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Trip Report Trip Report: Rafting the Colorado/Hiking Out of the Grand Canyon

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We have just returned from a four-day trip combining rafting on the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon terminating at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the canyon and a hike up Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. I've wanted to take such a trip ever since I was a kid looking at pictures of Grand Canyon rafters in the old issues of National Geographic that my grandfather gave me. At that time I also briefly entertained the idea that John Wesley Powell, the one-armed former Civil War general who in the late 1860s was the first to ride the river and explore and document the canyon, was my great-great grandfather. (This misimpression was based on the fact that my grandmother had told me I had an ancestor one her side of the family named "Powell" who fought and was wounded in the war, and it was only corrected several years later when, to my disappointment, she informed me that the family name involved was actually "Powers" and not "Powell.") A few years later, I was also fascinated by a full-spread picture that I saw in one of those The-Year-in-Photos issues of Life Magazine showing a huge silver raft full of terrified rafters about to tip over in the canyon's rapids.

The trip we actually took was conceived over a year ago when several fathers who are close friends decided to take their daughters, who are also close friends, on such a trip to celebrate the daughters' graduation from high school last month. Due to the press of work and upcoming summer activities, we were interested in a short multi-day trip that combined rafting and hiking. Unfortunately, we did not look into the details of planning such a trip until January of this year, and by then it was too late to book a group larger than four on one of the many commercial raft trips on the river into the canyon. One other dad and I had thought up the trip and seemed to have the most interest in it; therefore, we took the four available spots on the trip and on Thursday, June 1 the two dads and daughters flew to Phoenix, rented a car, and drove to Page, Arizona for the orientation that evening and our embarkation on the river the next morning. To be continued as time permits.

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    Can't wait to read the rest of your report. My husband's been planning a Grand Canyon rafting trip since the day our son was born. He'll be 9 this summer, so we've got a few more years to go.

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    I did the same trip a few years ago. It was fabulous. WE had the good fortune of going with 3 teenage boys, who were great to have along. Sleeping in the grand canyon is a terrific experince, particularly if there is a full moon.

    In the summer it is pretty hot and the boat people kept reminding us about dehydration. One kid got very sick because he didn't drink much water.

    The only thing to keep in mind is that the hike out is not easy. YOu can take a mule I think. WE started VERY early in the AM and didn't get out of the canyon until after 12 or 1.

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    Day 1 - Thurs. June 1
    After departing Phoenix, the four of us stop in Flagstaff for an excellent lunch at the outdoor beer garden at Beaver Street Brewery & Whistle Stop Café, 11 S. Beaver St., (928) 779-0079. It is a beautiful blue, cloudless day and the air in Flagstaff is invigorating. The town looks interesting and I wish we had more time to explore it, but we still need to make the 140 mile drive to Page for the 6:30 p.m. orientation. The pine trees and mountains surrounding Flagstaff soon give way to desolate country as we head north on U.S. 89 through Navajo reservation country. When we get out for a brief rest stop at a trading post in Grey Mountain, we are met by an invisible wall of intensely hot, dry air of the Northern Arizona desert. This is the climate we will experience for the next five days until we leave the Grand Canyon the following Tuesday. The multi-hued Vermillion Cliffs are clearly visible to the northwest. Soon we are paralleling the "Cedar Tree Hills" that look a lot more like barren mountains, round these "hills" through Antelope Pass, and drop down into Page. It is a clean, pleasant town just south of the Utah border built during the 1950s as a company town for workers who were building the controversial Glen Canyon Dam. This massive dam blocked the Colorado River, filled up Glen Canyon, and created the vast Lake Powell reservoir that stretches northeast from Page many miles into Utah. We bypass Page and descend to the highway bridge a mile or two above the town that gives an unobstructed view of the dam on the north and the deep river canyon to the south where we will begin our trip tomorrow. There is some level of undeclared apprehension about the raft trip since none of us have done it before or know what to expect.

    We check into the Courtyard Marriot Page, 600 Clubhouse Dr., Page, AZ 86040 (928) 645-5000 ( marriott.com/property/propertypage/PGACY ) a much nicer-than-average Courtyard, unpack, and then head to the orientation. The company we have chosen for our rafting trip, one of a dozen or so commercial outfits approved by the National Park Service for running the river, is Diamond River Adventures that operates out of Page ( www.diamondriver.com ). Frankly, our earlier research did not reveal any major differences between outfitters, so we had chosen Diamond River primarily because their four-day raft and hike out itinerary best suited our narrow time window to take this trip in early June.

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    The orientation is led by Kris, our leader and head guide on the trip. She projects an air of confidence as she explains the system for packing our gear and answers miscellaneous questions from the 25 guests, including us, who will occupy two large 30-foot rafts for the trip. Basically, each guest's gear will be stored in three separate containers supplied by Diamond river---the stuff that you don't need until night such as your sleeping bag, backpack, and tarp will be stored in a large waterproof canvas duffel "dry bag" (that has an oversized garbage bag liner as protection against wetness), soft stuff you might need during the day (such as your rainsuit or sunscreen) will go in a smaller waterproof canvas "day bag," and all "hard" daily use items such as sunglasses, contact wetting solution, toothbrush and toothpaste, and complimentary Diamond River plastic thermal mugs go in a recycled Army surplus .50 caliber sealed ammo box that will prove indispensable on the trip. As far as we can tell, the rest of our group are Colorado River rafting novices too. Despite her assured explanations, a number of questions linger: Just how dangerous are the rapids? What happens if you're thrown out of the raft? What happens if the raft capsizes? Just how cold is the water? Where and how do you go to the bathroom on a trip with a group of 20 strangers? How tough is the hike out of the canyon? No amount of explaining Kris provides reduces the combination of mild excitement/anticipation/anxiety these questions generate.

