Sunday, September 9, 2012

Grand Canyon Rafting Trip - In the Canyon Part 1

I have to be honest, I didn’t really want to go on this trip.  I knew it would be great fun riding the rapids, but I wasn’t really looking forward to the heat and sitting in the sun all day and although I camped quite a bit when I was younger, I don’t really care much for it these days.  Val was originally going with a friend, but he couldn’t go so rather than disappoint Val, I decided to go and am I ever glad.  If I hadn’t gone I would have missed the trip of a lifetime.  Rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is an unbelievable experience; the excitement of running the rapids, the beauty of the canyon with the walls towering above, the camaraderie and bonding with your fellow rafters, even the nightly camping was a special experience.  The best part of the trip though, was sharing it with Val (I’ll have more to say about this later).

I sunburn pretty easy so you'll notice I stay completely covered most of the time which makes me look pretty dorkish, but it worked as I didn't get burned at all.  Also a note on the photos and video; I brought my good camera with a couple of lenses as well as a point and shoot waterproof camera.  I kept my good camera in a sealed backpack, but it was such a hassle getting it in and out and keeping it dry, I regretted bringing it.  I did use it some, but mainly I used the waterproof camera which also had problems as it was hard to keep the lens free of water spots and condensation.  That said, I think the photos and videos will give you some idea of life on the river. One note - if you can't play the videos it probably means you don't have Adobe Flash Player installed on your computer as they are in that format.  It is a free download from Adobe if you want to install it.

The Beginning
The night before our rafting trip was to begin, we met Dave and Patrice at the Cliff Dwellers Lodge in Marble Canyon, Arizona.  After getting settled we decided to take the short drive to Lee's Ferry where our trip would start in the morning.

Lee's Ferry
We saw some people working on a raft and asked if they were getting ready for a trip tomorrow.  They said they were, and it turned out it was the rafts and guides we would be joining the next morning.

Western River Crew getting our rafts ready.

Then it was back to the Cliff Dwellers Lodge for dinner.  About half way through dinner a large group of eight came in and sat down at the next table.  We could overhear their conversation and it was obvious they were Western River Expeditions guides.  Some of there comments were probably not meant for their passengers to hear so after dinner Val jokingly told them we would be joining them tomorrow and had heard what they said, which made them a little sheepish.  They hadn't said anything bad, just some river humor and we all had a good laugh.

The next morning we were up early and on our way to the Marble Canyon airstrip where we would meet our group and be bused down to Lee's Ferry to our rafts.  There were a few other trips leaving that morning so it was pretty busy. For our trip there were two rafts, four guides and twenty-eight fellow rafters.

Val, Dave and Patrice
Packing the raft
Getting ready to get going
After an orientation, we were assigned our rafts and our great adventure was underway.

Departing Lee's Ferry
That line with the ball stretched across the river marks the start of Grand Canyon National Park
Navajo Bridge
The back of the raft
The Rafts

Since we will be spending most of our next six days on the rafts, here is some information on them from the Western River Expeditions web site.

Western's J-Rig Raft

Named after Western’s founder, Jack Curry, the “J-Rig” is a patented craft offering the most flexible and comfortable ride on the river. If you’re a thrill seeker, you can sit up front where the waves hit hardest, or ride aft for more protection. There are plenty of calm sections along the river where you can move freely around the boat and trade seating positions throughout the trip.

A Whitewater “gusto” seating with safety lines
B “Adventure” seating atop food coolers
C Padded seating atop dry food storage boxes
D Storage area for guest luggage and trip equipment
E Ice water and lemonade coolers
F 4-Cycle outboard motor provides quiet propulsion with low emissions
G Extra motors and spare parts
H First aid supplies and satellite phone
I Compartmented neoprene rubber tubes have 20 separate air chambers and are capable of supporting 66,000 lbs.
J Cold beverage drag bag keeps drinks accessible throughout the day 

The section up front (A) is called the "rack" and is where the action is as you will see on the videos.  Dave (not me, the other Dave) spent a lot of time up there as well as Patrice.  Section (B) right behind the rack is called the "buckboard" which is where Val and I spent almost all of our time.  It was aptly named as we were bucked around quite a bit through the rapids.  The area behind that (C) is called the "chicken coop" where things are a little calmer and you don't get so wet.

The Guides
When I read over the information Western River Expeditions on the rafting trip there was a section on gratuities for the guides.  The gratuities were of course voluntary, and the suggested gratuity was 10%.  As this trip is a little pricey, that seemed pretty high to me and I thought that might be too much.  By the end of the trip I not only thought they deserved the full 10%, I wished I would have brought more for them.

The guides on our trip were Lucky (Craig Lutke, the trip leader), Scott, Justin and Kelly.  Justin and Kelly were the guides on our raft, so we got to know them pretty well.  First of all, they are all great people; they were very personable, friendly, helpful, and made everyone feel very comfortable.  Amazingly enough, by the second day, they knew everyone's name, how they did that I'll never know.

Their job is not easy, they work from before the sun comes up to the end of the evening and I mean work hard.  In the morning when it is still dark you can hear them setting up for breakfast and by the time everyone is up and around the coffee is ready and breakfast is cooking.  Afterward they have to pack up the raft, get everyone on board and get on the river.  At lunch it's the same routine, unpack everything needed for lunch, prepare the food, then pack it all back up and get back on the river.  At night more of the same, unpack the raft, set up the kitchen for dinner, cook and serve everyone, cleanup and then pack it all away.  In between there are hiking stops where they lead the hikes.  Sometimes it is very hot when they are performing all these demanding tasks but they don't seem to notice.

The guides were masters at handling the rafts and guiding them through all the rapids.  These rapids have taken the lives of boaters in the past so there are real dangers, but they knew every small detail and nuance of each rapid.  It was amazing to see how they would turn and move the raft to avoid hazards both seen and unseen.

The guides are also very knowledgeable about the canyon and provided a lot of information as we traveled down the river.  One of the things I was most impressed with was their ability to turn a group of strangers into a group of friends (more on this in another section).

As you can tell, we were very impressed with the guides; they played a large part in making this trip the exciting adventure it is.


  1. We could all use some information about white water rafting and learn how to do it correctly. After all, the fun is in knowing you will be safe.

    white water rafting tips

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  3. Thanks for sharing this pleasant experience with us. My mother, sister and I enjoyed a best trip at Advantage Grand Canyon. I had a grand time and our rafting guide was splendid. Thanks again Advantage Grand Canyon to make a memorable trip

  4. River Rafting usually done on white water or different degrees of rough water, in order to thrill and excite the raft passengers.thanks for shared great post. keep it good jobs.

  5. Your Grand Canyon Rafting Trip post Wonderful information.thanks for this very nice and interesting post.
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