Tips For Planning Grand Canyon Raft Trip
This is only my third time going down the Grand Canyon, so I’m by no means the authority on planning Grand Canyon trips. I do have some experience, however, so I figured I’d share some of my tips and advice for planning for a recreational Grand Canyon rafting trip.
Watch YouTube Videos of Major Rapids
One major aspect of planning for a Grand Canyon trip is watching the videos of the rapids. If you’ve never ran the river before, this will show you what to expect. You’ll see which lines are clean and which ones cause flips. Even knowing left run vs right run can be great.
If you have some idea of the water level, try to find the videos of similar CFS. Rapids will be different at different water levels and I’ve found that the Grand Canyon is a little rowdier at lower water levels. Also try to find the most recent videos as possible. Rapids change, rocks move and new events will drag fresh debris into the water.
Taking Gear Vs Renting Gear
I have never rented gear for a Grand trip, outside of an extra PFD we had to rent because apparently US Olympic Team PFDs aren’t acceptable as they’re not coast guard certified. It’s possible to rent all the boats and even purchase the meals already packed up in coolers.
I’m living in Durango, Colorado, so we’re within driving distance of the putin. If you were on the East or West Coast and flying out, renting boats and gear might make more sense.
I’ve heard of people from our area renting the packed coolers for the convenience aspect, and they’ve always had nice things to say. I’m not the richest man in the world, so I would prefer to save the money and collaborate on meals instead.
Taking Cooler vs Dry Food
I am not a picky boater. I’m fine with eating peanut butter for lunch. It doesn’t spoil and you can eat on the boat. For breakfast, I’m fine with oatmeal and I’m just as not picky about dinner. Because of this, I’m more partial to making it a dry trip. This can easily be done with dehydrated food, which also packs down smaller. Canned foods work great as well, and produce and cheeses can be kept fresh through the concept of evaporation refrigeration.
If the trip is taking coolers, it’s highly recommended that the cooler is filled full of water and froze. I would highly recommend precooking the bulk of the food and vacuum sealing the bags. The vacuum sealed bags will be waterproof and can easily stack well. The meals should be arranged in order, with the last meals being on the bottom. The coolers that get opened last should not get opened until meals have to be taken out. This will keep things nice and cool. If everything works out perfectly, you should be chipping ice from meals and can use that ice for mixed drinks or other beverages.
I would suggest keeping beer in separate coolers or dry bags, mesh bags, ect. than the meals. This will prevent heat from getting in everytime somebody reaches in for a drink. Besides, the coolers should be filled full of ice, leaving no room for beer.
Make Sure Boats Are Secured At Camp
Remember that the dam releases fluctuate and the water levels will fluctuate with it. The eddies on that river are also surging. A boat that might be pulled up on shore during the evening, could end up in the violently surging eddy in the morning. Even a boat that’s staked down might get pulled out into the current if it’s not staked down good enough.
There’s a story of an Avon that ghosted itself through Lava. The boat wasn’t properly secured at camp and floated away during the night. My father’s trip leapfrogged with them that day and was asked to keep an eye out for the boat and eddy shop for any gear that might have been lost from it.
My father’s trip ran into them at Tequila Beach and at that point they had yet to recover anything. My dad’s girlfriend at the time made a joking comment about how “The boat’s going to be eddied out somewhere, just fine”. Sure as shit, they turn the corner of Tequila Beach and there’s the Avon eddied out. The oars are still tucked and there’s a farmer John wetsuit still neatly folded over the front of the boat. I really wish there was a GoPro recording the phantom line through Lava. I’d love to see what lines the ghosts take.
Just because that boat ended up okay, don’t expect your boat to have as good of lines. Make sure it’s secure. You don’t want to lose an entire rig. Do the buddy thing and inspect the other boats in the trip. You never know when someone might have had a few too many while on the water and neglects securing the boat down in the proper fashion.
Don’t Be Condescending Towards Others
Every Grand Canyon trip I’ve been on, it seems as though it’s always factioned into two groups. The first trip it was the ‘partiers’ and ‘responsible people’. the second trip it was the ‘boaters’ and ‘kayakers’. On the first trip, the responsible people were real condescending towards the party people. On the second trip, the kayakers were incredibly stuck-up towards the boaters. It was almost like we were their mules and only on the river to carry their gear.
This kind of attitude never helps and only causes animosity. It’s also a great way to never get invited on another Grand trip again. Remember that there’s always going to be group dynamics and not everyone is going to agree. Try to find compromises when possible. It’s highly advised to try to consider group dynamics before getting on the river and arrange a trip that you know will all get along. I have faith that this trip will be animosity-free.
Mad Cat Is The Best Hike Ever!
