Raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the spring with periodic stops to hike in remote locations along the way? Yes, please!!! And so I invited my friend Evelyn to come along and we made reservations seventeen months prior to our departure date. Yes seventeen months in advance–these trips sell out early! When I was researching companies I came across C.R.A.T.E. (Colorado River And Trail Expeditions) and their five-day spring hikers special, while only travelling through half the Grand Canyon, caught my eye as it fit my calendar and my budget.
So after church on Easter Sunday we jumped into my car and headed to Marble Canyon where we would stay the night and then meet up with the group at Lee’s Ferry on Monday morning. Below is an overview of each day with some of my favorite pics. Enjoy!
Day 1: Lee’s Ferry to North Canyon–20 miles
On Monday morning we met up with our group at Lee’s Ferry. There were two rafts motorized rafts called S-Rigs. The guide powered the raft from the back. Food and drinks for the week were stored below the deck while all our gear was loaded in the mid-section and around the perimeter. Each raft carried 13-14 people and we rode in the front on top of the platform using the gear bags as seats.
From the very beginning the views were spectacular. The farther we travelled along the river the deeper the canyon became. As it deepened new layers of the canyon were exposed. One of the crew members was a geologist from the Smithsonian who pointed out interesting details and gave short talks explaining the formation of the canyon. Having never taken a geology class I found it fascinating!
The first day was fairly rapid free. When we pulled up on the beach to camp for the night the first order of business was to claim a sleeping location somewhere along the beach. Evelyn and I were a little slow getting off the raft so when we went to find a place to camp all the good, close places were taken. So we had to hike a little farther inland laden down with our gear bags and the promise of a more “wilderness experience”. We would not make that mistake again!
The company provided us each with a cot, foam mattress, a sleeping bag, two gear bags and an ammo box. The first gear bag held the items previously listed. The second gear bag was filled with our personal items. The ammo box was for our carry-ons which we wanted access to during the day (sunscreen, camera, rain gear, etc.). There were no tents. If it rained we had a sheet of plastic to put over us. Everyone slept cowboy style under the stars. This was a first for me–and it was beautiful!
The crew cooked dinner (Salmon the first night!) and then we were off to bed. We fell asleep to the sound of the river under a blanket of stars.
Day 2: North Canyon to Eminence–mile 20-44
After breakfast the day began with a 2 mile hike in North Canyon. It was an out and back with a small pool at the end. Swallowtail caterpillars covered a small tree. The cactus blooms were magnificent!
Once on the rafts we were in rapids immediately. The first 10 miles (miles 20-30) were known as the Roaring 20’s. At mile 32 we came across Vasey’s Paradise where fountains of water burst forth from the rock. It was so beautiful!
We had lunch at Redwall Canyon which was an amazing cavern filled with a sandy beach.
While here our friend the geologist pointed out some fossils…
At mile 39 we stopped for a short hike up Redbud Alcove.
At mile 41 we came across a group waiting for a helicopter rescue. One of the guys in their group had broken his ankle scrambling over rocks.
At mile 44 we pulled off to camp at Eminence. I decided to wash my hair that night and wow was the water cold–a scalp numbing 46 degrees! Truth be told, this was the only day I washed my hair!
Day 3: Eminence to Carbon Canyon–miles 44-65
After breakfast we rafted a couple of miles to Saddle Canyon where we stopped to hike and eat lunch. The trail was a single track technical climb for two miles to a waterfall once blocked by a large boulder. The boulder was blown out by a huge storm providing easy access to the gently cascading water in the narrow canyon.
After lunch we rafted past the Puebloan granaries located high on the cliffs above.
At mile 62 we found the Little Colorado River to be flowing blue (after storms it often flows brown due to silt runoff). Since the water was clean we beached the rafts, grabbed our floatation devices turning them into floating diapers and floated through the small rapids in the warm water–so fun!
That night we camped at Carbon Canyon where we had a view of the Desert View Watchtowers (sorry, no pic!).
Day 4: Carbon Canyon to Zoroaster–mile 65-85
We began the day with an amazing 4 mile hike in Carbon Canyon. The first mile required scrambling over an old rockfall. Next we hiked through a slot canyon with a narrow stream flowing through it. This opened up to an area where the rocks had been turned ninety degrees due to the fault lying below it. We hiked along the fault line with amazing views of the North Rim before heading back to the Colorado River at Lava Canyon.
At lunch we stopped at Tanner where one of the guys in our group who had been sick most of the time was helicoptered out. The afternoon was spent running numerous large rapids–I was drenched! As I wrote earlier the water was 46 degrees so being baptized by a wave was quite an exhilarating experience. We wore rain gear when going through the rapids to help keep us dry. The platform we were sitting on had ropes which crisscrossed the mat wear we sat. As we prepared to enter a rapid the guide would let us know if it was a one-hand or two-hands rapid referring to how many hands should be used to hang on. I sat in the front and center so I took a few in the face–so fun!
That night we camped at Zoroaster.
Day 5: Zoroaster to Phantom Ranch–mile 85-88. Then hiked out to South Rim.
We had an early start and rafted the three remaining miles to Phantom Ranch. There were four of us getting off there. Everyone else was continuing on for another week to raft the entire canyon. It was a beautiful hike out and up covering 9.5 miles with 5000 feet of elevation gain. We arrived at the South Rim around 2:30pm ready for a shower, a real bed and dinner!
One last thing on a bit of an awkward topic but if you’ve read this far you will probably be okay with it. People often ask me what you do for a bathroom on a trip like this. So here is how it works. First, if you are simply peeing you pee right into the river. That’s right girls, we had to get our feet wet; so much easier for guys! For other business you used the “groover”. Actually you had a choice between two groovers. One was an indoor groover. The crew set up a little tent with a lined square box topped with a toilet seat and lid. In the old model there was no toilet seat thus the box it would leave a groove on ones behind, thus the name groover.
Then there was the outdoor groover preferred by most. For this one the crew would find the most scenic private location and simply set up the box with the seat. The view from the outdoor groover was the topic of many dinner conversations, “Have you seen the view from tonight’s outdoor groover?!! It’s amazing! You really need to check it out!” I know! Probably too much info but…people wonder about things like this!
We had a great time and I would highly recommend CRATE to anyone who was looking for a company to raft with in the future. The cost for our five-day trip was $1600 and it was well worth it. The guides were very knowledgable and skilled. The food was great. The trip was well-organized. And the people were a lot of fun!