Day 1 – Lees Ferry (0) to Hot Na Na (16.7)
River Miles: 16.7
Hiking Miles: 0
March 18, 2013
We woke before 6am for our first day on the River.
Chris from Moenkopi prepared our breakfast (scrambled eggs and bacon) before leaving us on our own.
The early morning was a little chilly, but soon the sun came out and warmed things up. The air was tense with excitement.
We had our boats mostly ready to go before the scheduled ranger briefing. The Park Service Ranger had a mandatory meeting with us and the other private group scheduled to launch. He checked all of our IDs and signed off on Josh’s permit. Josh had been ragging on us for months about how it was very important that we do not forget our ID on launch day, to the point that it became an extended and repetitive joke.
We’d been anticipating this for so long – imagining this day – that it felt so great and tangible to finally be standing there on the beach and having our IDs checked.
The ranger was a really nice guy. It seemed as though he’d been around for a long time, and he shared with us that he’d be retiring this season. He went over all of the basic stuff with us such as the leave no trace principles, always wearing our PFDs (personal flotation devices), snakes and spiders, rescue procedure, and so on.
Then he mentioned the possibility that we could find a human corpse.
A 21 year old woman had been missing since January – she disappeared overnight in the Canyon, while camped with her private rafting party. It’s presumed that she slipped into the cold, swift water and drowned.
This was a sobering moment, as it hit home to us how very serious of an undertaking we were embarking upon. The Grand Canyon was out there, down that River, and the Grand Canyon does not give a damn about you or me or our petty little lives.
Unbeknownst to us until after the trip, her body would be found 4 days later… found by a rafting party like ours.
Regardless, overall the meeting had a very lighthearted, sunny, and peaceful quality to it.
Excitement was high after the ranger left us. We were all clear to go!
There were smiles all around as we put out on the water. Not quite sure of what to expect, I decided to wear my full drysuit.
A drysuit is a single piece, full-bodied piece of clothing that’s 100% waterproof. Unlike typical rain jackets and such, this thing really is waterproof.
Suppose, for example, that you go for an extended swim in the 40-degree water of the Colorado River – this thing will keep you dry. There are rubber gaskets around the neck and wrists to keep water out, and they’re full-footed, sort of like pajamas. It looks like an astronaut suit, but drysuits are generally meant for scuba diving and cold whitewater. The gasket around the neck is notoriously tight, and they basically don’t “breathe” at all.
I think I may have been the only one in our party to be wearing it this morning, but I didn’t mind. I figured it would help keep me from getting sunburn on this first day as well.
For the record, on subsequent river trips I opted not to wear a drysuit on Day 1.
It wasn’t long after we were out on the water when Doug handed me his TS4 waterproof camera and suggested that I take a few pictures.
Almost immediately, I regretted the decision not to bring a small waterproof camera of my own. In my budget prior to the trip I had a choice of getting a new DSLR or a waterproof camera, and I went for the DSLR upgrade.
So these next few shots are pictures that I took with Doug’s camera. It really came in handy on these first few days, before I became more comfortable with handling my DSLR on the water.
This was our first “riffle,” at the mouth of the Paria River. Doug pointed out the Kaibab Limestone layer as it rose out of the ground near here. It’s amazing to think that you’re also standing on this same geologic layer of rock when you’re at the South Rim Village and looking down at the Colorado River, a vertical mile below you.
It’s funny to say that such a simple fact excited me, but it’s because it served as a reminder that I’d have the privilege of observing each individual layer of the Canyon as it would rise out of the River in the days ahead.
I’ll use this image (above) as an opportunity to point out the two unique boats in our party. Most of us had standard 18ft yellow rafts. Josh Case (Our trip leader) piloted the red one seen on the right, with his wife Amy Case as the lone passenger. This red Maravia raft supposedly had a distinguished history in Moenkopi’s fleet. Bo Beck rowed his solo cataraft, seen front and left.
Our rafts pass 470 feet beneath The Navajo Bridge. It’s the first iconic landmark for river travelers, only 4.5 miles downstream of Lees Ferry.
This is one of very few places to cross the Colorado River with a vehicle in Arizona. The next crossing of the Grand Canyon is about a 300 mile drive away, to Hoover Dam!
One of my coworkers at the South Rim told me that he urinated off this bridge on a first date with his wife.
Bumper boats! Immediately in front of us here is Dave Nally, our qualified boatman. His passengers are Dorothy Kyees and Mike Burkley. Behind them and to the left is Jeremy McCumber as boatman with his wife Shannon as the lone passenger.