    After the hour long orientation breaks up, the four of us take a quick trip to the nearby Safeway and Wal-Mart in Page for last-minute items, including $7.00 folding chairs we each have been encouraged to take on the trip. We eat a quick, satisfying Mexican food and margarita dinner at Fiesta Mexicana, 125 S. Lake Powell Blvd., (928) 645-4082, then are off to bed for a restless sleep before meeting at 8:30 tomorrow morning to board the bus that will take us on a hour's trip to Lee's Ferry on the Colorado, 15 river miles below Glen Canyon Dam, where we will meet our rafts and the rest of the crew.

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    Day 2 - Fri. June 2

    Anticipation has me wide awake at 4:45 a.m. The four of us brought more clothing and gear than we need, having assumed that we would cut down on what we pack in our backpacks after the orientation session, which we do. Conceding that I may be only in slightly-above-average shape for the hike out and knowing from a brief hike down and back up the top portion of the South Kaibab trial on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon 25 years ago how strenous the upcoming hike out may be, I try to pack my backpack as lightly as possible.

    The night before at the orientation, the Diamond River folks issued us the large "dry bag" containing a sleeping bag and plastic tarp, the much smaller "day bag," and the ammo box. Packing seems more complicated than it should be. I pack as recommended by the guides in the routine I will follow for the next four mornings, stuffing the large dry bag lined with a large heavy-duty plastic trash bag first with the sleeping bag, then my back pack, I twist the trash bag tight at the top and stuff the excess down the side, put the plastic tarp on top, then close the dry bag and fold it several times tightly down from the top and cinch it closed with the plastic clip and straps on the exterior. All such guests' bags will be stored and strapped down in the center of each raft. Next I pack the day bag with a water bottle and sunscreen. That back clips to whatever strap is available on the larger dry bags. Finally, I put the complimentary Diamond River plastic mug, contacts case, contacts solution, toothbrush and toothpaste in the ammo box. All the ammo boxes will be cinched down in the middle of the boat but accessible throughout the day.

    I usually wear glasses at work and contacts for sports and outdoor activities, but I wondering whether the whole contacts insertion/removal/cleaning program will work under these conditions. At the last minute, I bag the glasses putting them in a case in the ammo box and opt for contacts and sunglasses. For the first day of the trip, the four of us are wearing quick drying shorts, cotton T-shirts, quick drying long sleeved shirts on top of the T-shirts, hats, and Keen water shoes/sandals. We have no idea whether this is the best combination but fortuitously it works well with minor variation for the whole trip.

    The four of us eat an above average breakfast at the Page Courtyard and then head up the hill to meet the bus in the Quality Inn parking lot. We've arranged with a local driver in Page for our rental car to be driven from Page to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and dropped off there on June 3, two days before we return. We drop the keys off to him at the bus. An hour's bus ride has us at Lee's Ferry, one of the few places that the river is accessible by vehicle, where we meet our guides and crew. While the entire river trip occurs within Grand Canyon National Park, we actually start and float south through Marble Canyon for the first day-and-a-half until we reach the Grand Canyon itself and turn west. There are 25 guests from St. Louis, Atlanta, Texas, Michigan, and California, 2 Diamond River guides, and 5 other Diamond River crew members split among the two large motorized rafts.

    We are on the water by 10:00 a.m. and cruising quietly south on the river, all sporting the mandatory orange life jackets. I've seen pictures of the Colorado looking chocolate-milk brown, so I'm relieved that the water is deep green and relatively clear. Wading to board the raft indicates the river is very cold at that point, probably in the 50 degree range, because it is released from the bottom of Lake Powell fifteen miles upstream at Glen Canyon Dam. One hundred degree plus air temperatures and 87 river miles to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon do little to moderate the water temperature, but it is another incredible cloudless, deep blue sky day, the walls of rust colored rock in Marble Canyon rise high above us, and we're about to take our first major rapids on the river.

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    Great report so far! This is the trip we want to do also and we hope to do it early next June. I am reading your report very closely, esp. the packing part and the details of the planning.

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    Day 2 - Fri. June 2 (cont'd)

    Our transportation down the river was two silver inflated rafts with a large pontoon on either side. Food, bed pads, tents, and other gear for the trip were stowed in large holds in the center of the boats, the large dry bags were tied down on top and in the center, and the dozen or so guests per raft were arrayed sitting three or four down the left side, five to seven down the right side, and two or three directly up front in the position the crew affectionately referred to as The Bathtub. Wondering "how bad can it be?," our daughters volunteered for prime Bathtub position as we crossed far below the Navajo Bridges that are the only spans over the river until Phantom Ranch. Shortly afterwards, we heard the roar of Badger Creek Rapid, the first "rated" rapid of the journey. While there are many "riffles" or small rapids on the trip, there are also a large number of rated rapids on the Grand Canyon scale from 1 (easiest) to 10 (most difficult). Badger rates from 5 to 8, depending on the level of water being released from Glen Canyon Dam. Some rapids become more difficult with higher release rates while other become easier. Our guides told us that at a release rate of about 17,500 cubic feet per second, we were going to have "prime" whitewater.

    As we entered Badger, the nose of the raft dipped and suddenly we were confronted with a four foot standing wave in the middle of the rapids. The raft plunged through the wave, completely drenching our daughters up front and all who sat two deep on either side. The shock of being suddenly completely doused with 50+ degree water is not to be underestimated. The boat was buffeted back and forth, some waves hitting us from the side or oblique angles. When we emerged a minute or so later, amazingly only the pilot (guide) and crew, who were in the back were dry.

    This is the pattern we would repeat many times over the next three days. Some rapids were bigger or longer, others smaller, but the ride was almost always a roller coaster and despite the cold water, we were almost always looking forward to the next one.

    We pulled over for lunch and the crew within minutes had assembled tables with a lunch spread (cold cuts and trimmings for sandwiches) which we could wash down with cold, purifed river water or soft drinks or beer carried in the cold water in net bags trailing behind the rafts.

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    I'm somewhat of a weenie when it comes to water; I fell out of a raft once on the Rio Grande in Big Bend and am struggling w/that memory but really want to raft the Colorado at GC.

