We saw the “Owl Eyes” rock formation.  We camped across from Deer Creek Falls and could see part of the falls from our camp.  It was scorching and Sue and I made a cabana to get out of the sun.  We were ferried over to the falls by the mother ship after lunch.  We climbed over and through some rocks and when we got to the base of the falls, I was amazed by the noise, mist, wind, and power.  I should have expected this because of their height.  It was really phenomenal.  A still photo does not do justice to the Deer Creek Waterfall, so here's a video. A lot of the group wet down and took off on the hike.  The rest of us sat in the shade by the falls.  I cracked open my book for the first time. 

 A few other groups showed up while we were there.  One was on a “creation tour.”  That must have been interesting.   My feet were doing better, but I was trying to keep both feet and my butt dryer.  This didn’t stop me from going into the pool a few times. 


Lisa and Angela chilling at Deer Creek Falls

 Back in camp, someone spotted a rattlesnake.  Everyone wanted to see it, and some folks were worried, so they had to put it in a bucket overnight.  In the morning, Allen was taking off the lid when it slipped and his hand went in.  He pulled it out rather briskly.  The snake was fine.  Amy spotted a hummingbird.

 A USPS boat stopped briefly, but they didn’t inspect the camp.  GCE is good about following all policies, so it wasn’t a big concern. 

 The night actually got cool enough to get inside the sleeping bag at one point.  I slept well.


Day 10

 It was a hazy day and we saw many sundogs.  We did Doris, Kanab, and Fishtail rapids in the morning.  Upset was less hairy than usual due to high flows.  The high water also made it tricky to land and unload the dories at Havasu.  We tied up in a flooded slot canyon, then walked across boats to get to the stone ledges.  We hiked up a ways to a beautiful series of blue pools.  Some of us hung out at Big Kids’ Swimming Hole.  Others went up to the Champagne Bowl.  It was a bit crowded at first.  The GCE 8-day trip was there, along with others.  We sat in the pools for a bit, then the other groups left and some of us moved up onto a big shady ledge about 12 feet over the water.  I stayed up there, reading and napping for a long time.  The whole canyon had been blasted out by a flash flood a few years back, but a lot of greenery had recovered.  We really lucked out on the azure water of the side canyons.

Sundogs and a window

Note that we are wearing our PFDs on the ledges

See how close this raven got to my feet

 We camped at Second Chance, not too far down river from Havasu.  It was much more spacious than Lew had suggested, but it was a bit of a rocky climb to the commode.  It was actually shady.  We all noticed how red the water had become.  There must have been rain in a side canyon. 

 Everyone seemed tired and we spent a while sitting on gear bags recounting old SNL sketches.   Doug and Paul both fell asleep in their chairs.  I woke up a couple of times in the night, but was too tired to open my eyes and enjoy the stars.  It got cool enough to use the sleeping bag.


Day 11

 The water was much less silty.  It must have been a small storm.  We had a fairly quiet morning, though we got drenched once.  Sky was overcast.  We saw a black-crowned night heron.  We had lunch at Red Slide.  Sue made a masterful landing exit in water that was deeper than she thought.  Some folks were nervous about Lava Falls Rapid.  It is the most dramatic rapid on the river As we approached Lava Falls, we passed the famous Vulcan’s Anvil, then we could start to hear the rumble.  The waves looked huge and there was a really big hole in the middle that is famous for causing boats to “windowshade.”  I was a little nervous, but excited.  Waiting was the hard part. Here we are contemplating the upcoming rapids: Clip 1 and Clip 2. We watched the mother ship go down the right side with Angela clinging to the line and flattened on the gear.  We finally went down the left side.  Lew went first, then us.  We dropped into the swells and were hit with a huge wall of water, then a smaller one, then a series of waves that Doc hit just right.  It was extremely fun and over too soon.  All of the other boats had good runs too.  We pulled over to watch and celebrated when all were through safely.   A member of Team Muav mooned us.