Chris Atwood was actually pointing at something specific here. I missed the shot, and instructed him to strike the “hero pose” again! Chris Forsyth is the boatman, and Steve Nelson is the other passenger.
We stopped for our first lunch here at the 6-mile camp. Lunch consisted of cold cut sandwiches (roast beef, turkey, and ham) but it was mostly still frozen! Hmm, guess we’ve got to get on top of the meal prep.
One of our rookie boatmen already hit a rock and bent an oar. Somebody commented that we can’t afford to go through an oar every day!
Soon we’d come to the first significant rapid of the trip, Badger Rapid. It’s rated a class 5 out of 10. The traditional whitewater classification system goes from 1 through 6, but the Grand Canyon is so special that it gets its own system of one through ten.
One of the outfitters from Moenkopi stated that no matter how many times you row the River, there’s still an “Oh shit,” moment of anticipation when approaching Badger, and hearing the roar of the waves.
Jackie and I crouched up in front of the raft and held on tight. We got a little wet, and running the rapid wasn’t such a big deal after all. This is fun! Everyone in our group had a good run.
At one point we encountered a backpacker that was calling for our attention. Apparently he had lost one of his water bottles. He wasn’t in need of water (but just an empty container) and we managed to toss one to him from the water. I later discovered that this was one of the rangers I knew from the backcountry office at the South Rim, out on a hike.
Later we came upon a huge block of Coconino Sandstone that had sort of jackknifed itself into the River. It’s called Tenmile Rock, and I’d never heard of it before.
This is Stephanie Nally on the oars, with her sister and lone passenger, Brooke Nally.
We ran Soap Creek Rapid, another 5, and I recounted the story of how Jed Dryer and I attempted to hike Soap Creek to the River but made the mistake of going down the interesting North Fork of the creek.
The Canyon soon deepens.
Behind Josh’s raft is what’s called a “drag bag.” We all had one, primarily for the purpose of keeping our beer cold during the day.
The emergence of the Supai Formation made for some abrupt cliffs that fell directly into the River. Doug and I marveled over the story of one of Rich Rudow and Todd Martin’s canyoneering trips down Tanner Wash. It ended with a rappel directly into the Colorado River, so it was necessary to descend a rope with your packraft hanging below you, drop off the rope directly into your raft, and immediately proceed to run Sheer Wall Rapid!
We pulled in at the Hot Na Na camp for the evening, and it was time for Jackie and I to prepare the group’s dinner with Doug Nering.
A system was picked out where we were divided into 3 teams (A, B, and C) for kitchen duty, and we turned out to be Team A. Each night a single team would be responsible for setting up the kitchen, cooking, and doing the dishes. The same team would also be responsible for the next day’s breakfast and lunch.
Team B would then be responsible for the kitchen on Day 2, and we (Team A’s) duty on Day 2 was to set up, break down, and maintain the toilet. Team B would then do the toilet on Day 3, Team C would do the kitchen, and so on. There was supposedly a third shift for filling the group’s water when needed, but this third duty ended up being virtually non-existent as far as a rotated designation.
The kitchen turned out to be a whole a lot of work, and frankly I don’t think most of us liked it. It was especially stressful on this first night because nobody really had a system dialed in yet or could provide much direction, so we had to figure it out on our own.
On later trips we spread the allocation of duties, which I think worked out better:
- Team 1: Dinner/Breakfast/Lunch
- Team 2: Dishes
- Team 3: Groover
Jackie went to set up our tent after Doug and I finally got a handle on dinner. The menu called for grilled chicken over the charcoal grill, wild rice, and a vegetable. The chicken ended up taking forever because number one, it was still very frozen to the point that hacking it apart with a sharp instrument didn’t have a very positive effect, and number two, I didn’t use nearly enough charcoal to keep the grill hot because I wasn’t sure how much of a ration of coals was allowed.
I tried to stay positive, but I must admit that I consciously had to keep up my attitude on this. I think I was put off because I went into the trip under the impression that everybody would share the work more equally on a daily basis. A few people helped out, but my first impression was that the kitchen crew were like the “servers” while everyone else could relax and enjoy themselves as “guests.” The system ended up working out in the end, and I’m admitting this initial perception as a personal shortcoming… for the benefit of future newcomers to these trips.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the food, and I’d like to think we handled the task well. We were ready for bed by the time we were done.
It didn’t rain today.