Rafting the Grand Canyon

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Day 1 — The Start of the Adventure

After months and weeks of planning, packing and repacking, feeling by turns excitement and apprehension–at last it was the eve of our adventure. In the hands of our outfitter, Western River Expeditions, our 6-day expedition would take us rafting 187 miles of the mighty Colorado River, through the magnificent Grand Canyon, camping and hiking and exploring along the way.

We flew to Las Vegas for an overnight at the Marriott. At 4:45 AM next morning we were among the group who gathered in the lobby, along with piles of new gear from places like REI. We picked up our bag breakfasts and boarded our shuttle bus to the Boulder City Municipal Airport, home of private planes, commercial flightseeing tours and helicopter operators. Here we divided into two groups and proceeded with the weighing of bodies and duffels full of gear, before boarding our cozy twin otter for the most eye-opening flight. There below was Hoover Dam, then the spidery fingers of Lake Mead, and then the golden canyon with the mighty Colorado River running through–an impressive sight to behold from the air.

As we landed on the airfield at Marble Canyon we saw the rest of our group–those who had driven there–and soon we were shuttled to Lee’s Ferry, where our raft was among the many tied up, this being the only place permitted. Grand Canyon National Park officials were on hand to inspect the commercial rafts before we embarked. Time to meet our guides, Ronnie (Veronica) and husband Jeff–an awesome pair of professionals, who also happened to be married to each other. We would get to know and trust these two, and with each day our respect and admiration for them would grow.

We claimed our gear provided by the outfitter, a huge bag to stow our duffels and sleeping bags and personal gear, and smaller dry bags for daytime use on the raft. We were introduced to our boat, called a “J Rig.” It is the biggest raft on the Colorado, a motorized pontoon boat able to carry 16 people comfortably and safely over rapids, at a speed that allows us to travel 187 miles down the river in 6 days. It is an adaption of World War II pontoon bridges used to transport men and tanks over rivers where bridges had been destroyed.

Relatively few people see the Canyon by river. We are among the fortunate few–only 27,000 out of 4.5 million annual visitors to the park. It’s a lovely day in early May as we set off on this epic adventure. I look around at our group: clothes look clean and dry; spirits are high; our guides look as excited as we do, and a sense of real adventure prevails as we set off. “Let’s get loaded!” Ronnie yells, not for the last time.



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