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    emd and sharondi - Thanks for your positive comments. Emd, as for the four of us, I wouldn't say we experienced fear of the water. We've all had a lot of experience boating on lakes and doing some very mild whitewater. It was more like concern for the unknown. I will say that in three full days of going through many, many large and small rapids, no one on either raft fell overboard while running the rapids, and the guests on our trip ranged from about 10 to 70 years old. (The lower age limit for the motorized raft trips is 8, I think.) Plus, after the first rapid or two I was confident it would be highly unlikely--despite the picture I'd seen in Life magazine as a kid--for one of the large rafts we were on to flip over. The crew does a great job of warning you about upcoming rapids (as if you can't hear and see them coming!), making sure everyone is seated and has good handholds on ropes or gear before entering the rapids. I will say that on a couple of rapids when I was sitting in front I was buffeted around pretty good and would have gone over the side if I hadn't been holding on tightly.

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    Day 2 - Fri. June 2 (cont'd)

    By the afternoon of this first day on the river, everyone on the trip seems to be in "river mode" largely forgetting about the passage of time, cell phones (don't even think about it---there's probably not a good signal for 100 miles), and other cares back home. Even though we are on one of the shorter trips, this is what I really enjoyed--almost immediately being in some Zen-like meditative trance brought on by your surroundings that lasts until you leave the river. By now, we're starting to make friends with our boat mates. Perhaps we are fortunate, but the crew is great and regardless of how they might otherwise be at home, most all the guests on the trip are very easy going.

    We pass the afternoon craning our necks at the spectacular geology of the high cliffs on both sides of the river (I think there are about 18 or 19 major geologic layers you pass through on your trip down the canyon) alternating with runs down Soap Creek Rapids, 13 Mile Rapids, Sheer Wall Rapids, and the biggie--House Rock Rapids as well as many other unnamed riffles.

    Kris decides to pull the trip over about 4:30 p.m. on a sandy beach just above North Canyon Rapids for a hike up North Canyon and to make our campground for the night. Most of us take the guided hour-and-a-half hike up the canyon to see some spectacularly weird rocks deformed by eons of pressure and water while the rest of crew readies dinner. On the return, one guest and one crew member slip and take pretty good tumbles (it's almost always more dangerous coming down rather than going up), but no one is injured and we return ready for a very quick dip in a calm eddy in the river and dinner.

    Throughout the trip I'm amazed at how quickly the crew can set up, cook a quality meal, and break down to get back on the river. Tonight we have barbecued chicken, asparagus shoots, mashed potatoes, and your choice of cold purified river water, Cokes, or beer. After the other dad and I celebrate the day on the river and the hike with a cup of Scotch (you can bring along your own liquor that the crew stores for your personal use in the evening) and with dinner, darkness is quickly falling about 8 or 8:30 p.m. and we make our way to the spot the four of us have staked out for the night.

    It is a sandy plot surrounded by boulders about twenty feet from North Canyon Rapids. Each night our leader does a great job of selecting a campsite near rushing water. Along with the incredible surroundings, it is a great sedative. Tents are available but unnecessary and probably too hot in the warm but very dry evening air. The quick dip in the river after the hike has cooled me down and the air temperature is very comfortable as we settle in for the night. We spread two of our 10 X 10 plastic tarps out side by side on the sand, roll out the four 5-foot long sleeping pads our guides have given us, and then put our sleeping bags on top. I sleep on top of the sleeping bag for the first half of the night before it becomes just cool enough to climb inside. I wake up frequently, probably due to the unususal but amazing surroundings. At some point in the night, the Milky Way is overhead in full blazing glory. It is so bright it looks like clouds in the sky. I haven't seen it that way since I went on hunting trips many years before with my dad. The roaring water in the background helps me drift back to sleep until first light around 4:45 a.m. the next morning.

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    Day 3 – Saturday, June 3

    We wake up at 5:30 for camp coffee (pretty good) or juice and a breakfast of eggs made to order and sausage. We then pack up our camp site and load the boats for our second day on the river. Here's how the bathroom facilities work on the river. The crew brings along a portable 2 x 2 x 2 cubic steel box with a toilet seat on top (that they've nicknamed "Oscar") for solid waste. Each evening when we have stopped for the day, the crew strategically positions Oscar away from the main campsite behind boulders or foliage that afford a surprising degree of privacy. The crew also places a floatable seat cushion with "Help Wanted" printed prominently on its side some feet away from the toilet. The person using the facilities takes the seat cushion with him or her, thus the absence of the seat cushion signals to everyone else the facilities are in use. Liquid waste goes directly in the river. Anyone needing to relieve themselves of liquid waste usually walks up or down river a short distance behind the ubiquitous trees, bushes, or boulders. An unwritten code also quickly develops among guests and crew that if someone is seen walking up or downstream at camp, they are headed for the "facilities" so it is courteous to divert your attention in the opposite direction. This system works surprisingly well and even the most modest members of the group seem to grow accustomed to it within the first day or so.

    This morning we will tackle the "Roaring Twenties," a serious of consecutive rapids from 20 to 30 miles downriver from Lee's Ferry. The scenery that frames these "Roaring Twenties" is spectacular changing layers of rock in the increasingly high, terraced cliffs along both sides of the river. The first morning highlight is Vasey's Paradise, a beautiful oasis created by a waterfall that emerges from the rock mid-cliff on the west side of the river, . When he first explored the river in 1869, John Wesley Powell kept a journal of his trip. A friend has loaned me a copy for our trip that I try to follow along as we pass the same features that Powell did 137 years earlier. Powell wrote of the place:

    "Riding down a short distance, a beautiful view is presented. The river turns sharply to the east and seems inclosed by a wall set with a million brilliant gems. What can it mean? Every eye is engaged and everyone wonders. On coming nearer we find fountains bursting from the rock high overhead, and the spray in the sunshine forms the gems which bedeck the wall. The rocks below the fountain are covered with mosses and ferns and many beautiful flowering plants. We name it Vasey's Paradise, in honor of the botanist who traveled with us last year."

    A bend beyond Vasey's we stop on the east bank at Redwall Cavern, and incredible overhang with a sand floor that the river had sculpted deep, deep into the orange rocks. Several other rafting trips make the same stop while we are there.

