Rafting the Colorado River, Grand Canyon

An incredible opportunity to join a Colorado River trip down the Grand Canyon with a private permit holder who won the National Park Service (NPS) weighted lottery, for the whole enchilada from Lee’s Ferry put-in to Pearce Ferry take-out in the month of October. Today the waitlist has grown to over 25 years for a noncommercial permit, yet just weeks prior to the October launch date, miraculously stumbled upon a connection that would materialize into a spot on the permit roster. Here’s the story of how it happened, had it not been for having drinks at a bar.

After the 2019 Burn, was hanging out during the week with a friend in Santa Cruz, CA at a local dive bar shooting pool. Threw my name up on the chalkboard as next challenger in a long roster of scribbled names, however the problem is, i don’t play much pool. The guy currently on the table is consecutively striking out names off the list, then my name’s up and i pump quarters into the table; new challenger always pays for the game. Right away, there’s a strange delay in the ball dispenser, and it takes a double pump of the coin tray for the table to drop out the rest of the balls. I then rack the balls tightly and forward in the triangle; defender breaks.

On my second turn, my friend decides to drop some hints by indicating on the balls where i need to strike to start pocketing balls. Now, i don’t play much pool, but i do know how to aim, and understand the mechanics of shooting the cue in a straight line. To align a righthand shot, i like to get down and put my aiming, dominant right eye over the cue stick, then my chin directly over the cue, and finally my right hand all in a line as it keeps a light grip on the handle. Feeling smooth on the recently resurfaced pool table felt, i proceed to sweep the table but miss on the 8-ball. My next turn, game.

If i was truly any good at pool, my subsequent match with a new challenger would have been a contest, yet my friend stepped away from the table and without his help i promptly missed repeatedly and lost.

During my first game, one of the bar patrons was off to the side of the table observing the match. He shuffled over and complimented the hot streak, and offered to buy a round at the bar. We get to talking, and i am still vibing hard having recently come off the Playa and still decompressing back into the default world. It was an incredible Burn, 4th consecutive in total, and this year with a theme camp with early access on build crew. We get to more talking about the desert, Death Valley National Park, more desert, then this guy starts telling me about how he’s going on a rafting trip down the Colorado River and Grand Canyon on a private permit, meaning that it be a self guided, fully sustained trip with no hired staff. And the permit was for the whole enchilada in the most ideal month of October before daylight savings.

Now up until this point, i’d never been on a raft before nor white water nor any type of river trip. But there’s a sensation about rivers and river trips that have vicariously stood out to me, which originated during a bike packing trip across the San Juan Mountains from Durango CO to Moab UT, where one of the riders in our crew is a river guide during the season, and an incredible specimen of human athleticism to boot (the kind of group member you’d want in your party with the strength to literally carry you out of the wilderness on his shoulder if you somehow could not hike yourself out). As a guide, his stories were incredibly captivating that i could clearly sense there is magic to be experienced on a river.

The next morning, i’m on a conference call with the guy from the bar, and the permit holder who’s a couple of time zones ahead of Pacific. It’s a matter of introducing myself and persuading them i am a worthy addition as #11 on this trip roster, where for 23 days our party will raft 280 river miles together down the Colorado River and Grand Canyon with nothing more than what fits on 5 separate inflatable rafts.

The end of September quickly approached, and i had the truck prepped and Casa de Lance loaded for her maiden truck camper voyage. It was go time, Manolo al Sol, starting with a journey down the Grand Canyon. But first stop, a waypoint in Las Vegas, Nevada to drop off Casa de Lance.

Logistics and operations to make a river trip like this happen, in addition to the immersion in the Canyon, would be my initial fascination with a river trip; a 23 day permit with 10 other strangers for a party of 11. Leading up to our Oct 5 put-in date, there were 2 last minute cancellations, which were quickly filled within a days notice and 100 minutes, respectively, as we were already in transit. Both ladies booked airfare to Flagstaff, AZ and names redlined into the NPS permit. Their efforts would be a testament to how incredible an opportunity it is to raft the Colorado when presented. In our fleet, we ran 2 private rafts (blue Cataraft with full kitchen, and red 14′ NRS); and 3x yellow 18′ Sotar rentals, gear and supplies from Pro River Outfitters (Flagstaff, AZ) including coolers and groovers.

My commitment was to have my truck available for transporting gear and 1 passenger, starting in Las Vegas, NV where i’d make an airport pickup at LAS. Next, we’d carpool to St. George UT to rendezvous with 2 other subsets of our party, originating from Canada and Salt Lake City, UT, for a total of now 6 members of the trip roster, including the permit holder.

Our caravan would then continue northeast, to boondock one night along the interstate in Utah. Next we’d officially enter Grand Canyon National Park and pay our respects to the canyon from the view at North Rim. With just one more sleep until our put-in date, it was finally time to run to town (Page, AZ) for supplies like snacks and booze for the duration of the trip.

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Published by Manolo al Sol

Learning by adventure.. will curiosity kill the cat ?

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