Grand Canyon Trip 2017

Almost two years ago my good friend, Shaun McAdams, called me up to see if I would be the back up trip leader for an 18 day do it yourself trip down the Grand Canyon. While Shaun was building our house I heard many incredible stories of his first trip down the Grand, so without hesitation I said “absolutely yes”!  He said he asked me because he needed someone who would not “bail out” on him and I was that guy. Whoa…that is some pressure…


Fast forward 2 years. It came fast! People who were supposed to go ended up not being able to go. Both due to personal injuries they got right before the trip (my poor wife included) which were bad enough it would have definitely had a negative impact on their trip. Shaun and I met up and we started to call people on our short list to fill the seats that had been vacated by the others…in a matter of days we had all the seats filled once again! I was a little jealous of these folks to be honest. I had to plan for 2 years to make this happen and they were able to pull it off in a couple of weeks!


We started our journey from Missoula, MT. on September 14th. Everyone leaving at different times and stopping at different places along the way, but the eventual goal was to meet in Flagstaff, AZ the night of the 15th. I had my friends Pat Roosa, Bryan Scholz, and Kevin Carol in my truck. The excitement level in the truck was very high! We talked mostly about the rapids we would encounter as most of us had not experienced rapids as big as we would encounter on the Grand. We had all watch videos on YouTube of people flipping boats in rapids named Lava Falls, Upset, Granite, and many others. Nervous, excited, a little scared, but mostly very grateful that we had this amazing opportunity before us.


The trip down only had one hiccup along the way…We were all taking turns putting fuel in my truck on the way down to share in the cost of the travel. It was Bryan’s turn when we hit Pocatello, ID. I needed to use the restroom and as I was leaving the truck I reminded Bryan to use the green hose at the pump as my truck is a diesel. When I came out of the gas station and was heading towards the truck I could see both Pat and Bryan standing by my truck next to the gas pump and something didn’t seem right…as I approached Bryan says “Hey Joel. How bad is it if I put unleaded gas into your truck”?  My heart sunk…I said, “you’re kidding, right”? Pat laughed and said, “Nope. 5.3 gallons worth to be exact”! I had a small meltdown moment and questioned how this could happen when I just told you to use the green hose!!! Knowing full well that a temper tantrum would not do anything to fix the problem I let it go. Bryan drives a half ton truck that uses unleaded fuel. He just wasn’t used to anything as manly as a ¾ ton diesel truck so it was all foreign to him, so I needed to quickly forgive him and figure out a solution quick! I called the world’s best mechanic (Chris Kruse) and asked his advice on what to do. The quick answer was “do not start the truck”! We discussed options and solutions and it was on to the next phone call. We found  a diesel mechanic to come out and siphon the tank. 2 hours, a thunderstorm, and 286 dollars later we were on our way once again. Good thing Bryan is fairly thick skinned as it will be a long time before he isn’t harassed about this…


We had a quick overnight stop in the greater Salt Lake area. We enjoyed the great hospitality of our good friends, Dan and Candice Janney. They were very gracious hosts! Feeding us pizza and beer like we were bears that were getting ready for winter and giving us a comfortable place to sleep. Thanks Dan and Candice. You guys ROCK!!


After another long day on the road we rolled into Flagstaff. We had a typical brew pub dinner at the Lumber Jack and met up with our crew. Plans were made for the next day and morning came quickly! Now, the real journey begins…


We all met at Ceiba Adventures at 8:30am. They had all of our boats on a trailer, coolers packed for 18 days, and were just waiting for the gear and goodies we would bring on the trip! They have a very fine tuned system and before you knew it we were on our way to Lee’s Ferry.


Lee’s Ferry is our first true glimpse of the Grand Canyon. Saying we were all excited at this point would be a gross understatement. That excitement continued to build as we inflated rafts, rigged rafts, got our gear organized, and learned the do’s and don’ts of the groover! The park service rangers stopped by to check all of our gear to make sure we were in compliance with the park regulations. They are a very no nonsense group of people which is a bit of a challenge for a group of people who are EXTREMELY excited about their impending trip down the Grand. We all managed to pull it off though. By mid day we were launching the boats. My boat was the first to hit the water. The whole time we were rigging there were fish rising on the opposite bank from the boat launch. I quickly rowed over and got the boat in position and handed the oars over to Bryan. Bryan kept the boat in perfect position for me and within 5 minutes of launching I had my first Grand Canyon rainbow to hand! Mission accomplished! One more fish to hand and we joined the group at our camp downstream. Too me, it was already a successful trip. My whole goal was to catch a fish on the Grand and that was out of the way now so everything from that point on was all about enjoying the scenery.


Our trip leader, Shaun McAdams, arranged for us to have dinner at the Marble Canyon Lodge the night before our “official” launch. We officially introduced ourselves to the rest of the group and split up into 4 teams. Each team would share the daily responsibilities of cooking and cleaning. Day 1 team 1 would be responsible. Day 2 team 2 would be responsible…you get the idea. This went on for all 18 days and worked very well. It gave us all a chance to relax and it gave us all the opportunity to provide for our fellow canyon mates. Shaun gave a great speech at dinner that night and left us with only one rule. NO GRUMPINESS IS ALLOWED ON THIS TRIP!!! It was a great rule. And too the best of my knowledge it was a rule that was followed.


