Second Grand Canyon Trip - July 1986


This trip, I was invited along as a boatman by Greg Malone. He had organized the trip to have distinct first and second parts. His friends from the office, various computer types, would travel as far as Phantom Ranch. There, they would hike out to the South Rim and Greg's wife and another woman would join the trip after hiking down from the South Rim. As it turned out, I didn't have enough free time to commit 21 days to a Canyon trip either. So I opted for the first 8 days, from Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch. The other crew members naturally did the whole trip. John and Annie Roberts got to row their heavily laden Miwok. Gerry Louis rowed a Shoshone III as did Todd McGuire and I; it was the first Colorado trip for Todd who served as the "spare" boatman. Greg rowed a 18' Caligari and Willy was paddle captain in an old, yet serviceable, Newco "Hypalon". Katie and Martha came along to help shepherd the office folks. We arranged to meet Greg's friends at Lee's Ferry. Gerry and Martha drove a vanload of gear to Lee's Ferry. The rest of us crammed into Greg's old Dodge van and made the best of things.

21 July - Monday/Tuesday - on the road

After a 3PM rendezvous in the Malone driveway by all the Sonoma county people, we finished loading Greg's trailer and van. We then attended a small send-off party for Todd McGuire hosted by a friendly commune in Petaluma. At about 9:30, we made our escape and drove south towards Interstate 5. I kept Greg company in the front of the van while the rest of the crew tried to catch a few winks. A few hours later, as Greg and I were walking past the vehicle after a brief pause, we noticed that the left trailer tire had delaminated and lost all of its rubber. Without the incredible luck to have taken a piss stop, we would have discovered this condition when the tire totally gave out at highway speed. Good luck/bad luck. Greg's jack was no good but another traveler volunteered the use of his. The tire iron was no good so we used a socket from a cheapo Korean socket set. As we drove off, we noticed that the trailer kept wanting to swing out to the left. We figured at this point that we'd take things as they came. What other choice did we have?

At Bakersfield (and breakfast) we talked about the wear on the other side's tire. At Needles, we purchased three new tires. Gotta have a good spare too. We drove on to Williams where we made camp at a highway rest stop a short distance from town. That night, we had rain, thunder and lighting to lull us to sleep. The best part was when a freight train rolled through within 50 yards of our sleeping arrangements.

23 July - Wednesday - Flagstaff

In Flagstaff, while the others were shopping for groceries, I spent an hour realigning the axle of the trailer with a wrench and a big hammer. The thought was that this would compensate for a tweak in the trailer tongue. Before we could see if that would really work, the fully loaded trailer crashed to the ground while making a U-turn through a vacant lot. The left wheel flopped over displaying a spindle that had sheered completely off the axle. We unloaded the beer, ice and food to facilitate the easiest and fastest repair to the trailer. Luck had decreed that this event occur across from a trailer shop but that the crew must then drive all over Flagstaff to locate the one guy who could fabricate the correct replacement axle. With the new axle made, new hubs fitted, and the trailer put back together, we left Flagstaff at 9:30 that evening and arrived at Lee's Ferry moments before midnight. Overhead, we could see clear skies and, off in the distance, we could hear the Colorado River. The excitement would only get fiercer.

day 1
25 July - Friday - Lee's Ferry to Badger Creek (mile 8)

Slow, very leisurely, the boats were rigged for launch. We pumped them up, strapped on their frames and rowing gear and partially "boxed" them on Thursday and had them completely loaded (and ready) Friday morning. We ambled into the Park Service trailer for the river lecture given by a nice river ranger (Tom Workman) whose duty was to instill in us a proper respect for the fragile nature of the river corridor. He did this, we signed in and, about noon, we launched our boats. Once on the Colorado, we all wore big grins.

We're finally here and would rather be in no other place. The water is about 30,000 cfs right at the moment. The forecast at Lee's Ferry was for lower flows later today in the 10 to 15,000 cfs range. Tom Workman, the river ranger, said that with luck, the general flows should remain at 30,000 until August 4 and that then a regimen of 5,000 cfs nightly and 15,000 cfs during the day was expected. Strangely enough, the river at this point, actually appears to be a bit higher than when we first laid eyes on it Thursday morning.

After we arrived at Badger Creek where we camped the first night, Samuel and Steve, two of Greg's work mates, walked back up and swam through Badger together tricked out in PFD's and wetsuits. A Park Service raft came through the rapid and hung out long enough to watch Steve swim it again. Greg and John Roberts performed raft guard duty for Samuel and Steve. They also carefully monitored the rise and fall of the boats and tried to guess if the damn things will stay tied to the shore. Since passing the Pariah riffle, shortly after launch, the river has been a chocolate brown.

