Fraser Valley friends find adventure on Grand Canyon float
April 29, 2008
Many of us have peered over Grand Canyon’s South Rim and have experienced pure awe, a gift the canyon grants us in generous eyefuls.
But a few and fortunate have found their way to the Colorado River itself, an azure snake mystically cutting through the canyon’s depths.
It’s from the canyon floor that 16 of Fraser Valley’s beloved found renewal this mud season while experiencing an unabashed respect for nature’s force and power.
For 20 nights and 21 days in late March to early April, traveling by rafts and a kayak 225 miles through 169 named rapids (three of which are the biggest in North America), there was no shortage of intense challenges, according to permit-lottery winner Lance Gutersohn of Fraser, who organized the trip.
With eight rafts, a kayak, frozen meals to last the journey’s duration and positive attitudes, the Grand County group launched at Page, Ariz.
“For me, this trip was my third time rowing a raft, the first down the Grand Canyon,” said Gutersohn. “It was truly the most incredible adventure I have ever experienced, traveling for 21 days on the Colorado River with some of the dearest and most incredible friends I could have ever hoped to surround myself with. Their combined love and past river experiences were absolutely priceless.”
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Their trip was timed impeccably, whether they had known it or not.
Just days prior, the National Park Service had completed flushing the river the third time in 10 years.
Since 1996, releases from Glen Canyon Dam have averaged from 8,000 to 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). By flushing the canyon, the river increased to approximately 41,000 cfs, changing river conditions during the duration of the high-flow event.
The Fraser rafters floated the river at a time when beaches were especially pristine thanks to the recent flood, and there was little-to-no sign of human impact.
“It’s such an incredible, powerful place,” said Jean Wolter, who with husband Jamie floated the Grand Canyon for the second time. She, like her fellow rafters, is trying to return to the routine of everyday life.
But the river stays with her.
“All I can think about is, how am I going to get back to the river?” she said. “Any river. Any river will do.”
The Grand Canyon has that effect on people.
Tim Hodsdon of Fraser and Denver, who floated the Grand Canyon for the first time, said the trip gave him an enduring lesson about simplicity. From the river, he’s learned “how little we need to actually survive and to live very well. And, how all that can be contained on a raft.”
The ancient walls of the canyon never cease to humble its seekers.
The oldest rocks in the canyon are 2 billion years old, which in geological terms, makes the canyon quite young compared to the oldest 4-billion-year-old-rocks in Canada. Yet the canyon’s “massive scale” and “ancient feeling” invoke a reverential perspective of ourselves and nature, Hodsdon said.
It is also one of the few places that relies on the honor system, he observed.
Absent is the tonnage of signs that normally direct people on vacation, tokens of our litigious society.
There’s something to be said for “removing ourselves from the everyday distractions, including voice mail, e-mail, cell phones, election hype and bad evening news, to arrive at a very special and secret place,” Gutersohn said. “A place, where you’re forced to move at a pace decided by the earth and mother nature, not humans in a hurry.
“This was a very new place for my mind to be, enjoying every minute of every mile, being a part of the most beautiful things you could ever imagine,” he added. “A place where you are not able to think or worry about anything in the real world, but the next rapid and staying upright.”
One waterfall seemed to outdo another, according to Wolter, and treasures such as that ” where a sense of ancient civilization and spirituality still weigh heavily ” bestow upon one an air of privilege for even having the chance to experience it.
The Wolters survived a Class 7 (rated 1 to 10 in the Grand Canyon) rapid that flipped their raft. The force of the water the size of ocean waves was so massive it spit the couple out 20 yards beyond their boat.
“When that happens, the adrenaline surges so much you’re not afraid,” Jean Wolter said, “and you don’t even feel the cold water. Since I was rowing, it was a good lesson for me that I would never make that mistake again.”
The couple reunited with their raft downriver after finding rescue in an eddy.
The only item they lost was a plastic water bottle, which was returned to them by other boaters. “We were lucky we rigged the boat so well,” Jean said.
For Hodsdon, Wolters’ ordeal was an enlightening moment, he said, “that it could happen and people could actually live through it.”
A typical day on the river began with an early breakfast, which rafters took turns cooking, summoning others by blowing in a conch shell. After breakfast, there was the laborious ritual of packing the boats and strapping everything down. Then, as Hodsdon put it, around 10 a.m., it was time to get back on the river for some typically thrilling whitewater, “to experience the feeling of having a life or death experience,” he said.
Lunch followed riverside, and then a profound hike up a side canyon to see ancient ruins or interesting geological landmarks. On an average day, the group would travel 12 miles on the mighty Colorado and pull in around 4 or 5 p.m. for dinner.
“A moveable feast,” Hodsdon called it, carried cold in coolers on the rafts.
What was also carried on the rafts was the waste from those meals. Leaving “nothing” behind really means “nothing,” including human excrement.
Giant airtight ammunition cans called “groovers” are used as portable toilets. Groover rental companies exist for such Grand Canyon excursions. On this particular trip, if a rafting member demanded use of the groover, he or she would signal others that the privy was occupied by carrying on one’s person a small pink purse, further cause for an already humiliating and humbling experience, no less.
Living among others like this can’t help but create a bond.
“In eight trips through the canyon, this one was special because of the people on the trip,” said Jay Dekovic of Tabernash, who rafted with Heidi McNinch. “Twenty-one days is a long time for some, but this group of 16 bonded like family, from the very first meeting, to the take-out and every moment in between. Telling jokes, dreaming of the next trip, talking about starting a commune ” only in jest, I think.
“The hardest part about living on the river is leaving the river,” Dekovic continued. “Leaving the routine we’ve enjoyed so much for so long. Breaking up the family and returning to our busy lives. And of course, wondering if we’ll be able to go when someone gets the next permit.
“Cross your fingers everyone.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail email@example.com.