    Shortly after the Cavern, we pull over for a delicious taco salad lunch hastily prepared by the crew. Breads, sandwich meats, and peanut butter and jelly are available as "alternative cuisine." The crew is very accommodating of the guests' dietary preferences, including the wheat allergy that one of our girls' has. (Best though to let them know of such preferences before the trip begins.)

    At river mile 39 we stop to explore the site of Marble Canyon Dam, a dam of the Colorado in Marble Canyon that was proposed in the 1960s that was successfully opposed by, among others, a small group called the Sierra Club. We hike up to and inside the deep bore holes in the canyon wall where surveyors explored the feasibility of a dam. This site may represent a milestone in the environmental movement as we've come to know it. Regardless of your political orientation, at this spot you're thankful the dam was not built.

    Tonight we pull over early about 4:30 p.m. at a beautiful campsite at river mile 47 and to explore a waterfall far up Saddle Canyon. An hour-and-a-half hike up the canyon, partly by wading through waist deep water, brings us to a beautiful small falls in the narrow canyon. When we return, the crew has prepared a dinner of shrimp alfredo. We take an icy dip in the Colorado for a bath. One plunge in the river, then soaping off with biodegradable soap, then another quick plunge for a rinse and we're ready to eat. After dinner, Pancho, the Navajo member of our crew, serenades us with reggae tunes that he sings and plays on his guitar. Then to bed once again on our tarp, pads, and sleeping bags for deep sleep alternating with stunning middle-of-the-night views of the stars and the Milky Way. Thoughts of work and home seem far away.

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    Sounds great, terrific report and I love the details! Do you know if there are any shorter trips like this?

    I'm a little daunted by the prospect of 4 days on the river but I think an overnight would be fun....

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    highflyer - don't underestimate yourself in thinking about 4 nights on the river (our trip was actually 3 nights on the river). You'd be amazed at how quickly you can adapt. I don't believe there are shorter overnight trips on the stretch of the Colorado our trip went down. It's hard to imagine where such a trip would exit the river between Lee's Ferry and Phantom Ranch, but I would certainly be interested in whether anyone who has more experience with these trips and this part of the country knows otherwise.

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    Day 4 – Sun. June 4

    First light creeps over the canyon wall about 4:30 a.m. I drift in and out of sleep until the crew gives their daily wake up call of "Hot Coffee." Breakfast this morning: pancakes and sausage. We're now feeling very comfortable with the other guests on the trip. Forty-eight hours together have given us the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with all of the kids and adult guests and crew on our raft and most of those on the other raft. We will likely never see these people again, but we are feeling the common kinship of a shared adventure far outside the context of our daily routines. We load up, and the crew has warned us that this is the morning to wear the rain suits they have recommended that we bring along. The rapids will be frequent and cold, and the high canyon walls will keep us in the shade most of the morning. They are right. We forget to button down our rain suits at the wrists and ankles, and the waters from Nankoweap, Kwagunt, and 60 Mile Rapids fill our sleeves and pant legs with cold water. Yet we barely notice because of the head-turning scenery.

    As lunch approaches, we pull over where the Little Colorado River merges with the "big" Colorado. It is an astonishing setting of indescribably deep blue sky, tall multicolored cliffs, the deep green of the big river, and the turquoise Little Colorado. A spring sacred to the Hopi Indians feeds the Little Colorado and contributes to its iridescent light blue color this time of year. (Our guides say that due to late summer thunderstorm runoff, they often don't bother to stop at the Little Colorado because it becomes choclate milk brown for days at a time.) The crew leads us on a short walk up the smaller river, where we put our legs through our life vests and repeatedly float on our backs down the shallow rapids. The spring water has sculpted incredible shapes in the rough travertine that lines bottom of the river. Some of the younger kids in the groups "run" these rapids more than a dozen times. The 72 degree water of the Little Colorado feels like a warm bath compared to the mother river and the hot desert wind dries us off within minutes of emerging from our swim. The western afternoon breeze picks up dramatically as the crew serves us another great lunch on a rock terrace above the Little Colorado---a large chicken salad with the usual alternative sandwich options. Of the millions of visitors to the Grand Canyon each year, less than 0.5% experience the canyon via the river. We feel very lucky.

    This is where the Grand Canyon actually begins. It is amazing to think that through thousands of years of recorded human history, it has been only a historical blink of the eye--one hundred thirty-seven years--since August 13, 1869 when John Wesley Powell wrote from this spot: "We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown." While our guides have been this way dozens of times, for each of us individually, the canyon at this point is also a great unknown. I begin to mull over the hike out of the canyon tomorrow. My wife and I have done a lot of challenging day hikes including Half Dome in Yosemite and Long's Peak in Colorado, but the 100º+ temperatures in the canyon and weight of my backpack are factors (and frankly some intervening years) weren't factors I had to deal with on those other hikes. The other dad says I'm too concerned about the hike, but I know that he and our daughters are in a lot better shape right now than I am. My best intentions to follow a more rigorous training program for the trip melted away into a few workouts on the elliptical trainer and treadmill in the several weeks before the trip.

    This afternoon, we will go through the most challenging rapids on the trip. Remembering the chill of the morning's rapids, most of the guests head for the less exposed back and sides of the raft. That is my inclination too, but then I wonder if I will have the opportunity to ever do this again. Instead I decide to head for The Bathtub---the front of the raft. Some of the teenagers join me. We're now in the unrelenting sunshine and quickly figure out the way to stay relatively warm is by stripping down to only our water shoes, bathing suits, and life jackets. While our quick drying long sleeve shirts provide needed shelter from the sun, they also hold the 50º water close to our skin longer than we would like. Bare skin warms up and dries off much more quickly in 105º heat and 10% humidity.

