Grand Canyon Rafting in May

Aug 17th, 2008, 07:43 PM
  #1  
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Grand Canyon Rafting in May

I started to post this under a recent CG rafting thread but decided to start a new thread. Now that all the kids are in college and grad school, the end of May (2009) will most likely be our last chance to get the whole family together for one last hurrah. Assuming I can get reservations then, I thought rafting in the Grand Canyon might fit the bill.

My husband says he's not "going down the Colorado River in a huge motorized raft" ;-) but there's no way he'll spend the time or money required to take the oar trip the whole way so that means we'll either have to go motorized boat or a partial trip. If you had to choose, would you lean toward doing the whole river in the big boat or a partial trip with small paddled boat? We've been on several (one day) paddled rafting trips so we're not worried about having to paddle.

After reading the 2006 trip report by MRand I was thinking the oar trip on the upper section and hiking out from Phantom Ranch would be a good compromise and give us the added (though painful) adventure of hiking out of the Grand Canyon. Then I saw the other thread where Bill H recommended hiking down to Phantom Ranch and rafting to Diamond Creek. Was that recommendation because the time of their trip matched the longer time required for the lower trip or because you thought the lower section provided more exciting rapids, better scenery, etc than the upper portion overall? I wasn't particularly looking forward to hiking up from Phanthom Ranch but downhill is much harder on my knees.

I'm not into gratuitous hiking, especially not for 8 or 9 steep miles. Can I assume that the hike is an experience in itself with rewarding views along the way?
mdod is offline  
Aug 17th, 2008, 09:19 PM
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Hi mdod---I haven't done the raft trip but we have done the hike. It is a great hike, both down and up. It is very scenic and I love every minute of it (going back in September).

My understanding of the float trips is this;

Motors vs. oars: people say the motors are small and not obtrusive. The main difference might be in how the crafts (inflated raft vs dory) ride the rapids. I think some of the outfitter websites (like Canyoneers and O.A.R.S. describe the difference. The oar trips do take a bit longer to do the same distance. Some people give the advantage to the motorized trips, because they allow more time for hiking at the end of the day on the river.

Upper vs. lower canyon: again, I am not talking from personal experience, but from what I have read. Having hiked to Phantom Ranch twice, and totally in love with the canyon, I would like to see more. But serious white water scares me, so I read everything I can find about this. As I understand it, the upper canyon trip from Lees Ferry to Phantom has great views and hiking opportunities, and the rapids are not as serious. The lower section, below Phantom, has the major gnarly rapids.

If you have limited time and would rather hike up than down (as I would), then the upper canyon stretch might be a good choice. If you need more information or different opinions, then try Tripadvisor; there are lots of people there who have rafted the canyon and will help you.

But I will add that everyone I know who has done the "whole" canyon says that is the best way to go if you have the time (and the $$$$). Something about the total experience, getting away from civilization and the way time slows down, and the group bonding experience.
enzian is offline  
Aug 18th, 2008, 06:23 AM
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I think any of it is good. Short, long, upper, lower, hiking, etc. Checkout all of the vendors websites and see all the different options. Options meaning starting, ending, helicopter in and out, hiking, different kind of boats(dories, rafts large and small, kayaks, motorized, etc). If you are wanting to feel like you have been on some rapids take a smaller boat.
spirobulldog is offline  
Aug 18th, 2008, 08:55 AM
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most likely be our last chance to get the whole family together for one last hurrah. Assuming I can get reservations then, I thought rafting in the Grand Canyon might fit the bill.

A wise choice, you'll no doubt have a great family vacation. All the trips we've taken have been in May, that's a good time to go.

If you had to choose, would you lean toward doing the whole river in the big boat or a partial trip with small paddled boat?

I did one trip with a motorized boat and several with 18 ft oar and paddle-powered rafts.

Basically there are three things going on down there -- a great geology lesson with incredible scenery (which you get with either trip), daily side-hikes up beautiful side-canyons that are each unique (which you get with either trip), and some of the most thrilling and exciting white-water in the USA with numerous big rapids and five real thumpers. The rapids are very exciting in a small boat but not so much in the big rafts, not even the 30 ft drop at my favorite, Lava Falls.

So if you are thrill-seekers and want a quieter, longer trip go with the small rafts. If you'd just as soon pass on this aspect then go with the bigger motor rafts.

