Sunday, October 26, 2014

Settling in to the Daily Routine and Adjusting to Life on the River

There was some sense of "sameness" with each day on The River. There was a general routine that was followed in the morning, in the afternoon at lunchtime, and in the evening, but in-between those times the day was anything but routine. It only took a day or two to adapt to conditions on The River. It's amazing how quickly something that seemed foreign became the norm.

Morning of the second day - at Hot Na Na Wash.

When we stopped for the night, the rafts were unloaded - the big "Blue Tarp" was the "landing spot" for our gear: black bags (we each had two bags, one for our personal gear and the other for our sleeping unit - tarp and sleeping bag with liner - that was provided by Outdoors Unlimited), the yellow paco pads (our sleeping pads), yellow boot bags, and empty chair bags.  Also placed there for our use was a basic first aid kit as well as a small library of books on the Canyon and Rafting.

The storage capacity of the rafts was truly amazing, as was the ability of the guides to organize the gear and put everything into its proper place every day. Metal ammunition boxes, vintage World War II, were utilized for storing smaller items. The kitchen tables would be placed on top of those boxes, then paco pads... thus becoming our seats during the day. Two of the rafts, manned by Justin and Cherry, carried our black bags which were inaccessible during the day. Each raft had an accessible "day bag" in which we could put things we thought we might need throughout the day.

The tall yellow cooler in the above photo was our drinking water with lemonade and Gatorade mixes available. Water for drinking and food preparation was river water that had been treated to remove the silt and make it potable. Fresh water was also obtained from springs and creeks.

A closer look at the storage capacity of the rafts. The seats for the guides stored various items including food, which was in large metal chests that used a combination of dry ice and blocks of "regular" ice to keep it fresh.

When the time came to unload the rafts at night or load them up in the morning, the "bagline" was formed by all hands. It was far more efficient to pass the bags and other gear from one person to the next than it was to carry each item to the designated raft. Some of the kitchen gear and other equipment was also passed down the line.

Evening of the second day, at Mile 26 campsite was one of the "better" sites. There was a flat area for the chairs near where the kitchen was setup, on the left. It was a bit of a climb up the sand dune to the area where we had our individual sites. Some campsite areas were more "challenging" than others, depending upon how high or low the river was, whether the landing area was strewn with boulders or covered with sand, whether there was a slippery slope or "bench" to navigate or not. As we pulled into some of the sites, I remember thinking "This is our campsite? Oh, my." But somehow it all worked out.

One of the other challenges, sometimes, was simply getting into or out of the rafts! There was  quite a bit of silt in the river and if you stood in one spot long enough, there was a good chance of losing a shoe when you tried to move. And because the river rose and dropped with "the tide" during the course of the day, the "leading edge" of a landing site could be extremely slippery. Sometimes there was no leading edge. Sometimes there were rocks. It could be awkward, to say the least. It definitely wasn't graceful, but somehow we all managed.

Water is released daily from Glen Canyon Dam causing the river to rise and fall during the course of the day. This change was not really noticeable to us except in the mornings. Occasionally the drop in the water level would be greater than anticipated and in the morning the rafts would have to be pushed a few feet back into the river.

This was the campsite on our last night on The River at mile 241. (Photo courtesy of Sue Elliott). See that wet looking area on the right? Extremely slippery. A few of us ended up on our hands and knees in that stuff! As a side note, I neglected to photograph any of my personal camp sites!

The beach at Mile 119 campsite was, at least for me, somewhat problematic.  The kitchen was set up in the lower flat area and the chairs at the top of the dune. By the time supper was ready it was usually dark, so yeah, it was a little tricky. Our individual sites were also up on the dune.

Chairs were normally set up in a somewhat circular formation in the evening, usually close to the kitchen with easy access to the prepared food. They were the gathering place where we could socialize after locating and setting up our individual camping spots. It was a chance to get acquainted with the other passengers and to simply relax for a while before supper.

The guides, alternating two at a time, prepared the meals, sometimes with a little help from the passengers. Here, Patrick is giving Allison a hand at prepping the food. The stove is setup behind them.

The four tubs to the right are for washing dishes. It was a four-step process: brush off the scraps, wash in hot soapy water, rinse in hot water, and a second rinse in water with bleach added. The "cloth" hanging in the front of the table where Patrick and Allison are working is where the metal plates and silverware were held after washing. To make it easier to wash them we generally used the metal plates as a support for paper plates.

The white buckets were used for a variety of things. The kitchen scraps were put in one. Uncooked food was later disposed of by dumping it in the river, which sounds strange but it was standard practice since the food was biodegradable and could also be eaten by the fish and birds. The small blue mats beneath the tables helped to keep food scraps out of the sand.

Other buckets were used for temporarily holding packaging material and other trash. It was later compacted as much as possible for storage in the raft. Everything that was brought in was carried back out. Everything.

Patrick and Allison preparing fresh fruit for supper.

