September-October 2007 Grand Canyon Trip

Getting to Lee's Ferry


Introduction and Background


Dory approaching South Canyon

In 2006, in preparation to change over to a lottery system, the Grand Canyon waiting list was whittled down by giving those who had spent years on the waiting list a better chance at getting a permit (to float the river) if they banded together and combined their years on the list when they applied for a permit through the lottery. I joined together with two friends to create a lottery application that had a combined waitlist total of thirty years. Knowing our competition, we figured that the thirty wait-year total was not quite enough to assure us of a good Summer launch date so we scratched our heads and determined which Spring and early Fall dates we could reasonably accept. We sent in our application in July of 2006, listed our preferred launch dates, and that Fall were awarded a September 17th 2007 launch date. Holy Toledo!

By June 2007, my good friend Will (whom I'd met on my last Canyon trip) knew that he could not actually afford to take the time off from his business to go on this trip. Josha Stark, Ron's son, was willing to row a raft if he could also carry his kayak along. This turned out to be a really good replacement as Josha was completely experienced in Grand Canyon travel and knew what to expect. He was also a world-class kayaker.

In early August, a potential boatman informed us that he could not come on the trip - this was somewhat late in the game to be backing out, but... Fortunately Ron had yet another backup option. He immediately phoned a friend of his who was in the process of selling his art gallery business with the intention of retiring. Although Bill Zimmer was not really a boatman in the sense that he had done a lot of boating, he was up to the basic requirement - he could row the 240 miles or so and do all right - he had rowed the Canyon a dozen years before as a greenhorn. Bill called Ron back within a day to say that he was in. Although not as experienced as the rest of us, his lack of general river knowledge didn't matter much at all - he did just fine. The important thing was his enthusiastic commitment. We were just lucky at that point.

Trip preparation - Brady Black and Moenkopi Riverworks


Even though Brady Black did not go down the river with us, he was a significant part of our trip. From the time we first asked for an estimate for gear rental in late April until we launched in mid September, Brady was always ready and willing to answer questions and to provide "what-if" estimates. He always got back to us in a timely manner and was as friendly and easy to talk to on the phone as he later turned out to be both at Lee's Ferry and at Diamond Creek. We rented three 18 foot Maravias, fully outfitted and rigged, as well as all the kitchen gear, a complete food buy including packing for eleven people for 23 days and shitter disposal service.

When one of our crew was injured at Vesey's (requiring a helicopter evacuation) and her significant other walked out at South Canyon to join her at the Flagstaff hospital, Brady was available and willing to change our take-out from South Cove to Diamond Creek. His wife took care of Anne in the Flagstaff hospital after she was operated on and later on during her recovery from the operation. It felt like he was one of us and with us every step of the way.

Check out his Moenkopi web site. This guy is a keeper.

Day minus two - Sept. 14 - Friday - Northern California to Caliente, Nevada


We (myself, my wife Rebecca and our youngest daughter Jennifer) met Ron, Bill and Josha mid-morning at the east side of the Coddingtown parking lot, a local Santa Rosa shopping center. Ron and I had known each other for over twenty five years, Josha I had known off and on since he was quite small and I was glad to finally get to meet Bill Zimmer. We shook hands and chatted a bit before starting our caravan journey to Arizona. And we got some refills on coffee. We expected to meet the other members of our launch party at Lee's Ferry in a couple of days. All the Dooley boating gear was pre-loaded in the back of Ron's massive Chevy double cab pickup which was also pulling a trailer with his canyon dory firmly strapped down to it. We were riding in my wife's 1993 SAAB with it's trunk jammed with our personal river gear and a pre-loaded go-home bag that contained our return trip clothing and vital sundries.

We drove South on Highway 101, then turned East to go through Vallejo and then Northeast on Interstate 80 towards Sacramento. We stopped for gas and smoothies in Sacramento and then drove over the Sierras to Fallon, Nevada, where we had a late road lunch in a diner catering to our sort. We then turned Southeast onto Highway 50 and eventually arrived at Ely, Nevada later that night where we hoped to find accommodations. Unfortunately, there was a car show of some sort occurring that weekend and Ely was loaded with out-of-towners - everything was booked up. We drove from one end of town to the other hunting for the elusive vacancy sign but found one at only at a dreadfully seedy looking motel in central Ely. After a casual inspection of the (expensive) rooms by the interested parties, we decided to pass on this particular opportunity. The rooms were smoking areas, sadly maintained, apparently uncleaned and even the overhead lights didn't appear to reliably work. Drive on.

