From both Mary and me, many thanks again to the fine folks and staff at both Moki Mac and Small World Adventures for making our trip down the Colorado River an EPIC experience and one that won’t be forgotten for many years to come.
The following blog update was prepared and written by Mary Langford (Mrs. Whitewater) and was taken from her notes and journal entries that she kept along the way.
You will notice that we didn’t stop along the river to take photos running the many whitewater rapids along the way. However, I did have a helmet cam through a number of the fun whitewater sections. Below are two videos, one short one of just running Lava Falls and another one which lasts about twelve minutes that my friend, Brad Sanders, put together using the music from his band Jig Bone. Great job Brad…many thanks to him as well!
Best viewed if you change the YouTube setting to 720p HD quality. Enjoy!
Another great video from our trip was put together by Brent Laubaugh below:
Grand Canyon Kayak Trip – August 31st – September 13th, 2013
Day 1! We arrived at the ramp at Lee’s Ferry, an original 1870’s river crossing, happy to see that the Small World kayak group would be traveling with five small blue Moki Mac 18 foot paddle rafts instead of the huge ones with motors. After boarding the rafts and kayaks, and heading downriver under the Navajo Bridge, we quickly realized how deep and enormous the Grand Canyon really is and how small we were in relation to it. It didn’t take long to discover that the many side canyons that merge into the Grand Canyon, like Badger and Soap Creek, really muddied up the water and created all kinds of crazy rapids with waves going in every direction. Once we stopped at our first camp, a small one on the North Rim at Mile 19.2, we learned the “pack line process” of unloading the rafts. Soon we set up our tents, learned the proper “groover” (outdoor restroom) etiquette, and devoured a dinner of savory grilled salmon prepared by Jay, river guide and dinner chef. Darkness comes early in the canyon, so most of us were in bed by 8:00, especially after our early morning start and the excitement of the first day.
We awoke to the morning call of “Hot Coffee!” by Bruce, one of our Moki Mac guides and the breakfast cook. It was our daily signal to start getting up, breaking down camp, and preparing for the day. Hot mugs of coffee from the weathered “cowboy coffeepot” and glimpses of the morning sunlight creeping into the canyon, made a delicious breakfast of hot eggs fresh off the griddle, bacon, grits, oatmeal, and fresh fruit taste even better. About ten miles downriver, we took our first hike up into Shinumo Wash. On the way, we learned about the spectacular sandstone and limestone formations and the gorgeous white Sacred Datura, more commonly known as “moonflowers”, which burst open in the moonlight and last for only one day. Late in the afternoon, we took a few minutes to stop and dip our heads into the cool, clear spring water flowing in on the side of the river before heading to camp at South Canyon near Mile 32. After setting up camp on the beach, we enjoyed a delicious dinner of grilled chicken and a grill “campfire” under the enormous sky full of twinkling stars.
Our third day began with a stop at Redwall Cavern just a little over a mile downriver. Major John Wesley Powell, leader of the first expedition to explore the Grand Canyon in 1869, thought that this huge chamber carved out by the river could possibly seat up to 50,000 people. We soon learned that it was also a terrific place for a games of frisbee and had also been the site of several concerts by string quartets and other “less formal” musical groups traveling down the river. After viewing an ancient fossil imbedded in a rock near the entrance, we continued downstream through Marble Canyon and took a short walk up to see the remains Bert Loper’s boat and hear Larry, the former owner of Small World Adventures and our Moki Mac trip leader, share the stories of Bert’s adventures on the Colorado and fascinating tale of his final river trip. After lunch, we hiked up a narrow canyon and enjoyed a swim in a cool pool formed by a waterfall. We passed Saddle Canyon and stopped for the night at Lower Saddle Camp near mile 48. The evening began well with a jambalaya dinner, but the night brought a short rainstorm which send us scurrying to put the rainflys on our tents. As if the rain wasn’t enough excitement, a strong wind began to blow sending sand everywhere, blowing clothes off lines, and collapsing most of our tents. Eventually, the storm stopped, the tents were erected again and carefully staked down, and everyone settled back to sleep.
