Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Grand Canyon Logistics: The Trip

One of the Dory Boats and Two Baggage Rafts At Lee's Ferry

I thought before starting to chronicle too far about my trip now almost nine years ago, I would go into some of the logistics starting with the boats. Dories are a small, flat bottomed, very rigid boat with squared off stern and upswept pointed bow. At around 16 feet long, they are cozy affairs when four passengers, an oarsperson and all associated personal and communal gear are stored. Grand Canyon Dories, the outfit that I went with, maintains a small fleet of these boats with names that reflect features of the Grand Canyon now destroyed by man either by dams or commercialization. The founder, Martin Litton designed these boats based upon a cross of the McKenzie style boats of the Pacific Northwest and the Cataract boat of the Southwest. The reason I chose to do this trip in one of these boats is because they offer a closer connection to the subtle and not so subtle currents and waves of the Colorado where the inflatable rafts just kind of wallow over them. Also, dories are powered by oars and offer a more relaxed ride where the rafts mostly power along using motors between rapids.

While most of the raft trips are done in a week, dory trips are three times as long if you go dam to dam. Trips begin at Lee's Ferry and end at Lake Mead but there were three segments that could be done in various combinations and most of the people on my trip took advantage of them in one form or another. The first segment is from Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch, which is only accessible by a trail from either rim. This segment is by far the most scenic in my opinion and we had several people who came on the trip specifically to do this section, which they had not done on a previous trip. The middle segment is from Phantom Ranch to Whitmore Wash where you depart or arrive via helicopter. This is the most popular segment because it contains most of the big water and I think for most people it is there first helicopter ride. There is another segment from Whitmore Wash to Diamond Creek and one family did exercise this option but not by choice. They flew in planning to go the rest of the way but overnight heart problems caused them to exit at Diamond Creek and take a nearly 30 mile drive up one of the roughest and most spine tortuous drives in granny gear up Diamond Creek Canyon. Since there are really no big rapids or not much scenic beauty between Whitmore Wash and Diamond Creek, I'm guessing not very many people take this option. However, the third segment from Whitmore Wash to Lake Mead is fairly popular for those with shorter amounts of time to spin who would like to get their feet wet in boating the Colorado River so to speak.

Morning At Camp

I recommend doing all three segments for several reasons. The first reason is that you get to experience the entire thing as nature had intended it because it would be difficult for most people to arrive or leave partway down without the aid of beast or machine to ferry your gear. The second has to do with human interaction. Those that left after the first segment only did so reluctantly because they felt robbed of the intense camaraderie that had developed in that first week. Those that joined the trip at Phantom Ranch felt like intruders on a party to those of us who had been on the trip and it took a few days for them to "fit" into the group routines and really get to know the other passengers. Those that joined at the start of the third segment never really had a chance to fit in nor were they ever really given a chance to by the other passengers. Those that left at the beginning of the third segment felt similar to those that left at the end of the first segment but more intensely as most of them had been along since the beginning of the journey. Almost all those who only did a segment of the trip had one thing in common, this trip was their second trip was completing missed segments from a previous trip. Of the 20 plus passengers that I would meet and get to know through my journey, though only twelve to fifteen at a time on any given segment of the trip, only myself and three others went from dam to dam. Though I had my emotional scars at the end of the trip, I feel they were much less deep than those who only did a segment or two and not the entire trip.

Looking back at it all, group dynamics is a big issue in doing such a trip and not something that crossed my radar when I was considering this trip. Not only do you spend time in tight quarters on boats, but also in camp as most of our camps were little sand beaches in some niche in the river with sheer rock walls all around us. You couldn't get away from people if you wanted too. Still, most people learned to respect others so that if you needed some alone time as I often did, I could get it even if I was still plainly visible to half a dozen other people. I say most because there were some who never understood this. I hope to write more on this topic in the future because I do think it is a very important one.

Another reason that I chose to do all the segments is that they offered an extended version of that trip of twenty-one days for the first trip in the spring and the last trip in the fall. This allowed for several off the river days spent solely hiking and exploring the surrounding canyons and many half days of the same. Days on the river were never very long so even the evenings offered up hiking possibilities if the geography of the campsite allowed it and most did, even if it was just a few hundred yards. Most of my most profound moments were not on the river itself but up in the multitude of side canyons. Elves Chasm is one that even today after nine years, I occasionally dream about and can remember in vivid detail.

The Crew (L-R): Nick, Lee, Bronco, Duffy, Ote, Elena, Heidi & Mary


Beau said...

What an adventure, and an incredible journey. Perhaps one day we'll take the plunge- I appreciate seeing your perspective of a longer trip. And the personal space thing is so true! In close quarters you really learn about the oddities, strengths and fears of each other. Must be why I like living in the country these days... :)

The Real Mother Hen said...

I like reading this Ed. Thanks for sharing.

Well, it's a pity that you aren't Asian. If you are, then you only need to smile and immediately people will assume that you don't know English, and they will leave you alone for all the space you need! This is my trick actually :)

Ed Abbey said...

Beau - The trip is definitely not for everyone but what I know of you through your writing, I would say that you would really enjoy it.

Mother Hen - I use that trick when in the Philippines even though I understand more Tagalog than I let people know about.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Hold on a second, you did this 9 years ago? Hhmmm (doing calculation in my head), you aren't that old then! 35?!

R. Sherman said...

I know I've read some of these on your other blog, but I am looking forward to this entire series.


Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - You are pretty good with figures.

R. Sherman - All these are being re-written to add more to them and to reflect what I think is a maturing in my writing style. My old ones were almost just dictations from my actual journal.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Hello, I'm Asian, if I ain't good with figures, I bring shame to the whole nation you know! ha. So, which month in 73? Yeah I'm busybody, so just tolerate it, will ya?

Murf said...

Geez, you're really old Ed. :-)