Matkatamiba Canyon (AKA “Mad Cat”, “Mad Kat”, “Mat Kat”) is the single best hike on that entire river in my opinion. Do not miss it. It’s a hard eddy to recognize and catch, so plan for it the day before. The eddy is a canyon you rowe into on river left. Mad Cat is a hike up a creek inside a canyon box. You can either hike through the water, or do some insanely fun chimneying through the creek.
Diamond Creek Vs Pearce Ferry
Diamond Creek is the first takeout, and the Hualapai charge $60 per person to take out there. The alternative is to float a day or two further to Pearce Ferry. If you go to Pearce, you’re going to be rowing through Lake Mead. It’s an ugly, silty trip and you lose the canyon, which adds exposure to the sun.
Many people barge up and do a midnight float if going all the way down to Pearce. There’s no rapids on the stretch and you’re not missing much as far as scenery. We’ve never done the barge float before and this will be our first attempt.
The reason people opt to pay the $60 per person instead of going further is to free up an additional day on the river. By taking out early, a trip could have an extra layover day while still completing the river in the same timespan. This could enable extra hikes not possible if the trip was going all the way to Pearce.
I’m no millionaire, so I’d prefer to save the sixty bucks and just float to Pearce. The midnight float sounds like the best option to me and I’ll be curious about how it turns out.
A few years ago there was a monster toilet bowl rapid right after the takeout. It’s disappeared one year but I’ve heard rumors it’s back. There’s a great story about commercial rigs getting stuck in that rapid. The outfitter providing the trip got the customers off the river at Diamond and had two guides float down to Pearce. The guides ate some mushrooms for the midnight barge and I guess it turned into a late night as they didn’t wake up in time. The two huge motor rigs ended up in the toilet bowl and the guides had to be helicoptered out. Needless to say they got fired.
Don’t be those guys. Don’t miss the takeout. Frying balls is acceptable as long as it doesn’t land you in the toilet bowl.
How Much Booze Should I Bring?
I guess that depends on how much you drink. I have always ran out of booze on that river. I don’t know how the hell that happened last time, but it did. I would highly advise bringing more than you need, and if you have to carry booze off the river, oh well.
Having extra booze can also provide some barter power. You might run into a trip that’s become a dry trip and be able to trade the excess for whatever else might be required (Maybe someone got a pack of cigarettes wet?). It can also be used to reward anyone know might have done some eddy shopping for you after a flip.
Going back to the first trip, when it became ‘partiers’ and ‘responsible people’, we ended up coming up on an entire 30 rack for the last two days of the trip. This was due to us being doubled up in a camp right above Diamond. We were going to Pearce and the other trip was taking out at Diamond. Since the next day was their last day and they had an excessive amount of beer, they just gave us the case. That really, really, really pissed the ‘responsible people’ off.
So, if you’re carrying extra booze, you could always be that awesome group that helps out a dry trip.
Scouting Rapids Vs Read and Run
What rapids to scout may greatly depend on the rafting experience of all the boats on the trip. It might also depend on the experience with the Grand Canyon. If there are people rowing who have never been on the river before, you might end up scouting a lot more.
If you do a lot of scouting, I would recommend trying to make it short and sweet. Spending a lot of time scouting every rapid can cut into time that could be spent hiking.
YouTube is a great tool to figure out which rapids should be scouted and which ones shouldn’t be. It’ll also teach you the lines which can speed up the time it takes to scout the rapids.
Crystal Is An Easy Right Run (Except For Doris)
Everyone always gets nervous about Crystal and for good reasons. There’s consequences about not hitting your line, but the right line is so insanely easy at the right water levels. That picture at the top of this post was taken on Crystal. As you can see, I’ve got the oars tucked while floating right past the hole. If you want, you can jump from eddy to eddy on the right bank. Obviously doris, which hate rocks, don’t have this luxury and will need to stay a little more to the center.
If you’ve got major anxiety about running Crystal, don’t. Save all that anxiety for Lava, Horn and Upset.
Filtering Water Vs Vasey’s, Tapeats and Deer Creek
Here’s an amusing story; The ‘kayakers’ on the second trip refused to pump water because they didn’t want to and felt that we ‘should have just carried enough water for the entire trip down from Phantom Ranch’. Like really? I guess that’s the mindstate when you don’t have to carry group gear or any of your gear for that matter.
I highly advise against carrying enough water down from Phantoms for the remainder of the trip. That’s just ridiculous.
There’s always been a debate on whether you need to filter the water from several locations. In my opinion, you don’t need to filter Vasey’s, Tepeats or Deer Creek water. I mean, c’mon now. That water jets out from the canyon wall! it’s been running underground for miles which is definitely a good enough filter. I have never gotten sick from drinking the unfiltered water and has never met anyone who’s gotten sick either. All the Grand Canyon outfitters I talk to say the waters fine although they still must filter it due to policies.
