Grand Canyon

Many of you likely know that parts of and even the entire GC have been run in packrafts (indeed the fictional run of the Canyon by Chris McCandless in the movie “Into the Wild” is reportedly based on an outlaw packraft trip).

Nevertheless, I am currently in a discussion and attempt to get a permit for a short 7-10 day trip there in January, even after being told in an email that,

Grand Canyon National Park has never and does not
intend to authorize the use of packaraft at this point.

Here’s hoping that at the ripe old age of 47 I do not have to pull out my old, dusty, ill-fitting renegade outfit, particularly when bringing my son along!

I don’t understand the legality of discriminating against packrafts. At least In Yellowstone they don’t allow any river use. I wonder what the Parks reaction would be if you told them you were doing the same trip with inflatable kayaks?

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Hi Roman,

I have good news for you. We have quite a few excellent managers here at
Grand Canyon, and together we have come up with an answer that should work
for you. The park will give you a permit and allow you and your friend to
launch using your packrafts provided you can meet the rest of the
noncommercial regulations and the conditions for the permit. I’ll explain
some more of these rules below.

Here are the conditions upon which Grand Canyon National Park is allowing
your trip and future pack raft trips through Grand Canyon.

  1. The trip leader must have secured a Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek
    launch through the noncommercial river permit system. (You have done

  2. The trip leader must do the Lees Ferry checkout on the day scheduled
    to launch and must take all the gear currently required for noncommercial

  3. For packraft situations (i.e. where boating gear and equipment are
    contained within backpacks that do not exceed the sizes of large,
    backcountry, non-rafting backpacks currently in use in the backcountry),
    the trip leader can choose to skip a portion of the river trip and hike in
    and out anywhere along the river provided all the following is true:

A. The actual date and place where the trip reaches the water must
coincide with where a typical noncommercial trip during that season would
have been had they actually launched from Lees Ferry. (In your case, you
could launch from the Elves Chasm area on 1-6-07. If you need to change
your put-in and take-out locations because of #4 below, please let me know
so I can re-calculate the acceptable dates for your trip.)

B. The trip can choose to hike away from the river but must have a
valid backcountry permit to camp anywhere away from the river within Grand
Canyon National Park. (I can help you with this also, there should be
space in that area during this time of year. Backcountry Permits cost $10
plus $5 per person per night.)

C. The trip can again rejoin the river, but only downstream of where
they left the river. The actual date and place where the trip rejoins the
river must coincide with where a typical noncommercial trip during that
season would have been had they actually launched from Lees Ferry. (It
doesn’t sound like you wish to do this.)

D. Only downstream travel will be allowed.

  1. If the trip plans hike into or cross any tribal lands, permission
    from the tribe must be obtained before launch. (Getting permission to hike
    through Havasupai should be easy – getting permission from the tribe to
    hike across Great Thumb Mesa may prove extremely difficult.)

(Note, over the next few months NPS staff will be reviewing pack rafting in
Grand Canyon and tweaking the above conditions to ensure the ongoing
consistency of pack rafting with the intents behind our river and
backcountry management plans. This is the best we could do with such short
lead time.)

In addition, all other noncommercial regulations must be followed.

Is that all? :unamused:

I have been planning a trip on the Colorado FROM Hoover Dam, to Willow Beach (Black Canyon), early spring. I know there are no rapids but there is a hot waterfall and several other springs. The BLM limits the numer of launches and you can camp on a sandy beach! It doesn’t get any better. I am wondering if anyone has done this? Does anyone want to go ?

Depending on timing, I’m interested.

Our planned trip:
My son, Gordy Vernon, and me…

Jan 4 Drive to Flag/S Rim/ start of hike, get checked out at Lees Ferry

Jan 5-6 drive to Hulapia Hilltop &
Hike down to River along S. Bass Trail (Camp mile 108)

Jan 7 Float River. (Camp ~mile 134; Tapeats Ck mouth)

Jan 8 Hike up Tapeats Ck, through Surprise Valley, down Deer Creek; Float
to Kanab Canyon. (Camp ~Mile 143)

Jan 9 Explore Kanab Canyon. Explore Matkatamiba Canyon. (Camp ~Mile

Jan 10-13 Float to Havasu Canyon. Walk up Havasu Canyon back to car at Hulapai Hilltop.

