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Trip to the Canyons - Rafting

The trip was four days and three nights. The first two days were cruising down from Moab to Cataract Canyon. Cataract Canyon took one day, then we had a short day getting to the Marina at lake Powell and a plane ride back to Moab

We learned so much....
Let's start with lessons learned and then go to the trip itself - that way the trip is put into context.

The lessons were delivered to us in small bites so we were more likely to remember. Usually Josh, the guide leader was the instructor.

Lessons Learned

The rafts
We had four rafts. The smallest was for paddling - five to each side and the helmsman. Then there were two rafts that were a little larger. They carried a small amount of cargo and had one oarsperson who did all the work. Finally, the big one - maybe thirty feet long - that was powered by an outboard motor (two motors were used on the last stretch into Lake Powell where the current was very weak) and carried most of the cargo but had room for a few passengers. Since the passengers could lean on the luggage this was very comfortable.

Each raft was built like an elongated doughnut built of strong, inflated rubber/plastic. For flotation in case of an accident each doughnut had four sections. The doughnut had a floor built of a separate, inflated section that was maybe six inches thick and six inches smaller all round than the doughnut leaving a moat! The floor was then loosely lashed to the doughnut so water could easily flow into and out of the raft. Very clever - the weight in the raft submerged the doughnut to the exact point that the moat was an inch above the river - any water that splashed in immediately drained out. Of course, when too many people got into the raft, the floor was partially submerged. We usually had wet shoes.

The large raft had a twenty-foot aluminum cradle straddling its mid-section. This was very strong, had a metal floor and lots of very large aluminum boxes for storing everything. These were arranged in a hollow square and soft luggage (the night bags) was piled in the middle. A couple of water coolers were perched on top. The two mid-sized rafts had a similar, but much smaller cradle without the big boxes. The oarsperson sat on top of this, level with the top of the doughnut for a better view.

The rafts were lashed together and driven by motor for days 1,2 and 4. During the rapids they were separated and the three smaller rafts were human powered.

This was an essential lesson. In the desert it is necessary to consume prodigious amounts of water (I drank a gallon in two hours when hiking and was still thirsty) so efficient liquid disposal is needed. Josh was instructing us, facing us, and declared that he was currently public. He turned round and immediately became private. Just like French highways - turn your back and that's OK. And we were told "Always do it in the river - per instructions of the National Park Service - because the high desert does not have the capability to break down nitrogen so the urine smell remains for years." We quickly became used to this concept of privacy. Of course, ladies can't exactly do that, so we had 'Smile Breaks'. Two or three times a day we would find a smooth part of the river and all jump overboard. Naturally, we smiled because it was a break from sitting and it was cool. But the ladies' smiles were broader.

The Groover
In the olden days, rafters were toilet trained by sitting on a rectangular tin box. This left grooves in appropriate parts of the anatomy, hence the name. These days a toilet seat is used on the box but the name remains. We were very carefully warned that this box has to be carried by the guides who get VERY upset if it is too heavy. So men were warned to use the river for Number One and NEVER to use the Groover for that purpose. Women apparently get a free pass. Discrimination!

The groover was set up at one end of the camp. At the entrance was a 'ticket' - a flotation seat bottom. If it wasn't there then the groover was in use. Generally there was a line to use it when we landed and after breakfast so we didn't really need a ticket much. There was also a bucket of clean (?) water, a footpump to pumpp the water through a pipe and another bucket for the water spilling off washed hands.

Personal Hygiene. What? The river is there, it has a gooey layer of mud on the bottom that is knee-deep, and it's always muddy brown but sand isn't insanitary is it?

Washing the dishes? We has four buckets arranged on a table ordered from upstream to downstream. The first was to wash off food particles, the second was soapy to wash the dishes, the third was clean water to rinse and the fourth was clean water with a little Clorox to disinfect. Clean water? sand is not insanitary is it? We used river water for all buckets.

Water was a precious commodity. Everything was carried on the raft. We had unlimited water and lemonade for drinking at all times. The water was not to be used for anything else except maybe teeth brushing.

Personal Effects
We had two waterproof bags. A small one to take on the boat for 'day' items and a large one that was available only when we were in camp. The latter were carried in a large heap in the large raft and getting to them would be a major chore. No-one asked to get into them on the whole trip.