We drove South on state Highway 93 to Caliente where we discovered only one room still available at 9 PM that evening. Ron graciously let Rebecca, Jennifer and I have this room and he, Josha and Bill continued the drive - back North to Panaca, Nevada, and then East to Cedar City, Utah. We figured that we could easily find each other tomorrow morning. After unloading our road gear, Jennifer ambled next door and brought back three Mexican beers which we drank after our showers. Car cramped, we all fell into our beds and slept soundly enough. It had been a long day.

Day minus one - Sept. 15 - Saturday - Caliente, Nevada to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon


The next morning we woke up early and, following Ron's route, drove into Utah and eventually arrived in Cedar City. We made contact with Ron using Jenn's cell phone as we drove through town and set up a meet at a local big-box grocery store on the main north-south drag. Jenn, Rebecca and I detoured long enough to have a brief if quite filling breakfast in a local joint and then met Ron and crew at the mega grocery. We bought Utah beer and soft drinks and then caravaned through Zion National Park getting a dose of Utah's famed rock country. Of course, it was just spectacular. After a brief stop on the East side of the park where I used a cam strap to hold up the SAAB's sagging rear exhaust system (the rubber o-rings having somehow evaporated), we drove South through Kanab, Fredonia and eventually Jacob Lake to arrive at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We must have passed Ron while he was refueling somewhere for we got to the camp ground (where Ron had made reservations) first and parked in an allotted slot. We decided to stretch our legs by walking a short distance to the North Rim overlook. Other tourists like ourselves were swarming and it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours watching everyone else drink in the magnificent views. After gazing out at the canyon from the North Rim, we dined at the cafeteria and then strolled back to our campsite on a trail off to one side of the roadway. Ron, Josha and Bill had arrived while we were goofing off and arrived at the camp site shortly after we returned. Ron unloaded some gear and then made expresso right there on the picnic table and we chatted for a bit. Everybody was amped. We then threw out our bags and paco pads and slept under the stars for the first time that fall. I counted a few satellites and saw at least two shooting stars while attempting to fall asleep. Things looked great.

Day zero - Sept. 16 - Sunday - North Rim to a tammie camp at Lee's Ferry


The next morning we awoke at dawn and had some of Ron's tremendous morning coffee - Ron's last addiction in this life is creating fresh coffee in the morning. Rebecca said that we all could easily live with that kind of attachment and I imagine she was right. We rolled up our bedding, stuffed it into our vehicles and drove North to Jacob Lake where we stopped at the store to shop for various mementos and knicknacks. There were a lot of guys dressed in camo outfits milling around outside so we figured that hunting season was on. We then drove to Marble Canyon where we gassed up the vehicles prior to driving down to the Lee's Ferry boat ramp and seeing if the other party launching tomorrow was already there. A single vehicle arrived shortly after we did, drove down to the downstream end of the asphalt ramp and began disgorging people and gear. I love it here.

After waiting for a while, Ron drove his truck and trailer over to the concrete boat ramp at the upstream end of Lee's Ferry and put his dory into the water. It looked quite pretty as he rowed it a short ways down to the private beach. Sometime later that afternoon, Craig, Anne, Eva and Lars arrived in their vehicle and we shook and howdied. It was good to see Craig whom I had had many fun filled conversations with long ago - so to speak. Brady arrived around four that afternoon accompanied by Marilyn (who had done our food buy), Danny (one of Brady's wrestlers), and our final crew member, Ken Tolces, from Austin, Texas. Brady and the rest of us got the three 18 foot Maravias unrolled and pumped up with a combination of electric pumps and barrel pumps. Brady's electric pump bit the dust after filling one of the rafts, but we managed to borrow the use of the other private trip's electric pump and finished off the filling of our third boat.