 We set up camp at the bottom of Lower Lava Falls.  It was quite early, so the boatmen had a chance for some well-earned relaxation.  I washed some clothes and put on dry things.  Jeremy and Malcolm put on a juggling exhibition.  Someone found a cool little lizard with a yellow head and black and white stripes. We had pulled pork fajitas, fresh salsa, and brownies.  It was rather hot and windy and some tents tried to blow away.  A few motor trips came through the rapids.  One came through rather late and the guests looked kind of cold and uncomfortable.


The commonde is hidden in these rocks


Doc and Vulcan's Anvil

Amy mentally prepares for Lava Falls

After the rapid

Team Muav celebrates a clean run

Sand, beautiful sand.


Day 12

We had pancakes, sausage, and fruit for breakfast.  The morning was quiet and some guests took turns at the oars.  Kris was dissing a small rapid and we got hit with a wave.  We saw helicopters exchanging passengers for Arizona River Runners at Whitmore Wash.  There was a lot of evidence of lava flows.  Lew told us the story of the burros, continued after lunch.  It was a hot day despite scattered clouds.  I made a little cabana.  Other folks hung out in caves, then put chairs in the water.  The afternoon stayed hot so we had another water fight.  It finally clouded up so that we could stop.  We camped at Granite Park around mile 209.  There was some thunder and lightning, so we put up our tent in a little grove.  There was some light rain in the afternoon, but it wasn’t chilly.  The river was really red.  Obviously there was rain upriver.  I think most of us were starting to feel as if our adventure were ending.

Colorado riviera

Day 13

 We had a series of rapids, though most were not big.  Diamond was fun.  Here's a video of Rapid 217. Notice how different the water looks. We stopped to see the high water mark from the 92,000 cfs flow in July of 1983. We camped above Bridge Canyon.  It was overcast, but we figured that a little rain was no big deal.  No one set up a tent.  Space was pretty tight.  Soon rain started.  Sue and I hung out by the cliff.  I wrapped my feet in rainpants.  Lee and Tom threw a tarp over themselves.  We just watched the rain.  It was warm, so it was comfortable, even as the rain kept coming.  It rained harder.  Then the thunder and lightning came.  The water coming off the rocks was actually warm.  Water started flowing so we moved our stuff and other folks’ stuff to higher ground.  Then we made canals to direct the water.  It was actually fun. Eventually it stopped.  Everything not in a dry-bag was soaked.   We all set up tents and put things out to dry.  Now we knew where not to set up.  My feet were getting bad again and Sues were about the same as mine.

 Lee collected tips and we had a little ceremony.  Lew expressed his appreciation and we expressed ours.  We had smoked clams and terra chips with our cheese and crackers, then had a steak dinner.  Unfortunately, the river ate our dessert. 

 The tent was a steam bath, so we ended up sleeping outside.  It didn’t rain again.  I didn’t sleep a lot, but I was comfortable and enjoyed my last night of stars. 

Diamond Peak

After the rain

Day 14

 We had a quick breakfast.  Sue and I asked to ride on the Muav.  We had a great run through Bridge Canyon rapid.  After that it was calm water.  We pulled over after a while to attach 4 dories to the mother ship.  We all climbed aboard.  Paul rowed the Muav downriver, then we caught up to him and he tied off to the stern.  We motored until the jet boat met us at about 0920, then transferred over.  We said our goodbyes, which were tearful for some.  The boatmen saluted us as we started downriver.  The jet boat went 50 mph at times.  The boatman swerved around a bit.  Sue thought he was going to hit the bank at one point and turned to look at him to see if he was still steering.  We saw lots of activity in the Hualapai area: helicopters, boats, etc.   Our guide pointed out the skywalk and the bat cave.  The ride was fun, but I think most of us had mixed feelings about leaving Grand Canyon behind, even if it meant dry feet and flush toilets.

On the Mother Ship

On the jet boat

 After about 90 minutes, we landed.  We emptied our ammo cans and tan bags into plastic bags and boarded another nice tour bus.  Our bus guide was headed to Las Vegas to take out another 8-day trip.  He gave us lunches.  We had a stop on the way so folks could get ice cream or other small items.  They didn’t have any anti-fungal cream.  Our driver was silent.  We were grateful.  We crossed the new bridge near Hoover Dam, but couldn’t really see the dam.

