11 Days of Grand Canyon Whitewater

Grand Canyon whitewater rafting has always been a bucket list dream of mine.  Given the cost and time, I sort of assumed I’d be retired before I did it, but for whatever reason, I decided to take the leap for my 40th birthday. I had already taken 3 trips with OARS, so there was no question which outfitter to use for a Grand Canyon whitewater trip.  Spots on any Grand Canyon whitewater trip are highly coveted and must be reserved months in advance. I booked mine as soon as the 2015 dates were available, 20 months pre-departure.

I flew into Phoenix and then caught a shuttle bus up to Flagstaff, where I booked a room using points at the Holiday Inn Express.  I met some of my fellow boaters on the shuttle bus, and they kindly invited me to join them for dinner before our trip orientation that evening.  Soon, it was time to meet our trip leader at a nearby hotel, get a brief orientation and receive our dry bags for packing.  Then back to our rooms to figure out how 11 days of gear could fit into 1 large drybag!

11 days worth of stuff into 1 giant dry bag!

The next morning, we gathered again to board our shuttle vans to Lee’s Ferry, where we met the rest of our guides, and began our journey down the Colorado River.  There were a few other trips loading at the same time, including these monstrous blue motor boats which held a small village of passengers.  We were all glad we chose the OARS trip and didn’t have to listen to a motor or smell gasoline the whole trip.

Sunday 9/6Launch at Lee's Ferry

We quickly settled into the rhythm that became our daily life for the next 11 days (or 5 days, for some of us.)

Sunday 9/6

Each morning, the coffee call comes, which I treated as my snooze button since I don’t drink coffee.  A while later, the breakfast call finally gets me moving.  After breakfast, it was time to break down camp and re-load the boats.

Saturday 9/12Camp 6 - Garnet

The guides had so much work to do each morning, that we were never rushed in packing our tents and personal belongings.  One of our guides, Galena, often led us through a morning yoga practice, which was the perfect way to start our day!

Tuesday 9/8Morning Yoga

Mid-morning usually brought us to a hiking spot or scenic stop. The guides were super great about setting expectations – they’d let us know the length of the hike, whether we might want hiking boots vs water shoes, snacks, etc.

Wednesday 9/9Hike at Tanner

Friday 9/11Hike at Shinumo

Sunday 9/13"Patio" at Deer Creek

Somewhere around mid-day, the guides would look for a good lunch spot and set up the lunch table and a snack table with fresh fruit and any breakfast leftovers.  PB & J on pancakes made for a pretty excellent snack!

Friday 9/11Lunch at Shinumo

After lunch, we’d have more rafting and sometimes another hike, or we’d paddle on to our next campsite, depending on the day.  Upon arrival in camp, we would disperse and set up our campsites, while the crew set up the common areas, like the toilet and the kitchen. There was usually time for relaxation – reading, napping, “laundry”, horseshoes, bocce ball, or enjoying some adult beverages.  Every meal on this trip was top notch – you can’t imagine the delicious food you are being served miles from any civilization!  Not to mention fresh avocados every day!  How do they do that?!

Sunday 9/6The first of many exquisite meals on the beach.

As we settle in to eating our dinner, Ryan, our lead guide, gives us an overview of the following day’s activities so we know what to expect and can pack our daybags accordingly. On several nights, we were treated to a campfire, guitar-playing guides and even a group pedicure one night!

Sunday 9/6The Living Room

Many people slept out under the stars each night.  My tent was mostly mesh, so I got the same effect, but one night (my 40th birthday) I chose a little ledge for my campsite.  No room for the tent, so I slept out in the open.  I loved it!

Friday 9/11Camp 6 - GarnetCowboy Camping on my 40th birthday!

Midway through the trip, we reached Phantom Ranch, where 13 of 16 travelers would hike out and head home.  10 new travelers joined us for the remainder of the journey.  It was bittersweet to bid goodbye to my new river friends so soon, but the 2nd group was just as great to travel with! (If you aren’t going to do the whole trip, it’s worth considering whether you want to hike down to meet the group or hike out of the canyon…it’s seven steep miles! I think the rapids in the second half were better, and personally would prefer to do the downhill hike at the start of my trip)

Thursday, 9/10Group photo from the 1st weekFront:  Maddie, Leigh, Kirby, Linda, Sophia, BruceBack: Ralph, Carol, Stuart, Karen, Cynthia, Kate, Chris, Encie, Joe

In addition to magnificent scenery, geology, history, we had amazing night skies, shooting stars and one day were treated to a rainstorm which created thousands of waterfalls all around us.

Monday 9/14

After 10 nights in the canyon, I was sad that my journey was drawing to a close.  We said our goodbyes at the last beach and hopped a helicopter, which was another highlight of the trip!

