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Grand Canyon Expedition Day 6: Little Colorado River and a birthday


Next Post: Day 7 Part I – Canyon Time
Previous Post: Day 5+  Hidden Danger
First Post: The Story Begins…

A beautiful morning, the best so far!  It started out maybe in the low 50’s and warmed quickly today since our camp got good morning sunlight.  You could watch the shadow of the east rim move down the west wall until the sunlight suddenly hit the camp.  Pancakes with syrup for breakfast.  Or in Ariel’s case, syrup with pancakes.  [Note in the photo the cleanup crew is using a 4 bucket system for washing: pre-wash (plain water), wash (hot, soapy), rinse (hot, clear), and disinfect (cold with bleach added).  The mesh bag under the table is a big drying rack for the dishes. You can see how they could get covered in sand if left there too long.]

Steve and Chris cleaning up after breakfast

Steve and Chris cleaning up after breakfast

(Click image to enlarge)  The rubber gloves are essential for skin care in this dry climate.  The tarp under the washing station is required by the park service to ensure food and trash stays out of the sand.  Afterwards the tarps are dumped in the river.
TRIP TIP: Be sure to ask the outfitter for a pair of extra large latex gloves.

It took much longer to get packed up and get on the river today after having a layover day.  I guess it takes longer to pack because everything gets more unpacked after two days.  I have too much stuff!  We could have left Ariel’s school books at home.  There’s no way she’s going to do any schoolwork other than play cello to practice for the concert she has the second day she gets back to school.  We finally left Nankoweap (river mile 53.5) and got on the river at 10:10 AM.

Kwagunt Rapid (Class 5 on the Grand Canyon scale)

Kwagunt Rapid (Class 5 on the Grand Canyon scale)

Sunscreen and hand lotion to be used liberally

Sunny and DRY. Sunscreen and hand lotion to be used liberally

After 9 miles and 1 easy class 5 rapid, we reached the Little Colorado River right at noon.  We pulled out a collapsible table and made lunch before walking up the Little Colorado to go swimming.  There are some huge fish in the main Colorado just upstream of the mouth of the Little.  Doesn’t matter what they are, there is no fishing in this area because an endangered species nests here.

After eating, we all made our way up the bank of the Little Colorado.  Normally this river is a welcome change from the cold waters of the main, but we are so lucky that the main is just as warm, almost 60.  I expect the main hasn’t been this warm since they first filled Lake Powell 50 years ago.  Hard to believe before they built the dam it was about 72 degrees.  The new normal is 45 degrees.  (If you know, please share that info.)



The little Little Colorado

The little Little Colorado

I suggested to Ariel to bring a sleeping pad with her so she could ride it like a raft down the little riffles in the milky-green water. Kathleen had a double-thick pad that worked great.  Ariel and I were the first ones to go.  We floated down together on the mattress and didn’t even fall off going over the ledges.  She had a ball and did it 3 more times.

Floating the Little Colorado using a camp mattress

Floating the Little Colorado using a camp mattress

The Press Box

The Press Box

Little Colorado and Colorado converge

Little Colorado and Colorado converge

Salt seeping from the canyon walls.

Salt seeping from the canyon walls.

The water feels good.  It’s very sunny and warm.  After almost an hour we made our way back to the rafts, put on more sunscreen and headed down river.  We got to Carbon camp, river mile 65, around 4:00 PM.

Ariel and Natalia making artwork.

Ariel and Natalia making artwork.

We celebrated Chatham’s birthday tonight and Ariel played her cello in the dark.  The day was nice, but I can feel the weather changing… Not sure if tomorrow will be as nice as today.

Happy Birthday Chatham!

Happy Birthday Chatham!

Cello by headlamp

Cello by headlamp

If you think I’m giving Ariel a lot of press, yep, you’re right. Don’t worry, you’ll miss her in a few days when she hikes out and goes back to school.

Next Post: Day 7 Part I – Canyon Time
Previous Post: Day 5+  Hidden Danger

First Post: The Story Begins…

Grand Canyon Expedition Day 5+ Commodore’s Log supplimental: Hidden Danger


Next Post: Day 6 – Little Colorado and a Birthday
Previous Post: Day 5: A Father-Daughter experience
(Three people named David on 1 trip is too confusing, so they’re call me Commodore.)