Greg says that tomorrow's visits include North Canyon. This evening, I preside over dinner. The setting sun shines on the canyon wall across from us. In the evening dusk, I can see easily the half moon pie that hangs above us. The first river night's entree of porkchops with a mustard glaze strikes some of Greg's friends as gourmet stuff. There's more where that came from.

day 2
26 July - Saturday - Badger to upper beach at North Canyon (mile 20.4)

So today is our first full day on the river. Jerry and I have the same symptoms - we feel a little queasy, are faintly motion sick, belches come easy and so too, the tendency to fart. I think the most suspicious item is the morning sausage. Annie says that Jerry has a delicate stomach and for me to get my mind off of it.

Todd got to row some today, probably not enough. Maybe he would like to do the roaring twenties tomorrow? We'll see. Commercial groups bracket us on the shore line that evening, one upstream and one on lower North Canyon beach. The river is clearing up, the red color is changing to the more usual green. The Canyon is now two tiered; the first tier is the area next to the river corridor, a kind of canyon all to itself, and then up above it, a scree slope that runs up to a second towering wall or cliff. Deeper and deeper we ride into the earth, ancient geology unfolding before us. We pass layers and layers of sedimentary sandstone. The winds are kicking up and its getting real breezy down here. No clouds today. The river seems to be dropping this evening.

Early to bed but through no fault of virtue or sobriety. The bugs did it. These little black bugs are so low on the evolutionary rungs that they have yet to learn how to use their wings to fly out this comfortable riverine niche. They live in the sand and seem to have no interest in biting or stinging but are merely curious. The day was dimming into late evening and dusk, when suddenly we found them crawling about everywhere, scuttling around like tiny bug bloodhounds, hunting for buried bug bones. Bug repellent seemed to act as a relish for their bug appetites. The cotton bedsheets served to hold them at bay for awhile.

day 3
27 July - Sunday - North Canyon to South Canyon (mile 31.6)

When I got up this morning, the river was down about 18 inches, maybe more. My boat was parked on a large stone. I had to get help to move it off.

It was a great float today, we stopped at Shinumo Wash/Silver Grotto. This is the place where Dana had difficulty in running down the sideways slope. It was also the place where Patty became stuck. She couldn't overcome that glottal stop in her head and just do as she saw all the rest of us doing. Dana finally wound up sliding down the slope on her butt but Patty was unable to do that. I went back up and got her to sit on my lap and then slid (slid?) into the pool beneath. I had to surface dive to retrieve my knife belt though. The water felt slick with algae.

We pulled in to camp late today. I remembered David's accident as we came round the corner and got our first glimpse of South Canyon beach. I intend to re-explore the area where it all happened, but later. Tonight, there was steak, potatoes, and corn roasted in their husks for dinner. The group appetite has notched up a bit. We'll probably have no leftovers for tomorrow. The river was down more like 2 or 3 feet. Our boats are parked way out on the sand flats with long lines tethering them to a rock on shore. We think that the Colorado will rise during the night.

day 4
28 July - Monday - South Canyon to just below President Harding Rapid (mile 43.8)

We tanked up on water at Vasey's Paradise and then floated down to Redwall Cavern for pre-lunch sports. Last night saw some underdone steak and almost raw potatoes but we ate 'em anyway. Great brownies. Today there was a lot of flat water. At lunch, Todd did flips off the sand bank into the water. I laughed myself sick the first time when he just disappeared in that incredible way - flip! - gone. My camera has a nonfunctional light meter and a dead battery but Todd has clicked away. Maybe the film will come out OK. Yeah, good luck!

A reminder - After running right around that big stone at the top of President Harding rapid, go to the foot of the eddy. Do not try to catch the eddy any sooner. Punching it at the top is fine but rowing against the current is not. I must have pitted my puny strength against Mother Nature for about 20 minutes before throwing the game and doing it her way.

The crew has begun to urge me to stay on the trip past Phantom Ranch. It is tempting but I have commitments and I need to make some money. Willy's flat-out request startled me. He is usually more moderate in what he says. Annie, John, Gerry, Greg and Katy would like me to stay on and said as much. It was a real temptation to change my mind and stay.

There is a floor delam at the rear end of the paddle boat. Willy is, as always, real helpful in these situations. What a charming guy. We get out the patch kit and fix it that evening.

John appears like he's gonna eat some fish. He caught a beauty at Vasey's this morning and put it on ice. Looks like he's getting bites here at President Harding too. The sky was cloudless until just before pull-in. Looks like the upcoming rain will miss us though. This evening's repast is Shish kebob, trout, rice and fresh salad. Does this sound familiar? Those little bugs are here too, but not in such massive quantities.

day 5
29 July - Tuesday - President Harding to just below Nankoweap (mile 53)

This was almost a flat water day. We had lunch and then dinner at the Anasazi Granaries. John and Willy observed that my tan lines are those of a farmer, it looks like I'm wearing a white tee-shirt when I have no shirt on. This evening, it is Todd's birthday and Annie and John are making a cheese cake - two of them - in some spare Frisbees. We'll no doubt celebrate in some fashion.