There’s something badass about drinking fresh water straight from the canyon wall.
I would also highly recommend drinking out of the creek river-left after Lava. If you’re taking the right run (most common) you’ll have to power to the other side of the river just to catch it. There’s not much of an eddy (if one at all, depending on water). I try to make it a point to drink directly from the spring as a “victory drink”.
There *ARE* Rapids After Lava
Wear your PFD. Don’t die. My first flip ever was in 209.
Protect Your Feet
Your feet go through hell on that river. There’s a strain of foot rot that’s unique to the Grand Canyon and not found anywhere else. The mixture of water, sun and silt will also do damage to your feet. It’s highly advised to take a pair of closed shoes and socks for use at camp. Bring lotions, aloe vera and other ointments to protect and heal. Bring sunscreen and avoid getting your feet burnt if possible. Try to keep your feet clean of silt and sand.
Rigging The Boat
This is something that’s going to vary boat to boat and trip to trip. It’s also obviously going to depend how many people are on the trip, how many boats among other things. I’ll go ahead and break down the rigging for the second trip, as I’ve got the photo handy:
(Jacks Plastic, by the way. Jack makes the best catarafts out there) I’ve got four huge drybags within the “cockpit” area of the cat. My main drybag and three kayakers. There is a mess area between the two front seats that’s not very visible. There’s an extra tube (glad I brought it and would recommend to any other cat), trash container, cooler and more dry bags in the mesh drop down. On the front of the boat is two groovers (check out that “Shitty PR” from all the stickers!) and two rocket boxes. The rocket boxes contain produce and cheeses and is covered by a burlap sack that is kept wet. That’s the evaporation refrigeration. On the back of the boat is the kitchen box and on top of that is four paco pads (also Jacks Plastic); three kayakers and mine.
Here are some different pictures at different angles (you’ll see why I’m glad I brought the extra tube):
As you can see, you can fit a lot of gear onto a tiny boat. This cat was fairly small for a Grand Canyon rig, in my opinion, but yet I was the gear boat and carried all the kayakers gear, along with my own. Don’t be concerned about not being able to rig everything onto the boat, you’ll be surprised at how much you can rig. I was even carrying dry bags full of firewood until it got burnt.
More gear will also equal more weight, which will help with punch power. Punch power is something you will definitely want on this trip.
Be Careful Of Surging Eddies
Now it’s storytime with that last picture 😉 That happened in some random gem. Actually, more like after a random gem. I tried to determine which rapid it was after the fact, but I don’t really keep up with the maps much.
The rapid itself wasn’t very noteworthy. The tube actually popped in the eddy down below the rapid. It surged me right into the canyon wall. Since I hit it at the side, all I could do is tuck my oar. It happened too fast to turn the boat and ferry away from the canyon wall. I slammed into it and saw the air shooting out from below the water.
Moral of this story: The eddies on that river are brutal; sometimes even more so than the actual rapid itself. This is especially true for kayakers who should watch out for the “helicopter eddies”. They’re like little whirlpools that will appear and disappear and get stronger further downstream. Eddies have been known to flip kayakers on this river.
Headlamps Could Save Your Life
Even if there’s a full moon out at night, bring a headlamp. There have been fatalities from people falling into the river at night.
“Ranger Rick” Can Arrest You
Nobody wants to miss out on the Grand Canyon because they’re sitting in jail. The ranger at the putin can arrest you. The last trip I was on, the ranger acknowledged that we were drinking while unloading and rigging and that he would pull over anyone moving the vehicle from the beach to the parking area 50 feet away.
Two rangers stayed there mugging us while playing with their light bars, just waiting for the opportunity to bust us. It turned into a waiting game standoff and we waited until they got bored or off duty. Even when they left, we went and scouted the road up above, making sure it wasn’t a trick and a trap.
What a waste of taxpayer money. Two rangers who stayed there mugging us just to arrest us all for DUI for driving an entire 50 feet. And people wonder why I hate law enforcement….
Google Drive To Collaborate On Trip
I’ve found that Google Drive is an excellent tool to help collaborate on trips. You can create a spreadsheet for meals, and a spreadsheet for gear and people. This will easily allow people to indicate what gear they’ve got for group gear and personal gear and to easily plan menus and schedule of meals. The spreadsheet for meals can be used to plan out cooler logistics if you decide to bring frozen food. Google Drive can also be used for photo and video sharing after the trip.
I’ve wanted to create a “River Form” using Adobe Livecycle, but have never gotten around to it. With Livecycle, you can create PDFs with typable fields, drop-down menus, check boxes and more. This can greatly help with planning. Personal questions can be added to get a better feel for group dynamics.