Multi-day river trips are an incredible experience. Soaking in hot springs on the Owyhee River, digging your toes into warm sand on the Main Salmon River, watching the mist settle into the hills on the Rogue River – every river has its own magic to be explored when you fully immerse yourself. However, there is one river that has its own pedestal when it comes to multi-day river trips, its position drawn from its history, sheer size, and time it takes to navigate it: the Grand Canyon. Every river person has this on their bucket list and so do a lot of folks that have never been on a river trip before. What better way to see what could be arguably called the United States’ world wonder than floating at the bottom of it with all the things you need to survive for several weeks?
This winter 6 Wet Planet guides, myself included, get to do just that with a group of our close friends. 25 days on the water, no cell phones, no stores, no showers….
Getting a permit to float the Grand Canyon isn’t easy. Since becoming a whitewater junky, I have applied diligently each year for the lottery and been unsuccessful each time. This spring though, I received that lucky email, “Your lottery application was successful!”
I scanned the email sitting in the parking lot of Wet Planet, surrounded by fellow guides, and my heart dropped a little as I realized I had been given the launch date of January 22. While winter dates tend to be easier to get, I had just thrown a few on my application for giggles, not actually thinking about what a winter trip might mean. Not only that, I had 24 hours to decide if I wanted to take the trip and pay a deposit of $400 to hold the launch date.
My thoughts were racing. Would anyone want to go with me? How cold could a winter trip in Arizona possibly be? Do I have the skill to row an 18-foot boat down the Canyon?
I looked at Seamus standing next to me, expecting to run my thoughts past him. “I just pulled a Grand Canyon permit.”
“Seriously?” High five given. “Can I go?”
That was one person interested. Heart still beating unnecessarily fast, I brought it up to Todd, who proceeded to tell me that he thought I pulled a perfect date: less people, less competition for camps, less concern for things like flash flooding and scorpions, plus who doesn’t want to get away for a month in winter?
That settled it. I logged onto the permit site, sent them the money, and then stared at the email long and hard. As someone who likes to plan, I started to get excited about the prospect of this trip. I began sending texts, formulating my perfect crew. Most people heard the launch date and said thanks, but no thanks. A few people bit, though, and a few people like Courtney and Nicole were given no choice. There was no doubt in my mind that they would eventually commit, and I would be rowing down the Colorado with two of my favorite ladies (and Seamus) by my side. I was right.
I became useless and less than productive at work for a few days; reading blogs about winter trips, requesting info and estimates from various outfitters, trying to decide how many people, how many days, making spreadsheets and packing lists. My excitement began to fade as I was faced with the daunting task of what it would actually take to plan such a long river trip. I’ve done a lot of multi-day guiding and consider rowing to be my first love, but all of those trips were planned by someone else. I just had to show up, row a boat and cook some food, and never for a period of time longer than a week.
Now I had to think about how we would get to Arizona, what crafts we would take, what we would eat and drink for twenty something days, and what music would be best to start a floating dance party. Not to mention the fact that I would also have to wring a significant amount of money from several raft guides/ river people…
Luckily, living in the river community that we do, I have access to a never-ending amount of advice from people who have done the trip before. A few friends and fellow WP guides had recently completed a trip with essentially my same launch date and helped assuage my fears. Excitement began to build again.
A few months later we had a pretty set, solid crew with room to add more people if we wanted. I could take up to 16 people on the permit, and we had about 8 folks solidly committed, so I knew at least I wouldn’t be stuck doing a self-support trip by myself. The biggest initial decisions to be made were:
- How many days? Our permit allowed us 25 days to get to the first takeout at Diamond Creek, but we could choose to go farther and potentially take up to 28 days.
- Where did we want to take out?
- Outfitter or no outfitter?
The outfitter decision quickly became a no-brainer. Pay someone to figure out all the food, prep it, give us all the gear we could possibly need, and pick us up/ drop us of? Done. The other two questions took some discussion, but we ultimately decided that we wanted to go all the way down to Pearce Ferry, and we would take 25 days to do all 280 miles.
After that, everything else fell into place pretty smoothly. We paid our initial deposit to the outfitter in July, deciding to go with Moenkopi Riverworks as they had a house we could stay in the day before and the day after our trip.
Our next big due date was in late October. At that point I would need to pay for the permit, which meant having a pretty set idea of who would be going. We also needed to pay the outfitter a lot of money. Like, more money than I’ve ever had at one time in my life.
Once we had our group finalized and paid, the fun part of the planning began. What costumes would we bring, which hikes did we want to do, and how would we fit the beer in the rafts? Everyone had something special they were bringing to the trip, from river expertise to favorite games to canyoneering knowledge. A few members of the group have even been perfecting a river yurt complete with a wood stove to bring. We are now counting down the days until we leave for the adventure of a lifetime with 15 of the most kick @$$ people I know!
Author Casey Gerke has two modes: being on the river or day dreaming about being on the river. She loves all things that glitter, especially when they involve unicorns or cascading water.
The amazing photography in this post provided by Dave Seal from a winter trip in 2013 with the Wet Planet crew and friends.