Sept 2014. The first time I was awed by the Grand Canyon I was 12. My family walked just a short way down the Bright Angel Trail, but I wanted more! I wanted to experience the canyon all the way to the bottom and see the river and raft on it. 36 years later I did!
The Grand Canyon has many outfitters that run river trips. Some include hiking from the top to the river while others include a helicopter trip to the river. Most trips include all food prepared for you, tent, sleeping bag and river gear. You just need to pack personal belongings and show up.
I had never taken a significant hike, virtually had no experience tent camping, minimal experience rafting on a river and never traveled solo, but I was doing this! No-one I knew wanted to go so I decided I would go solo. I searched the internet for the perfect rafting trip to join, one that supported me hiking to the river then rafting the river for 5 or 6 days. After phone calls, and google searches, my decision was made. They were all similar, so I made the logical choice to join the company with the best looking food!! I chose Grand Canyon Whitewater. You can find information about their trips at this link: https://www.grandcanyonwhitewater.com
The South Rim
With much excitement I reached the South Rim! Once again, I was in awe of the massive canyon and the view. Viewing the canyon gave me a feeling of both peace and excitement. I was about to live my bucket list trip!
The Bright Angel Lodge is where I spent the night. If you like quaint, homey and historic, this is the place for you! I could see the canyon out of my window! The perfect place to start my vacation! Before going to dinner I enjoyed the views of the South Rim and watched the sunset.
Dinner was at The Bright Angel Tavern. This is a great place for those who enjoy live music with their meal. Back in my room, I double checked my backpack. I decided I’d put my filled water bladder and put it in the mini fridge/freezer then in the morning I’d have slushy cold water for my hike down. OOPS! I woke up with a frozen solid water bladder! Assuming it would melt I packed it as is, not knowing this would add stress to a hot and challenging hike down.
Hiking The Bright Angel Trail
I met the River Guide and the group I would hike with at the Bright Angle Lobby. I came prepared with my backpack, trekking poles and anticipation for adventure! We were a small group of 8 who went our own speed down the Grand Canyon to catch the raft at the river around noon. This trail is easy to hike. The packed dirt trail has many steps but they are not steep. Like me, your senses will seem come alive as you breathe in the chill of the morning air, listen to the sounds around, and marvel as nature reveals her beauty with each turn you make. With much excitement I started off, taking in everything I saw. It was going to be a hot day but the early morning was pleasant. For more information on The Bright Angel Trail, including a map, you can click on the following link from the National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/brightangeltrail.pdf
I’m not going to lie, the hike down was tough. By far the toughest thing I had yet to encounter, but rewarding and I felt a huge sense of achievement at the end. The first mile and a half there are many switchbacks, since you are going down, they aren’t so bad. Actually the first mile and a half was fairly easy. There are some known points on the trail which you can track your progress with, Mile and a Half Rest House, Three Mile Rest House, Indian Gardens, Devil’s Corkscrew, The Black Bridge, and destination Boat Beach.
Mile and a Half Rest House
Once you reach the Mile and a Half Rest House you can refill your water and use the rest room. I was glad to get there and sit, have a snack, and rest a bit. I filled my water bottles and the guide gave me an electrolyte packet to add to my bottle. It was great. My water bladder was still frozen solid. The few sips which melted, tasted good. I was glad I brought water bottles. The trail continued to have switchbacks but not as many. This was still relatively easy. I did not take many pictures, I had my camera hanging on my bag which bugged me so I had put it inside my bag. Later on, I didn’t feel like taking pictures, just wanted to get to the bottom.
Three Mile Rest House
The Three Mile Rest House was much the same as the last one. Again it was nice to rest but I felt great and was enjoying the hike. It was getting hot though. I filled my water bottles and wet my kerchief around my neck to keep cool. The path continued downhill another mile and a half to Indian Gardens.
Indian Gardens is an oasis with shade trees, a campground, and restrooms. This was the last place to fill up water. I filled my bottles, and filled what I could of my frozen bladder, it was about 1/3 gone. This made me nervous as I still had 4 miles to go and the temperature was rising. I drank more electrolytes, drenched both my kerchief and my hat, and was on my way. The trail through Indian Gardens was very nice, green and somewhat shady, I thought to myself that this wasn’t that rough of a hike. I changed my mind when I passed out of the shady area and had to start hiking uphill.
Uphill hiking was was tough especially with the heat becoming worse. Each time I saw water I would dunk my hat and kerchief and keep on going. Luckily, I never felt alone as I two of the hikers from the group were right in front of me, they had hiked this before so let me know what was ahead. The trail kept going up, at this point I was feeling a bit anxious, my ice wasn’t melting as quickly as I would have thought in this heat and I was running out of water. I climbed to the top, resting several times, the sun was hitting the canyon wall which radiated even more heat.