Today saw the last fishing before we get to the Little Colorado. We saw our first private group today. Their paddle boat, a floorless Udisco, has a shark's grin painted on its snout and flies a rebel flag. Willy went downstream to talk and returned with a tale. All of the boats were floorless according to Willy. The "Mad Dog" people, identified by the boat with sharks teeth painted on the front, have glued velcro on their wet suit thighs and on their boat tubes and, of course, their boats have no floors. "First thing we do is cut them suckers out with a knife." This was a trick they learned so that they wouldn't get trapped under the raft's floor. They claim that this makes a flipped boat easier to regain control of and makes bailing a thing of the past. Their oar boats have cargo netting strung above where their floors used to be. They are from the Phoenix area.

Big birthday party! We produced a pile of beer cans. Greg gave Todd some McGuires Irish Cream. We all got into the brandy but tempered it with a little coffee. We told jokes, watched shooting stars, and listened to the downstream campers hoot a lot. It was another late night spent with good friends.

day 6 30 July - Wednesday - below Nankoweap to just above Nevill's Rapid (mile 73.8)

In the early dawn, our hikers went up to visit the granaries before breakfast. Some had not wanted to brave the heat of yesterday afternoon. Even so, we managed to pull out early enough with Todd doing the rowing through Kwagunt and 60 Mile rapid. We paused a moment on the gravel bar at the confluence of the Little Colorado to wash up a bit and compare shampoos. Sadly, we did not get to swim in the warm turquoise waters, muddy though they were, of the Little Colorado.

John went the skinny way around an island and grounded out. I missed the hole in Chuar and had a mild run. The reminder is to go to the white stuff the next time. And the next reminder, do the left run on Unkar next to the cliff instead of the usual right run dodging reversals. I had to row across the river above Unkar to join the rest of the scouters and almost blew a gasket at the effort to catch the eddy. Katy did Lamaze rowing exercises to help me reach the far right side.

It was a long day, there was an infestation of campers in our prospective campsite above Unkar (Cardenas, I think) and so we wound up doing 21 miles today. This is not unusual mileage in the Canyon, but it is unusual in this particular section, as it seems to always have more than its fair share of upstream winds and slow flowing water. We are generating copious amounts of aluminum can artifacts on a daily basis. So far, no flips for Willy yet in the beige Hypalon paddle boat. He says that his people don't miss a stroke, he seems satisfied.

This year's July trip seems cooler than last year's June trip. Just nippy enough to change from a covering cotton sheet to sliding down under the sleeping bag along about three or four in the morning. This camp, though it is small, has an easy eddy for the boats to rest in and the river is quiet enough for conversation to be clearly understood across camp. All of us dance to the same rhythmical influence now. The effort to direct camp chores are certainly subtle to the point of being subliminal. We go with the flow. The canyon has opened up below the confluence and will probably close down right after Sockdolager if I remember it right. Canyon wrens. Water boils for coffee and tea. Annie and Todd play cribbage. The view at camp is wide angle.

day 7
31 July - Thursday - above Nevill's to the beach above Grapevine (mile 81.4)

Nevill's rapid was no hassle this time.

We parked above Hance rapid to scout it. A Green River and a Rogue River departed the parking area as we arrived. We hurried down the shoreline to watch them go through, not wanting to miss someone else's run. We saw an excellent demonstration of the standard Hance maneuvers. Drop past the boulder at the top's left side, catch the eddy behind the boulder to move river right, perform several vigorous downstream ferry strokes to go still further right, punch the right side of a small hole, ferry left to avoid boat eating hole in center, ride out the waves, and wait for next boat through in eddy river left at foot of rapid.

I had another good run here. Patty claimed that my Shoshone felt as steady as a Greyhound bus while moving through the waves. Jerry's boat felt like a Cadillac and Willy's paddle boat resembled a sports car. I don't think she's been allowed in Willy's boat yet.

Someone wanting to avoid Sockdolager's waves would start river left and be drawn center. We went center to be drawn right; right into Sock's huge breaking waves. Through luck alone, very little water was taken on by any of us. And so on down to the Vishnu fault above Grapevine Rapid.

We are camping on the same neat sandy beach as we camped on last year. And, as last year, it is a nap beach, sand with red granite cliffs behind us. We are deep within a granite walled canyon and we have buried ourselves next to the massive stone walls to avoid the heat and the all enveloping sunlight. The crew snores for an hour or so.

I am not real happy to leave these people tomorrow at Phantom Ranch. We have become a unit during the past week on the Colorado. During the late afternoon, people take up dipping in the waters of the cool Colorado. I some ways I miss home and yet I am home. In the last few days, I can hear The Mighty Clouds of Joy singing "Up the Ladder to Heaven" in my head as we float through paradise.