    After the Little Colorado, the canyon widens dramatically and we head into the hot breezes coming directly upriver. Kris's object is to get us a prime camping site in the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon so that we are in ideal position to off-load at Phantom Ranch for our hike out early tomorrow morning. She and the other crew members can then take on another group of guests who will hike down into the canyon for start of the Lower Grand Canyon raft trip in the afternoon. To get there, we plow through the most exciting rapids of the trip---Lava Canyon, Tanner, Unkar, Nevills, Hance, Sockdolager, and Grapevine. Sockdolager is my favorite. As with the other rapids, we can hear and see it well in advance. The rapids seldom look as challenging in the approach as they do once you've entered them. We nose down into Sockdolager and sitting in front, I see we're immediately racing head on into a standing wave that seems to tower several feet above my head. We let out assorted whoops and yells, which are cut short by total immersion in the icy water. I've forgotten to grip the secure ropes on the raft with both hands, so I'm suddenly riding like a rodeo cowboy on a bucking bull with one hand hanging on for life with my opposite arm flailing wildly out of control. At some point in the next fifteen seconds, I'm lifted completely off my seat by the force of the rushing water coming from all directions, then we're suddenly through the rapids, completely stoked by the adrenaline rush.

    We are now in the deepest geologic layers of the canyon and among some of the oldest rocks on earth. The canyon becomes very narrow here and these black rocks take on increasingly fantastic shapes as we plunge further into the towering gorge. Kris pulls the rafts over for the night on a beautiful sand bank on the south side of the river, just above 83 Mile Rapid. Tomorrow morning we'll have a short 4 miles on the river to our final destination of Bright Angel beach.

    Aftera quick plunge in the river's eddy to wash our hair and a satisfying steak dinner, the two dads sip their evening Scotch and play a few rounds of Hearts with the daughters. Our girls have been absolutely great on the trip. They are "city girls," but they've adapted well without complaint to "roughing it," at least by their standards. They are good, confident, accomplished young women and we're so pleased to share this time with them as a graduation present. All too soon they won't be at home anymore.

    The heat emanates from the black rocks for a long time after sunset. We've found the perfect sandy plot to spread out our gear,tarps, pads, and sleeping bags. Satellites and shooting stars criss-cross the sky on our last night on the river, and we drift off into our best night of sleep on the river.

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    Wow! What an amazing report. Beautifully written and a delight to think about the special time you had with your daughter on this Father's Day weekend. Thanks for posting.

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    Thanks for your kind words MRand and your enthusiasm is contagious! It really seems like this is THE way to experience the GC... The trip sounds exhilerating and what a great graduation gift for your daughter ...that you got to share!

    Looking forward to the 'hike out' report!

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    DAY 5 – Mon. June 5

    Last day in the canyon. I awaken to sunlit deep blue skies far above me and yet we are so deep within the gorge that the sun's rays won't strike this spot until hours later in the morning. No one is yet stirring in camp, so I pull out Powell's journal. I shake my head in amazement contemplating the life this man among men must have led. He rafted the length of the Mississippi and other eastern rivers as a young man. Then as a Union officer, he lost his arm and nearly his life at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in 1862. He must have marveled at the grace or luck that led him, seven years later, to stand near here and write: "The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. The elements that unite to make the Grand Canyon the most sublime spectacle in nature are multifarious and exceedingly diverse." Prosaic nineteenth century hyperbole? Hardly, I think, as I lie on my back in my sleeping bag taking in the scene from the very bottom of the canyon.

    The call of "Hot Coffee!" echoes through the gorge. An hour and a half later, after French toast, syrup, coffee, and juice, we are making our final transit on the water. Zoroaster Rapid and 85 Mile Rapid give us one more icy, wet parting gift from the river. We drift under Kaibab Bridge, which a donkey train is crossing for their long climb out. Suddenly we're beached at Bright Angel below Phantom Ranch. It's 8:45 a.m. and already very warm. National Weather Service information I see later indicates this will be a record setting day for temperatures in the canyon for this time of year. We all know that the cloudless day means the heat will be our most formidable obstacle on the way up, so no one wants to tarry long. We unload the rafts and quickly change clothes for the hike out. We discard all unnecessary weight from our packs, leaving our Diamond River thermos mugs, half-used biodegradable soap containers, the folding chairs we have found to be indispensable for evenings on the river with the crew. New found friends are already saying their goodbyes and starting directly on the Bright Angel Trial, while others head a half-mile north up to Phantom Ranch. In the confusion of the moment, I don't feel like we've had time to say proper goodbyes to friends or crew, but we've got to get going on the trail.

    I read somewhere in the past that a good formula for timing a long hike is 1 hour for each 3 miles in length, plus one hour for each 1000 feet in elevation gain. Accordingly, our 9.5 mile hike up 5000 feet to the South Rim should take in the range of 8 hours, casting doubt on the optimistic 5 or 6 hours estimate that our crew provided, no doubt as a healthy dose of positive reinforcement.

    The four of us once again slather on the sunscreen, adjust the hats and sunglasses, and douse our shirts and shorts in cold river water to begin the hike. We each fill up a pair of two liter water bottles from the spigot at Bright Angle trailhead. Damn—-the hiking poles I lugged on the trip just for the hike out aren't working. I got them as a gift about three years ago, but have never tried them out, and while they properly telescope out but I can't get them to stay. My pack is starting to feel heavy even as we hike across Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge above the rapid of the same name. I shouldn't have had that second Scotch last night or put on those extra fifteen pounds over the last couple of years. We can see and hear the whitewater through the slats of the bridge far below---our last close contact with the river. After 30 or 45 minutes we lose contact with the river altogether, and start up a series of long, dusty switchbacks. We each go through our first liter of water in no time. Our clothes have almost dried from the river water but are starting to resoak from the sweat. Before long, I'm starting to lag behind daughters and other father. I'm trying to keep my head up to the enjoy the magnificent scenery, but I don't feel "on." Not a good time to be feeling "off."