The next day began slowly as we assessed the damage from the storms the night before. Our tents, sleeping bags, clothes, and hair were full of sand and grit. The worst casualty that occurred was that Guy, owner of Small World Adventures and one of our kayak leaders, was so busy checking on everyone else’s stuff, that his own tent blew down the river. Fortunately, Larry noticed his tent washed up on the river bank just as we began paddling downstream. Liam, a Small World employee and one of our kayak guides, rescued it, but waited until evening to surprise Guy with the good news. We paddled down through Nankoweap Rapid to the Nankoweap Canyon where we took a hot, sunny hike high above the river to see the ancient Puebloan granaries and enjoy a stunning view of the next several miles of river. After lunch, we had a peaceful afternoon paddling on a quiet stretch of river and then came to Kwagunt Rapid, 60 Mile Rapid, and the flowing in of the Little Colorado River. Larry told us that it was usually a clearer turquoise color, but today it was just as chocolate-brown and muddy as the main river. We pulled into camp at Carbon Creek just below Mile 65. After enjoying the world’s largest grilled pork chops, fresh spinach salad, steamed broccoli, and pasta, we sat and talked under a brilliant canopy of stars and enjoyed a peaceful night of rest listening to river running past our beach.
After breakfast, some of the group left camp for a hike up into Carbon Canyon. It was a cool and shady walk to the back of the canyon, over the top of a rise, and down through an amazing notch canyon where we could see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the distance. Larry informed us that we could walk out of the canyon here and it would only take about 24 hours. No one took him up on his offer, though John considered it as his dreams of Las Vegas and a long, hot shower lingered in his mind. Later that morning, we took a short Park Service path through a hot, sandy beach area and up a dry hill to view some ancient Puebloan and Cohonina petro glyphs. We were rewarded with a terrific view down river toward Unkar Delta. Our afternoon paddle ended with Unkar Rapid. We camped just below it at Upper Rattlesnake Camp just above Mile 75. Fortunately, it did not live up to its name!
Our morning began with a series of big, fun rapids with continuous large waves, some with drops of 16-30 feet! Nevills (named for one of the first commercial river operators, Hance (after Captain John Hance- miner, rancher, storyteller and the South Rim’s first white settler, Sockdolager (an old timey word for a knockout punch), Grapevine, and 83 mile. We stopped for a canyon hike to a horizontal waterfall and relaxed in the sun for lunch on some of the oldest rock in the canyon, known as Vishnu Schist. The afternoon consisted of a stop at Phantom Ranch, the only development on the river, for fresh water, postcards, quick phone calls, snacks, drinks, and real restrooms. The Bright Angel Campground was not only full of campers, but also several deer snacking their way through it to the creek. David and I searched for one of his AT trail buddies, “Redman”, who was working in the Grand Canyon on a trail maintenance crew for NPS, but we discovered later that his crew had already left Phantom Ranch. The two of us reminisced about the our hike down the Bright Angel Trail 27 years ago, how we had watched the rafters from the bridge, and talked about how great it would be to kayak and raft down the river one day. It was exciting to realize that we were actually living our dream! Later, we conquered Horne Rapid and then stopped at Trinity Creek Camp just below Mile 92. After locating a tiny spot of shade to set up our tent in, we enjoyed a some hot soup and were privileged to hear Bruce share some poetry from Grand Canyon and Other Selected Poems, a book written by his dad, Amil Quayle, a former river guide and university professor. The canyon was slowly working its magic on us as we relaxed and enjoyed the stories of his dad’s and others past river trips. The calm moments didn’t last long because as the darkness fell, we were startled by a tiny nocturnal visitor. A little ringtail cat tiptoed right up to our chair circle looking for leftovers from dinner. This brave raccoon cousin was not the least bit afraid of us, as it scampered over and under our kitchen tables and ended up raiding our fruit supply during the night.
This day was filled with lots of exciting whitewater. The morning brought Salt Creek, Granite, Boucher and Crystal Rapids. We stopped to scout Crystal down a short grassy trail to an overlook. Katie and I were not at all disappointed to find that we had missed seeing a rather large rattlesnake on the trail! Later we ran Tuna, Lower Tuna, all the Gems- Agate, Sapphire, Turquoise, Emerald, Ruby, and Serpentine and on to Bass Rapid. We hiked to another beautiful waterfall up Shinumo Creek, then ran the Shinumo, 110 Mile, Kakatai, and Waltenberg Rapids. After a cool and rainy afternoon, we pulled in to set up camp on the hills at Upper Garnet Camp, Mile 115. The sun coming out at dinner time was a welcome sight. Bocce ball, grilled catfish, and laughing at Doug’s crazy stories of his guns and kids kept us entertained through the evening.
