Friday, October 10, 2008

Grand Canyon Logistics: Camp Life

Fahrenheit 451 Camp

During the course of our pre-trip briefing at a motel in Flagstaff, most of the questions centered around camp life and gear so I would like to devote a post to those two subjects. For gear, you were provided two waterproof bags and one watertight ammo box. One waterproof bag was dedicated for your tent and sleeping bag. Although you were welcome to bring your own tent, I rented one from them for I believe $10 for the entire trip. Knowing that I was going to a harsh sandy, desert environment full of cacti and other sharp objects that love to poke, tear, and fill zippers full of grit, I decided $10 was money well spent versus the wear and tear on my $400 tent. In the end, I never used my tent once preferring to sleep outside under the stars. Since I was on a spring trip, bugs weren't an issue and it only rained once on a night that I had slept under a rock overhang. Privacy wasn't an issue since I was by myself and I was usually one of the last ones to bed well after darkness fell and one of the first to rise. Privacy was hard to obtain even with a tent and this is an issue I will dwell upon a little more in the future so I just got used to not having it. Still I would recommend that you have one just in case you do hit a rainy or really cold spell.

The second waterproof bag is for all your camp gear and clothing. Being a river rat, I had two spare changes of clothing, most of it polypropylene or nylon that could be layers, no cotton. Cotton gets wet and stays wet and those who wore cotton on the river spent large amounts of their camp time drying it to a slightly damp stage. I wore my clothes dry usually in a matter of minutes upon getting to camp and washed them regularly. The only cotton I had were some handkerchiefs that I used as a bandanna on my head during long sweaty hikes when my river hat would just get too uncomfortably heavy with sweat-filled headband. I also stored my daypack and boots for hiking in this bag. These bags only store perhaps three cubic feet of gear, which isn't much so you really have to become adept at cramming things into them or like me, really pare your gear down to the essentials. Because my boots are large due to my big feet and I had a book that I never read and some extras like a journal and maps, I was happy to get into my clean set of clothes at the end of the week. If I did it again, I would find some way to sneak another set of clean clothes into my bag.

Ledges Camp

The waterproof ammo box, about half a square foot in volume, was where you stored any gear that you wanted access to while on the river. These could be stored in small compartments in the bow or stern of the boats while your two waterproof gear bags went on the baggage rafts and were lashed down and inaccessible. I stored my cameras (waterproof and SLR), some spare rolls of film, my journals, a jacket, sunglasses and sunscreen. I went to light on this latter item and after frying myself for a day and a half bought a replacement bottle at Phantom Ranch for just shy of a million dollars or some similar outrageously high price. Some people stored dry socks and shoes in their ammo can but mine wouldn't fit even without the other stuff and I chose to invest in a pair of neoprene river boots with a rubber sole that I wore on short hikes. For the few days with longer hikes while on the river, I tossed a pair of tennis shoes into the hatch and just wore them wet because they always stayed wet with no waterproof accessible place to store them.

Once at camp, most passengers would grab their bags once off loaded and go set up their tent. Since it was often hot and I never used a tent anyway, I preferred to just leave my stuff in a pile and then find a place after everyone else had marked off his or her turf. This allowed me to find a place a ways away from everyone else for some solitude. Instead, I lined up with the crew and helped offload all the group gear as well. Mostly this was kitchen stuff and a few odd things like a communal water filtering system and the ammo can with an actually toilet seat portable potty. I would then help set up the kitchen and haul cooking water before attending to my needs. Although this is a catered trip and not required, the crew appreciated the help and it made me feel better whenever I asked them for a favor.

Generally we knocked off in mid-afternoon so you had a couple hours to do as you pleased before supper. After getting the crew unloaded and set up, I would stash my gear and find a place to relax. This usually meant finding a vantage point somewhere in the cliffs behind camp and writing in my journal or walking around taking pictures. As the trip wore on and undrunken beers accumulated from departed passengers, I often took a can or two of suds with me. Because generally leaving in the morning was short on personal time, most people took this time for personal grooming and laundry.

Above Deer Creek Falls

The camp cooks took care of the cooking and there was always plenty of food. Supper usually began early with appetizers of all kinds, from freshly made guacamole dip and chips to fruits. There was almost always a salad full of greens and a full meal. We had steaks and bake potatoes several times if that gives you any idea of how well we ate. At the end, we almost always had a desert of puddings or cakes if you had the room to eat it. A dishwashing station was set up and passengers did their own dishes going from one station to the next. I often helped the cooks do the communal dishes afterwards but it wasn't required of passengers. When possible or practical, we sometimes had campfires after dinner but almost always, the passengers would stagger immediately to bed. On most evenings, only a German father and son, along with most of the crew would share the campfire with myself, swapping stories and watching the stars appear.

