Saturday, March 29, 2008

Grand Canyon: Preparing for the Trip

In April of 2007 and I had the honor of joining Midwest paddling legend Harry House on a trip down the Grand Canyon. We ran the river in a C2 (a tandem canoe with a hard deck) on a trip that also included 3 rafts and 7 kayaks. We took 21 days to travel from Lee's Ferry down to Mead. Someday I may get around to posting the full trip report but in the meantime I wanted to post my packing list and thoughts on trip preparation to share with others.

Enjoying the ride through the waves at Hermit

Thoughts on the time of year.

I've only done the river once so I can't really say I'm an expert on the subject but April was pretty wonderful and I would definitely make it a point to try and do it again in the spring. The wild flowers were spectacular (don't forget the macro lens for some great shots). The nights were cool offering comfortable sleeping conditions and most days were hot without being uncomfortably so.

Cactus in bloom

Thoughts on Hikes

I'm a river runner and have been my whole life and although people had told me about the hikes on the Grand Canyon before I left I can't say I thought much about that aspect of the trip before I went. What I had not appreciated was the quality and diversity of hiking opportunities that involve lots of scrambling up side canyons, swimming through pools in side canyon gorges, and chimney moves up narrow slots. After our first journey up North Canyon we started spending at least 4 hours a day exploring the side canyons. Grand Canyon River Hikes by Tyler Williams covers the classics and has a format that's easy to scan quickly when you are in your boat moving down the river (i.e. you can see characteristics of the hike without reading the whole description). Tom Martin's Day Hikes From the River is more comprehensive and has a hike for just about every section along the river. You really need to sit down and read the full descriptions and for that reason it's a great for camp when you are planning out the next day. One important note for the hikes is make sure you have good amphibious shoes. Remember you will be out for 21 days so don't bring an old pair of shoes that will fall apart. I like the Keen Newport H2 or the Montrail Vitesse for trips like this. Chacos are nice for camp but you often want something with a little bit more protection and support for climbing up the side canyons. The one downside with the Newport H2 is that you will be walking up stream beds and small pebbles get lodged inside your shoes. The Montrail Vitesse avoids this problem but doesn't drain as well.

Chimney Moves in Matkatamiba Canyon (Matkat)

One of my favorite spots: Elves Chasm.

Thoughts on Climbing

Several of the hikes involve short climbs or bouldering moves. A couple lengths of rope--a full climbing rope would be overkill but something like 10 m of 8 mm rope works well--and some webbing slings will be useful. Climbers might enjoy having their shoes and a bag of chalk. Just keep in mind that you're a long way from help and the majority of injuries on the Canyon happen off the river.

Climbing up a short pitch at Silver Grotto

Thoughts on Hand and Foot Care

I come from the Pacific Northwest and although I've done some trips to the desert southwest I can't say I've done anything that approaches 21 days. It's a hot, dry climate and you need to take care of your hands and feet. Everyone has their favorite hand cream. I like to use Burt's Bees and I was religious about using it every night and every morning on my hands and feet. A bottle of hand sanitizer is useful too. I never had any skin cracking or open sores. I also went through 4 tubes of lip balm. Being susceptible to sun burn I had a 16 oz. bottle of sun block. It's a good idea to make sure others on your trip are prepared with hand cream, lip balm, and sun block or there will be demand for yours. Sunglasses are essential for long days on the water and it's a good idea to bring a second pair. Under my helmet I wore a nylon cap with visor and sun flaps that covered my neck.

Hands were looking pretty worn. The key is using the hand cream before they start looking like this.

Thoughts on Outfitting

We used Moenkopi Riverworks for our gear and food. Brady was a pleasure to work with. He and his staff seemed as excited about the trip as we were and they helped us get all the gear rigged at the put-in. They stayed with us overnight at the put-in, cooked our first meal, showed us all the kitchen gear, and helped us load the rafts. For a group of kayakers with rookie rafters they were great to work with. Other outfitters include Professional River Outfitters (PRO) and Canyon River Equipment Outfitters (Canyon REO). In addition to an outfitter you will also want a staging area in Flagstaff. We got the whole group in a couple rooms with bunk beds at the DeBeau Hostel. Everyone was able to fly or drive in two days before our launch and we cooked group meals together at the hostel while we got gear packed and boats rigged out in the parking lot.
Getting all the gear ready at Moenkopi Riverworks.