Some noteworthy trip leader observations I have made:  I am pleased to report that everyone is respecting my request that they behave appropriately for my 12-year-old daughter.  A few off-color jokes aside, no foul language, public nudity nor drunk and disorderly conduct, yet everyone is having a great time.  Funny how the presence of one kid can keep us adults in order.  (If you are planning your own trip down the Canyon, pay special note of this point.  For many reasons I recommend bringing kids.  I will elaborate in a later post.)

In general, everyone is getting along well with each other, which is remarkable considering most of us had never met before we gathered in Flagstaff a few days ago.  Some examples: The women have all had something to share with Ariel and really included her as an equal.  Captain Shu is a great team player.  He is always looking to learn and always has a great attitude.  He often has something to contribute, yet is never overbearing.  He helped me run the water filtration today to filter about 40 gallons of water to refill the 5-gallon water jugs.  With Canyon 9 trips already under his belt, he seems to have accumulated everything you could possibly need stashed away in his raft. I also noticed Steve has started stepping it up more as a team player.  I have even seen him looking for things to do and stepping in to help other work crews now.

There is still plenty of room to improve our efficiencies, particularly in the mornings.  Many of the things the outfitter showed us before we launched the first day seem to have been forgotten, but he did overload people with information.  I expect few people if any, took the time to read the primer/meal plan the outfitter sent us a few weeks before the trip so they would already know things like how to use the dish washing system or where everything is located on the rafts, especially where the food is for each meal.  The captains should know what they have on their boats and help the cook crew locate it.  I expect that will improve as we go.

I am concerned about one person who is not showing strong team skills, seen standing around when work needs to be done unless given explicit instructions to help and sometimes going back for seconds of food before everyone has had their first serving.  My concern is for the friction it could cause in the group.  If we have a day-12-meltdown, this could be the catalyst.

There are many hazards in the Canyon: falls, cuts, bites and stings, dehydration and hypothermia to name a few.  But some are more insidious.  Some we bring with us.  The term “day-12-meltdown” is used to describe what can happen on wilderness expeditions where people must live and work together in close quarters under stressful conditions with little reprieve from each other.  By about day 12, people run out of patience and conflicts can happen.  A breakdown in group cohesion can actually be fatal as was proven in the very first expedition in the Canyon, led by John Wesley Powell, at a place that aptly earned the name Separation Canyon.  Even a slightly annoying laugh can sound like fingernails scratched on a chalkboard after a week or two.  A good trip leader will recognize the signs early and take action promptly to avert such a disaster that can spoil the trip for everyone.  It only takes one person to create discord.  This is also why I believe a trip leader’s most important job is that of selecting a compatible crew.

Keep in mind that regardless of their experience, everyone on the trip is learning as we go, particularly if it’s their first trip.  New people, new environment, new lifestyle; it can all be overwhelming.  Everyone reacts to the stress differently.  Leading a group of strangers under these conditions can be much more challenging than most anything you’ll ever deal with in the office.

TRIP TIP: If you observe behavior that may damage group cohesion, address it swiftly and discretely.  Odds are that the person is unaware of their behavior and if you let it go, it will only get worse.  It always does.

(Thank you all for an amazing response to this account of our journey.  Wow!  If you like it, click the thumbs up.  Your public and private comments are great.  If you have questions, post them.  The dialog adds to the story and many others probably have the same question.)

Next Post: Day 6 – Little Colorado and a Birthday
Previous Post: Day 5: A Father-Daughter experience

First Post: The Story Begins…

Grand Canyon Expedition Day 5: As good as it gets! A Father-Daughter experience


Next Post: Commodore’s Log, Supplemental: Hidden Danger
Previous Post: Day 4: Nautiloid to Nankoweap
First Post: The Story Begins…

Today is a layover day.  That means we’re staying here for another night to relax and catch up on things.

First the injury report:  Elizabeth cut her elbow 3 days ago.  She thinks she cut it on the oar when they ran the hole (hydraulic) in Badger Rapid.  Now it is swollen and is probably infected.  If it is and we don’t have anti-biotics, we may be looking at an airlift.  I plan to at least use the satellite phone and make a call for medical advice.