An Outdoor Adventures group pauses late in the day and requests that we share the beach. We agree. The Outdoor Adventure folk have fairly well thought out travel arrangements for their gear. Two huge Maravias have zippered front compartments for stowing duffel bags and soft stuff. Boxes are stowed in the two Avon spirits. It is Martha's birthday today. There will be a celebration tonight, no doubt. The celebration, as it turned out, continued long into the night. It was fairly easy to share the beach, at least for us, maybe not for them.

day 8 1 August - Friday morning - above Grapevine to Phantom Ranch (mile 87.5)

Everyone is moving mighty slow after last night's party. Martha turned 37 and we held quite a party. The drink of the evening, Sockdologer Punch, was a mixture of fruit juice and Everclear. Everyone had a taste. We held "night swims" over and over again. It was a spectacle I'm sure.

When the sun hits here, its gonna get hot. OA is packing up and we're still at coffee.

We had fun runs through the rapids, the canyon walls produced humungous boils that wanted to suck the tubes under, but the ride ended as we pulled in at Phantom beach. Laura and Glynda are not there yet, so after rolling up the paddle boat and loading it into the bottom of Gerry's Shoshone III, we head up to the ranch. It seems that yesterday at Phantom was the highest recorded temperature this season yet. Annie gets a letter from her kids, Rafter and Jeannie. The folks who are hiking out are milling about and wanting to begin the hike out soon. In this heat?

1 August - Friday night - South Canyon Rim

Laura and Glynda had shown at last, the story was that Laura was trucking some frozen food down for the group, her pack was too heavy, she fell down four times and as a last resort, let a nice Swiss guy volunteer to carry her load the rest of the way down. I discover that her pack had never been adjusted anything like properly to haul the amount of gear she brought down as we climb back up. I fix it with a trusty Swiss pocketknife.

We started the long trudge out at 2PM that afternoon, in the full heat of the day. This was not especially a good idea. I carried enough gear on my back to insure a restful night's sleep should I collapse part way up. The cloud formations seemed to hold a promise of either a little rain or at least some passing shade. As Samuel and I passed the spot where our group has pulled in for an afternoon pause, the entire crew faces away from us, bends over and pulls down their shorts. What a salute!

So its me and Samuel hiking together very slowly; I suspect that he has drawn the short straw. We make Indian Gardens at 6PM and climb over the edge to Grand Canyon Village at 11:30 that night. I was wrung out; dead beat tired. The other office people do much better at climbing out of the canyon. Jim made it first at about 6PM, Patty and Chuck next at 7:30, Steve in the dark with no flashlight, and Samuel and I, with our pick-up party of others without flashlights, dead last. The lead guy had a light, I had one in the middle, and a guy at the tail carried one. My feet are sore and I make plans to heave the hiking boots I wore in the first trash can I find after I get up tomorrow morning. They were lousy, they disintegrated into flapping jokes on the climb uphill.

We over-load Glynda's squareback with six folks and five backpacks and then try to make sense of the road signs pointing the way out of the Park. I drive the poor overloaded vehicle because the VW has trouble shifting. I promised Glynda that I would do my best in delivering her car back to California. Jim, who has thoughtfully made reservations at a Williams motel, drives the last fifty or so miles when my eyes begin to cross from exhaustion. To bed at 3AM.

2 August - Saturday - Ponderosa Lodge on the Interstate to Meadview

Up at nine, Jim invites Samuel, Steve and I to breakfast. Not really recuperated, my eyes no longer able to focus on road maps, the six of us drive off to the Flagstaff airport. We drop Steve and Samuel there and then turn around and head westward to Pierce Ferry. Jim's little Japanese Trooper has been shuttled there by misadventure. This vehicle is to take the other three folks back to sunny California, however. On the gravel road to Meadview at 5PM, we are stopped at the scene of an accident. A pickup has rolled over severely injuring one and killing the other passenger. Local volunteers halt all traffic until EMT and Sheriff's helicopters arrive and depart. We sit in the hot dusty sun for an hour and a half waiting when some folks from the other side drive around into the desert. We see that this idea's time has arrived and we do likewise. At Meadview, we pick up Jim's car and split up, Jim drives out to the road and I take a moment to get things straight in my head.

Five seconds after they have left, I realize that he still has my drive-home clothes and road sandals. Rats. I chat with the shuttle guy and the sun sets before I get to the main highway again. I drive until about 1 or 2AM and park the car offroad in the Nevada desert. I watch some shooting stars shoot and go to sleep.

3 August - Sunday noon - Yosemite

Up at five thirty, its time to get home. I made the requisite minor repairs to the VW in the desert this morning and now the car drives much much better. I take the scenic route home through Yosemite.

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© 1996 Michael Dooley