First Grand Canyon Trip - June 1985

Lee's Ferry to South Canyon


The following is a transcription of a journal that I kept during a Grand Canyon trip in the early summer of 1985. With one exception, our crew was composed of people that lived in western Sonoma county, an area just 50 or so miles north of the Golden Gate, and that were known to each other. The permittee was Ron Stark, a general contractor, with several previous trips on the Colorado under his belt. His wife Dana accompanied him. Fred Stacek was the other "experienced" boatman, as well as an accomplished musician. Ron and Fred carried two massive trunks that shielded their drums from the elements. Ron's lead carpenter, Charley Netzow, came on the trip as well as his close friend, Jerry Lindsey. Charley was the practical man and Jerry was the photographer. David Differding, a millwright from Sebastopol, was to be with us for the first half of the trip only. I and my wife, Rebecca, came as people experienced on other rivers as trip leaders, but neophytes on the Colorado. Daniel Terragno, a good friend of mine, provided a needed extra vehicle as well as a huge reservoir of good nature and the willingness to get tasks done. Ken Matuso, a friend of Charley's, was the nearest thing to an unknown passenger that we had on this trip. His abundant humor and reasonable attention provided the needed ability to attend to and finish much that was scattered in the latter portions of our trip. So, at Lee's Ferry, we were a three boat, nine passenger trip. In later years, I came to realize how rare this kind of trip configuration was. I hope you enjoy reading this. Please let me know your reaction. Remember to click on the thumbnail pictures in order to see larger versions.

5 June - Wednesday - on the road
Cedar City, Utah

After all the pre-trip hassles and discussions about gear, food, timing and money, we are on the road at last. Last night, we slept at a highway junction in southeastern Nevada, where we were buffeted and blasted by passing trucks. We had been on the road since five in the morning and it was ten o'clock that night before we stopped to rest - no dinner. As we passed Hot Springs, Nevada, we saw that the town was in the process of blowing away; the bar where we expected to get a bite, was boarded shut. We had to continue on un-hamburgered. It was a delightful cloudy day for traveling, there was no heat to contend with. This morning the clouds have dispersed here in Utah, the omens seem mostly good about our expedition.

Omens - I guess that would include the two bad tires yesterday; the first in Sacramento on Ron's trailer and the second; Daniel's recapped radial on his Toyota which unraveled about a mile outside of Lost Hubcap, Nevada. The service station gang that fixed the tire had deep remarkable Okie accents. It reminded me of home.

that afternoon

Now we're on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The drive from Cedar City was short and uneventful; a little sprinkle on the way and a cool wind that buffeted the vehicles. From the rim, the Grand Canyon seems suitably huge. Campsites at the North Rim are filled, so we will either sneak camp or retrace our tracks to an unfilled campsite in the BLM. There are lots of people from all over the world here on the North Rim. I'm beginning to have second thoughts about carrying a camera down the Colorado as Jerry Lindsey's is so much better and he seems so professional about using it. I heard him ask about the best place to shoot from, so I guess his eyes aren't all that good. Where could you find a bad place? We saw Point Imperial and another great view down Nankoweap Canyon. Rebecca noted that the word awesome could have been reserved solely for the Grand Canyon.

6 June - Thursday - North Rim Grand Canyon

It's just after breakfast now. Last night was quite cool. Jerry has just done his breakfast routine ordering act at a roadside diner. I gather his diet prohibits a lot - sugar, fats, alcohols. The amount of laughing, giggling, and guffawing just about overwhelmed the waitress. "Was the honeydew melon ripe? Please pick the ripest one. What does assorted cereals mean? I'll take raisin bran." Eating habits are going to be fun to observe. We have put a lot of time in on pleasing everybody about the rations. We are to drive down to Navaho Bridge and then to Lee's Ferry from here.