This morning many of us went on the hike up to the granary.  This is a small cavern several hundred feet up the side of the canyon wall that was walled in by the inhabitants over 1000 years ago where they stored their grain to protect it from weather and thieves.  This is also the location of one of the most photographed views in the entire canyon, looking down river toward the south.  We got back to camp just in time for lunch.  (Click to enlarge photos)

Hike to the granaries

Hike to the granaries

Granaries on the side of the Canyon wall

Granaries on the side of the Canyon wall

View from near the granaries

View from near the granaries

Classic Grand Canyon

Classic Grand Canyon

The cook team had been asked to swap the big, involved lunch planned for today with tomorrow’s lunch of sandwiches so the people who were going on the all-day hike to the north rim could pack it with them when they left right after breakfast.  Had I known about this, I would have advised to let the hikers take sandwiches while we have the big lunch at camp and save the easy lunch for a day when we were traveling and use the layover day for more involved meals.  Especially since only one person went on the long hike.  [Note: it is not advisable to take solo hikes into the desert.  But if you do, be sure the trip leader knows your plans in case you have problems.]

Another group stopped by at lunchtime to do the granary hike.  Their trip leader happened to be a physician.  He took a look at Elizabeth’s elbow and advised taking Amoxicillin.  By coincidence, Captain Shu happens to have some.  He’s got just about everything, except a beach rake.

Shu’s hand is still puffed up like a balloon, but he has almost full use of it.  Craig has a cut on his finger and Gary cut his knuckle.  The very ends of my fingertips are getting sensitive to pressure, probably from being constantly dry.  This dry desert air is hard on hands.
TRIP TIP: bring full-fingered bicycle gloves.  Useful for rowing as well as hiking, they protect the hands from the sharp, abrasive rocks and gritty sand, yet breath well and dry quickly.

The afternoon was busy, but relaxing.  We did laundry, filtered water, and took baths.  I built a shower by lashing 3 oars together into a tripod and then covering 2 of the 3 sides with a tarp to give some privacy.  Solar showers could then be hung from the top of the tripod.  The tripod was placed in a shallow sandbar in the river.  (It is required to have all soap dumped directly into the river.  Otherwise with 30,000 people rafting the Canyon every year, the beaches would quickly become polluted.)  The beach was further screened from the rest of the camp by tamarisk bushes.

The shower

The shower

Ariel getting the spa treatment

Ariel getting the spa treatment

This was our hottest day yet.  The temperature reached 85 degrees and lots of sunshine at this camp.  That, combined with the unusually warm river (57degrees instead of the normal 45) made bathing as good as you’ll get in the Canyon.  First the ladies had the beach, then the guys took their turn.  Ariel came back for the royal spa treatment to get her hair washed.  She is having so much fun!  Missing 2 weeks of school for this?  Oh Yeah!  Later on Natalia braided a string of beads into her hair. [This would prove to be her favorite part of the trip and the beads are still in her hair 2 months later.]  It’s good to see her getting along with all the women so well.  I can see her maturing before my eyes. [Note to fathers: An adventure like this is an incredible bonding experience.  Do not let any excuses stop you from making your own father-daughter adventures like this.  To experience a river trip in The Canyon is life-changing.  To share the experience with your daughter is sublime.]

Natalia braiding beads into Ariel's hair

Natalia braiding beads into Ariel's hair

Ariel proudly displaying her bead strand

Ariel proudly displaying her bead strand

When the bathing was done Captain Shu helped me filter water and refill the water jugs.

Filtering water

Filtering water

I planned for the 3 birthdays that we would be celebrating during this trip and bought cards in advance.  Captain Shu also got Barbie-doll sized inflatable rafts to have everyone sign and give as a gift.  So throughout the day, we secretly had everyone go to Shu’s tent tucked away in the woods and sign the cards and rafts. [I knew all of the birthdays because I had to include them on the river permit submitted to the park service.]

In the afternoon Kathleen proved her marine biologist skills were no match for the trout.  She caught 5 and Gary eagerly demonstrated his culinary skills in preparing them to supplement our fajitas for dinner.

Kathleen the Provider showing one of her catches

Kathleen the Provider showing one of her catches

Gary cleaning Kathleen's catch of the day

Gary cleaning Kathleen's catch of the day

In the evening, Ariel played her cello for awhile and then Jay and I had a guitar-violin jam session.  Jay has a great collection of tunes in his repertoire that are conducive to the audience singing along.  I’ll have to get a copy of his song list so I can find the violin versions and play along.  The two instruments compliment each other well.
Such a peaceful night.  just a light breeze occasionally blowing, making the campfire smoke chase people sitting around it.

