Adventure of a Lifetime: Rafting the Grand Canyon with the Colorado Mountain Club

by Linda Ditchkus
CMC Adventure Travel Leader

I couldn’t believe my luck! There was space for me and my husband, David, to join the CMC’s 2016 Grand Canyon hiking and rafting trip. You may not fully appreciate why I was so excited. These spots are hard to come by. People sign up years in advance and we snagged some of the last available spots.

The CMC membership includes a host of folks who love to backpack and sleep outdoors on a regular basis. However, not all members like to rough it. As I have grown older (okay, I am not really that old), I find myself seeking hiking adventures that blend long hikes with the comforts of a charming B&B or a 4-star hotel. The Grand Canyon trip offers 11 nights of sleeping in tents or outside; no showers, flush toilets, or sinks; and daily dunks in freezing cold water.

You might wonder, what could possibly entice someone who enjoys creature comforts to join a trip with limited luxury? Well here’s my top-12 list of reasons that I LOVED the Grand Canyon trip

12. The River

Our group of 24 guests and guides motored in two spacious rafts for nearly 200 miles along the most dramatic section of the Colorado River. The water was a frigid 46 degrees, but I was thrilled to get soaked to the skin in the turbulent rapids.

11. Awesome Hikes

When your hike starts on the river’s edge at the bottom of a huge canyon, all trails lead up. Point-to-point hikes were the norm. We would disembark from the rafts on a beach, hike for several hours up to the canyon rim and then down into a different side-canyon to rejoin the river several miles downstream. The exposure proved exhilarating, particularly when the trail turned into a narrow shelf edging nearly 50 feet above the river. Most days, the guides offered both a tame and a challenging hike. I admit there were a few days when I opted for the less demanding alternative, and spent the day in the company of folks seeking in-depth conversations, exploring each pool of standing water, and absorbing every view until it was imprinted in memory.

10. Incredible Wildlife

Sightings of big horn sheep, deer, and carnivorous birds were frequent. However, my favorite animal encounters were with the shyer animals. A black widow spider, snake, lizard, and scorpion visited our campsite. These experiences were extraordinary, particularly as they occurred at great distances from my sleeping bag.

9. Unprecedented Activities

I could tell you about pooping in a metal box and peeing in the river, but I’llleave those details for a one-on-one discussion. On another note, I’ve slept on the ground before, butnever on a cot on a sandy beach, next to a roiling river, with a full complement of overhead stars. Despite of my exhaustion from the day’s activities, I found myself forcing my eyes to shut and giving intoslumber.

8. Fascinating History

Native Americans have, for centuries, lived in and above the canyon walls and carved domiciles into the softer rock. Additionally, many unorthodox characters have settled along the canyon, leaving their marks along the way. Miners and ranchers built homes, bridges, mines and quarries that dot the walls and plateaus above. More recently (i.e., over the last 150 years), the boaters and rafters have left remnants of crafts that were not sufficiently rapids-worthy or belonged to boatmen who lacked the skills or luck to navigate the temperamental Colorado River.

7. Thoughtful CMC Leaders

Blake and Rosemary had led the Grand Canyon trip for the CMC for eight consecutive years before our trip, and their experience certainly showed. We gathered at their home a few months before the trip to talk about what to expect and what to pack. They showed us the ideal-sized tub to bring along for washing clothes and demonstrated options for the perfect footwear that would accommodate both dry and wet hiking. Their depth of knowledge and willingness to share their experiences helped ustobe prepared and be comfortable during the trip.

6. Best-Ever Guides

As expected, our guides were incredibly knowledgeable about the river, local lore, history, and geology. But it was their other characteristics that really bowled me over. Janelle had a voice like an angel. She sang tous when meals were ready and when it was time to rise and shine. There wasn’t a dry eye in the group when she finished singing Amazing Grace as the sun slowly rose over the canyon walls on our last morning of the trip. Lars gently shepherded the slowest hikers of our group and shared his vast knowledge of complex topics such as world politics and the economy. Jeremiah always responded with ‘sure, let me get that/help with that/ do that’ — never with a negative reply oranexcuse. Dave’s dry sense of humor kept us entertained and gently transitioned when a plan needed tobe altered. This group of guides was the best I’ve ever encountered.

5. Delicious Food

Perhaps, you’d expect freeze dried dinners on a raft trip? Not on this trip! Each night our guides prepared tasty meals with fresh ingredients, including creative herbs and vegetables. Quite often, dinners had a theme, such as Mexican or Asian. Tender meats and succulent fish were grilled orbaked in Dutch-ovens. Lunches were constructed from a buffet of meat, cheese, veggies, chips, and sweets. My mouth waters as I recall these meals. 4)Yoga every morning: While Lori was a trip participant (not a guide or trip leader), she graciously shared her yoga skills by leading usin a yoga stretching class. Each morning after we loaded up the rafts, we gathered on the sandy beach in a circle. Lori guided us through a series of stretches to relieve muscles sore from hiking, sleeping on cots, and long hours of sitting in the rafts. A flawless setting for a yoga class!

3. Amazing Geology

The Grand Canyon showcases fossils and layers of earth compressed over jillions ofyears. We floated by volcanic rock, a rainbow of granite, and mosaics of stratified rock layers. We even saw the great unconformity, which is apparently a highly impressive time-gap in the geologic record. Seemed like something out of a science fiction novel to me, but geologists travel from around the globe to see this magic of nature.

2. Stunning Views

We encountered towering canyon walls striped with every shade of orange and brown, frigid water that churns from a milky white into chocolate brown, and giant boulders teetering on sheer cliffs. Side canyons showcased thundering waterfalls, clear cascades, dripping moss, and pools teeming with bubbles like a chalice of champagne. We quickly learned to avoid gaping at the scenery inthe rapids, aswe’d end up with a mouthful of river water.

1. The Helicopter Ride

We were sad when the trip came to an end, but our sorrow was softened by transportation for exiting the canyon. Early in the morning of our last day, a helicopter retrieved us. The helicopter could only take six passengers at a time, and I was one of the lucky few who had a front seat view. The helicopter flew across the river, up the opposing canyon wall, and surged across the landscape above the canyon to deposit us at the Bar 10 Ranch, where we rejoiced in a hot shower and caught a flight back to our cars. The lack of running water, an indoor bed, and internet access did not diminish my experience in the least. Over four and a half million people visit the Grand Canyon each year.

I am part of the small portion of those visitors who had view the canyon from the river looking upward. Lucky, lucky me! You too can be one of those lucky few just by signing up for the upcoming Grand Canyon trip the club is offering again in 2018.

Interested in rafting the Grand Canyon with the Colorado Mountain Club in 2018? Register today on the CMC Adventure Travel website.


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