Rafting Down The Grand Canyon

 In Environment

I rarely told anybody that I once rafted down the Grand Canyon. It sounded a little pretentious. However, it happened because in the 1970’s, as a climber, I lauded Joe Brown and Don Whillans. They were British climbing heroes when the great climbing challenges were over in Yosemite, California. I wanted to visit that national park and I also admired the US. So, the mortgage secured, we spent an amoral sum on two weeks on the West Coast. It was glorious, the film studios, the lifestyle, Las Vegas and Yosemite. We looked over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, down on the Colorado River. Nothing in the US failed to live up to the hype. However, Ann then caught the bug and when she returned home she was nurturing a dream; Rafting down the Grand Canyon.

Fortune favours the brave

With no mobiles or computers, she began inquiries. It was quickly apparent that raft trips were grossly oversubscribed and years of waiting were involved. However, a letter suddenly returned from Grand Canyon Expeditions, two cancellations had occurred for the next year. We immediately paid without much thought about what it involved. A year later, to Los Angeles and then Las Vegas. A minibus trip to Lee Ferry and onboard an inflatable raft, one of two. We had one pack each, in a waterproof cover. No watches or radios were allowed, we would be 10 days (8 or 9 now) out of contact with the world. Drifting off, silently, in hot sunshine, was a little dissimilar to Wolverhampton, our home at the time.

The beach

Every night was spent on a sandy beach, the wet edge of a desert. However, no tents and just us in sleeping bags on the sand. Consequently, in the morning, desert rats had left sand trails all around us. Pink rattlesnakes had to be picked up with a stick and moved safely away. Some, uncooperative, simply slunk down a hole nearby and that really troubled the two Germans in the party. In my sleeping bag in the dark, I looked up. It was just like being buried, the canyon sides like black vertical grave walls. In the stars above, myriad bats flitted up and down the river. We settled in easily but one man could not go ashore during stops because he was so unsteady. His eyes, mirroring his state, reduced to mere slits over the ten days. Meanwhile, I managed a few runs up side canyons.

The rapids

There are about 200 rapids down the canyon. About ten are close to the biggest that can be run by an inflatable. Lava Falls was the biggie and as we approached, it roared like a massive steam engine. Our knuckles turned white as we gripped the ropes along the side of the inflatable. Each boat went through separately so the occupants of the other could watch from the shore. The raft disappeared into whirlpools at times. On person was swept overboard and quickly pulled back. Some days we were soaked all day and often cold because the canyon walls blocked out the sun. Finally, we drifted out into Lake Mead before the Hoover Dam.

Rafting down the Grand Canyon

The crew had fed us from stores in the boat’s depths. They had also unloaded an aluminium toilet every evening, into a tent. No human waste can be left in the Canyon and that toilet became ever heavier. We were returned to Las Vegas. That was a shock. After living in the wilderness, the noise and bustle were intolerable. Before leaving, we had to say farewell to the man with the weak legs. He was gambling, replete in a tux and looking fit and well, back in his element. As for us, we learnt that we enjoyed remoteness and an excess of nature. It was mindfulness personified and also the most exciting holiday we ever had.

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