Gap: Traverse floats the Grand Canyon

By Alex Rabin and Emma Mitchell 

On November 9th we set out on our fourth expedition of the fall semester; a 5-day rafting trip on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon! We started the expedition by meeting our guides, Bec, Stevie, and John, all who were either current or graduated students from Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. At the rafting “put in” we began learning the ins-and-outs of rafting. This included the packing of our gear, inflating of the rafts, and the measures of safety we would take while on the river. After six hours of preparing our boats, we set out for our first campsite just a few minutes down the river. After paddling over the first rapid the sun began setting behind the towering canyon walls that we were now surrounded by. We set up our camp for the night which included a kitchen and bathroom system (aka the groover) that was way more advanced than what we were used to in the backcountry. Just google “groover toilet system” and you’ll know what we mean ;).  Dinner (Molly’s famous pasta sauce) was followed by a celebration for Emma Mitchell’s 20th birthday. The festivities included a delicious cake cooked in the dutch oven by Emma Murray and Kayra, lots of singing, a piñata filled with unicorn erasers, and a dance party sponsored by Taylor Swift. We fell asleep beneath the clear sky full of stars listening to the peaceful river as it passed through the canyon walls.

After waking up to the banging of pots and pans to signal breakfast we began our second day on the river. We floated down the Colorado River until we arrived at one of Bec’s favorite places along the river; Travertine Canyon. We hiked for about 15 minutes using wooden ladders up small waterfalls until we entered a small cave that had a tall waterfall flowing down the wall into the sunlit canyon. Some members of the group stood under the splashing water while others climbed the walls and sat within the many crevices. Back on the rafts, we all took a turn experiencing the role of lead paddler. This included learning the motions, rhythm, and commands that are essential to a successful rafting experience. As it was the first time paddling for many of us we got stuck on lots of rocks! Despite this, we maintained positive attitudes and concluded our day camping at Travertine Falls.

Our big rapid day was a highlight and left us all laughing as the cold water soaked us. Using the Grand Canyon class of rapid scale (1-10), we learned that we had successfully made it through both class 5 and 6 rapids without anyone falling out of a boat. After lunch, the rafting guides provided us with an opportunity to swim through a smaller rapid to practice how to float safely through turbid water. Everyone jumped at the opportunity with excitement. We strapped on our PFDs and helmets and hopped in the rapid, swimming quickly in order to be pulled back into a raft. Raft guide John demonstrated the proper way to pull someone back into a raft–by grabbing the shoulder straps and ungracefully flopping someone into a boat. This created a huge pile in the back of the boat where we continued to shriek from all of the adrenaline.

The excitement continued through our last day when we created a “flotilla,” which connected all of the rafts together allowing us to use a motor to travel 30 miles to Lake Mead where we would conclude our trip. We took the causal float as an opportunity to play games with our guides and catch up on sleep under the warm Arizona sun. As we continued to float we sang loudly for all other Grand Canyon visitors to hear and prepared for our last night on the river. Nicholas and Em-Shan, along with our guides began plotting for one last surprise which began with stopping for dinner at an island below the Grand Canyon skywalk. Molly and Abby planned another Survivor Challenge–this time river themed. The challenges made us utilize our newly learned skills which included a well-organized fire line, quickly putting on a PFD, and organizing an ammo can filled with food.

The last incredible surprise was a night float! We needed to float at night in order to finish our last miles on the river in time. We were also told this would be a unique and beautiful experience–our guides were correct. The boats were prepared and we all chose a spot to set up our sleeping systems. Evening circle was held underneath the stars as we laid cozily within our sleeping bags while floating down the Colorado River to our final destination. Bec, Stevie, and John were troopers as they occasionally paddled us through the wee hours of the morning allowing us to stay on route and preventing us from getting stuck on anything. Before we knew it we were waking up to the sunrise watching the canyon walls disappear behind us as we approached the take out. For the remaining time with our amazing guides, we learned how to disassemble the rafts and properly clean them to conclude a river trip.  

Now we are off the Snow Canyon State Park in St. George, Utah to return to climb some gorgeous sandstone and limestone walls. We will also begin planning our student planned expedition. 

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