Grand Cany0n Rafting Expedition
Ever since my teenage years I have wanted to raft the Grand Canyon. I had been to the North and South Rims and had hiked down to the Colorado and back up. I had also done a bit of kayaking elsewhere, and the lure of the Grand's class 10 rapids was drawing me as well. Such a trip has been on my "must do" list for at least 20 years. This year the chance finally came!
I am glad that I waited as long as I did, because the trip I took was unique in many ways. My friend and photographic guide, Steve Kossack, has for the last few years taken a few photographers each year on a dream trip through the Grand Canyon. There are basically two ways to float the Grand. You either do a commercial trip or apply for the few private permits that are given out by lottery. There is usually a 5-10 year wait for these. Most commercial trips stop at the popular sites, but they don't spend long enough to do them justice photographically and most of the time you are not where you want to be when the light is best. For his trips Steve basically charters the boat and then plans with the guide the best places and times to maximize the photographic experience. I can summarize how well this concept works in one word. Awesome!
You may have noticed that I call this trip an expedition as opposed to just a workshop. Spending eight days on the river and seven nights camping on the shore puts this trip in an entirely different class than the typical 4-5 day workshop where we spend each night in a hotel. Steve was there to provide instruction as requested as well as information about the canyon. Our crew from Grand Canyon Expeditions, Bob Dye and Donna Koster were highly skilled and very knowledgeable, not to mention just being great people to be with. I highly recommend any of Steve's trips, but this one especially. The great thing about workshops is sharing information and ideas. I not only learned a lot on this trip and took a bunch of photographs that I like, but I've made several great new friends.
The Grand Canyon is a special place. Each bend of the river brings something new. The canyon can change its character completely in a short distance. Each side canyon has it's own attractions. There is magic here. The wonder and awe I felt with each new experience will last a lifetime. I shot 12 gigabytes of digital files on this trip, but have thousands of terrabytes of images and feelings stored up in my heart and mind.
I'd like to share with you some of these feelings through the following images.
Photo by David Silver ©2005 used by permission
Running Granite Rapid
The Grand Canyon is far from a dead place. The river itself is alive, sometimes lying peacefully, sometimes twisting and kicking in its attempt to escape the confines of narrowed walls and boulder fields. The canyon is also home to myriad animals. Each possible camp site has its resident raven waiting to steal tidbits from an open pack, or some are smart enough to open closed packs and containers. The rocks themselves seem to take on life as they change colors and shapes with movement of the sun and clouds or just the simple act of floating around a corner of the river. Here are a few of the canyon's residents.
"The ancient people lived in villages, or pueblos, but during the growing season they scattered about by the springs and streams to cultivate the soil by irrigation , and wherever there was a little farm or garden patch there was built a summer home of stone. When times of war came, especially when they were invaded ... these ancient people left their homes in the pueblos and by the streams and constructed temporary homes in the cliffs and canyon walls... Ultimately the ancient pueblo people succumbed ... and were driven out." John Wesley Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons. 1895
The canyon and the river were a source of water and a refuge for the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in this area. There were many ruins to mark their presence throughout the area.
"We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our boats, tied to a common stake, chafe high and buoyant, for their loads are lighter than we could desire. We have but a month's rations remaining...
"We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs that rise to the world above; the waves are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands or lost among the boulders.
"We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not...
"With some eagerness and some anxiety and some misgiving we enter the canyon below and are carried along by the swift water through the walls which rise from its very edge." August 13, 1869 John Wesley Powell
We obviously knew many people had made it through the canyon and had the advantage of maps and guides to show us the way, but some of the same anxiety Powell felt was there as we started down the canyon.
"A quarter of a mile below camp the river turns abruptly to the left... and at that point is very swift, running down in a long, broken chute and piling up against the foot of the cliff, where it turns to the left. We try to pull across, so as to go down on the other side, but the waters are swift and it seems impossible for us to escape the rock below; but, in pulling across, the bow of the boat is turned to the farther shore, so that we are swept broadside down and are prevented by the rebounding waters from striking against the wall. We toss about for a few seconds in these billows and are then carried past the danger. Below, the river turns again to the right, the canyon is very narrow, and we see in advance but a short distance. The water, too, is very swift, and there is no landing place. From around this curve there comes a mad roar, and down we are carried with a dizzying velocity to the head of another rapid. On either side high over our heads there are overhanging granite walls, and the sharp bends cut off our view, so that a few minutes will carry us into unknown waters. Away we go on one long, winding chute. I stand on deck, supporting myself with a strap fastened on either side of the gunwale. The boat glides rapidly where the water is smooth, then, striking a wave, she leaps and bounds like a thing of life, and we have a wild, exhilarating ride for ten miles, which we make in less than an hour. The excitement is so great that we forget the danger until we hear the roar of a great fall below; then we back on our oars ... and succeed in landing...." August 21, 1869 John Wesley Powell
Running the rapids and floating the river was an amazing experience. We went from 105° (F) heat, wishing we could cool off to drenched in 50° (F) water and wishing we could warm up in seconds. The raft had two areas for passengers to ride in; the "chicken coop" in the middle of the raft, and the front where we were splashed with cold water on small waves and held on for dear life in the large ones. It's difficult to take pictures from the raft that show the full effect of the waves and we had only one opportunity to have a few of us photograph our raft as it ran Granite rapid.
"'Riding down a short distance, a beautiful view is presented. The river turns sharply to the east and seems inclosed (sic) by a wall set with a million brilliant gems. What can it mean? Every eye is engaged, every one wonders. On coming nearer we find fountains bursting from the rock high overhead, and the spray in the sunshine forms the gems which bedeck the wall. The rocks below the fountain are covered with mosses and ferns and many beautiful flowering plants. We name it Vasey's Paradise, in honor of the botanist who traveled with us last year.' August 9, 1869 John Wesley Powell Here are just a few of the waterfalls we saw in the canyon. The 70° (F) plus water in the side canyons felt great to get into after the heat of the air and the cold of the river.