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Rafting in the Grand Canyon: A personal account

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Rafting in the Grand Canyon: A personal account

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   When the opportunity to do something arises to do something out of the norm, it’s often best to go for it. I was lucky enough to receive an offer I couldn’t turn down: a whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. What felt like soon after, I was on a plane to Arizona.

   Flagstaff, Arizona is a town filled with adventurers and guides of all sorts; this is where we stayed the night we arrived in Arizona, and this is where we departed the next morning to hit the river. Our guides were mostly locals; they had been working for various outfitters for an extensive amount of time and knew the river like the back of their hands.

   Their skill was appreciated because our group was largely inexperienced. My father and I were actually tagging along with a group of the six most insane senior citizens you’ve ever seen—instead of slowing down for their retirement, they seem to have kicked everything into high gear.

   On first glance, the rafts we were to ride in looked primitive. Design variation in rafts, though it has changed significantly since its creation in the 50s, can be hard to discern to the untrained eye. Still, the hefty blue and yellow rubberized hulls were clearly up to the task of hauling the heaps of gear the guides had packed.

The guides each piloted a large oar boat; these are operated like a rowboat, except the oars are massive, around 12 feet. Most of the passengers climbed into the paddle boat; this is the classic “whitewater” boat, a seven-man, smaller vessel propelled by the paddling of each person in the boat, with the paddle captain ruddering in the back. I took a Ducky, a small, inflatable whitewater kayak. We pushed off from the shoreline and were on our way.

Each rapid we hit was more exciting than the last; the first day in the Ducky was probably the most frightening, mainly because it felt like it was about to tip every second. Still, the roaring river drenching my clothes and eddies whipping my boat in circles couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Breaking for camp at night was an odd experience for me. All of my past camping experience has trained me to start cooking right away and to maybe make fun of those who don’t do their share. On the river, the guides do the cooking, and rightfully so; I can say for a fact that I’ve never tasted better trail food—the fajitas may as well have been from a five-star restaurant.

The second day on the river, we came across our largest and most dangerous rapid. Our apprehension was quickly realized after we stopped on a bank to scout the rapid. Known as “The Killer Fangs,” this rapid involved a churning hole where water dropped straight down on the left, a massive wave in the middle, and a sharpened jaw of rocks on the right, capped with two massive points.

The Killer Fangs rapids swirl below a scouting position. These rapids are class IV, the largest we encountered.

We clambered back into the rafts. Everyone took a last drag of water, and we shoved off. The first raft took off, making it to the other side with expert ease. We came next in the paddle raft; we dug hard through the churning waters, crashing straight through the wave in the center and out of danger. The third raft, too, had a clean run. The fourth raft did not. The blue craft entered perfectly, but remained too far to the right; it dodged the wave, but smashed into the fangs, hard; after a second of tension, the guide managed to push off the rock to safety.

Breaking up the rapids and excitement is some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. Cliff walls shoot straight up, boxing in the sky; each layer of rock represents millions of years of geographic history, exposed in an incredible form. The canyon is breathtaking, and while scenic overlooks are nice, it must really be experienced from the inside.

The Grand Wash Cliffs are a truly bizarre location. The Grand Canyon snakes on for miles and miles, 277 to be exact. At the Grand Wash Cliffs, it just ends. Abruptly. There is no spectacular rock formation, no monument, no gift shop; it ends, and then you’re in the Mojave Desert, just like that.

We break down the rafts to set up camp just past the Grand Wash Cliffs. The Cliffs mark the spot where the walls of the Canyon plummet back into the ground.


It’s bittersweet, being out of the canyon. It’s also really cold at night because you don’t have the heat-trapping canyon walls radiating warmth, but it’s also a bit emotional. An experience in nature makes you forget about regular life for a while, and that’s a good thing; while I don’t advise dropping whatever you’re doing and going on a trip too often, it’s the kind of life-changing thing that can’t be ignored.

You should go rafting in the Grand Canyon, or hike somewhere else, maybe just go outside. It may or may not change you as a human being, but it sure can be pretty.

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3 Responses to “Rafting in the Grand Canyon: A personal account”

  1. Linda Tincher on November 7th, 2017 2:21 pm

    Great reporting, just enough exaggeration to be exciting. I will forgive the “insane” retirees as Jess and Paul may qualify. Thanks, Aiden.

  2. Jess Tincher on November 7th, 2017 3:02 pm

    Taking a chance to explore and experience nature changes you as you see the the power and beauty of nature.

  3. Judy Tincher on November 10th, 2017 7:31 pm

    This local and adventurer says, “Come back for more!”

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Rafting in the Grand Canyon: A personal account