 Back at the hotel, we checked in, got our bags, and scattered for showers.  We saw some of the team in the evening and at breakfast and said our goodbyes.  Sue and I got a box at FedEx so that we could mail home knives, sunscreen, etc.  We could barely walk, our feet hurt so much.  We took a cab to Target to get Sue some things to wear home.  By then, dry feet and ointment had done their job and we could walk a little better.  We had fish and chips at Gordon Biersch and got a good night’s sleep.


Getting readjusted to life off the river was a little difficult.  Things seemed noisier, tackier, and less interesting.  Taking this trip was a great decision, and my thanks go out to all the folks at GCE and TESC who made it happen.



If you are planning a river trip, particularly one with GCE, this section may be helpful in preparing for your trip.

Sanitation | Equipment | Food | Boats and Trips


The most common questions we have gotten so far have been about how river sanitation is handled.  The regulations say that urine can go directly into the river, but solid waste and toilet paper must be packed out. Each time we made camp, the crew would unload a self-contained steel box containing the blue chemical used in porta-potties.  It was about  2 X 2 X 3- feet, and could be sealed with a cap for transport or fitted with a toilet seat for use.  There was actually a whole set of these.  We used each one for 2 or 3 days.  The commode was the last thing packed onto the mother ship in the morning.  A hand-washing station was set up on the way to the commode.  The user took the toilet paper from this area as an “occupied” cue.

Generally, we urinated directly into the river during the day.  For most women, this meant crouching in the water, preferably behind cover, or just getting into the water.  Men sometimes used the immersion method to be discreet, but most were not very shy about just turning their back, especially after a couple of days.  In camp, women also had the option of using a red bucket that was placed by the commode.  Some also took scuppers to their sleeping areas at night to avoid the trek to the commode.   

 I used a pStyle to allow me to stand up while peeing.  If you do international travel or outdoor sports, you need one of these.  No squatting in the water, no bare butt, no privacy issues.  Another woman had a competitor’s product, but it didn’t allow her to stand comfortably.  Other women wished they had pStyles.

 If one has to urinate on a hike, one is supposed to get as far from side creeks as possible.  For the big job, the guide carried a sanitation pack.  As I understand it, the waste goes in a bag with a chemical and this can be put in the commodes. 

 I believe that used “feminine hygiene products” are placed in ziptop bags that go into a separate waste container, but was lucky enough not to find out.  We were advised to bring bags for this purpose.

We had a separate hand washing station for cleaning up before meals and a 4-bucket system for sanitizing our dishes.


Equipment for River

We mailed our sunscreen, toothpaste, knives, and other non-TSA-friendly items to the hotel.  We didn’t check any bags.

 GCE provided each of us 1 gray dry-bag containing a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and a tarp, which we got on the river.  They also gave us an empty tan dry-bag for personal items, such as clothes (I didn’t take one, as I had a dry-bag duffel), a luggage tag, and a waterproof ammo can containing a nice mug that we could keep.  They gave these out the night before we left.  The gray and tan bags were securely lashed on the mother ship every morning.  The ammo can and daypack or fanny pack went into the hatches on the dory we rode in each day.  These were mostly waterproof and were secure, even in a tipped boat.

 We each left a small bag at the hotel containing things we didn’t need for the river.  They had a cart ready for this at 0400 when we showed up for breakfast.  When we got back, our bags were available almost immediately.

 My assumption is that every item I bring makes it harder to find what I need.  It also makes life more complicated and less enjoyable.  Having a light bag and being ready to go on time each morning are also nice gifts to your companions, who have to move your bags twice a day.


What I brought on the river:

Cash (The suggested tip range is 5-10% of the trip cost each.  This is voluntary, but is the norm.  It is the only source of pay for the swamper. The boatmen definitely earn the money.  Some spending money for bus ride is useful too.)

