Rafting the Grand Canyon

May 29th

Last night while walking down a path in the dark, some creature jumping out of my way startled me. When I turned on my flashlight I saw a greenish gray toad. It had red-brown warts covering it and two large red-brown spots behind its eyes. The light also revealed many more toads both on and off the path. I kept my light on the rest of the time so I wouldn't step on any.

This morning was pancakes and bacon. I usually don't eat bacon but today I was hungry. I didn't want to eat more than one pancake. I had been having trouble eating too much lactose. It seems to show up at every meal, and is not always avoidable. I already had loose stools and more than one pancake was sure to do me in.

We stayed at Saddle Canyon this morning so we could hike a couple of miles up the canyon. Cacti and agave dominated the beginning of the hike. There were a couple of century plants in bloom, one right near the trail. Its stalk shot at least 8 feet into the sky. The stalk itself was only a couple of inches wide but the blooms that covered it went out five inches in all directions from the stem. The blooms themselves were small but they were in such profusion that from a distance the whole stem looked fuzzy yellow.

The hillside was also covered in Engelman Prickly Pear. On the way back they were blooming. Some of the plants had yellow blooms and some pink. The flowers were striking with vivid colors against the dull green of the plant. Some of these plants had on the youngest leaves what almost looked liked spines, but they were green and fleshy. They had the same distributions as the spines on the older leaves. We wondered if they were mature into spines later.

We saw many other cacti, some in bloom, hedgehog, barrel and probably some others. I wish I had brought a guide to the plants of the area, to find out what everything was. There was one little flower that grew on a plant that looked like ivy. The pretty purple flower looked like the flower of a snapdragon. These flowers grew down near the creek bed, as did both yellow and orange columbines.

There were some holly plants, or so they seemed to me but the plants were decked out for the desert. The leaves harder and the spines much more vicious than the ones that grow on my holly at home. The color of the holly was almost blue and there were little berries, some eaten with holes in them.

The beginning of the hike was a relatively speed rocky climb followed by little downhill into a shaded canyon. Further up the canyon we started following a stream, with real water in it. This was the first wet canyon hike we'd done yet. At the end of the hike the canyon narrowed into a small wash. We had to wade through the creek to continue up. The rock wall that was on either side was undercut and water seeped out. Small ferns and columbines clung to the rock near each seep.

We climbed over a boulder that was hard to get around with few handholds. The youngest of our group had no problem getting up but Alex who provided a foothold with his hand helped some of us up. The accessible part of the canyon ended right there with a twenty-foot waterfall and a four-foot deep pool at the bottom. There was not a great deal of water going through and moss clung to the rock that the water poured over. Joel said he went into the pool and under the falls before I got there. But he wouldn't go in again for a picture.

Too few handholds or too many?
Ben helped those of us who needed help get down. On the way down to camp the reflected light off the walls made all the rocks glow red-orange. It was an enchanting walk among the glowing red rocks.

We made it back to camp and shoved off at about 11:30. Luckily a short day was planned on the river. We were only going 5 miles down to Nankoweap. Some of the people are worried that all three spots will be taken (there are three camps at Nankoweap).

The raft trip down to camp was hot and lazy. The sun blazed down on the rocks. The redwall is slowly creeping farther up the canyon maybe a hundred or more feet up, but its presence still dominates the river corridor. Bright Angel Shale is now along the edge of the river. The shale is softer than the redwall and doesn't form a dominant wall but is eroded into slopes.

The night before last when we camped, the campground was not entirely empty. There was one lone camper hidden around corner who actually works for the U.S.G.S. He had been dropped off earlier, and was camping there by himself. Today, we just saw the U.S.G.S. boat pass by with him on board. One of our boats raced down river in hopes of getting our prime campsite before these guys catch-up. (Not that they seem to care much, they were more interested in taking underwater photos of the eddies that they passed).

We made it down to Nankoweap Canyon (mile 52) in not too long. The wind was calm. The lower campground was taken but the middle one was still free. The middle campground was very hot with very few tamarisk or mesquite, and for the first time in this trip, the conditions were very desert like. There were almost no clouds in the sky, and the sun was beating down strongly on the campground made of sand and rock. We spent a good deal of our time re-wetting our clothes in the river in order to keep cool.

View from up Nankoweap Creek
In this particular spot it was very beautiful, there were two side canyons right next to each other, which came in, and there was a large relatively flat area at the base of the side canyons with some short trees and lots of sand before the river. This was the site of the famous Anasazi granaries, the ruins up at the base of the redwall about 500 feet from river level. There was a trail that goes straight up to the graneries. But I am not sure whether we will attempt this in the high heat of the day. (Although the view from up there looking down canyon is supposed to be spectacular and one of the most photographed views of the canyon area.)