After traveling just a couple of miles downriver, we stopped to hike up to Elves Chasm. Here, some of our group enjoyed jumping off waterfalls surrounded by soft hanging moss and ferns into deep pools of fresh, clear water. Later, we took a walk into Blacktail Canyon to see where a waterfall had once been and learn about and see the Great Unconformity, a place where erosion in the canyon has removed many layers of rock. It was amazing to see and touch rocks that were billions of years old! We continued around a huge curve in the river through Fossil, 128 Mile, Specter, Bedrock, and Dubendorff Rapids. Dubendorff was the most fun ride of the day. We set up camp in the rain at Talking Heads, about Mile 133, and were relieved to see that Larry was happy to try out his new rain tarp. We huddled under it and enjoyed tasty enchiladas, black beans, and rice for dinner.
Not long after we put on the river, we stopped to hike up a hill into Deer Creek Canyon. On the way, we passed by Deer Creek Falls and were treated to a spectacular views of the river below. We traveled on a ledge through beautiful layers of Tapeats Sandstone and soon reached “the patio”, a beautiful wide open area of flat rock divided by a gorgeous clear stream and shaded by numerous cottonwood trees. This area was definitely my favorite spot of the canyon so far! We continued on up into the lush Surprise Valley to view another waterfall, splash in a small, cool, clear creek, and enjoy our peanut butter sandwiches reclining on amazing rock chairs in the “Throne Room.” The afternoon brought sightings of bighorn sheep, rain, a cool breeze, and ended at camp at Above Olo Camp, Mile 146, and nice evening celebration of Jeanne’s birthday complete with a homemade birthday cake baked in the dutch oven by C’pher.
We traveled downriver, stopping for a walk short into Matkatamiba, (nicknamed Matkat), Canyon where we pulled the rafts over and tied them up together in the very narrow opening. We hiked into this curvy, narrow canyon wading through deep pools of clear water, traversing the steep sides, through a tiny cave, into a wide open amphitheatre-like area where we huddled together to create a “butt dam” to stop the flow of water and then jumped up quickly to see it rush down the rocky ledges. We paddled through Matkatamiba, Upset, and Sinyala rapids and many calm stretches of water, where I even attempted to try my hand at rowing our raft (Katie confirmed that it was way harder than it looked!). We stopped for a brief walk up Havasu Creek which is usually a beautiful blue-green color, but due to the recent rains, it was as almost as muddy and brown as the Colorado. Our camp for the night was just past Mile 159 at Second Chance. We set up tents near a huge rock wall and enjoyed delicious grilled steaks for dinner and stories about previous river explorations. Not long after everyone had settled into bed for the night, a huge rainstorm blew down the canyon! Larry, Guy, and Liam jumped up to check on everyone and discovered a tremendous waterfall flowing off the canyon wall about 30 feet from our tents! Several people had to reposition their tents and sleeping areas, and fortunately most of our tents only took on a little moisture, but the noise of the rain and the giant waterfall kept us all awake for quite a while.
After a bit of a slow start on a cool, damp morning due to the storms the night before, we took off down the river and stopped for a brief hike up Tuckup Canyon. We only went a short distance before encountering house size boulders that had washed downstream years ago. The river was calm and the “raft divas”, (the nickname the 4 women who rafted gave ourselves), spent the morning enjoying conversation with Bruce as he rowed. Later in the afternoon, we stopped just north of Prospect Canyon to scout the world famous Lava Falls Rapid. Larry took his raft down first, next came C’pher, one of our supply boat paddlers, followed by Bruce’s raft with the four ladies. The “divas” were all nervous, but ending up loving the exciting ride! We eddied out below and watched and cheered while Lynn, our other supply boat paddler, tackled the massive rapids. We all watched and waited while the kayakers stood on the cliffs above and made their plans. Soon, Jay and Kelly came down in the final raft and eddied out just past the biggest holes. Lynn, Jay, and Larry, who had walked back up to watch from the north shore, were prepared with throw ropes just in case any of the kayakers took an unplanned swim. Finally, along came the first five kayakers. Liam led the first group, followed by David, Doug, Brent, and John. Liam was flipped over right beside the first big hole, but quickly recovered and they all enjoyed an exciting run. After loud cheers, they also eddied out to watch the second group come down. Guy, Aries, Debbie, and last of all, Anders, made a terrific run with Debbie finding the cleanest line and Anders raising a celebratory paddle near the end only to be flipped over by a sneaky side wave. It was time to celebrate! We pulled in to Below Lower Lava Camp at Mile 179. Inspired by Lynn’s green wig & purple sequins, some of us came up with makeshift costumes and Jay’s amazing Pina Colada Party began! It was followed by a hamburger and hot dog cookout prepared by Larry and Guy. I don’t know if all river groups enjoy this kind of celebration after Lava, but we sure did! The laughter and campfire lasted even after dark on this special night!