Drivers license, Visa (Just to avoid leaving them in storage at the hotel.  Kept my wallet in a ziptop bag inside a waterproof box in my dry-bag)

Extra glasses and case, glasses retainer

Camera (Sony cybershot), SD cards (I used about 12 GB, but brought more) & 4 extra AA lithium batteries (didn’t need them)

Waterproof camera case by DiCAPac (Allowed me to use a non-waterproof camera even in the rapids and kept the sand out.  The only drawbacks were that I had to make sure the lens was lined up right and that it made it more difficult to see the screen)

Book (After the fungus foot, I had to miss a couple of long hikes, so it was nice to have a book to read)

Rite in the Rain Notebook and pen (It’s amazing what you forget if you don’t take notes.  Several people, including Sue, bought river guide books and took notes in them)

2 Bandanas (too many uses to count)

Sarong (I didn’t intend to bring this, but luckily Katie talked us into them.  I used it as a towel, threw it over bushes to make shade, wet it down and put it over my legs in the dory, used it as a privacy screen, used it as an extra sheet, etc.  Some women used it as a skirt or top.)

Fanny pack for day use and hikes

Dry-bag duffel instead of tan bag provided by GCE (The GCE bags were fine, but mine opened from the side, so it was easier to access stuff.)

Head lamp and flashlight

Small Camelback water bottle,Vapur folding water bottle, Aquafina water bottle (bought on the way, at Lew’s suggestion)

Folding trekking pole (saved my knees on the steep slopes)

Binoculars (didn’t use much)

Playing cards

Silk bag liner

Waterproof box and bags to organize and protect items in dry-bag.  Using different styles and textures made it easy to find things.

Swiss army knife

Emergency whistle and light


Stamped postcards to mail from Phantom Ranch

Keen sandals (These were very popular, but tended to hold water.  Worked well for hikes.)

Beach shoes

Waterproof jacket and pants

Splash shirt

Longsleeved rashguard shirt

2 hats with broad brims and retaining cords

4 pr underwear, Ex Officio and other fast-drying

2 pr light wool socks (one Smartwool, one 6 Point)

1 pr Teko socks

1 pr REI shorts/pants (convertible)

3 Orca tri tanks (much better than 1-piece swim suit)

Cotton T and Boxers for sleeping

2 pr shorts (nylon)

3 T-shirts, poly

1 long-sleeved shirt

1 short-sleeved shirt

Fleece shirt

Wool bike vest

Long john pants

Light sweats

Tie for last night

Toothbrush/paste, chapstick, comb, floss, camping soap, tampons & 8 1Q Ziplocs, handwipes

Meds (Ibuprofen,  benadryl,  migraguard, immodium)

Backpacking towel

Sunscreen (Coppertone sport, 8 oz bottle and small stick to use during the day) Sunscreen with bug repellant (4 oz).  (I still had plenty left.)

pStyle (No crouching in the water for me)


What I should have brought:

1 or 2 larger biners for attaching water bottles to boat lines

A few yards of parachute cord for drying items

Another pair of convertible shorts/pants instead of shorts

Waterproof bag instead of ammo can

2 1-quart water bottles that could be attached with biners.  The containers I had gave enough capacity, but weren’t as convenient as they should have been.

A tube of anti-fungal cream


What I should have left behind:


One of the poly T-shirts

Two of the nylon shorts. 

Playing cards

Wool bike vest

Long john pants

Light sweats

Coleman waterproof bags.  These fell apart easily.  Ziptop Freezer bags would have been cheaper and better.  The Outdoor Products and Granite Gear bags I had, and the Sea to Summit bags Sue had performed great.


Never used, but good to have:

Extra hat and glasses

Fleece shirt

tampons & 8 1Q Ziplocs

Extra AA lithium camera batteries.  I shot about 12 GB of stills and video and my batteries are still good.

Emergency whistle and light



 The food was good and plentiful.  Before sunrise a conch shell called us to coffee.  A table was set up with coffee, hot water, tea bags, hot chocolate mix, instant oatmeal, sugar, and condensed milk.  About a half hour later, breakfast would be called.  There was usually a breakfast meat and either eggs, pancakes, or French toast.  On a couple of mornings we had oatmeal.