September 17th, 2017. The first light started spilling into the canyon. I opened my eyes to the final stars still shining in the sky and bats flying around trying to grab a last minute snack before returning to their perch. As I wandered off the boat and on to the shore I was immediately approached by Kevin Carol. He was not well. You could see it in his face and by the way he was holding himself. He informed me that he was very sick and that he had been up all night vomiting and crapping his brains out. You could see the discomfort he was feeling in his face. Apparently it had started the day before, but he was in denial and thought it would pass. It did not. He was so miserable he decided to not join us on the trip and would find a way back to Flagstaff and eventually home to Missoula. He did not want to get the rest of the group sick, which is extremely unselfish on his part. Even though we all tried to talk him out of it and to figure out a way to make it work, I think ultimately it was the right decision on his part as he ended up being sick for days and lost a lot of weight.


After another lecture from the ranger on do’s and don’ts in the Grand Canyon we finally launched the boats at about 11am. We were now officially on our way down the Grand Freakin’ Canyon!!! Immediately you are struck with the beauty of this amazing landscape. They used the word “Grand” ( I am convinced) because the words to truly describe it had not been invented yet. This place is mind boggling beautiful! The crystal clear waters of the Colorado River dissipated quickly as a very small stream just downstream of our launch was spewing in a lot of silt from an apparently flash flood up one of the side canyons. It was amazing to me how such a small stream could muddy up the entire Colorado River! Well it did, and it continued to do so for the next week before the river turned to emerald green once again.


I know nothing about geology. I can point out a handful of different rocks, but that is about it. The Grand is a geologists wet dream! (sorry mom, but it is true) You have to remember, you are floating BELOW the Earth’s surface. It is something that you can’t fully wrap your brain around at first, but you are indeed a mile below the surface so you are seeing things you can not see anywhere else in this world. It constantly changes too! Each day is a new day and it feels as though you are floating through and entirely different canyon. It is something I won’t even try and describe and I simply don’t have the words. It is something you have to experience to understand and when you do you will completely understand what I am saying.


Each day we would make a goal of where we would hike and where we would eventually camp. You do not “reserve” your camps on the Grand. Instead, you communicate with the other groups on the river as to where you hope to camp that night. One needs to be a little flexible here. It was very cool to see the process and how complete strangers could come up with solutions that fit everyone’s needs. Refreshing actually and one of the things I liked most about the trip. I am fairly convinced that there really isn’t a “bad” camp on the Grand. Sure, some camps are better than others, but every single one of the camps has a view that blows your mind and is sure to please with a great sunset and sunrise. I think even the worst camp in the Grand would still make my list of top ten best camps ever when comparing it to places I have stayed off of the Grand Canyon!


Each night when we arrived to camp the first thing we would do is set up the kitchen. Very important to me as I was captain of the “kitchen boat” and I had all of the kitchen supplies on my boat which was essential for preparing our meals. Once the kitchen was set up and the groover (a 50cal ammo can with a toilet seat for pooping in) was in place you were free to do whatever as long as it was not your night to cook. We had nightly horseshoe tournaments, we had cocktails with ice in them every night of the trip, and we laughed almost uncontrollably at times. We were all free. Free from the outside world. Free from our computers and  our phones. We were free from social media. We were free from any negativity because grumpiness was not invited on this trip!! And our spirits were free as well. We soaked in the canyon, its beauty, its splendor and ruggedness. We worked together each day trying to make it even better than the day before. We encouraged and inspired each other and gave one another the confidence to run rapids and row through flat water in the wind and through endless eddy currents. The Grand Canyon makes you a better human and that became obvious to me very quickly on the trip.


There were many highlights for me on this trip. I got to watch a dear friend really bond with his daughters. I would listen to their talks and watch them interact with each other.  It was a very special thing to witness. I got to see two sisters grow closer together on the trip as they worked together in the kitchen and on the water. I got to see a beautiful young couple fall more in love with each other as they got engaged to be married while on the Grand. I watched our world become smaller as we got to know our new friends from New Zealand, Salt Lake City, Bozeman, and even new friends from Missoula. I played kickball in a cave. I spent each night sleeping under the stars on the back of my raft. I would fall asleep watching bats dance in the night sky, looking at billions upon billions of stars twinkle in the night sky, and counting falling stars. I went on hikes that took me to streams that seemed to glow a shade of blue I had never seen before. I hiked up mountains to rivers that came out of the side of a mountain from an enchanted underworld. I walk thru slot canyons that were meticulously carved out by the incredible force of water over millions of years. I hiked to waterfalls in the middle of this incredible desert landscape that ran cold and life sprouted up all around them. I went through huge powerful rapids feeling fearful at the top of those rapids and feeling exhilarated, euphoric, and more confident by the time I reached the bottom. I lived everyday with a smile and the only thing I ever truly missed was my wife, dogs, and family and I really wished they were with me on this journey too so they could also experience these things.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I realized quickly pictures do not do the Grand Canyon justice. Well, at least my pictures don’t do it justice… Hopefully, though, they can give you an idea of how amazing this place is and how important it is to protect these places so that the generations to come can also enjoy them and find that inner peace. I took over 600 pictures from this journey down the canyon. Some have been deleted. Some will only be seen by my Grand Canyon Tribe. These are the ones I would like to share with all of you. These are some of my favorites from the trip. This is my Grand Canyon!