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    Day 5 - Mon. June 5 (cont'd)

    We encounter some folks hiking down to join up with our Diamond River crew for the Lower Canyon raft trip. Some of them say they have been on three or four other Diamond River trips, and have always had a great time. They look far less fit than we do, but of course they are hiking DOWN. My comfortable pace is slower than my companions'. They generously wait for me to catch up every twenty minutes or so until we complete Devil's Corkscrew (which is surely as hot as hell today). I soon realize I don't want them to wait on me. I want them to go at their own pace, not feeling that I'm holding them back and I don't want to pressure myself to keep up with their pace. What's more, while they're waiting on me, they're getting double the rest that I do when I catch up. We see the 70 year old member of our rafting trip, whose party started out considerably ahead of us at the beach, taking a rest in the sparse shade with hiking boots off and feet elevated. His daughter and grandsons have gone on without him, yet he's an experienced hiker and seems fit. He tells us he's going to take as much time and as many breaks as he needs. He's all the encouragement I need, and we press on.

    The steepness of the trail moderates at the top of the Corkscrew, but it is still an upward climb to our halfway point and first water stop, the oasis known as Indian Garden. My group again quickly forges ahead of me, and I'm soon alone on a long dusty stretch of trail with no shade. I guzzle down my second bottle of water and am soon thirsty again. I douse my shirt in a shallow creek but am starting to feel a little shaky. Dehydration? Possibly. I'm now beginning to slightly regret letting my group press ahead, because I haven't seen anyone on the trail in a long time. Finally, visitors and guides on a mule team headed down to the river pass by and give me welcome reason to pull over and a brief rest. Damn, without realizing it, I had stopped only a couple of hundred yards below Indian Garden. There I find stables for mules, plenty of water and shade, other hikers, guests from our Diamond River trip, and my group. We eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that Diamond River packed for us, soak ourselves in cold water, and drink another liter while we rest with our boots off and feet elevated. I'm shaking, hoping I'm chilled from the cold water on my shirt rather than a reaction to the heat.

    My group is ready to go again. The white Kaibab rock layer at the top of the South Rim still seems impossibly high and far away. Soon I'm hiking alone again across a long shadeless expanse of desert-like terrain. It's 1:30 p.m., the sun beats down directly overhead, and no one's on the trail above or below as far as I can see. Thinking that maybe electrolyte depletion is dragging me down, I've mixed some Gatorade powder in one of my water bottles, but drinking about half of this over the next hour makes me slightly nauseous, so I pour it out. The trail grinds relentlessly upward. I've hiked longer trails and higher ones, but age, conditioning, and HEAT are starting to take their toll. This is not a stretch I want to get into trouble on alone in these conditions, and I've probably been pushing too hard to keep up with my three companions, whom I occasionally glimpse well ahead and above me.

    I slow my pace down but eventually reach the Three Mile Resthouse (three trail miles and probably 2000 vertical below the South Rim). Once again, my group is patiently waiting there for me. They seem tired but remarkably fit, and their delicate questioning of me indicates some level of concern about how I'm faring. Their concern is confirmed for me when my daughter nonchalantly says she is joining me for the remainder of the hike out. Frankly, I'm grateful that she is. Perhaps it's a little delirium from the heat and fatigue, but I start to muse that this trip is a metaphor for our lifelong relationship---at the beginning of the trip, she was nervous and excited, asking me a lot of questions and looking to me for guidance. In the middle of the trip, she's become comfortable with her surroundings and much less dependent on me. Now in the later stage of the trip, I've may have become dependent on her assistance. We soon enter into semi-permanent shade provided by the lowering sun and the steep wall of the South Rim still high above us. It is a welcome relief. Here is what we are ascending for the last third of the hike: ( http://kaibab.org/tr961/ - scroll down about 20 pictures on the thumbnail views to "Bright Angel Trail from Grandeur Point" and click on "726 x 1024" view to open in the larger window), but now it's mostly in the shade. She stops often for me between Three Mile and 1.5 Mile Resthouse. We begin to encounter more visitors who are venturing into the canyon from the South Rim. Our goal is now in clear view and we can see the American flag flying above the edge of the South Rim village complex. I finally get my second wind, and then we are at the top, eight hours after we started. The full panorama of the canyon unfolds like a painted movie set before us: transcendent immensity. I am weary but exhilarated.

    Other father and daughter have finished about an hour before us, and they bring cold water bottles and ice cream as a reward. Indescribably satisfying. We now see the daughter of 70 year old dad who we saw much earlier on the trail but haven't seen since Indian Garden. She is concerned about him and starts down the trail to look for him. Her sons tell us a Park Ranger has told them that 3 visitors had to be helicoptered out of the canyon today due to heat exhaustion. She finds him a hour down the trail. He is doing fine, but is relieved to see her. We hear one of the teenage boys from our rafting trip made the entire hike from the bottom in SANDALS, in five hours, but his feet were a blistered mess.

    At the reception desk at the Bright Angel Lodge at the top of the trailhead, other dad and I secure the rental car that has been faithfully delivered from Page to the South Rim, check daughters into a room at Thunderbird Lodge (canyon view room), and we check into a room at the adjacent Kachina Lodge (with a canyon view too). Other dad was able to reserve these rooms only a month or so before the trip. I'd like to stay another day for views of what we now think of as "our" canyon from various vantage points on the South Rim. But other obligations call, and we will be up at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow to head to Phoenix for the flight home. Cold, cold showers---our first in five days---and dinner at the Arizona Room in the Bright Angel Lodge almost completely restore us (me), and we stroll in the last vestiges of daylights to the edge to catch a view of "our" magnificent canyon.

    But Powell says it best: "The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon—-forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain. But more: it is a vast district of country. Were it a valley plain it would make a state. It can be seen only in parts from hour to hour and from day to day and from week to week and from month to month." In toiling through the canyon, he says, "a concept of sublimity can be obtained never again to be equaled on the hither side of Paradise." It's hard to disagree.

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    Wonderful report, MRand---thank you. We did the hike down and back up in April, spending two nights at the canyon bottom. I was lovely to read your description of the changing layers, and the quotes from Powell about the sublime beauty. I can't wait to do it again next year!

    Since it wasn't so hot for us, we had a much easier time than you on the hike up. I'm curious if you wore a hat? We have those broad-brimmed canvas hats, and I'm pretty sure that makes a huge difference in helping keep cool. And it's too bad your poles didn't work; they probably would have made it a bit easier for you.

