90 Miles down the Colorado River on a Packraft
What is packrafting and why do you packraft? Those are some questions that I have been asked before going packrafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Packrafting is when you raft and backpack in the same trip. The rafts are sturdy enough to handle the river but light enough and compact enough to put in your backpack and carry out.
I have been spending some time in the Grand Canyon hiking the past couple of years. Lately, I have had the bug to raft it. This specific trip is by lottery permit only and usually takes years to win. The trip was to begin at Lee’s Ferry just below the Glen Canyon Damn, raft for 5 days over 90 miles of river and rapids, then pack up and hike out on the 5th day, getting back to the top on the 6th day. The original date was for end of May 2020 but the pandemic halted all Grand Canyon travel. So we were able to reschedule for this last May 2021.
I rent my gear from a company in Montana and the package was to be delivered the Thursday before my trip on Monday. By Saturday, Fedex couldn’t find it and it was not going to get here in time, if at all. Since I was the permit holder if I didn’t make it the other 7 would not be able to go without the permit holder. Well it showed up on the front door Sunday morning the day before I was to leave. Hallelujah!!!!!
In order to start our trip we must have all of the required equipment and have it all checked by the rangers at Lee’s Ferry. After orientation and finishing up the final paperwork we started our trip down the Colorado River at mile 0. Only 89 miles to go to reach Phantom Ranch by raft and then we begin our hike out of the Grand Canyon. As we got going with each rapid we improved and got more confident. Standing on the side of the rapid as you scout it looking at the rapids and figuring out how you want to run it and listening to the roar was very intimidating. But there is nothing more thrilling then slowly and calmly floating into the rapids with anticipation, fear, and excitement and then dropping into the first hole. That is when it turns into total chaos as you fight to stay in your raft and not flip it.
Each day was spent rafting, and pulling over each night to camp on the side of the river. Day 2 through 4, the winds were so strong that we were not progressing downstream without strong paddle strokes all day long. If at anytime we stopped paddling it would seem like we would be pushed upstream loosing any gains. Often the gusts of wind was so strong that we would be flipped out of our rafts into the cold water which happened quite frequently. On day 3, after paddling 27 miles through rough winds we prayed for refuge out of the wind and a spot to camp. After finding what we thought was a poor camp spot, we were lucky enough to follow a small path which lead us through thick tamaracks which provided enough cover to block the winds. I have never been so happy to find refuge from the wind.
On Day 5 the winds were finally calm and we enjoyed the last 8 miles on the river before we reached Phantom Ranch. We pulled into mile 88 1/2 and the rafting portion of the packrafting was over. Now was the time to load up our packs that weighed between 40-54 lbs. We spent a few hours drying out our rafts and organizing our backpacks. The 50 lbs backpacks with packrafts were heavy but the first 7 miles were mild and not very steep from the river and Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood campground where we camped for the night. Mike in our group wanted to go for a little run after hiking. He ran into a runner who was trying to set a new record going from rim to rim 5 times. Mike decided to help pace him and ran 7 miles back to the river up Bright Angel trail to the south rim (7 miles and 4400 feet of elevation) and then back to Cottonwood campground for a total of 28 miles and 6000 feet gained and lost. He arrived back at 4:00 in the morning. We woke him up and 5:00 and he then hiked out the hardest 7 miles with over 50 lbs on his back. CRAZY! The last day the hike was 7 miles with 5784 elevation gain and one of the hardest miles of my life.
A trip of a lifetime with some great people, hopefully I can make it back for more. Check out my videos I added to youtube.
I have added a video to youtube and I’ll be adding more so check it out. https://youtu.be/Be9PYvkaK5Q
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