Thoughts on the Whitewater

For experienced whitewater boaters the Canyon is not a hard run. Most of the rapids have a straight forward line so for the most part you position yourself at the top, ride the waves, and then hang on for the dynamic eddy lines and boils at the bottom. The run-out will be the most challenging part of the rapids for those who have not done much big water. The good news is the run is all pool drop and there are good recovery stretches at the bottom of nearly every rapid (Crystal being a notable exception). We had kayakers who were intermediates and oarsmen with limited rafting experience on our trip. Everyone did fine--we had no raft flips and no swims. For kayakers the most important skill is having a solid roll. As for boats you want something that's comfortable. This is really a river cruisers run so a longer boat with a bit of volume is a good choice. You can have great fun in a play boat too and if you go that route I'd recommend something that's good for surfing big waves. For paddling clothing I went with a drysuit which was overkill most days--it was nice on a couple of our cooler days. For a spring trip on the Canyon I'd go with a shorty wet suit, paddle jacket, and board shorts but if your roll is a little rusty or you think there's any chance you'll be spending time out of your boat then a drysuit is a good idea. As for the rapids, everyone knows the big rapids that include Hance, Horn, Crystal, and Lava Falls but there are a few others that are worth checking out.
  • House Rock Rapid: This is the first significant rapid on the run. It's not a difficult move but it's the first rapid where everyone will get to experience the power of the river and the first test for the rafters who need to make a hard pull to avoid the hole at bottom left.
  • Sockdolager and Zoroaster: These rapids come after you enter the Upper Granite Gorge following a run of Hance. The canyon walls are tight and the waves and holes can be punched but it's chaotic.
  • Bedrock: It's worth scouting this one to make sure you avoid the left side. It's not a hard move to get right but it's helpful to take a look especially for the rafts.
  • Deubendorff: This is not a hard rapid but it is helpful to see the move you need to make to the right about midway down.
  • 135 Mile Rapid (Helicopter Eddy): This rapid is just below Tapeats Creek and although the rapid is not hard you do need to make the move to avoid ending up in Helicopter Eddy.
  • Upset Rapid: This is just above Havasu and rafts will want to avoid the hole. The name gives you can idea of what happens if you don't.
The first test of the trip: making the cut to the right at House Rock

Complete Grand Canyon Gear List
This was my gear list for a 21 day trip on the Grand Canyon. For the most part it represents what I took with a couple minor modifications.

Sleeping Bag: REI Nooksack PrimaLoft® MXL
Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3 Sleeping Pad with chair kit
Bivy: Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy

Clothing (camp and river)
Sunglasses: Smith (x2)
Hat: Nylon cap with sun flaps
Patagonia Rain Shadow Pants
Patagonia Rain Shadow Jacket
Patagonia R4 Polyester Jacket
Patagonia Stand Up Nylon Pants
Down Vest
Capilene 1 T-Shirt (x2)
Capilene 1 Long Sleeve
Capilene 1 Bottoms
Capilene 4 Long Sleeve
Capilene 4 Bottoms
Patagonia Baggies Shorts
Polyester Boxers (x2)
Wool Hat
Polyester/Spandex Gloves
Wool Socks (x 2 pair)
Keen Newport H2 shoes
Cotton Sarong
Eagle Creek Day Pack
Ultimate Fanny Pack

Nalgene Water Bottle (x2)
Princeton Tec 3 LED Headlamp

Palm Tungsten T2 with keyboard (journal)
Nikon D80 (w/ 8 GB flash memory cards)
Pentax Optio WP (w/ 4 GB flash memory cards)
Bogen - Manfrotto 3009 Table Top Tripod with Micro Ball Head
Sony Handycam DCR-TRV27
Pelican Waterproof Case (x2)
Brunton Solar Roll
iGo 12v Charger and Tips
4 extra NiMH AA batteries

Burt's Bees Hand Cream (x2)
Burt's Bees Lip Balm (x4)
Doctor Bronner's Liquid Soap
Sun Lotion
3 Single Blade Razors
Dental Floss
2 oz. Hand Sanatizer (x2)
1 qt. Ziplock Bags (x 5)
personal first aid (band aids, waterproof tape, poison ivy soap, etc.)
photo id, credit card, $20 cash

Kokatat Gore-Tex Meridian Drysuit
Kokatat Rescue PFD
Keen Neoprene Booties
Paddle: Werner Bandit
Helmet: Seda Fiberglass
Boat: Hydra Duet (C2)
Snapdragon Skirt
1" tubular webbing slings (x3)
70' spectra throw rope
50' cord
carabiners (x6)
Waterproof Watch
River Knife
Watershed ZipDry Duffle

Tom and Harry enter Horn

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