Stirring awake, your eyes flutter and focus. You see the constellation Orion, enormous and speckled with rarely-seen tiny stars, fading in the predawn darkness. Then, the sound of rushing water, gurgling and gushing nearby. A canyon wren announces the first rays of light with its unforgettable chromatic down-stepping song. You draw a deep breath of pure fresh air and smile, remembering where you fell asleep… your first river trip! You snuggle back down in your sleeping bag, catch a few more z’s, and wait for the crew’s coffee call.
When was the last time you used the sun as a clock or discovered the freedom of not looking in a mirror for days on end? Imagine travelling back in time and tracing the earth’s history through fantastically coloured rock formations towering thousands of feet above. If you have a desire to get back in touch with your wild side and bathe the grandeur of nature, you need to add a river trip to your bucket list. It’s time to consider a trip like no other… rafting the mighty Colorado through the Grand Canyon.
In 1998, the National Park Service conducted a Grand Canyon Visitor Study concluding the median river guest age at 43. In 2015, a Utah-based river tour company reported the same median and, in addition, 48 per cent of their guests were over 50, with the oldest reigning in at 85!
By following these simple insider tips and hints, you will feel more confident, competent and comfortable on the river. You will bring all the little extras you need, know what to expect on the boat and in camp, and tap into secrets of river rafting that only experienced guides know.
WHERE TO START
Motorized boat trips are by far the most popular, convenient and luxurious of all trip types. The Grand Canyon consists of 277 river miles and outfitters offer a variety of trip lengths, from 3-11 days, with a small selection of “put-in” and “take-out” options.
Insider tip: The most stunning scenery and exciting rapids embark from Mile 0, at Lee’s Ferry, and end with a helicopter ride out to the rim at mile 188, Whitmore Wash.
Boating season runs from mid-April to mid-September. Launching mid-May through the end of June will typically provide clear, green water and sunny, pleasant weather.
WHAT TO PACK
Keep it light and focus on necessity. Wear outfits for multiple days. Plan on exposure to extreme sun and heat.
Insider tip: If you get too hot, get wet.
In addition to a packing list found on all outfitter websites, don’t forget these essential items:
* Water bottle with a strap or carabiner
* Hat with a clip (and a spare just in case yours blows away and sinks)
* Sunglasses, sunscreen, and sarong for sun protection.
* Splash-resistant camera or cell phone, but don’t expect cell service. All trips are equipped with a satellite phone for emergency evacuations, if necessary.
* Headlamp with red light setting, pillow, journal, towel, wet wipes, moisturizing lotion and other essential toiletries.
Insider tip: Guides love Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soaps. Environmentally friendly, it suds up well in colder water, and you can use it to wash your hair, body and clothes.
Pack everything in a medium-sized, soft-shell duffle and observe weight requirements, if you chose a trip with a helicopter-ride option. Outfitters allow you to bring your own beverages or order directly from them but, please, no glass.
WHAT TO EXPECT
You will receive a large “dry bag” for your personal duffle and the provided sleeping gear, which you only have access to at camp (not during the day). Your guides will show you how to most effectively close your bag.
Insider tip: The more rolls you get, the more waterproof your gear stays.
You can also expect a small dry bag that stays with you on the boat. Stash items you may want during the day like sunscreen, medications, rain suit and camera.
No swimming experience necessary. Everyone is assigned a life jacket and you must keep it comfortably snug at all times. The boat will not leave land until all jackets are buckled up.
Once on the boat, your crew will go through boat safety, explaining where it’s safe to ride during rapids, how to move around the boat, and what to do if you fall in (SMILE! Someone is probably taking a photo!).
Pulling into camp for the night, you will, if able, help with the “fire line,” where everyone lines up to help unpack the boat. You will meet the “groover,” named for the primitive toilet system that would leave grooves down the back of your thighs from sitting on the can. No need to fear, groovers these days are designed for comfort and come with real toilet seats, lids and plenty of privacy. You will also learn how to set up your cot, what to expect for dinner procedures, and how to wash your dishes in a four-pan system.
Relax and enjoy a hot meal prepared by your hard-working guides, while you sip a cold beer, hot tea or your beverage of choice. After dinner, unwind and soak in the glow of your first day on the river. Gaze in awe as the Milky Way stretches across the sky with unprecedented depth and size you’ve never witnessed before.
WHAT TO REMEMBER
– Diligent hand washing prevents viral and bacterial contamination that could cause sickness.
– Drink lots of water. All companies supply unlimited fresh drinking water. Staying hydrated prevents headaches, crankiness and bad judgment.
– Always watch your step and protect your toes. Foot injuries are most common and can really put a damper on your trip.
– It’s important to remember to put ALL liquid waste in the river, which means you must pee and bathe in the river. Tip for the ladies: Squat facing the group and go right next to the boat. You’ll have more coverage and something to hold on to. If your knees can’t handle the squat, bring a feminine urinary device (an inexpensive tool allowing women to go while standing). To purchase, search online or visit your local camping store.
– Keep your towel handy at night to wipe off sandy feet before climbing into bed.
– Keep everything sealed and secured. The wind blows loose items away and ravens, ringtail cats and ants can invade opportunistic openings.
Marvel at stunning geography not seen anywhere else on earth. Laugh along at bad jokes and tall tales from your guides. Witness majestic great-blue herons, impressive big-horn sheep, crafty ring-tail cats and so much more in their natural habitat. Hike to secret waterfalls and challenge your nerves in wild white water. All of this, and more, is waiting for you on the Colorado River!
IF YOU GO
1-2 pairs of socks in case of sunburn or a chilly night.
2-3 pairs of shoes: Rubber-soled water shoes like Keens, Tevas or Chacos for daytime on the boat, evening camp shoes to wear while your day shoes dry out, and lightweight hikers, if your trip includes some day hikes. Pack items in a plastic grocery bag to protect your clothing.
Long shorts or capris: exposed upper legs burn easily sitting on a boat.
A couple of lightweight long-sleeved shirts offer great sun and wind protection and are excellent when you want to get wet and stay cool.
Pants and a sweatshirt for evenings at camp.
A two-piece rain suit is a MUST. Ending up cold and wet on the river is the absolute worst.
Grand Canyon Tour Companies:
Tour West Inc – twriver.com
Western River Expeditions – westernriver.com
Colorado River & Trail Expeditions – crateinc.com
Hatch River Expeditions – hatchriverexpeditions.com
Arizona Raft Adventures – azraft.com
Wilderness River Adventures – riveradventures.com