 Lunch was usually some variety of sandwiches, including deli meats, cheese, tomatoes, olives, pickles, sandwich fillings, Pringles, and cookies.  Often there was some candy, such as licorice and Tootsie Pops.  The guides had trail mix.  Basically, there was never a reason to be hungry.

 Dinners included meat, vegetables, salad, and a Dutch oven dessert.  We had things like steak, spaghetti, salmon, pork loin, and shrimp stir-fry.  We usually had a pre-dinner snack like crackers and cheese.

 We helped load and unload the kitchen and washed our own plates, but otherwise didn’t have any work to do at mealtimes. 


Boats and Trips

 We were in 5-person dories; one boatman and 4 guests.  Everyone moved around so that we rode with a different group every day.   Four were “foam boats,” apparently fiberglass on a wood frame.  Lew Stieger, our trip leader, rowed the Vishnu.  Mike Denoyer, owner of GCE, rowed the Bright Angel. Chuck rowed the Zoroaster, and Doc the Temple Butte.  Paul Butler, geologist, rowed the aluminum Muav.  The aluminum boats have the stern seat facing aft, so passengers usually sat up on the stern deck.  Allen captained the mother ship, a very large rubber raft with side pontoons and a motor.  Almost all of the gear went on it.  Allen was assisted by Malcolm the swamper, who sometimes piloted the mother ship. 

Guides start their day at 0430, heating water for breakfast.  After the boats are tied up for the day, they get set up for dinner.  A boatman who is not on dinner duty may then take a break on his boat to organize gear and relax.  After dinner clean-up, the scheduled work day is over, but there still may be things to do.  We all respected our boatmen and how much expertise, hard work, and long hours are required.

Our trip was 14 days long and went from Lee’s Ferry below the Glen Canyon Dam to Pearce Ferry, above Lake Mead and Hoover Dam.  This is pretty standard for a rowing trip.  The river moves about 5 miles an hour.  The boatmen add a bit to this.  However, the trip isn’t about speed.  We took several side trips.  There are some hikes that most trips take, but guides pick and choose stops, camps, and hikes based on conditions and what other trips are doing. The motor trips take eight days to do the same route we did.  People seemed to be having a good time on these, but the rapids just don’t look too exciting on the big motor rafts.  I’m really glad we did the dory trip.

 Other companies also do partial tours with people hiking in and out at Phantom Ranch, or taking helicopters in and out a couple of days before the end of the run.  This seems like it would really disrupt group dynamics.

 Private groups can also enter a lottery to get permits.  Some groups wait ten years to get theirs.  Other groups apparently get one every year.  I’m not sure how they game it.  The private groups we saw included one team that didn’t seem too experienced and another team that seemed like pros.


Quotes and Moments

I hope that some of these memories will give you a chuckle.

 Suebob (in hotel room): Oh no, was I not supposed to drink the water? [It’s fine as long as it’s not the $3.50 bottle]

The Grand Canyon Experience souvenir shop had 1 kind of post card, hidden behind a toy slot machine, that it took us 3 or 4 clerks to find.

Dan the bus driver entertained us at 5 a.m. with stories of aliens, marital woes, poisonous flowers, and play-by-play commentary on the traffic.

“What happened to our water?”  [They took it off the bus in Utah]

Jim: The Target is 9 tenths of a heat stroke from the hotel.

Chuck: The stern is great for people who like to get wet.  The bow is great for people who love to get wet.

Other group scrambling to watch us go through Soap Creek Rapid…"People don’t go to NASCAR to watch the cars go around; they go for the crashes”

Jeremy: I was the only person on the [tipped] boat that didn’t have a head wound.

Jeff: I couldn’t get back in the boat because I had Jim’s shoe in my pants.

Seeing the beaver

Anvil by Acme

Lew: The Joe Cool way to do this…

Lew: The only way to survive in this hot, stinking desert is to get wet.

Lew: That’s my story.  And I’m sticking to it.

Scrambling up and down the ledge at Saddle Creek.

Jean cleaning area at landing on day 2.  Becky: You’re even washing it. 
Jean: Now all I need is bacon and a pan to fry it in.

