The Grand is laced with side canyons, and exploring them was probably the most interesting part of the whole trip. The huge rapids are fun, but the real reason to do the trip is to hike in places like Saddle Canyon or Deer Creek, where slot canyons, natural springs, cascading waterfalls, and lush vegetation combine to make what feels like a zen patio garden.
Not to be missed are visits to the Little Colorado River and a scenic hike up Havasu Falls. Havasu in particular is a rare emerald green travertine river. On our trip, it turned out to be an ideal setting for a wedding proposal (she said yes!), and a booftacular kayak run.
For the cliff jumpers in the group, Elves Chasm is a surreal scramble and leap into a deep, clear pool. It was here that our boat, aptly named the S.S. Party Minnow pulled out of the eddy and immediately parked itself on some rocks in the middle of “panty slicer rapid”.
Luckily, we had swift water rescue experience on shore to salvage the passengers and the boat. Word to the wise: don’t listen when they shout “Read and run! Read and Run! Sneak line!”
Also, don’t drink and drive.
Triumph and carnage
The Colorado River has huge class 8 and 9 rapids (comparable to class 4-5 on normal rivers, but with a much bigger water volume). We were able to run all of them without major incident, but we did pop and break oars, hit holes sideways, and ram rocks.
Eddies and holes are the most powerful forces on the river, a lesson one jubilant paddle boarder in our crew learned the hard way.
Our friend “Hayaduke” leapt from the S.S. Party Minnow in Tuna Rapid not realizing it was one of the worst places to paddle, much less swim on the river. After about a mile of exhausting struggle, he was pulled underwater and laundered in a huge eddy fence. The river spat him out a couple of times, and he narrowly avoided getting sucked into a sieve before he slammed into a giant mid-river boulder.
Thankfully, the boulder was not undercut, so he was ejected on the other side where we could collect him. We spent the next hour trying to stave off his hypothermia.