Bob Zache, a longtime Arizona resident, went on his first Grand Canyon whitewater rafting trip in May 2011. The 75-year-old adventurer kept a journal of his 10-day oar-powered trip through the heart of the Grand Canyon. He and Grand Canyon Whitewater would like to share this story with you, from the days before his launch all the way through to the sorrowful goodbyes at journey’s end.
Here’s the second installment in this series, written by Bob.
Day One: Wednesday, May 25 — Quote of the day: “You’re going to need more beer, lots more.”
Up and at ‘em by 6 a.m., breakfast of oatmeal and coffee at the Marble Canyon Lodge, then gathered at 7:30 a.m. to meet the guides and other rafters to get lined out. Met Brock, the team leader, who, thankfully, advised Frosty and me that we would need lots more beer. Frosty had brought a 30-pack. We went down to the Chevron station and got two more 30-packs (and we should have gotten at least one more, it turned out; live and learn).
Brock introduced the other boatmen: Chris, Tom, John, Julie, Brie and Grant, gave us some basic instructions and we loaded up for the short van ride to Lees Ferry. There, we were able to fill water bottles, stuff all our luggage into water-tight bags and load the rafts. The water is higher than it has been in 10 years, Brock told us, because they’re releasing more water from Lake Powell behind Glen Canyon Dam upstream to help fill Lake Mead, a couple hundred miles west; it’s running 23,000 cubic feet per second instead of the normal 19,000 cfs. The water is 49 degrees here at Lees Ferry and warms to 52 degrees by the time we get out at Whitmore Wash, 187 miles downstream.
We floated down the Colorado River, under the two Navajo Bridges and on down Marble Canyon through a few mild rapids, stopping noon-ish for our first lunch: a great selection of ham, cheese, tomato, onion and avocado for do-it-yourself sandwiches; everything is iced down and even on the last day we had fresh fruit and vegetables. Brock said their high-tech ice chests cost $500 each. After a few more rapids, we made our first camp at Indian Dick Camp, 23 miles downstream, a sandy beach with rocks and bushes and we all spread out – Frosty, Bob, Mary Lou and I in one area, others 50 to 60 yards away.
All our gear is stowed in two water-tight bags, a big one for our duffle and a smaller — 8x8x14 — for stuff we want on the raft during the day. A third water-tight bag carries our sleeping bag, a ground tarp, sheet and pillow; all the bags are numbered so we can find our own. In camp, big two-man tents, cots and chairs are distributed — i.e., grab one and take it to your camp. Mary Lou and I set up a tent but didn’t use it, choosing to sleep under the stars, which we ended up doing the rest of the trip. We set up our cots 20 or 30 feet apart and are making ourselves at home. Got my box of wine from Brie, our boatman today, and am having a cup — in the insulated cup they gave all of us this morning; it will be used for coffee, drinks, wine, water, juice and anything else liquid for the next 10 days.
In our little flotilla we have five rafts for rowing with five people each: the boatman and four of us “guests” — plus one extra “guest,” which makes six people on one of the boats. Plus the big motorized boat, the mother ship, with two more boatmen. Our party numbers 28 total.
Dinner was salmon baked in foil, broccoli and carrots, rice pilaf, salad and cheesecake for dessert — a great meal, verging on gourmet. Sanitation is emphasized: wash hands before eating, wash your plate and silverware before and after eating.
Beautiful night with a zillion stars blazing in the black sky, the Big Dipper overhead pointing to the North Star downstream from us.
An addendum: In the first briefing we were informed about the “groover,” our commode for the next 10 days:
a stainless steel box-tank with toilet seat attached that crew members set up every afternoon as soon as we make camp and take down last thing every morning before setting out on the river.
They position it 100 yards or so away from camp and always in a very private, scenic setting, often overlooking the river. Also, we were told, when you have to urinate, just go behind a bush and go, or on the other side of a boat and turn your back; women, just squat down in the river and go; and always in the river, not on land, for sanitary reasons. During the day aboard the rafts, same thing: just turn your back and go or, for women, hang you butt over the side of the raft. Anybody with a shy bladder got over it within a day or two. I later learned that with some 23,000 people rafting the river in an average season — with each leaving behind about one-half a pound per day, 115,000 pounds of human waste would be left in the 90-plus campgrounds along the river. So all solid waste is packed out.
It’s called the “groover” because, in earlier days of rafting, when they were just beginning to develop the refinements we enjoy today, military ammo cans were used, sans the toilet seat, thus leaving grooves in the butt.