“Pee in the River!” If you’ve spent any time at all on wild and scenic rivers, this expression is probably not new to you … even though it seems a wee bit counterintuitive. This was the first order of business after meeting our talented (and entertaining) Hatch river guides and learning important whitewater safety measures. Naturally, we obeyed, which meant we quickly had to learn how to pee in the river! No kidding – that’s what you do on a river trip. (Almost any woman you ask will say that this is a much easier task for the men in the group;) At first, I thought how odd? Wouldn’t that pollute the river? But, they say it’s a much better option than tinkling in the sand for keeping the beaches and land in and around the Grand Canyon pristine! And, the good news is that the campsites are beautifully clean! You never really quite get used to it, but it’s definitely worth it for such an amazing, once-in-a lifetime experience. (We won’t even talk about the groover — you can experience that one for yourself!)
Anyway, Courts and I always love a good mother-daughter adventure, and this one proved to be a great one. Six days rafting down the Colorado River was just about as much fun as you can possibly imagine! We met so many fun new friends and with shared memories like this, we’ll have stories to tell for a lifetime! Breathtaking scenery, exhilarating rapids, amazing hikes, awesome food, history lessons and fun in the sun were all elements of this exciting, 89-mile, Upper Grand Canyon excursion.
Hatch River Company is one of the oldest river guiding operations in the Grand Canyon, dating all the way back to 1929, and has been in the family for three generations. They run both motor and oar-powered boat trips, and we opted for the oar boats, so we’d be close to the water and experience the rapids first hand. They really know how to run an excellent trip. Our guides (K8, Zach, Katy, Nicky, Jimmy, Blair and Holden) were all very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the geologic formations along the canyon walls as well as the history and folklore surrounding the various rapids, trails, caves, fossils, petroglyphs and other items of intrigue that you encounter along the journey. There isn’t a story they don’t know! And, it turns out, they are very good cooks! Since we are food bloggers, we especially loved that part of the trip. The food was great and especially so when you consider they had to assemble a new camping kitchen every single day!
The Grand Canyon river trip starts at Lees Ferry in the Marble Canyon, and in very short order the guides loaded our gear onto the boats with about a million straps: dozens of dry bags for clothes and sleeping gear, paco sleeping pads for every guest, coolers, day bags and the all-important bar cache, where we stored our libations for the trip. There was a LOT of gear on these boats and still, they managed to stay afloat with no trouble at all!
Aside from the folklore and stories, we really enjoyed getting to know each of our guides. All distinctly different personalities, but all so talented, interesting and fun! Most of our group opted to pick a different guide each day, which always kept things fresh and new. We had a whole day on the river to learn about them and to share about ourselves, too. We loved that aspect of the trip. As we set off each day on the boats, we buckled in for white water (which our guides seamlessly navigated), geology lessons and personal stories. By the end of each day, we felt as though we had made a treasured new friend! After tying off the boats for the evening, we all formed a fire line to offload the gear, then headed off in search of our own little slice of camping paradise before gathering back near the kitchen for appetizers and dinner.
Mile 17.1 House Rock Rapid was our first big rapid of the trip and we ran it towards the end of Day One. Our guide, K8, made it seem like child’s play as she gracefully plowed over the whitewater, keeping all of us in tact and in the boat, albeit a little wetter than earlier in the day! None of it kept me from getting a sunny little nap on the back of the boat after we made it through the rapid!
The Roaring 20’s Rapids
Some of our very favorite rapids were the Roaring 20’s, where there are about 10 rapids covering the stretch from mile 20.7 to mile 29.4. This made for a really fun day of boating with pretty continuous whitewater and with Nicky as our guide that day. Just as an aside, Nicky is a swift water rescue instructor, so we felt incredibly safe despite all of the roiling water. (To be fair, we felt very safe with all of the guides on our trip, but swift water rescue instructor? That’s amazing.)
Part of the Roaring 20’s includes Georgie’s Rapid at mile 24.4. This rapid is named after Georgie White, who was an early explorer and guide, said to have been the first woman to run the Colorado River as a commercial endeavor. She kept her operation afloat (no pun intended) for some 45 years from the early 1950s to her last trip in 1991. Featured in Life Magazine, Sports Illustrated and on The Tonight Show, her claim to fame, aside from being an innovative and entertaining river guide, was that she always wore a leopard leotard or swimsuit on the river. I’m guessing she got pretty cold at times with 50+ degree water temperatures!
Mile 33: Redwall Cavern – a spectacular lunch stop!
Mile 53.3 Puebloan Granaries
There are so many highlights from the trip, but one that stood out for us was a fairly steep three-mile round-trip hike up to the ancient Puebloan granaries. The granaries are storage units, built by ancestral Puebloan farmers almost 1,000 years ago, for the purpose of keeping units of grain, seeds and corn dry and protected from rodents and other animals. The view at the top of the trail from just below the granary openings is magnificent with a virtual panorama both up and down river.
