Things were coming together. It was time for the Memphis group to meet up and start making sure that we had our collective act together and our money paid- on time, so we didn’t lose our trip.

The money was for park fees, the rental of equipment from the outfitter, the purchase of food from the outfitter, supplies that the Idaho contingent would get and so on.  At this point, I was still a little vague on some of the details.  The outfitters name kept coming up, and it wasn’t made clear whether we’d arranged for a raft guide.  Guides are the kind of people you hear about on these luxury commercial trips, the poor souls who do all the loading, unloading, making of food, and setting up of tents.

To me, this sounded like just the thing for a long river trip!  You’ve read books or seen movies about climbing Everest, right?  They’ve got Sherpas… Man, there’s nothing like taking people on your trip who are better fitted for, more skilled at and completely familiar with everything that you’ll go home and brag about having done.  And I was told that we weren’t getting a Sherpa.  “Damn!”  I said, “You mean we have to dig our own toilets?”  That’s when I was told that everything packed into the Grand Canyon is packed out again, no matter the form it takes during the trip. “Everything?”  “Ev-er-y-thing.”

Ah. Poop.  Clearly some reading needed to be done.

Here are the notes I took at the first meeting. There's information, misinformation, and even a couple of joke ideas scribbled in there.



A little light reading

What do you do once you realize that you’ll be going to kayak or raft hundreds of miles on a furiously wild river in the gorge of a timelessly immense canyon?  Well, whether you’ve been asked by a bunch of friends to go or whether you’ve contacted a commercial company or whether you’re one of the crazies that crops up in stories about people who can’t wait and sneak themselves onto the river, you buy a book.  And you start spending time on the World Wide Web.  Time on the WWW tends to spiral down into wasting a lot of time watching pixilated videos on, so let’s talk about books first. We’ll come back to the home movies of people getting smashed to a hash under their own rafts later.

First off, in the book store (I’m dating myself here, as most of you know that bookstores are disappearing fast.), you troll through the coffee table volumes featuring spectacular photos of Grand Canyon- exquisitely lit vistas of red cliffs blah, blah, blah… you’ll be seeing that stuff for yourself.  Skip to the travel section and find things like ‘Travels With A Kayak’ by Whit Deschner.  After reading Whit’s two chapters that involve the Grand Canyon, you decide that maybe you’ll check more carefully to see whether your travel books are factual and functional, or whether they’re filled with Whit’s wit- which will give you a sense of how monotonous the naming of Canyon campgrounds can be, but won’t tell you which rapid is most likely to kill you.  So you go down the shelf a bit and find ‘The Rough Guide to the Grand Canyon’.  Rather than whimsical photos of Whit dressed only in mud, this slim volume has maps in it.  Maps! It must be useful.  And it is, if you need recommendation for hotels, restaurants and the kinds of trails that photographers need when they’re preparing their coffee table books on Grand Canyon.  There are no hotels and restaurants at the bottom of the canyon. As far as going down the Colorado River, The Rough Guide gives you eleven pages devoted entirely to good advice.  Except what rapids will kill you.  Screw the bookstore.

This is when you go online and order RiverMaps ‘Guide to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon’ subtitled ‘Lees Ferry to the South Cove’ by Tom Martin and Duwain Whitis.  This book must be the perfect thing, since it is spiral bound, waterproof and tear resistant.  (‘Tear resistant’ is like ‘wet paint’.  You can believe it, or you can, like everyone before you, ruin a corner of one of your pages seeing if you can discover how much effort will tear it.) That book has maps oriented so that you can read them on the fly, has mile markers, side canyons, all the campsites and, more importantly, has all the rapids marked on it- with their difficulty ratings written next to them in blue/purple ink.  On the opposite page are cheery descriptions of how to run the rapids that would otherwise kill you.  Finally, you can start to relax and get more useful information.

Having ordered your book and checked that off your list, you search for online Canyon content.  There is no shortage of Grand Canyon websites, and of course the easiest ones to find are those who run commercial trips down the river.  Smart searchers quickly find a series of National Park Service podcasts that give you a radio-program style overview for 36 minutes and a series of videos that break the larger program into neat little two-to-five minute subjects. If you are more diligent in your search for useful information, you eventually run across things like  This is a web diary of a trip that sounded a lot like ours.  They went later in the year, and had two more days than we did, but hey, a day-by-day planner of what to paddle and what to hike?  Excellent!  You can begin making notes on your waterproof/tear-proof book before you’re even on the way to Arizona! Yes!  Now we’re preparing for a trip!  The writers of the site even mention spots where members of their trip washed past eddy lines and then had to miss good side hikes.  Sounds like just the sort of info one needs to study.

One of the surprising things about preparing for a trip down the Grand Canyon is the sheer number of things to be surprised by.  The fact that the water at Lee’s Ferry is so cold that your legs go numb when stepping into it is arresting.  It’s then alarming to learn that you have about ten minutes in such water before your muscles simply stop working altogether.  Then you’re told that while in the canyon you can only urinate either standing in this water, (“What, the COLD water?”) or after climbing up a hundred feet away from any water whatsoever probably while doing the peepee dance. Once you have struck the subject of urine, it leads to more questions, which lead to frantic searches on the web as regards other bodily functions.  We’ll come back to that.  It’s far too disgusting and fraught to handle lightly, or, for that matter, politely. Plus there are some anecdotes that will change the subject entirely. You’ll want to hear them.

Next:  More talk about Poop!