Wednesday, 9/16Group Photo at our last camp - 185 mileFront:  Joan, Nathan, Kathy, Shelly, Encie, Kelli, LeighBack: Scotty, Brandon, Runar, Aurelie, Stan, Randy, Eric, Joe, Adam, Sean, Kim, Mike, Joe, George and Ryan

Encie and Joe were the only other 2 passengers who were on the whole trip with me!  They are avid train travelers so I hope to see them again as they pass through Union Station in Chicago!

Wednesday, 9/16Encie, Joe, me and Sean

Wednesday, 9/16Bar 10 Ranch

After showers(!) at the Bar10 Ranch, we boarded a charter flight to Vegas.  Again, pretty spectacular scenery!

Wednesday, 9/16Cessna Flight to Vegas

The “river blues” are no joke!  I was so sad to see this trip come to an end, especially when I was dropped into tacky Las Vegas!  Luckily, I had a few more days to unwind in Zion National Park before I had to rejoin the real world.

I can’t recommend this trip highly enough!  I would do it every single year if I could afford it.  I know I will be back to finish the last leg of the trip from Whitmore Wash to Lake Mead, hopefully sooner than later!

  • Total Cost for this portion of trip ~ $5000 (does not include the time in spent at Zion)
    • $4636 to OARS – included all meals, shuttle to Canyon, helicopter and charter flight!
    • $43 PHX to Flagstaff shuttle
    • $300 Guide Tips (whatever I budget, it never feels like enough – amazing guides!)
    • My flights and Flagstaff hotel were paid with hotel points and airline miles


Grand Canyon Whitewater

For more photos, click here!

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2015 Travel Plans

It’s already March and I haven’t taken a single trip this year!  Still rebuilding my vacation time and savings accounts after 10 days in South America over Christmas!  First quarter is usually pretty busy at work, therefore quiet elsewhere, even though every February I swear I’m going to plan a tropical getaway for the next February.  This year was no exception – brutal cold, but we hunkered down and endured.

So, what’s on tap for 2015?  It’s big year as I have a monumental birthday coming up this year….

In March, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a customer panel for one of my vendor’s customer summits.  Despite a “dislike” of public speaking, I can’t pass up an opportunity for travel, even if it involves very little free time.  Besides, it’s good to challenge myself and leave the comfort zone every now and then!

So, first up is a two night trip to San Francisco – I have about 1/2 a day to explore, as well as the following evening before an early morning flight back to Chicago.  The following week, an even shorter trip to New York, but again, I booked my flights to give me a 1/2 day around town before the corporate events start.

In April, I’ll be attending another customer symposium for one of our vendors.  It will be my 4th trip to this symposium, which is in a different fun and warm city each year. This year, we’ll be traveling to Orlando and staying at Universal Studios.  Even though it’s a working weekend, they add a lot of fun activities, so I’m looking forward to this one!

That’s all work….what about play?

In August, I’m hoping to meet up with my Colorado backpacking friends for a week in the backcountry.  My last trip with this group was our 2013 basecamp in the Maroon Bells.  We’re still discussing this year’s plan, but Colorado – August – backcountry?  It won’t suck!  And of course, Bailey-girl will be tagging along, too!  I love trips where I can bring my puppy 🙂  In campfires and concierges fashion, I’ll leave the backcountry and head straight to the Westin Beaver Creek for some spa time and a Heavenly Bed!

September will bring another big bucket list trip for me.  I’ve dreamed of rafting the Grand Canyon for years. It’s expensive and books way in advance, so I never imagined I’d get to go for my 40th birthday, but I decided to just go for it!  Of course, I’ll be rafting with OARS (my 4th trip with them) and will spend 11 days on the Colorado River, followed by 3 days at Zion National Park.  I’ve got some unfinished business with Angel’s Landing!

So, looking at this list, I’m technically not going anywhere that I haven’t already been, but am incredibly excited as the nature of these trips will be entirely different than prior visits!

Lastly, I’m trying to leave some time at the end of the year to be spontaneous.  I pretty much plan out all 4 weeks of paid vacation from the get go and then can feel overbooked and unable to take advantage of last minute deals.  So…..we’ll see…..I’m a planner by nature, so it’s really hard for me to not book everything out.  I’m hoping for a Thanksgiving adventure and if that doesn’t work, then a Christmas trip for sure.

I’ve got some even bigger ideas for 2016, which will really require tight management of vacation time.  It’s always a struggle for me whether to take lots of long weekends and shorter trips, or go for the long, grand vacations.  The bigger trips usually win out as you just can’t decompress like you can on a 2 week “off the grid” trip.

So….here’s to 2015!  May it be my best travel year yet 🙂

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