This has been a fantastic day and tonight is a beautiful night.  But I still can’t convince Ariel we don’t need to set up the tent.  At least the tent has a mesh ceiling so we can still watch the shooting stars.  Tomorrow we will be moving on downstream and enter the Grand Canyon proper.

Next Post: Commodore’s Log, Supplemental: Hidden Danger
Previous Post: Day 4: Nautiloid to Nankoweap

Grand Canyon Day 4: Nautiloid to Nankoweap


Next Post: Day 5: A Father-Daughter experience
Previous Post: Day 3  Nautiloid Camp
First Post: The Story Begins…

We did much better at getting going today.  Cereal for breakfast was fast and easy.  It is warmer and sunny.  About 60 degrees warming up to over 70.  Gotta love this Canyon weather.  I changed our plan from going 15 miles to Dinosaur Camp to going 18 miles to Nankoweap, which is a better camp and has a great hike.  Before we left camp we hiked up to see the fossils embedded in the rocks.

Ariel checking out a nautiloid fossil in the Grand Canyon

Ariel checking out a nautiloid fossil.

Ariel enjoyed hiking up and sliding down the dry creek bed.

Hiking at Nautiloid Canyon

Hiking at Nautiloid Canyon

She also found a flower that only bloomed at night.  It looks much like a morning glory. (later research revealed it is called sacred datura.  The plant is toxic and hallucinogenic.)

Sacred Datura flower in the Grand Canyon

Sacred Datura flower

TRIP TIP: NRS makes a map case specifically designed to fit the Grand Canyon river map book.  While the map book is made of waterproof paper, the pages hold the water long after it gets wet (mine was still wet and sandy when I got home from the trip a week later.)  The case would also be good for charging a solar charger while on the river during the day.

We left camp at 10:00 and reached Nankoweap at 3:30.  Lunch was at President Harding camp.  Strange day for injuries.  Craig cut his finger on a can lid; Kathleen told me that Elizabeth has a bad cut on her elbow from 2 days ago that is now swelling up; and Captain Shu had Craig row his boat because his hand was swollen from getting hit by the oar handle or Natalia’s knee while rowing through a rapid.  Kevin also took a break from paddling his kayak to row Kika’s raft.  Lucy joined me and Ariel for the day.  I like rotating the passengers.  It gives a chance to spend time together and get to know people.  I got to hear more about how Gary and Lucy live on a canal boat in England.  It’s a lot like living in a motor home.  Their simplistic lifestyle makes it easy to afford big adventures like this one.  They toured Italy just before this trip.

Jay was playing his guitar while drifting down the river today, even while floating through a smaller rapid.  Now THAT’S living on Canyon Time!

Playing guitar on the river

Playing guitar on the river

When we reached Nankoweap we found that the main camp was already taken, so we went down to the lower camp.  Not quite as nice, but a few people found some particularly private tent spots in the trees and tamarisk.  Spaghetti for dinner.  Gary, Lucy and I were on cleanup.  I decided to make tomorrow a layover day.  We’re all ready for one.  That should give some time to assess the injuries too.

The trail to the groover is right beside the river, but Captain Shu brought a collection of solar powered lawn lights that look like flowers.  They work great for lighting the path with a soft glow.

View from the groover

View from the groover

TRIP TIP: The solar powered lawn lights are very handy.  I keep one just outside my tent to make it easier to locate in the dark.

I was the last one to go to bed (10PM)  As I lie here writing, it is interesting to rub on the sleeping bag and see the static electricity light up so brightly.  No moon tonight.  Lots of stars in the sky and a planet, probably Jupiter.  Darn, we forgot to put the dishes away from the drying rack.  I had better go do that!  If they are left out overnight, they get covered in sand.  The sand blows easily because it is so fine.  It seems to get into everything.

Sunrise: 6:30
Put in: 10:00 AM, mile 35
Lunch: mile 44
Take out: 3:30 PM, mile 53.5
Sunset: 5:40
Sunny, 60-70 degrees

Next Post: Day 5: A Father-Daughter experience
Previous Post: Day 3  Nautiloid Camp

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