One other thing, on the single big raft everyone is together the whole trip but on the smaller boats the rafts hold 4-5 people and typically you switch around daily, so it's not as claustrophobic if you find you don't care for some of your tripmates.

I saw the other thread where Bill H recommended hiking down to Phantom Ranch and rafting to Diamond Creek. Was that recommendation because the time of their trip matched the longer time required for the lower trip or because you thought the lower section provided more exciting rapids, better scenery, etc than the upper portion overall?

I think they had 8-10 days and that fit the lower part timeframe better. Also most people can hike down to Phantom easier than they can hike up from Phantom with all their gear. But doing just the upper section and hiking out is OK, with great scenery and some unique areas like Vasey's Paradise and Redwall Caverns and Little Colorado with the travertine pools and blue water. And a lot of good whitewater in the upper part, but the five biggest rapids are all downstream from Phantom Ranch.

I'm not into gratuitous hiking, especially not for 8 or 9 steep miles. Can I assume that the hike is an experience in itself with rewarding views along the way?

If you really don't want to do the hike in or out then the big motor raft is a good idea for your group. Go ahead and see it all ...

The hike out is closer to 7 miles because they pick you up/drop you off at Pipe Creek, a couple miles downstream from Phantom, so you miss a couple of miles of hiking in soft sand by the river.

Bill
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Aug 19th, 2008, 07:45 PM
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Thanks for all the helpful the comments. We are definitely the adventurous type so the motor trip is out and it sounds like the lower trip would be preferred. Unfortunately, I checked all the outfitters last night and there are very few trips available when everybody can go so it may end up being a trip for just my husband and me.

I'd prefer to hike in or out Bright Angel Trail rather than go to Whitmore Wash and helicopter out. I figure the hike would give an added dimension to the trip. Speaking of variety, when we travel we're used to going hard sun up to sun down and doing all kinds of things. I know you'll think I'm crazy but I'm kind of worried about getting bored of rafting and hiking the same place for 8 days.

Any comments on how much of the grade on Bright Angel Trail is stepped vs sloped? With poles, I think steps work better for me than sloped grades. I can live with pain at the end of the trip but I don't want to start it off crippled! We've been on some steep trails in Kauai, Cinque Terra and the Canadian Rockies. I need to go through my notes and look up the specs on those trails to see how they compare.




mdod is offline  
Aug 19th, 2008, 08:12 PM
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I'm kind of worried about getting bored of rafting and hiking the same place for 8 days

Most days you raft a couple of hours, then they do a hike up a side canyon and each of these is different. In particular Deer Creek, Havasu (which is flooding at the moment) and Matkatamiba were really special ones I enjoy each trip on the lower section, plus several smaller ones. These are all beautiful, unique places, usually with waterfalls.

Four of the giant rapids are on your first day, and those are all great whitewater. Then late in the trip you hit the big daddy of them all, Lava Falls, a 30 ft giant.

Between the hikes and the rapids few people get bored.

Any comments on how much of the grade on Bright Angel Trail is stepped vs sloped?

Mostly sloped with cross-ties every so often to keep the erosion down by funneling the water off the trail. The mules do better on slopes than steps and it's set up for mules.

The elevation change is 4,460 ft in 7 miles or about 12% but there are a lot of switchbacks closer to 20%. I would take hiking poles to brace myself. Not sure if it's still available, but in the past you could pay for mules to carry your gear down to Boat Beach where the rafts tie up. Getting the weight off your back will make it much easier on your knees.

Bill
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Aug 19th, 2008, 08:32 PM
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Thanks Bill. Some places mentioned the mule pack option. One specifically said it wasn't available so it sounds like it must be a deal that some outfitters work with the mule people or maybe the timing doesn't work well with some of the tours?

I read somewhere that the trail goes down, then up a little near the bottom and then down again. Can I assume there's not a bunch of up and down so that the 4460 elevation change you gave is pretty close to the actual amount of descent and not just the difference between the elevation at top and bottom?

mdod is offline  
Aug 19th, 2008, 09:27 PM
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Some places mentioned the mule pack option

I think the company we used (AZRA) didn't offer this but you could contact the concessionaire who books the mules and arrange it on your own. The wrangler who takes the pack string down Kaibab with supplies for Phantom Ranch just stops and dumps the bags at Boat Beach, where they sit for a few hours until the rafts stop. I would worry about my bags getting on the right raft (you'll be picked up 2 miles downstream).