Just after the “Hot Coffee” call, we looked out to a very dark sky and were startled by a huge clap of thunder. Needless to say, we were in no hurry to get up and just waited out the early morning storm in our tents for a while. After eating breakfast in the still drizzling rain, we packed up and headed down the river. It was a wet, chilly morning, but we were lucky to see many amazing waterfalls pouring over the sides of the canyon walls. It pretty much rained all day, and after watching the helicopter from the Bar 10 Ranch come to pick up the rafters from another trip, some of the “divas” seriously considered flagging them down to head for a hot shower and a warm bed for the night. However, soon after we set up our tents around Mile 199 at Below Parashant Camp, the rain ended. Laundry, naps, baths, journal writing, reading, and bocce ball games filled the afternoon hours. The big red ants that Larry warned us about took advantage of our chair circle around their nest and bit both Karla and Katie. Lynn grilled some awesome ribs for dinner as we sat and enjoyed the clearing skies and a cool breeze blowing down through the canyon.
We were treated to the sight of the morning sun illuminating the canyon walls as we ate breakfast and prepared for the day. After checking in with Moki Mac on the satellite phone, Larry informed us that the Diamond Creek Road, which runs through the Hualapai Land, was washed out and they wouldn’t have time to have it repaired by Friday morning. At lunchtime, he spoke with Moki Mac again and made a plan for our group to paddle past Diamond Creek downriver an extra 12-13 miles. This was an exceptionally long day for all the paddlers, so we didn’t stop to hike at all, but rather continued on at a decent pace through 209 Mile Rapid, passing Pumpkin Springs, 217 Mile, Granite Springs , 224 Mile, Diamond Creek, Travertine, 232 Mile, 234 Mile, Bridge Canyon and Gneiss Canyon Rapids, in order to make camp before dark. We felt ourselves fortunate to have been able to extend our paddling trip through those beautiful canyons past Diamond Creek. We pulled in and set up camp on a high slope named Bridge City Camp just before Mile 239. It had been a long, tiring day, but we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset, an early glowing crescent moon, and a brilliant starry night. It was a little quieter than usual as everyone realized this would be our last night in the canyon. Sure, we were all ready for warm beds and showers, dry clothes, and moments without sand covering us, but it was still a little sad to think that our river adventure was about to end. We enjoyed a cool night’s sleep on our hilltop gazing at that amazing star-filled sky one last time.
After hearing Bruce’s final call for “Hot Coffee”, we ate breakfast, packed up camp, and took several group photos before beginning our last miles on the beautiful, brown Colorado River. We paddled downriver about ten miles passing by the gorgeous Separation and Surprise Canyons until we were met by a huge jet boat. We pulled over to a muddy beach, loaded up 3 of the kayaks, all of the dry bags, and after rinsing our grungy feet the best we could, our group boarded the motorized craft. We said our goodbyes to Bruce, Jay, Lynn, C’pher, and Guy who were planning to use a small motor to help propel the five rafts loaded down with 7 kayaks down the next 40 miles to Pearce Ferry. The morning was warm and sunny as we motored down past Maxson and Jackson canyons, past the Hualapai territory, their boat docks, helicopter launch areas, and their famous Skywalk. We passed by Bat Cave where geologists once attempted to mine for fertilizer and experienced some algae caught in the motor which slowed our progress for a while. I don’t think anyone really minded the delay as we realized we were leaving the beautiful and ever-changing Grand Canyon and moving on into the Lake Mead area. Just a few miles later, Pam and Clair Quist of Moki Mac, met us at the Pearce Ferry Landing. We sadly told Larry goodbye and thanked him for the great trip. We broke into 2 groups -one headed for Las Vegas and the rest of us headed through Kingman to Peach Springs where our cars were waiting for us. Our river adventure had come to an end. We eagerly anticipated the pleasures of hot showers, sand free bodies, clean clothes, and comfortable beds, but it was with some regret that we left the mighty Colorado River and our trip down its amazing path through the magnificent Grand Canyon behind.