Jan 14 Visit with Park Service, Drive to Phoenix

Jan 15 Fly home

Sounds like an awesome trip–I am totally not trying to bring a bummer, buuuuut,please, everyone be very careful on the Hulapai Indian Res. The place has gone downhill in the last few years… Lots of meth, rape, robberies of tourists. Very dangerous place for outsiders. Some of the Tribal Cops have admitted that they don’t have the time or resourses to give any “protection” to outsiders. You have no rights down there AT ALL. I worked on several indian reservations in the past and they are a different world thats for sure. If you ever do that trip again, say…in 2009, I would love to go.

Thanks for that Glenn, We’ll hurry through Havasu, then.

We ran everything, including Hermit, Crystal, Bedrock, Upset and more. It was an awesome adventure, but COLD!

Snow on the rim, frost at the bottom. Five days on the river, one day down one day up.

What can I say? A week in the Grand Canyon with thrills, spills, and chills, oh yea. Two days of hiking and five days of paddling: 62 miles of boating and about 26 miles of hiking. We saw six groups of hikers going in, two raft groups, one of which (three guys in three rafts – two 13’ and a 16’) we saw each day on the river, and three groups of hikers on the way out.

We hiked an afternoon down the Hermit Trail to put-in at mile 95, then took out at mile 157 for a solid 11 hours hike out Havasu. We had snow and wind on the rim with two nights of rain and two nights of frost at the bottom. We were never hot, but sometimes very cold. There was plenty of clear drinking water but not really enough sun. The last day on the river was particularly shadowed, but the day we ran through Stephens and Conquistador Aisles was really nice and warm. We wore drysuits over four layers on top and three layers on bottom.

The 62 miles of paddling included 43 of the 96 named rapids between Lees Ferry and Diamond Creek. We ran everything, mostly down the middle; Gordy tended to hug the edges on anything rated a “7” or higher, while young Cody Roman ran everything down the middle, except Hermit (a Grand Canyon 9 which I crashed and burned midstream in the fifth wave, easily 12 feet high), Crystal (10), Bedrock (8), and Upset (8). Water level never dropped below 10,000 cfs and got as high as 17,000.

We all swam – I swam every day, generally once, sometimes twice. My son swam only twice, Gordy three times. Everything was runnable, but anything could flip you. We each got flipped once on different no-named riffles but Upset got Gordy as he crept along its right edge and got me in the middle; Specter got Cody Roman near its end in the middle meat of it. Most of the time we could self-rescue in mid-stream, but sometimes righting the boat required someone to take our paddle. We DID NOT tie paddles to boat, we did not swim to shore. We did put grab lines on the boats (indeed my boat has a hand line running its entire perimeter) and learned that the easiest way to right a flipped and loaded boat was by twisting the bow with two hands.

We found the rapids exhilarating, exciting, and interesting enough that the only side hikes we did were Deer Creek and the nightly up-canyon walks past the water pockets and pools we used for cooking water.

Everyone said we’d have a real adventure in our packrafts and boy they were right. Packrafts make the big waves of the Grand ginormous, and big waves – while not technical – require a unique technique, constant attention, ability to read water, and solid bracing reflexes. While we scouted everything for the first five miles, we learned that we could tell from the river whether we needed to scout or not. Generally, anything rated a Grand Canyon “5” or lower we just read-and-ran.

The big rapids (anything rated 8 or above) were enormous, so big that the “sneaks” we made were still in big water that tended to be chaotic and hole-ridden. Whirlpools below the rapids were also spooky, but the Grand is pretty much perfect for packrafting, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I’m hoping to do another trip at my first chance that puts in at Nankoweap (mile 52) and takes out below Hermit (I want another shot).