    But despite the difficulties, you made it, and best of all you had a wonderful experience with your daughter.

    Happy Father's Day to you.

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    MRand, we did this raft trip and hike out with our kids ages 11,14,and 16 in 2000 and it is a time we will never forget. We not only bonded with each other but with all our other "boat pals". Reading your lovely report I could see my kids floating down the "warm" 70 degree water of the Little Colorado and even relived the prickly feeling of having to go deeper into the Big Colorado to pee, or try to anyway! And lets not forget those wonderful icy waves splashing you at 8:00 in the morning as you start the day! Thanks for sharing and getting so many others excited to do such a great trip. I know my kids are very proud of having hiked the Canyon at such a young age. My husband and I are hoping to do the second half of the river someday but plan to hike down to Phantom Ranch next time! Great work!

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    enzian, highflyer, emd, turista and others - thanks for your positive comments. enzian, we did wear hats - can't imagine not having them. Also, halfway up at Indian Garden I did meet a great guy from Flagstaff who had hiked down South Kaibab (for pay) earlier that morning to take a load of gear to the river and was hiking back up Bright Angel who helped me get my hiking poles to work. I should have mentioned that having those also made a huge difference on the latter half of the hike out. Here's a list of the gear I took, and I'd be hard put to think of anything I would have left out that would have substantially lightened my load:

    Clothes and Equipment List

    1 broad brim hat with draw string
    1 pair sunglasses (with Croakies glasses retainer attached)
    2 lightweight, quick drying REI Sahara type long sleeve shirts
    1 cotton short sleeve T-shirt
    1 Smartwool short sleeve shirt
    1 belt
    4 pair of nylon, quick drying Ex Officio underwear (maybe one pair too many)
    2 pair of quick drying shorts
    1 pair of quick drying convertible pants (w/ zip-off legs for conversion to shorts)
    1 pair Keen water sandals
    3 pair hiking socks (maybe one pair too many)
    1 pair Vasque lightweight hiking boots
    1 Columbia rain suit jacket
    1 Columbia rain suit pants

    1 pillow – a Thermarest "rollup" compressible pillow (man, was this ever worth it – as someone who sleeps with two pillows, this small pillow on top of my packed backpack made for excellent sleeping)
    1 small ultralite camp towel
    1 pair regular eyeglasses
    1 pair of contacts
    1 contacts case and solution
    3 bottles of sunscreen
    2 chap stick rolls with SPF
    soap/shampoo – Campsuds biodegradable
    Advil (used)
    Immodium (not used, fortunately)
    flashlight/headlamps (our friends used headlamps, which seemed to work best in the canyon environment)
    3 small carabiners (very useful for clipping stuff on to things)
    2 one liter water bottles
    1 pair hiking polls

    Here are also some Grand Canyon web sites I found useful:

    National Park Service Grand Canyon site - www.nps.gov/grca
    Hit the Trail: Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon & the Southwest - www.hitthetrail.com
    Grand Canyon Explorer - www.kaibab.org
    Grand Canyon Treks - www.grandcanyontreks.org/index.htm
    Dayle's rafting clothes list - www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=1&tid=34784327
    Example of a Grand Canyon packing list - www.kayakcraig.com/GCpacklist.html

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    MRand---glad you did get the poles working after all. That's a good list---ours was very similar although we didn't need as many of changes of clothes, since we were not on the river and only out 2 nights. But we also had to carry tent, sleeping bags, stove, pots, etc.

    Boy did I laugh when I saw the Ex Officio underwear on your list. My husband bought some (1 pair) specifically for the hiking trip, and they disappeared during the packing process. I'm sure the dog stole them--she also chewed up his sunglasses that he bought last year in Switzerland and loved. That's the last time we stage packing for a trip on the floor!!!

    I'm sure many people will be inspired to sign up for a raft trip based on your report.

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    Your report is gathering a legacy already. I have sent it to 4 people and my husband has shared it w/two people at his office who are getting ready to do a longer Colorado river rafting trip. I really really appreciate the time and effort it took to do this report.

    I hope you have shared your report w/your daughter and the other dad/daughter who went w/you! It is a classic and will have special meaning to all of them.

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    emd - Thanks very much for your positive feedback. I realize the report is long, but for those who wonder about taking such a trip, I'd like to try to answer the question "what was it REALLY like?" I've reflected on a couple of additional questions that I had and that travelers contemplating such a rafting trip on the Colorado might have:

    When is the best time to go take a Colorado rafting trip?

    I think the commercial raft trips on the Colorado run from late April through early October. Our trip this June seemed, fortuitously, like an ideal time to raft the Colorado for three reasons: (1) air temperature - the skies were clear blue and the ambient air temperature was in the 100s for the duration of our trip, allowing us to dry off and warm up relatively quickly between rapids (the downside being the heat on the hike out), (2) water level - our guides told us that the water release from Glen Canyon Dam had been increased to around 17,000 cubic feet per second (it fluctutates) around the first of June, making for ideal conditions for most rapids, (3) water clarity - the main Colorado was emerald green for the first half of the trip and then became only slightly murkier / muddier as we progressed down the river. Moreover, the Little Colorado was turquoise blue. Our guides told us that thunderstorms in late July and August far up the side canyons often dump muddy runoff into the Little Colorado and the main Colorado, making them milk-and-coffee colored brown.

    Motorized rafts vs. oar-powered rafts vs. dories?

    Time constraints forced us to take a motorized raft trip although we saw smaller-oar powered rafts and wooden dories on the river. The motors on our rafts didn't seem overly loud and the guides typically used them to move us more quickly down some of the slower, calmer stretches of the river. The guides also said the larger motorized rafts are less likely to overturn in rapids than the other two types of craft. The more leisurely pace of the oar-powered rafts and dories are attractive, although some people I have talked to said they enjoyed the opportunity to get to know more people on the larger motorized rafts.

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    Enjoyed your report. We hiked a bit of the Bright Angel Trail a few years back and I've always thought I wanted to go all the way down with the family before the kids graduate. However, I am way too wimpy and out of shape to do what you did!

