The Intro: 11 Day White Water Rafting in the Grand Canyon

15 May 2019 — Todd Smidt

“As long as there are young men with the light of adventure in their eyes or a touch of wildness in their souls, rapids will be run.” – Sigurd F. Olson

I tend to be a bit of a hurricane.  Dragging people through the storm with whatever crazy idea I get it in my head to do.  Need a travel buddy? I’m already on the plane. Need someone to hike with? I’m waiting at the trailhead. Need someone to help paddle a raft going full speed toward potential death? You’ll find me in one of the front seats. That’s why an 11-day white water rafting trip in the Grand Canyon has been in my brain and on my bucket list for a while.  But putting something on a bucket list isn’t enough for me.  Once I put something on the list it eats at me until I actually get to do it.

So I decided to make it happen.

It’s the perfect combination of things I enjoy:

Adventure, nature, and fun- not only to do, but also to remember doing.  After all, sometimes the best part of doing cool shit is looking back on it and writing about it.

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Growing up, I’d never have considered myself an “outdoorsy” or “adventure sports” type of person. I mean, I dropped out of Cub Scouts, was ‘athletically husky’, and didn’t even know I liked rollercoasters until I was in my early 20s.

However, my 20s were a time of learning, being selfish, and trying as much stuff as possible.

In the past few years, I’ve hiked 40 miles across the Grand Tetons, slept under the stars in Vietnam, and nearly drowned in the Ayung River in Bali.

What did I learn through it all?

 That I’m a bit crazy, and that I guess I’m more “outdoorsy” than originally thought.

Really, I like pushing myself.  I like taking risks. I like getting out there in the world and doing stuff.

This simple desire to explore is what led me to travel the world, to make new friends, and to try activities I never would have dreamed of growing up such as spending 11 days white water rafting in the Grand Canyon.

A few years ago, I was backpacking through Southeast Asia with a few friends and we had a free day in Bali.  Half the group wanted to have a relaxing day and explore the Gili Islands; the other half wanted to go white water rafting.

I’d never been white water rafting before, but true to my nature, Cam didn’t even have to ask and I was in.

What a great decision; it turned out to be one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. As it was the first time I’d ever gone I had no idea what to expect or anything to compare it to.

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Since then, I’ve made it my unofficial mission to go white water rafting (or surfing) on every trip I take.  I’ve been working my way through Travel Savy’s top 10 white water rafting destinations (currently 2/10) but decided early on in the process that, as my time is limited, it would be best to start at the top.

I was ecstatic to find the #1 best place to go white water rafting is in the Grand Canyon, which conveniently is in the country I call home- the USA.

 

I started researching white water rafting trips in the Grand Canyon and three things immediately jumped out to me:

1. Rafting the Grand Canyon is not cheap

Depending on the duration, time of year, and type of trip, costs range from $2,200-$6,000 (generally includes food, transportation, drinks, and camping supplies). You can’t just go white water rafting in the Grand Canyon by yourself.  You have to go through one of the dozen or so companies which control the number of trips and their price.  I reached out to Crate Rafting Trips in 2018 just before they were releasing the dates/details on their 2020 trips.  If I have almost 2 years to save up for something I’m fairly confident I can do it – especially when it’s something that books out years in advance – like paddle only trip over 11 days white water rafting in the Grand Canyon.

2. There are a lot of options

You can do 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, 10 days, 11 days, 14 days, or 17 days.  You can do the upper canyon, lower canyon, or the whole canyon (paddle only). You can hike in, hike out, or not hike at all.  You can do an oar-powered trip, motorized, or a hybrid. Picking a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon is about as easy as picking which Greek Islands to go to.  Lucky for me, the company I decided to go with (Crate Rafting) has been beyond helpful and I know I made the right choice doing an 11 day paddle only trip,  This trip allows me to see the whole Grand Canyon and also actually paddle the whole thing.  It’s crazy to me that people want to go on a white water rafting trip but have either the guide do the work or for it to be motorized- to each their own I guess.

3. Supply is limited and demand is high

For any white water rafting trip through the Grand Canyon longer than a single day, you have to book at least a year in advance.  Some companies only take certain trips, like the 11 day one I decided to do, only once or twice a year due to water levels, which means you generally have to get on a waitlist ahead of time or hope someone backs out.  When I reached out to Crate Rafting they hadn’t posted their 2020 trips yet but were planning on it the following day.

Needless to say, I straight up lucked out.  Had I waited a week to research the different trip types and companies I wouldn’t have been able to get a spot (or 4).

After finally wrapping my mind around the pricing and different options and limitations, I had to decide if this was really something I wanted to do.  After all, as is the struggle with most travelers, each time I pick one adventure, I delay or completely remove the opportunity for another. But in the end, for me, white water rafting in the Grand Canyon is too great of a venture to have so close and not experience.

 

 

To the people who say it’s a lot of money to “go rafting”, I’d say you may be right, but I learned a long time ago that you can’t put a price on experiences. Things cost money.  Why would a hard-to-come-by bucket list trip be any different?  When you compare it to staying at a resort/hotel and paying for food/drinks each day for 11 days the price is actually a lot easier to accept.

Why make money if it’s not to spend it on things I find worthwhile?

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It took me a while (longer than I’d care to admit), but I was finally able to decipher exactly which rafting trip was perfect for me and my goals:

I wanted to see the whole canyon (which meant at least 10 days); I didn’t want a guide to do all the work; nor did I want a motorized raft to automatically propel me down the river with little to no effort on my part.  I wanted to earn it. I wanted to feel in control and helpless at the same time. In the end, I knew a “paddle only” trip was the only option for me.

I really did time it perfect by pure accident.  There is only one 11-day paddle only white water rafting trip in the Grand Canyon each year offered by Colorado River & Trail Expeditions (Crate) a week before they posted their 2020 rafting schedule and pricing.  Without confirming interest with anyone I went put down the deposit for 6 spots on 1 of only 2 rafts (roughly half the spots).

 I don’t believe in fate/destiny, but sometimes the universe does perfectly align.

A paddle-only trip is exactly what it sounds like- you and five other people paddle yourselves in a raft for 298 miles through the Grand Canyon.  I’ll go into more detail about the itinerary specifics in another blog, but the general idea is that I’ll be spending those 11 days paddling in the morning, hiking in the afternoon, and sleeping by the river under the stars.

Coming soon: The 11-Day Itinerary for a White Water Rafting Trip, What to Pack for a White Water Rafting Trip, and, as always, more of my thoughts and ideas on travel and exploring the world, one trip at a time.

Stay Gold.

Todd Smidt

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