NEARLY 20 years ago when I was in the USA for the first time with the winners of the inaugural Outback Challenge, driving through some of the incredible red rock country of Moab in Utah, I took the opportunity to grab a Jeep and explore wider afield.
This was first published in 4x4 Australia’s September 2015 issue.
Somehow that took me to Lees Ferry; the historic crossing point of the Colorado River. Lees Ferry is approximately 20km downstream from Glen Canyon Dam and the put-in point for adventurers wanting to raft down the Grand Canyon. I watched a group of people who had waited 10 years to get a permit to raft the canyon and were finally doing it. I thought, rather whimsically at the time, ‘I’d like to do that!’
I was back at Lees Ferry last year, once again saying, ‘I’d like to do that,’ and my wife Viv said, ‘Well, bloody book a trip and do it!’ So I did!
There are about a dozen companies offering rafting trips down the Grand Canyon, ranging from one-day fly-in-fly-out affairs from Las Vegas to 14-day adventures on motor, paddle or oar rafts. While an oar raft is powered by one rowing guide (better known as the ‘boatman’), the paddle rafts are powered by four paddling guests, guided by a boatman. The paddle rafts are the least popular and you can probably guess why.
Most people take the powered-raft option. These might not suit the die-hard rafter or adventurer, but for most people they are the best compromise between time, cost and actually spending more time exploring the side canyons and other places along the way. Being bigger and powered, they are also safer. You just don’t want to fall out – if you do, all bets regarding safety are off!
We chose an eight-day/seven-night trip with Grand Canyon Whitewater; one of the oldest and biggest companies operating on the river. This full canyon trip from Mile 0 at Lees Ferry to Mile 225 at Diamond Creek was on-board one of the big powered rafts and I would recommend it to anyone.
We had a pretty cool trip, and with the water temperature always below 10°C (it comes out the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam) getting wet – which will happen – was a chilling experience for four days on the river.
To say there are a few rapids is understating it a bit. Every day, we dropped over significant falls of white water, the most and the biggest when we were in the heart of the canyon below the viewing points at the south and north rim. Not that we actually saw the rims too often, the canyon is much too sheer; so bloody big and deep that it isn’t possible at most places.
One of the things I must comment on was the condition of the camps. More than 20,000 people raft the canyon each year and there are strict rules to comply with. All solid waste must be brought out with you (yep, including poo).
The many camping spots along the river – sand bars in all cases – are near pristine. I’ve never seen such a well-loved place so bloody spotless and I reckon plenty of Aussie ‘adventurers’ could learn a thing or two here about bush etiquette.
So I’ve ticked that bloody fantastic rafting trip off my bucket list. Would I do it again? For sure – but my bucket list keeps growing, so I might have trouble fitting it in! Viv told me, ‘Well, bloody book a trip and do it,’ so maybe it’s time to think about your own bucket list, too. We’re only on this planet for a short time.