The bags operated very simply. They had two straight, rigid strips at the mouth and when these put together and the mouth of the bag was rolled over them, the bag became waterproof. It was also airproof. The strips on the day bag each had one buckle attached and these clipped together after rolling the top several times. The night bags were similar except they had a buckle each side of the base so after rolling the top, the two strip buckles fastened into to base buckles.

We were warned to expel all air from the night bags before clipping them - otherwise the bag balloons with air because it is airtight, and takes up a lot of space.

The night bag is on the left, the day bag to its right. We also had a flotation device, camp bed and chair.
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On the Boat
We were generally free to move around the boats since they were lashed together. Water and lemonade were available on the big boat. Seats were either on the doughnut itself, on the big boat (limit about six people but very comfortable) or on the floor of a smaller boat - wet but refreshing.

Life Jackets and Safety
We took a life jacket from a pile as we first boarded, adjusted it (very tightly) and tended to keep it for the rest of the trip.

Lifejackets were worn when in the water, such as smile breaks, and the whole time when we were in the rapids.

Safety was taken very seriously and we were briefed twice on what to do if we found ourselves pitched out of a raft into the water. This never actually happened although it almost did one time. The general rule was: first get back into the boat. If this was not immediately feasible, look at the guide who may have enough time to signal 'go left', 'come here' or whatever. Failing this, you're on your own. A safety signal if several people are in the water is that the guide would pat his/her head and a response of a head pat would signal "I'm OK". Otherwise, there would be a flurry of rescue activity - a sort of elementary triage system.

Good luck and good planning meant that we never had a problem.

Bed Time
When we landed, the first item of business was to select a sleeping spot. Generally there was enough room to space everyone in reasonable privacy with a bush or 40 feet in between. Family groups typically stayed together. The position of the Groover was important - it was announced as we landed. Being downwind was not a good idea, and being beyond it impinged significantly on people's privacy - generally, the groover was hidden from the camp by bushes but was otherwise totally exposed.

In the olden days, a fire was put out by a line of people passing buckets of water person to person along a line - a Fireline. Our guides did all the heavy lifting for food, tables, groover, etc. We unloaded the night bags, chairs and cots with a fireline. Josh would have a couple of guides on the raft, we would have a fireline up the beach, and there would soon be a pile of stuff at the top of the beach. We were taught to create the line with people facing each other in a zig-zag so every even-numbered person in the line faced one way inward and every odd-numbered person faced the other way. This way there is very little twisting of the body as the weights are passed.

Chairs and Cots
We each were provided with a folding camp chair and a cot. The cot was a topological nightmare to assemble. We had a demonstration, but unfortunately the cot chosen for the demonstration was not fully operable so we got partial instructions. We were promised that by the fourth night we would have no problems in assembly. Naturally, we were back off the river on the fourth night. The cots were not too bad to assemble, but they were stretched canvas which is not the most comfortable mattress. Luckily we were all extremely tired every night.

The trip

We had five guides and twenty six passengers.
Josh was the lead and did an excellent job of commanding the trip, educating us land-lubbers, keeping his troops organized and occasionally correcting someone.
Tex and Ava were experienced, competent and steady Guides.
Steve was a cowboy-rafter and clown. This was entertaining. Robert was along for the ride and to provide help as needed.

The passengers were a very mixed bunch. Mainly family pairs or groups. We had one family group of two brothers and two sisters; the elder brother had two 12-year old identical twins and a 16-year old daughter with him. Another group was three brothers. Not quite half of the group was under 25. And one single, retarded guy - me. There were two English families in the group.

Everyone got along very well. No one was obnoxious, no one complained too much, everyone smiled (particularly in the water).

Day One
We had all met on the Outfitter's patio the previous evening for a briefing, then met at 7:15 to take the shuttle to the jumping-off spot. This was a little south of Moab - as far south as a reasonable road went. We had our first safety briefing, learned about the bags, made our first fireline and were ready for off.