Mit Schlag

Lew got us all worried about proper shoes for the “death march” at Eminence, then Chuck showed up to lead it in his flip-flops.  Jim: If he ever shows up in boots, I’m staying in camp.

Glowing Frisbees

Lew: That’s just a bunch of geology stuff.

Paul lost second hat and had to row after it.

Sue: What kind of camera is that?
Jeremy: It's a BFC

Doc gives Lew dental care.

Free beer!


We got the call to stop just above the rapids and Lew had to row like crazy to back out.  Lew: We have to stay here til my chest pains stop.

“Is the sun going to stay up until it’s dark?”

Lew: Now we’ll start the E-ticket rides.  The emphasis is just going to be on living through it.

Stalker toad.

Day 6 after preparing for big rapids: Hey Lew, you’re dragging your anchor!

The yellow bag.  "JAMES!"

Just above Granite Falls, Becky to private group: You’re towing your beer bag!
Them: It just scrapes the paint off.
Becky [thinking about how it will act like a sea anchor]:  Have a good run!

Doc and Chuck both have stuck anchors on day 7.

Chuck (in pink shirt and black shorts): This is my Vishnu and Zoroaster outfit.

Lew on Day 7: We’re just going to concentrate on getting everybody through the next couple of days alive.
Later: I can’t believe I said that.  My mouth has a direct connection to my brain.

After Hermit: “We got some exciting safe rapids ahead.

Jim invents grasshopper cookies with peanut butter.

James: You’re an FJ!

Herbert becomes a cobbler

James:  People want to shorten my name to Jim.  I mean, it’s one syllable.

Jeff keeps trying to put his PFD on upside down.

Colorado Riviera

Rick found a scorpion in his gear

Jean found a whiptail lizard in her cup

Lew: Well, we have some medium size rapids and some…well, same old sh!t.

Mike: Are we pulling in here?
Lew: No, I just had my head up my @ss.

Allen, to creation tour boatman: How’s it going?
Boatman: I have a scar on my tongue.

Lew: I got out my new gloves last night, but it was dark and I was drunk, so I have 2 left ones.

Chambliss makes sure Mike doesn't leave the boat in the middle of the rapid.

We counted the number of ways Lew said we could die that day: Peeing on the ledge, falling in, flash flood, drinking the water, falling on the rocks…

Herbert’s expert toss of sunglasses to the private group at Havasu.

Lew: You’d better pee here.  If you don’t have to pee, you’re dehydrated.
James: And you’re going to die, so go ahead and take off your lifejacket.

Sue’s green Tootsie Pop: UFO on a stick.

Lew: They call that camp Last Chance.  We call the next one “You’re F-ing kidding me.”

 Darcie: I pictured myself going down the river like the Queen of the Nile.  I forgot about the rapids.

James entertains Ladyville

 Lew: So everything’s good.  Easy day tomorrow.  Oh yeah, there’s Lava Falls.  Maybe we’ll do a hike to prolong the agony of the wait.

Just above Lava Falls, Becky: Yeah, wet  that shirt down, Darcie.
Darcie: Shut up, Becky.

 Lew: Thank God for these clouds.

 Becky: We’re declaring this side the ladies room.  Gents go over there.
Someone with pStyle envy: Becky can stand somewhere in between.

 Rick and Lisa had the same hairstyle.

Allen read the great river stories

 Lisa investigates the mystery of the empty Sprite Zero cans.

 The story of the lobster and ice cream bombing.

 The world’s biggest toilet seat.

 Sheriff Armadillo.

A few more from Kris:

Not just millipedes I hear, but millipede sex!

Chambliss also kept Paul in the boat one day too!  He is the ultimate man to have in the stern.

Mike's HARDER lemonade.  No wonder I felt so drunk.

Amazing meteor in the night sky,  time enough to gasp, point and have someone else see it too.

Lisa "Can I have a massage?"

The image of Allen scooping out the wet chocolate cake and sacrificing it to the river.  Oh how I wanted that cake.

"BAG LINE!"  always repeated by Becky. ;)

And from Lee:

"We are highly trained professionals..."

Last update 8/26/2011 by Becky Burton