Before bed, I would usually get my gear for tomorrow prepared before slipping into my sleeping bag on the sand. When I awoke with the graying skies of predawn, all I had to do was slip into my shoes and outer layer of clothing, pack my sleeping bag and carry my gear down to the boats. Most people would tear down their tents and pack their gear before breakfast so that after the dishes were done we could leave. The outfitters stressed before the trip that there was no set schedule and they adapt it to the group as it goes on. Since my group was mostly comprised of retired people who slept early and got up early, we had early starts. Breakfast would be cooked, dishes washed and while the other clients finished packing, I would help the crew tear down the kitchen and load gear back onto the rafts. From the time the last dishes were washed, we were often underway in less than a half hour.

We would always stop for lunch when on the river to allow everyone to get out and stretch their legs. Lunch was always a cold picnic lunch but always delicious. We often times had design your own sandwiches from a multitude of breads and toppings that even included last night's leftovers. If there was a short hike to go on or it was a day off the river, we would have a sack lunch that we had prepared that morning after breakfast to take with us.

Finally, I want to touch on the hiking. On all but a few days after boating, there were organized hikes with options. If you didn't want to hike as many of the retired people on my trip opted, you could stay in camp or hike a short ways down the trail and turn back. The crew would always try to split up so that at least one member would be with a group of clients on whatever hike they were out. If there wasn't an organized hike to some destination, they would allow clients to go off on their own but they asked that they were informed as to where they were heading and how long the client planned to be gone so that they could send out a rescue if needed. As the youngest member of the clients, this option was one that I exercised every chance I got. Most times I couldn't get far due to the geography but occasionally I wished I had a whole day to continue on.

Overlooking Camp & Nude Person


sage said...

Thanks for the pictures and story... I've hiked down to the Deer Creek area.

Ed Abbey said...

The Deer Creek area was a spectacular place. We spent a day hiking up Thunder Creek, across Lost Pass and down Deer Creek back to the river. I'll post on that trip sometime in the future with lots more pictures.

Murf said...

Was that a nude male or female?

The Real Mother Hen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Murf said...

Mother Hen - You will soon learn that on most occasions, Ed likes to worsen the quality of photos. Eventually you give up the fight and just accept it. He's a sadist like that.

And are you flirting with Ed? :-)

Ed Abbey said...

Murf - Female.

Mother Hen - Most of my current pictures are taken with a digital camera. These are scans from 4 x 6 photos taken with my 35mm. I could crank up the resolution ten times over on the scanner but they are memory hogs and since I'm only posting them on my blog, I don't bother. Another reason, I wrote on the back of the photos with blue ink describing what or who was in the picture. They got too hot once upon a time and the blue ink from the back of one picture bled on the picture behind it. It takes me quite a bit of digital editing to remove the ink blotches and doesn't look good at higher resolutions. Shear cost (several hundred dollars) prevents me from making a second set from the negatives.

Murf & Mother Hen - If anyone wants to see a larger resolution on a few select pictures, let me know. However, even in the original, you can't make out details of the nude lady. That took a pair of high powered German binoculars. But that is a story for another blog post.

Murf said...

Thanks for the offer Ed but I don't really need to see a high resolution picture of a nude lady.

You never answered Question #4. :-)

Ed Abbey said...

Murf & Mother Hen - There were only campfires a few of the nights on the entire trip because the canyon was under a fire ban and wood is really scarce down there. I didn't want to get used to it and then freeze when we didn't have any fires. :)

R. Sherman said...

As always, thanks for the info, especially the gear and logistic stuff. I'm getting very, very stoked for a trip while I'm still (relatively) young.


Ron said...

Sounds like a fantastic trip, and good food! Looks like a beautiful area.


Beau said...

I see that you prized your short side trips- it must have been spectacular. And the campfires in the evening would have been one of my favorite times. The stories and comraderie is wonderful.

Ed Abbey said...

R. Sherman - As always, I take requests so if you see something that you would like to know more about, let me know.

Ron - The food kept getting better as the trip went on! It was terribly beautiful though I think you have to appreciate desert climates. Some of the older clients thought it was just a "god forsaken place".

Beau - We didn't have a lot of fires due to the lack of wood and a fireban that occurred partway through the trip until it rained. But when we did, myself, a couple Germans and the crew really had great times. The other clients were always in bed.

karl said...

beautiful, thanks for the vicarious vacation.