Colorado River

Lees Ferry to Lava Falls


Anyone who is an outdoors’ enthusiast must at some point in their life do this 187 mile trip through the base of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.  I’ve made this trip four times. The beauty and grandeur is truly something to behold and inspire.  There are several ways to accomplish this journey, but for the novice I would recommend a motorized raft with a professional tour company.  (Western River Expeditions does a terrific job.)  Lees Ferry in northern Arizona is the jumping off point with 17 companions and two crew members on a 38 foot rubber raft (J-rig).  You sleep under the stars for five nights and find an incredible and changing view of nature with every bend in the river.  The first day is a leisurely drift down river with a few minor rapids and ample time to tip a brew, hold on, and take pictures – all at the same time.  By Day 3 you are in Granite, Hermit and Crystal rapids which on the internationally accepted 10 point rating scale of difficulty are rated from 7 to 10, depending on water flow at the time.  The rush of adrenaline when you go into a major rapid is terrific.  Drifting up to the rapid you slowly begin to hear a distant roar and rumble.  As you get closer the roar intensifies until you approach the brink of the rapid.  At this point your sight takes over and whereas hearing can only conjure up minor fear, sight brings about full scale trepidation, terror, fright and panic.  Holy shit!  What did we get ourselves into?

Running a major rapid in the Grand Canyon takes a great deal of skill on the part of the boatman and a great deal of nerve from the people who thought they were just going on a float to see some beautiful scenery.   Even though you are scared beyond belief, you had better keep in mind that once you get to the top of the rapid, you don’t have a choice about going through it.  You got this far and there is literally no turning back.  So enjoy!   Once you survive the rapids, you will always expressly and positively remember the terrifying but triumphal experience!

There are many aspects of running the Colorado River that make it so special.  First, since you are cooped up in a relatively confined space on the river with your fellow river-runners 12 hours a day for five days (plus another 12 hours at night in camp), definitely go with people you like.  When you have a sand storm at night or a tarantula walks over someone’s leg or you run out of beer (all of which happened to my groups at various times) there is no room for whining.  You need to be with positive people who focus on the experience, the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the camaraderie of surviving the rapids together.  One group I was with staged a Toga Party the last night on the river (see picture) that would have made John Balucci proud.  No matter where you are, it’s always about the people.  So pick your group wisely, and leave the primadonas home.

There is much that you will fondly remember, including the rock formations (who can forget “Indian Dick Rock”!), the side-trail hiking, the utterly spectacular stars at night, the “fire lines” getting gear to and from the raft, the dry ice bombs made from dry ice and soda bottles, mooning other rafts that go by, and the helicopter out of the canyon after running Lava Falls at the end of the trip – not to mention 90 major rapids that keep your heart in your throat during those brief but intense moments throughout the trip.  Yes, rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is absolutely a life experience – one that brings you into intimate contact with the reality of geologic time.