Mile 61. 5 The Little Colorado River
In our book the absolute best part of the trip was our day hike to the Little Colorado River, a tributary that joins the main Colorado River at mile 61.5. The water is an incredible Caribbean blue color, as a result of dissolved calcium carbonate picked up along the river’s journey. The Little Colorado is a sacred place to the Hopi Indian tribe as the place where they believe life began. and the place where they believe all life comes from.
We had a fun little time of it body surfing the waves in this magical place, but were mostly inspired and in awe of the incredible color of the water and the sacred dispostion of the place.
Mile 69 Tanner Rapid
This rapid wasn’t so noteworthy, except for the story that went along with it. And, while it’s super gory, if true, it was also highly entertaining. Holden, who was our guide that day, brilliantly took us through a series of exciting rapids, but this one had the most alarming tale! The story has it that Seth Tanner, who was pioneer and early Arizona settler, was also a horse thief who got away with his craft for quite some time. Eventually his luck ran out. According to the legend, he was finally captured, had his tongue and eyes cut out, and then was left to his own devices. Most likely, he never stole another horse, but I do wonder how he survived the punishment These are just a few of the tales we heard and we’re not quite sure of the truth, but this one will forever keep us from stealing anyone’s horse … that’s for sure!
Anyway, besides Tanner, we ran several tumultuous rapids that day — all within about a five-mile stretch, including Unkar, Hance, Sockdolager, Grapevine and Zoroaster. Since my GoPro and I are not exactly fine-tuned companions yet, my video sort so blends them all together, but you may recognize which is which if you’ve been down this river before!
Besides all of the wonderful hikes and rapids and stories and sun and folklore, another highlight, was when our friend Kathy was putting her sleeping gear in the dry bag in the morning, and as she shook out her tarp, a giant, four-inch scorpion climbed out from under it! That was quite a shock to all of us, and as the creature climbed up on the nearby rock wall, we all took advantage to snap some photos. It’s a shame that such a beautiful critter could be so scary! But, they are! Luckily, my sister never told me until after our trip that when she did the Grand Canyon river run, they had black lights which make scorpions show up in the dark due to the hyaline layer, a very thin but super tough coating in a part of the scorpion’s exoskeleton. She told me they saw scorpions everywhere with those black lights! OMG!!! This would definitely make me think twice about sleeping in the open air. Tents were available, but since we had no idea about the scorpions, we opted for open-air every night. And, it was really amazing sleeping under the moon and the stars! Hmmmm … a toss up, I guess. Stars or scorpions? We’ll leave that decision for another day.
The end of our journey: Bright Angel Trail
Our river adventure ended with a short raft ride from our last campground at Upper Cremation to the Bright Angel Trail and that’s where our work began! The hike was gorgeous and strenuous, but we managed to make it 9.1 miles straight up (a 4900+ elevation climb) to the top of the trail in just 4 hours. Phewf! It was nip and tuck that I could make it with my brand new knee replacement, and I told my husband, that if I couldn’t make it out, he’d have to come visit me in the depths of the Grand Canyon every so often! In the end, that proved to be unnecessary, thank goodness!
Towards the top of the trail, we spotted a very handsome bighorn ram taking a little rest on a ledge just about the trail. Although we’d seen plenty of female big horn sheep and even some brand new babies along the river’s edge, this was the first ram we had seen on this trip.
The final hurrah! We made the steep climb out of the canyon and were so happy to have a wonderfully cloudy day for our hike! There are so many incredible views from this trail as it switches back and forth along the climb. The trail is also beautifully maintained, which makes the hike slightly less difficult than it otherwise would be!
Thanks to Hatch River Expeditions, for all of the great teamwork, from the office staff to our river guides, for making our first Grand Canyon river adventure so wonderfully memorable. And a special thanks to David Rutledge for his amazing photography! We’ll be back and we hope to see all of you again someday. In the meantime, happy trails. 🏞
LOVED the article and pictures! I’m curious to know which month you did this. I was surprised to see many pictures of people wearing long sleeves. Was it sometimes chilly, or was that for sun protection? I’m scheduled for my first GC rafting trip in mid-September and hadn’t planned on bringing long sleeves except for an evening jacket. Do I need to re-think that?
Hi Dave! We are so happy you loved the article and the pix! We had such a wonderful time and I know you will too! We did the six-day upper river canyon from May 18-23. The weather was mostly sunny and beautiful (mid-80s)but the wind can come up and it can be really chilly on the river in the mornings. The long sleeves were for a lot of reasons including the sun and the chilly water and weather in the mornings and evenings. Most of the guides always wore long sleeves on the boats to protect from the sun and the splash. My daughter and I actually wore our splash jackets on most of the rapids. Here’s a link to the NRS website. https://www.nrs.com/splash-wear/c5622 This keeps you mostly dry and warm in the rapids. That water is super cold. Also, we wore pants on some of the days when it was cooler. When you are on the boat in the hot sun, it might also be nice to have a lightweight (rash guard) type shirt to protect from the sun. I would think that September and May would be similar weather and they say the water temp never really changes much! We both actually also brought lightweight down jackets for the evenings and mornings in camp and were so happy we had them. All of that said, we slept under the stars every night and loved it! I hope this helps and please don’t hesitate to write back with any more questions! Have a fantastic trip!