Another kitchen setup. This night, burgers and brats, along with potato salad, were prepared by KJ and Allison. The food was excellent with a good variety in the meals.  There was usually some kind of potato or pasta dish and a salad along with the main course. The first night we had steak! There was also salmon, fajitas, yahi tuna, chili, chicken, lasagna, pork chops, burritos, spaghetti, an enchilada casserole, as well as several others. Depending on the entree, it was either cooked on the grill or in one of the huge cast iron pots or dutch ovens.

Suppertime also gave us homemade desserts. Justin's pineapple upside-down cake was awesome as was the chocolate cake, lemon cake, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and other delectable sweets. A wonderful way to end every remarkable day!

Breakfast usually included ham, bacon, or sausage along with pancakes, French toast, or scrambled eggs. Occasionally a casserole was created from supper the night before and sometimes, depending on what was scheduled for that morning, we might just have bagels that had been lightly toasted along with a variety of toppings. Granola and cereal were also always available.

Another campsite setup.  At left center is the hand-washing station. One bucket was filled with bleach-treated water and was connected to a foot-activated siphon, which carried water to the other bucket. The used water was later dumped into the river. Hands were to be washed after using the toilet facilities and prior to meals. Of course, the guides and anyone else who prepared food washed their hands before handling any food items. Hand washing was extremely important as was the "leave nothing behind" rule.

Lunchtime was a casual affair with the guides usually laying out a variety of cold cuts, several kinds of sliced cheese as well as sliced tomatoes and onions and different kinds of bread. Dessert was store bought cookies, dried fruit, and nuts.

Bathing was done in the river. An extended lunch hour one day provided an opportunity for everyone to refresh themselves. This was during the third day of the Upper Canyon trip where the water was still relatively clear (at least as compared to five days later when it was brown and full of silt). Even when the water turned brown, we still made an attempt to wash ourselves  as well as some of our clothes. I don't know that it really did any good, but it made us feel a little better!

After we reached the Lower Canyon there were several hikes to waterfalls and springs along creeks and streams. We couldn't use soap but it still felt good to have access to fresh, clear water and feel somewhat clean, at least for a little while!

While on The River, we had all the comforts of home - food, water, shelter, a place to sleep, and toilet facilities - just not quite what we were used to! If you've ever used a "pit toilet" or port-a-potty, well then, you have some idea of what The Groover was like. Actually, it wasn't as bad as some of the facilities I've used while traveling!

The Groover was a converted World War II Ammunition Case. When sealed, it was water tight - a very important aspect since it had to be transported in the rafts along with all of our other gear. So called "The Groover" because when first used for that purpose it had no seat and when the "job" had been done and the person stood up, it left a groove in their bum. Thankfully for us and everyone else who has had to utilize it, someone adapted a regular toilet seat to fit.

The Groover was set up in a somewhat secluded spot a short distance from the main camping area. It wasn't always the easiest place to get to, but somehow we managed.

The Groover also usually had a scenic view... the round bucket was the "pee bucket" but we were generally encouraged to pee in the river. Sometimes though that was impractical, particularly when access to the river included a slippery slope! The rule was "No. 1 in the bucket, No. 2 in the Groover." You weren't supposed to pee in the Groover because it added additional weight and took up space. The Groover was usually the first thing set up whenever we made camp and was also the last thing loaded into the rafts in the morning. We had ample time to answer Mother Nature's call. Sometimes we had to wait in line but we always got the job done! There was also a method available in case someone had to do No. 2 during the day.

The thing with peeing in The River is that men have it so much easier than us women. We were all pretty shy about doing it for the first few days, then it became second nature. Eyes were averted as needed, you simply answered nature's call. This may sound gross, but there were times when I was already completed soaked that I simply walked into the river, sat down in the water, and let it flow... yes, we got relief just about any way we could!

There was also the matter of changing clothes, particularly in the evening when everyone was out and about. The only time I set up a tent was if it looked like rain so my "site" was simply out in the open, sometimes in a bushy area, but seldom in an area with any privacy. Did you know there is a way that you can sit down on a paco pad and change pants without anyone seeing anything besides your bare legs? Yep, there is.

Well, this post is already way too long but I wanted to cover some of these things before continuing on with the rest of the journey. Sue has two very nice blog posts covering some of these topics, and more, including  additional photos of the campsite areas. Please, go check them out!

One of our most unusual campsites was a cave at Mile 26 on the second night. It doesn't look like it but the cave extends quite a ways back and most of us set up camp inside.

Morning at the Pumpkin Springs campsite where we spent the 13th night.
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Note: The page Grand Canyon Raft Trip lists all of my posts published about this Grand Adventure!

Published under a Creative Commons License.
Becky Wiseman, "Settling in to the Daily Routine and Adjusting to Life on the River," Kinexxions, posted October 26, 2014 ( : accessed [access date])

1 comment:

Charlie said...

Your excellent accounting of your trip brings back "sweet memories" of times shared on the Colorado River. Great photo's.