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    This is a great report, thanks for sharing it with us! This is a trip I dream of taking someday.

    How did the situation with wearing your contact lens work out? I've wondered how I would deal with that; in particular being able to have clean enough hands for inserting and removing them. Did you encounter any problems?

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    Wow, wow, wow! What a fantastic trip and an equally fantastic report. Thank you! (I hope you have considered submitting this to a travel publication). I just saw the Grand Canyon for the first time in April. Yesterday on GMA I heard that the average visitor to the Canyon spends 15 minutes there. Amazing.

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    Enjoyed reading your report and we were on the river at the same time as your group. We boarded at Lees Ferry and continued for 7 nights, 226 miles, to Diamond Creek. Our trip was in a motorized raft with Arizona Rafting Adventures in Flagstaff. We were at all the same location on the same days, the little Colorado and Red Wall Cavern. Glad you survived the hike out. I spoke with people who hiked in that day and it was 112 degrees. We had a really difficult time staying cool just rafting. It was and will always be an experience we will never forget.

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    MRand - wow what a great report. It made me feel like I was there. Especially on the climb out since I was just at the Canyon my self and only did the 3mile down and out hike on Bright Angel. I felt your pain.

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    Thanks missypie, Sara, Catbert, emd (again), sfragan, and KarenL for your kind comments and overlooking numerous typos.

    Sara, I was very surprised in view of the extremely dry climate and all the sand how well my contacts worked. However, I was much more meticulous and careful than usual in inserting them in the morning and taking them out and cleaning them at night. A great investment was the $7.00 canvas folding chairs we each bought at the Safeway in Page the night before we departed. Not only were they nice to sit on in the evenings, but they also provided relatively clean platforms for the whole contacts routine and keeping miscellaneous other stuff we wanted to keep off the sand at the right moment.

    emd - I'll check into posting the report (hopefully proofread this time).

    Catbert, other dad took a small digital camera and took lots of pictures. If I can figure out how to post some of them I will, but frankly I was a little disappointed because they just don't do justice to the height, immensity, or even colors of the canyons and the water like we experienced them in "real life." My daughter and I did take waterproof disposable cameras that I forgot to mention. She shot her whole roll, but believe it or not, knowing the others were taking pictures, I didn't take mine out of the plastic wrapper. Some other guests on the trip were discussing posting their digital photos on some web site. I'll have to see if I can identify that site too.

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    MRand---you are so right about the colors washing out in photographs---most of ours look very flat; nothing of the variety and depth of color came through. The exceptions were the very early morning photos, which are very nice, and a few that were in deep shadow, such as in the narrow canyon of Bright Angel Creek up from Phantom Ranch.

    I'm curious if you carried those chairs out on your hike, or did you bequeath them to other rafters?

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    enzian - we didn't spend two nanoseconds thinking about carrying the folding chairs out. (I probably wouldn't be writing any trip report if I had tried that.) Seriously, they were only $7 and most importantly our head guide Kris told us at the evening orientation before we left that she gathers and donates them at the end of the trip to a thrift store in Page or Flagstaff that benefits battered women, so that made it an easy decision as far as we were concerned.

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    Hi MRand---actually, I assumed you hadn't carried those chairs out, but wondered what you did with them. They are real sticklers about not leaving ANYthing in the canyon---every bit of trash and garbage has to be carried back out if you are camping down there. They have no trash cans at all at the campground. It's a good policy, but adds an extra challenge to packing for the trip. My husband still teases me about the 2-day old half sandwich (from our first day's lunch) that I had to carry back up.

    So it's good that the outfitter has a plan for dealing with such things---at it sounds like a great plan that benefits everyone.

    Your report is getting a lot of attention; I'm sure you've inspired many people to consider this trip. I mentioned this elsewhere, but at a ranger talk at Phantom Ranch, they said that only one-half of one percent of all the 5 million people who visit the Grand Canyon get to see the bottom of the canyon. That includes rafters, mule riders, and hikers. But it is so incredibly beautiful, and well worth the effort and advance planning to get there.

    Did you read Stegner's "Beyond the 100th Meridian" or other books about Powell before your trip?

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    Fabulous fabulous report! I have been wanting to do a trip like this for years and I think this report has put me over the edge. Really beautifully and thoughtfully written. Since I suspect I would have been in a similar position, had I been hiking out with you, I really appreciate your honesty in detailing that! Great job - thanks so much!

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    Thanks enzian and shaya. Enzian - I was so busy before our trip that I did not take the time to read any books about John Wesley Powell beforehand. I only took his journal with me on the trip. Nevertheless, your tip about Wallace Stegner's "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West" is a great one. I've checked it out on Amazon and am going to order it right away. Another book that looks very interesting is "A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell" by Donald Worster. If you or anyone else posting on this forum has read either of these books or any other good books about Powell, I would appreciate any comments or recommendations.

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    Fantastic report! I only had time to scan today, but will eagerly return to read in detail! My husband wants me to plan a trip for his 50th birthday next summer.
    I noticed someone asking about the severity of the rapids. I want to inquire a little further about that. I don't mind rough, cold water, but am fearful of big roller coasters. Several of us family members also get seasick easily. We get very motion sick on roller coasters and on boats on the ocean. Do you think we would have a problem with the Colorado River?? What was the approx vertical drop at the larger rapids?

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    family5 - the motion on the rapids is not nearly as severe as on a rollercoaster, much less a deep sea fishing trip. The vertical on the rapids is misleading, because you ride each rapid in "tiers" rather than one big drop off. You also transit even the longest rapids fairly quickly. I don't think you'd have a problem at all and highly recommend that you go for it.

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    I just found this fantastic trip report today and am posting so that it will top and others can read it. Thank you MRand for sharing this. We went to GC with our kids two years ago and hiked down 2 miles along South Kaibab. I just told my husband last month that I'd like to hike to Phantom Ranch and back (staying over night) to celebrate my 50th birthday in three years. You've inspired me to pursue that.

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