The trip began with a thorough crew briefing at Marble Canyon, the trip meeting point, and then we were off to drift lazily along the river and stop for lunch on a white sand beach.
The thrills, however, come at the rapids, more than 60 of them, ranking in difficulty from Grade 2 to 10 (this is a unique rating system, for other world rivers are ranked Class I to VI). We began by running the mighty House Rock rapid and the Roaring 20’s, setting the pace for the next five days, and ending dozens of rapids later on the final day at Lava Falls (Grade 8-9), the Colorado River’s most notorious rapid. Whether sitting far forward (for the most adventurous) on the pontoons, or right behind on an elevated seating (for the adventurous), or aft for more protection, you do as you’re told every time the raft approaches any rapid: hang on front and back to the straps and ropes provided everywhere.
We followed in the wake of the first Colorado River explorer, John Wesley Powell (1869), one of many adventurers we would learn about from our crew whose daily talks filled us in on river lore: exploration, geology, flora and fauna. Additionally, every few hours we got off the river for lunch, bathroom breaks and hikes to sparkling streams, pristine pools, glens of ferns, caves and waterfalls at the end of high rock climbs. A few of us often chose to just sit by or in the river: reading a book, counting the herons and condors, lizards and iguanas, and a desert bighorn sheep or two. Once in a while, another river trip paddles or motors by, but most of the time you share the wilderness with only your fellow travelers.
On late afternoon campsite landings and not-too-early morning departures, everyone joins a “fireline”—the way to load and unload the rafts—passing tents and cots from one to another—yes, we learned to set up our own sleeping quarters—that are part of the gear issued to each passenger. Other fireline essentials include chairs, tables, the porta-potty and hand-wash system, just the right food supplies for a day’s dinner and breakfast, equipment for cooking the most dazzling and healthy dinners and breakfasts (steaks for the grand finale—served by crew in white shirts and black bowties—and eggs Benedict the final morning). On board and on site, there is always a big cooler of water and lemonade, and passengers can bring along their own soft drinks, beer and alcoholic beverages.
At the trip’s end, we exited the Canyon by helicopter, transferring to a scenic flight back to Las Vegas. Just the right time to ask myself if agents should book senior citizens on the long raft trip through the Grand Canyon. Yes, as long as clients fit into a Class 5 life jacket (maximum chest size 52); are able to grip ropes while running rapids; climb on and off the rafts, which can be a 2-3 ft. reach and often on wet and slippery surfaces; navigate uneven terrain on hikes and at campsites; and carry the gear bag (not far) between raft and campsite. Bottom line on this—clients should be healthy and a bit fit.
For vacationers who want to do something special, adventurous, well-organized, safe and fun, the Grand Canyon up-close and spectacular is a great choice. And Western River Expeditions delivered just the right stuff for the kids, their parents and two “grandparents.”
In 2010, the all-inclusive cost of the 6- or 7-day Grand Canyon Rafting will be $2,395-$2,675, beginning or ending in either Las Vegas, NV or Marble Canyon, AZ.