We spent the afternoon pumping up and semi-rigging the boats at the edge of the launch area. Nice big, hot asphalt boat ramp here at Lee's Ferry. It was real warm on the boat ramp by the evening and the guys doing all the rigging for the commercial outfit seemed ready to drop from the heat. Our crew crouched at the ramp's edge wisecracking and storytelling. The outfitter's wife told us her stories about Lava and accidents/flips and such. We heard that the river flow was at 40,000 cfs and would go down to 28,000 cfs and stay there. No fluctuations were expected after that, which means that our boats won't be stranded high and dry in the morning or have to be moored twenty feet from the water's edge because of variations in the release from Glen Canyon Dam.

day 1
7 June - Friday morning - launch from Lee's Ferry

Lots of motor boats are launching to fish upstream below the dam, this morning. We are awaiting the ranger and his final inspection. Charley and Dana did the Flagstaff run yesterday evening, collecting the last minute groceries (perishables and meat) and picking up the shuttle drivers. Lots of big baloney boats are being rigged and parked across the river by another commercial outfit originating out of Mariposa with a warehouse in Kanab. The ranger collects us and we straggle into a Park Service shed to hear a lecture. After signing our names, we are free to go.

that evening - beach at mile 20

First Sidehike
Dana coming up canyon on first day

Hot damn! First day on the river. Just lovely. Lovely. The first real rapid (Badger?) looked, on boat scouting it, to be ripples and waves. Once into it, the waves turned out to be ten feet from trough to crest - what a roller coaster! We are now floating through the canyon with nothing to do but have fun and anticipate the next meal. No phones, no freeway traffic jams, a great lessening of civilized problems - supplanted by the simpler but still weighty problems of a near wilderness. Man maintained and regulated we must stipulate, but wilderness the same. Help is available from passing commercial parties or by signal (radio), a helicopter can be summoned to airlift the injured to a Page (Arizona) hospital. We are indeed well off. Corn is roasting on the fire - it is probably done. Steak is ready. I think that I will see how dinner is going. What a remarkable day, can't wait to see what happens next...

Crew at rest up canyon on first day

day 2
8 June - Saturday - beach at mile 20 to South Canyon (mile 31.5)

Whoa head! Stop spinning! I think that I drank too much last night. And to top that, the group got into a political discussion. Needless to say, I was outnumbered. Never again, he says for the nine thousandth time. At least, no more politics.

The canyon wrens are diving and swooping as we watch the sun's line creep down the canyon walls and cliffs across the river this morning. As Fred said, "We haven't even been on the trip for twenty four hours and already we've hit bottom." He plays his flute as we drift down stream and the melody is hauntingly reflected from the red rock walls.

We didn't see any baloney boats today. It is a nice feeling to be the only ones on the river, at least on your part of it. Shortly after breakfast, right after we packed up and launched, we stopped at North Canyon and did a hike up the canyon. I passed by the scene that hangs on Ron's kitchen wall. As pretty in person as the photo. The hike was beautiful but hot. Charley and Rebecca hung out with the boats in the Tamarisk shade next to the river.

We continued down river and scouted a few sixes in the "Roaring Twenties." The eddies were unpredictable and our Shoshone was swamped once; right tube, left tube, and then we were full of water. Ron's boat took on water running Mile 24.5 rapid - the whirlpool action was fierce. I think he had an upstream tube sucked under while cresting a wave? Very unsettling. We paused at Shinumo Wash for a short climb and hike in a delightful marble wash sculpted by the occasional desert runoff. We used a throw bag to get up the first pour over and then went on without it. I had to use my belt to help pull Jerry, Dana and Ron up one hitch. We couldn't go too much further after that though. Fun.

I got caught in an eddy this afternoon and had to ride around a few times before exiting. Hope my boat leaks don't get too much worse. I tried to find and patch those things before we left California but I didn't get them all. I think the seams are leaking too. It's a good boat otherwise (choke) and the guy that sold it to me said it has made the trip before. But what a pig to row. Hope I have the energy to pull this load... I'm gonna help cut up some chicken for this evening's dinner. Need the strength.

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© 1996 Michael Dooley