Yes, if you are a solid packrafter in Class III and occasional IV with good self-rescue skills you’ll love the Grand. Make sure that if you go, you have lots of warm clothes inside a non-leaking drysuit, a well-tested, secure tie-down of gear, and practised self-rescue skills. You’ll be glad you have all three, because if you are lacking any of those you will suffer. Shucks, we had all three and still suffered, but not enough to make the experience anything less than grand.

Here’s a photo of the Fifth Wave on Hermit (Grand Canyon 9 at about 12,000 cfs) eating me and my red boat for lunch. Look closely and you’ll see the black blade of my paddle to the right and above the water’s crest. My son Roman took the photo.

Here’s C. Roman running the entrance wave on Specter (a big 6). Notice the color of the water compared to Hermit. Lots of precip and runoff brought the flow up and changed the color of the river.

The hike in (8 miles, 4500’ feet) was far harder on the legs than the hike out.

We met a group of three boaters at Hermit. One of them, Dana, wrote this on Mountain Buzz last week. His flickr photos show an unladen boat in Hermit.

Guy takes pack raft thru Hermit Rapid
Met these guys on my grand trip a couple weeks ago. Here is Roman Dial taking his pack raft thru Hermit Rapid (he didn’t flip til the very end). They hiked down the Hermit trail and hiked out at Havasu. They ran most everything and swam a lot.


Great Trip Report, Roman!

I was on the Canyon at the same time as Roman, on a very different expedition: 26 days, Lees Ferry to Lake Mead, but not a dedicated packrafting trip like Roman’s. We ran 18ft oarboats as our motherships (my primary duty was a boat oarsman), and had quiver of Alpackas and Kayaks for a mosquito fleet, which we used for running the big river + side creeks (see my Little Colorado report), canyoneering, caving, crossings, etc.

Roman, Cody, and Gordy have my envy… I didn’t get to run nearly as many of the big ones as them, nor did I run with packs, which they did. Observations I have:

1. Back-Up for Roman’s General Advice. You can self-rescue in most cases, but you want to be good at it. It’s a cold river, big, even oceanic feeling at times. The water is kind, but large. Most of my thoughts on that are in the Tips & Technique seciton, under BIG WATER. I always self-rescued, and swam 5-8 times over the course of the trip, but I had to learn to clamp my paddle between my legs then keep it out of the deep water, since the deep currents can jerk it around on you.

2. Hermit Rocks. It’s a biggie, and can definitely throw you. Two of us ran Hermit in the packrafts, and everyone else thought we were out of our minds, but it fantastic… perhaps the high point of my trip. That last wave is a beauty to behold. It momentarily reminded me of the Norse myth of the wolf Fenrir swallowing the sun and moon…

3. Watch the Laterals and Eddies. Lateral waves are very powerful on the Big C. They will literally push around an 18 foot oarboat, or suck down a swimmer and run the washing machine on them for minute.

4. Granite Also Rocks. I didn’t get to run this one in the little boats, but a friend did. The center line on Granite looks like a meat grinder, but there’s actually a deep, massive wave train out there. Scout good, and word is that the run is incredible; much like Hermit: big, big waves.

5. There ain’t much a guy can do when the breaking portion of wave exceeds the entire footpring of his boat…

Congrats to R, CR, & Gordy for their great trip!

A few minutes of the images from the Grand Canyon:

I’m planning a solo full traverse of the Grand Canyon this December involving equal parts packrafting and hiking. I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions for lightweight versions of the park service’s required equipment: extra paddle, firepan, waste disposal system.

Who has done it since? I’m starting to go through all the crazy paperwork.

A buddy and I ran sections of the Canyon as part of a 16 person, 6 raft trip. It was amazing! We ran stuff up to class 6, but I was rowing a 18’ raft most of the time. However the best thing was a run down Havasu Creek. We ran from the confluence of the two upper tributaries to ~ 3/4 mile of the confluence of the Colorado. It was really tight and lots of 2-4’ drops. It was just amazing to float down an aquamarine river.