I read somewhere that the trail goes down, then up a little near the bottom and then down again. Can I assume there's not a bunch of up and down

I prefer going down Kaibab but have come up Bright Angel maybe 5-6 times and I don't recall any up/down to speak of. From the top it's just mild downs on sweeping switchbacks mixed with steeper downs on tighter switchbacks until it flattens out before you get to Indian Gardens. It's level here for a while, then steep switchbacks for most of the final descent. I guess if there's a bit of 'up' it's here but it's not much.

Bill
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Aug 20th, 2008, 10:44 AM
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Thanks Bill. I was wondering about the difference between Kaibab and Bright Angel. I read that Kaibab doesn't have any shade and only one(?)place for water. Is that why you usually go up Bright Angel or is it an easier climb out than Kaibab? It sounds like the mules all go the Bright Angel trail so that would certainly be a good reason to go down Kaibab unless it was much longer or more difficult than Bright Angel.
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Aug 20th, 2008, 11:21 AM
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There are mules on the South Kaibab trail as well, and NO water. People hike down that way because it offers very nice views, and makes a nice loop trip when combined with a hike up Bright Angel (which does offer both water and shade, so is better for the uphill).

Whether this would work for depends on whether you are meeting your rafts or boats at Boat Beach (near Phantom and close to the bottom of the SK trail) or Pipe Creek (two miles down river and near the bottom of the Bright Angel trail).

As for steps vs. slopes on the trail, both trails have both! I think the SK trail has more steps but I haven't counted. If they are in good shape (not eroded out leaving big pits) they are not too bad if you use hiking poles. I am only 5'2" so big steps are a challenge for me on the downhill, but I managed the SK trail twice now with no harm to my knees.
enzian is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 11:28 AM
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I was wondering about the difference between Kaibab and Bright Angel. I read that Kaibab doesn't have any shade and only one(?)place for water. Is that why you usually go up Bright Angel or is it an easier climb out than Kaibab?

Kaibab trailhead is about 400 ft higher and the trail is shorter (only 6.4 miles to the river) so the grade is 14% instead of 12%. I avoid Bright Angel as much as possible and hike out Kaibab except for rare occasions, but the rangers suggest taking Bright Angel hiking out because there is water at three places and a ranger station at Indian Gardens. On Kaibab you are on your own, no water and many fewer people in case something goes wrong.

It sounds like the mules all go the Bright Angel trail so that would certainly be a good reason to go down Kaibab

There's a pack train carrying supplies to Phantom Ranch that goes down before sunrise that will overtake you, and two mule trains carrying overnight guests from Phantom that you meet coming up but that's it for Kaibab mules. On BA there are two trains heading down to Phantom (no problem) but a seemingly endless number of mule trains going part way down to Plateau point overlook on day trips. These are the ones that clog the trails, especially in the afternoon. On a hot day the stink of mule urine (they stop and urinate together) is awful on BA.

I would ask the outfitter if you could hike down Kaibab and meet the boats at Boat Beach instead of Pipe Creek (Bright Angel), which will allow you to mosey around Phantom Ranch for a bit (they usually lay over here a couple of hours). But this trail down is steeper, which may be a problem for your knees ... but with few mules and many fewer people and more spectacular scenery.

Bill
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Aug 20th, 2008, 12:03 PM
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Great info Bill. I've lost 27 pounds (and still dropping) and I've been weights and killer spinning classes since our previous hiking adventures that should help my knees a lot. As long as I keep it up, I think I should be able to survive the Kaibab trail. Thanks for all your help!
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Aug 20th, 2008, 12:47 PM
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Ooops Enzian, I didn't mean to ignore you. I went straight to the bottom and missed that you had responded too. I'll definitely keep the lack of water in mind if we take the Kaibab trail. Lot's more research to do but this has all been very helpful.
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Aug 20th, 2008, 01:14 PM
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I'll definitely keep the lack of water in mind if we take the Kaibab trail.

Not a problem hiking down early AM since you won't drink much, but something you have to plan carefully for if hiking up Kaibab since most need 3-4 quarts in the summer to hike out.
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Jan 31st, 2009, 11:14 AM
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canyonwren,
Thanks for the info. Unfortunately we couldn't get schedules to match so a trip this year is out. ;-(

We're definitely keeping it on the future to do list.
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