Brady unloads gear  We rig the rafts  The dory floating at Lee's Ferry

Brady, Marilyn and Danny then assembled and positioned the frames, drop bags, floors and other gear on the rafts using our people as strength and availability dictated. Our crew then carried the rigged rafts out into the river, feeling its coldness but enjoying our acclimatization to Lee's Ferry. Brady then backed his loaded truck down to the river's edge and began loading the rafts with ice chests, rocket boxes, propane tanks and kitchen gear, boat by boat. He gave each of the boatmen general information about what was on their boat and how to protect and manage the contents of the coolers and drop bags. The purely physical part of the trip was coming together after all the months of planning. I was sure glad that we had Brady working to get the trip together. It was a nice thing to observe.

As I recall, the ranger inspected our gear at this point because we had to display our signal panels, sat. phone and signal mirror as well as all the PFD's and medical kits. Brady was instrumental in getting all the required gear in an ordered pile so that the inspection would go smoothly if not efficiently.

After all the boats were rigged and ready, we gave Brady and his people the keys to our vehicles. Brady sent two of the vehicles (the SAAB and Ron's truck and trailer) to Flagstaff while the third (Eva's SUV) was to be loaded that evening onto Brady's now empty trailer. After moving our personal gear into the tammies and setting up a preliminary camp, we then jumped into Brady's truck and Eva's Durango and drove back to Marble Canyon Lodge for dinner. The waiter was tremendously funny, particularly about a bacon and tofu combo plate that Jennifer ordered. Brady had arranged for a birthday cake for Ron who was to celebrate his 59th birthday the day of our launch - tomorrow. After dinner, Brady drove us back to the ramp where we shuffled around in the tammies, laid out our sleeping gear and tried to go to sleep. It doesn't get much finer.

About Moenkepi's gear

Our 18 foot self bailing rafts were rigged canyon style with most of the load riding low in the boats which minimized the possibilities for flipping the raft in big waves. These rafts were significantly different from the rafts we took on our first canyon trips where we loaded our baggage up off the floor and on top of decks that were supported by the rafts' tubes - which made for a higher center of gravity.

Your trip might vary from ours but the following is what we got at Lee's Ferry the afternoon before our launch and what enabled our trip - three 18' Maravia rafts with four 11 foot counter balanced Sawyer oars per boat. The oars were rigged as we requested, two boats with pins and clips and one with oar rights. Each raft was outfitted with a heavy duty aluminum oar frame with drop bags in front and behind under metal hinged decks, positioned where (otherwise) the thwart tubes would have been. Each raft had a rear drop deck of plywood with an easy tie down mesh cover, a cockpit drop deck of aluminum plate with angle positioned to locate either rocket boxes or kitchen gear boxes on each side of a narrow foot well for the rower, a Jack's Plastic Paco pad for the rower to sit on, a huge Icee-Kool cooler with drain plugs, all the kitchen gear with 2 large tables, a four burner stove, a blaster for rapid heating of dish water, several tanks of propane, milk crates to stow the propane tanks in, a foot pump and hand washing set-up for efficient (and frequent) washing of hands, three 5 gallon jugs for drinking water, a patch kit and air pump, front and rear mooring ropes, a bag of cam straps for our personal gear, and an umbrella for the boat. I think the Umbrella was an experiment - I never used it.

His company did our food buy so included were rocket boxes of breakfast, lunch and dinner packed and labeled by day, coolers filled with meat, veggies and dairy, milk crates filled with apples, oranges, melons, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, avocadoes, onions and potatoes. This was accompanied by a printed menu so that we could see what was coming at us in the food department each day. We ate well and gave food to others. At the end of the trip, we had lots of food left over - some of the trips we met with were not so well provisioned.

Brady supplied us with all the groover equipment and at the takeout, our accumulated waste was not a problem at all. The equipment included sandstakes and a hammer that allowed us to tie up anywhere where there was a beach. His water filtration equipment (including a battery powered pump backed up by a solar recharger) allowed us to use water from the main Colorado even though we tanked up at the usual watering spots. Everything was well thought out.

Rebecca at raft in the evening 

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© 2008 Michael Dooley