Rafting the Grand Canyon

Discover the Colorado's Sacredness, Power, and Lure
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There is some quality about the Grand Canyon of the Colorado that is shared by no other river in the United States. It's not exactly a sacredness, although it seems at times to approach that, and many people do consider the river and its canyon a holy place.

There are legends and songs about the Grand Canyon. The river has its heroes and villains, its mysteries and its sorrows. To raft the Grand Canyon is to become a part of its history — if only a tiny part. To raft the Grand Canyon is to become a member of a special clan of people, a clan with its elders, novices and outcasts. It may be as close to a tribal initiation as our society allows.

If you run it only once, if you pay attention and pay the proper respects, the river will be with you, in a small but real way forever. Ten years later if you hear someone talk about the terror of "running Crystal at 50,000 c.f.s.," you will nod your head and understand, at least partly, the fear he felt dropping into that first huge wave, and the dreaded feeling that maybe he wouldn't have the strength or the courage to pull the boat away from the boulder garden at the tail of the run.

If someone tells you she had to run Lava Falls on the right because the river was low you will instantly recall the tricky line she had to follow, first to avoid the cavernous Ledge Hole at the top of the rapid, then the hard, strong pull away from the right shore into the main current.

You'll remember the beauty of Vasey's Paradise and the charm of Elves' Chasm.You'll know that never again in your life will you see the precise shade of blue carried by the waters of the Little Colorado River or Havasu Creek. For private boaters, a Grand Canyon permit is the most highly prized permit for any outdoor activity in the West.

There is a waiting list of more than 7,000 names, so it takes a long time for your number to come up. The average wait is now about 10 years. Even commercial outfitters, who take more than 70 percent of the passengers down river at about $2,000 a person, can have waiting lists up to two years. My friends and I had been planning on this trip for the better part of a decade, so we prepared for it by running as many difficult rivers as we could squeeze into a summer. We hit many of the big rivers of the Intermountain West — the Lochsa, South Fork of the Payette, North Fork of the Clearwater, Westwater Canyon and Cataract Canyon of the Colorado. We floated more than a thousand miles on rivers while the National Park Service slowly moved our application up the ladder.

Published: 28 Mar 2003 | Last Updated: 4 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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