We floated, strapped together as a party raft, for most of the day. The scenery was fabulous. A major overlook was Dead Horse Point. If you look carefully you can see people on top. Josh attempted to persuade us that there had been brothel problems in Moab in the old days and that, as a last resort, the town's wifes had pushed the ladies of the night off the edge to protect their home life. The National Parks Service changed the name from Whores' to Horse. Not many of us bought that one.
Floating ...... Dead Horse Point

We did a short hike to a petrified forest. There were hundreds of pieces of petrified wood strewn about including a 60-foot tree that was broken into segments exactly where it lay. This extends from the right of the picture all the way to the large boulder. Note also the balanced rock at the left

We stopped for lunch in a shady spot under a tall cliff that obviously was the site of a waterfall. Lunch each day was some kind of sandwich. The Guides brought all the food and tables up from the boat and we had a help-yourself buffet

First Camp
We pitched camp in late afternoon. The river had a sandbar and the younger set swam out to it to play. The usual very slippery mud was available to play slip 'n' slide. There was also a 10-foot cliff above the river. We were told in no uncertain terms that the rafting company did NOT approve of cliff diving, however if one went for a hike wearing a lifejacket and just happened to fall in, that would be accidental. Accidents were great fun.

Before dinner we went for a hike across the river to Indian ruins
The Indians stored their grain in a granary

Pictograph nearby

We walked closer

This has an unknown purpose, however the circle to the left is exactly illuminated by the sun on the spring solstice and the one on the right on the winter solstice
We had a good view of the campsite before we went back for dinner...and bed

Day 2
We breakfasted, packed up the camp, firelined the equipment to the rafts and had an instructional session before we set off.
Before too long we all needed a smile break
Two other 'things' made us smile - David and Alex. They were the identical twins. No one except the family could tell them apart. Luckily, either one was comfortable answering to 'Dalex'. Much better than 'Hey You'.
Then it was time for lunch
We again hiked to see some Indian ruins. This time we hiked through a bunch of Tamarisks. Some while ago, engineers were concerned about erosion of the sand banks in the canyon so they imported the tamarisks to stabalize them. This was an ecological mistake because there were no natural enemies and the tamarisks took over. Now a beetle has been imported and is happily munching its way through the forests. It didn't get this far yet, but we'll see if it causes other problems.
Another granary and some Indian dwellings. The Indians were quite small people
FINALLY, we got to the rapids. At the beginning there is a warning and sign-in sheet. As we started in, I was in Ava's boat and she concentrated on steering us past the rocks and into the biggest waves she could find
The rapids were not very severe and we went through five of them before we got to camp
We set up camp in record time, not forgetting the groover

Day 3 - The Rapids
This was the day we had all been waiting for - 23 more rapids including some fairly large ones. We had a little calm before the storm but then we were off...

There were lots of wet people by the time we got through, and some were VERY wet. It was fabulous as you can see by Ava's reaction
That night we had a gala dinner. The first announcement was that dinner would be served only to people dressed in sheets. A cry went up "Toga Party". The best combination was the three brothers who were immediately named "The three sheets to the wind". The guides dressed up in business attire; Ava even wore a dress! Before dinner, John, one of the passengers, announced a bar. No alcohol was served on the trip (although a private stash was permitted), but John had had a brainwave the evening before the trip and had raided the State Liquor Store. He was now offering Bourbon and Rum with mixers. A spendid chap! The dinner was a New York Strip, cooked to specification. Excellent fare. Finally we had a talent show. The show was stolen by a young man who studied Martial Arts and used a couple of glow-sticks as Num Chuks. The whirling green light in the darkness was mesmerizing.

Day 4 - The End
Finally, the end is nigh. We left very early, floated for a couple of hours and crossed under the road bridge at the head of Lake Powell under the power of two motors, had a final smile and landed at the Hite Marina. We unloaded the dry bags for the last time and said our goodbyes.

Then it was back home by air. This was spectacular and somewhat frightening. The airstrip was a little narrower than the road we had used to get there and the airplanes - all four of them - were six or seven passenger and single engined. The Pride of the Moab Air Force. But the pilots were enthusiastic, experienced, pleasant and appeared competent.
We followed the river back home. The various scenes unreeled under us.

Hite Marina as we took off



The Big Drop

We also had spectacular views of the countryside around - I wished we had seen this before the rafting trip
We landed at the International Airport of Moab

The next day, the newspaper headlines shouted that four hours after we landed a twin-engined plane crashed and burned killing all eight on board. Not a rafting trip I hope.

If you were on the rafting trip and are reading this as a blog, Please Contact me - []. In addition to the blog I have 129 other pictures. You are welcome to them, just ask. Thank you all for making a memorable trip - Peter

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