The heat was becoming and issue. Even the little bit of shade crated by a rock was a comfort. My backpack kept feeling heavier and heavier with each step I took even though each time I rested I took it off. The worst part was I ran out of water. I had plenty of frozen ice, but no water. Thankfully one of the other hikers had plenty and shared, I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. I really regretted freezing that bag.
Devil’s Cork Screw
We were at the Devil’s Cork Screw which is a series of downward switchbacks. At least we were going down hill. Finally, hot and exhausted I saw the Colorado River. What a beautiful site! Unfortunately I was only at Pipe Springs, my destination was Boat Beach. This is the part of the trail called the River Trail, it climbs a bit at first but then levels off and follows the river. Suddenly, I saw people coming up the canyon, they were from the group I was to meet at Boat Beach. I was never so happy to see them, the end was near!! I swear my bag felt lighter and I got a second wind!! We continued down and came to the Silver Bridge, crossed the bridge and advanced to Boat Beach.
The River Raft Trip
Finally!! Made it to Boat Beach. I was exhausted. The hike down was more intense than I had thought yet the feeling of reaching my goal was pure bliss! I met up with the rest of the group that had already been rafting from another start point. I was issued a large dry bag including a sleeping bag, sheet, and pillow, My backpack went in there. In addition, I was also given a small dry bag to keep stuff I might need on the raft.
It was time to get on the raft, I was way excited! Here I was, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon ready to raft the river! Tired and hot, I still grinned from ear to ear. I made it!! 36 years waiting and I was rafting the river! I hopped up front wanting to experience everything. Bad decision, I didn’t realize the water was cold! Water temperatures on the Colorado River average 50 degrees year round. Unless you want to get really wet and cold, don’t sit up front!
The excitement of of a Grand Canyon river raft trip was seen all around. Once on the boats we started our 135 mile trek down the river. The boats we were on were motorized rafts. There were two of them. You sit on each side with supplies and packs in the middle which gives you a back rest if needed. There is a tight rope around the middle that you hang on to for safety, basically so you stay grounded going through rapids. I also hung my dry bag on the rope with a carabiner. I was glad the rope was there to hang on to many times!!
The thrill of being on the river is unbelievable. The raft was comfortable and the speed perfect. The first major rapid we hit was Granite Rapid. This rapid will drench you from head to toe! You will definitely want a hat with a chin strap or you will loose it. After that, I was cold to the bone. I couldn’t believe how fast I went from Hyperthermia to Hypothermia with just one rapid!
At some point we pulled to the shore for lunch. Lunch each day was a sandwich bar prepared by the guides. Different deli meats, cheese, condiments, chips, cookies, etc. Perfect for a hot day lunch meal!
The people I joined with were amazing. They had this camp thing figured out. Once everyone is out of the raft you will stand in a double line at the beach extending from the boat to the camp area. Guides swing out gear, it passes from person to person, and last person drops it in a pile. Like a fire bucket brigade. Once everything is off the rafts you find your bag, grab a tent, a cot, and a chair and find a place to pitch your tent for the night. I was pretty impressed with it all.
I found myself a spot and much to my delight, a couple campers came to me and taught me how to set up my tent and cot!! Once that was done, I made it mine. I decided it was too hot to sleep in the tent so set my cot outside outside each night. I basically used the tent to change. Supper each night was scrumptious! While you set up your camp, the guides set up and prepare dinner. You will eat your fill of delicious food every night, no one goes away hungry.
Continuing On the Grand Canyon River Raft Trip
The next morning I awoke at sunrise. Coffee was started by the guides. It was already hot out. The guides also made a filling breakfast. After breakfast it time to take down camp. You have to pack your dry bag, take down your tent and cot, and take everything to an area by the boat where everything was piled. Then the fire-line began in reverse. You will line up in two lines and pass the gear from the pile to the rafts. Then back on the raft!
The 5 days in the Grand Canyon on a river raft went quickly. We would raft a while then go on short hikes to various chasms and waterfalls at the bottom of the canyon. We even jumped off the side and into the river!! The gem of the side trips was Havasu Falls, where we played in the beautiful turquoise waters coming down from Havasu Falls. That hike was a bit treacherous and actually scared me somewhat, but the end was worth it.
This trip was a wonderful experience. My lifetime goal was achieved, even though there were rough spots, I did it! I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and had a wonderful river raft trip. The feeling of accomplishment I felt was beyond anything I had ever experienced before. Most importantly, I made new friends and experienced wonderful people on this trip! I was very happy with choosing Grand Canyon White Water and highly recommend them. You can get more information about a Grand Canyon river raft trip at the following link.: https://www.grandcanyonwhitewater.com