We ate a late lunch of tuna, cheese, onions, pickles and tortillas. I also had some cookies. Joel had the fruit rollups that were melted onto their plastic backing.

For an hour or two after lunch we vegged out on Dave's raft. He had a tarp rigged up as a sunscreen. During a few strong gusts I thought it might come down, but it never did. Later Joel and I took a sun shower to wash up and then used the tried and true method of using sand to wash our clothing in the river. Earl laughs at us for putting mud on our clothes to clean them, but it always works wonders and I use a heck of a lot less soap with this method.

When Dave and Earl headed out up Nankoweap, Joel and I followed trying to catch up. We had decided against the granary hike, which we both had done before, in favor of hiking up the creek. I had also done this before, but I had to pick something! Maddy wasn't far behind. Eventually we all caught up to Dave and Earl.

Century Plants
There were quite a few century plants along the way. Some were almost finished blooming, some already had seed pods. The creek itself was small, only a few feet wide, however the creek bed was very wide and it looked like it flooded regularly. We constantly dipped our bandanas into the creek to keep cool and occasionally dunked all our clothes in too. Walking up the stream was more fun then trying to stay on an almost nonexistent trail. It also allowed me to find pools of water to cool off in. We went up quite a ways. We stopped a bit past the fault line where the rock is uplifted and the lines of the rock are no longer horizontal but have turned vertical. Dave and Earl continued up looking for interesting rock formations, but Maddy, Joel and I headed back.

Joel and Maddy seemed concerned over the proper way to get back. I was more interested in the streambed. They discussed where they should be going up and I just kept playing in the stream. When we finally met some other members of our party hiking up, they were quizzed about how they got here. We eventually took one overland path, but it was not the same one as we took going up. We got back to camp at about 6:30 p.m., just before dinner.

Dinner was bratwurst, sauerkraut and salad. There were also mashed potatoes, but they had already added the milk so I stayed way from it. The brownies for dessert were yummy.

Joel on raft loading

The Rikens all decked out with gear
"Preparing our raft reminds me a lot of preparing an airplane for takeoff. But instead of crashing, everything on a raft is prepared for flipping. You have to imagine what would happen if the raft were upside-down floating down the river. You don't want to lose any of your stuff, so everything is lashed down carefully. In the raft which Daphne and I are riding, there is an aluminum frame which sits on top of the pontoons. All around the inside of the aluminum frame are specially designed fiberglass boxes, which rest on the frame. And are, of course, lashed down. In the rear compartment of the raft, we stuff all luggage. The luggage sits on the bottom and is piled high with a mesh webbing which goes over the whole thing and which is lashed down on all sides. In the front compartment, Daphne and I sit. There is plenty of room, and we usually sit on the side pontoons or the crossbeam pontoon facing front. The oarsman (Alex) sits on the boxes on the frame, up high. And uses two oars in oarlocks also mounted on the frame. He faces forward, which means that whenever he needs to truly power the raft he goes in backwards first. There are oars, spare oars, strapped to the side of the raft as well. And often hanging out the back or the front is a burlap sack containing cans of beer or soda being cooled by the river as we drift downstream."

The bathroom:

All solid waste in the canyon must be carried out, so we bring large rocket boxes to carry it all in. I've heard it called a million things but the most common names are the shitter, the crapper and the groover. We keep a red bandana on the path to the shitter. If the bandana is gone it means that someone is using it. It is one of the first things set up at every camp. And its location is usually one with a view of the river. Today's location is up on a bench overlooking the river. You can almost see it from camp since there is little foliage. Yesterday's location was, in my opinion not as nice. It was more private, but the river was not accessible. You can't pee into the shitter, because it would fill up too quickly. Liquid waste all gets dumped right into the river. We were told at the put-in to pee directly into the river. This keeps the canyon clean. And we won't discuss the state of the river . . . and where we get our water.

Joel - "The realities of the camp setup impose certain rhythm on everyone's bodies. Although we are supposed to have a day toilet, I have never seen it come into use. Instead, everyone is expected to adapt their bodies to the camp rhythms. They are given two chances, once in the morning and once in the evening to purge their souls. Heaven forbid they should get bad food during the day."

Upstream   Downstream
Photo Index | May 29th Photos

Grand Canyon | The People | Getting Ready | Leaving

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