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Ivo Lucchitta

A Day on the River

The following description of a typical day on the river helps prepare the future river traveler by making it possible to visualize the kinds of things that will be experienced. This in turn helps with preparations such as the selection of gear.

The description starts with arriving in camp, which is how you will be introduced to procedures on your first day, the one most filled with unknowns.

But first: do not always sit in the same place on the same boat, but move around, thus getting to know different people and different members of the crew. Many people seem to grow very fond of their particular little spot, to which they attach themselves limpet-like no matter what happens. The experience will be better if you do move.

Then: the expedition is in the charge of the head boatman, who is responsible for keeping us safe and on schedule. His word is the law. As scientific leader and trip guide, I do a lot of consulting, pleading, wheedling with him to determine what we can or cannot do, but his judgment is what will stand. And this is a good thing: the guy I like to run with has taken some 300 commercial expeditions down the Grand Canyon; if he doesn't know what's up, nobody does.

Now, back to the story. After the crew makes a landing at the campsite, the first order of business is unloading the gear, which, for the passengers, means the duffle and the kitchen gear. A duffle line is formed, and the duffle is passed from the boat to a pile on shore. The kitchen gear is placed where directed by the crew. Once this is accomplished, you root around in the pile to find your bags, which are numbered and coded, then march off to find a campsite, set up your tent, and deploy your gear. Avoid the kitchen area-it will be crowded, you won't like it, and you may have to move anyway. It is very bad form to sneak off and find a splendid campsite while everybody else is at work, unless the boss decides that camp-finding comes before unloading on that particular trip (he seldom does). If you are wet and cold, you will greatly enjoy getting into dry and warm clothes.

While you are doing all this, the crew sets up the kitchen and the "groover", the imaginative toilet that often provides a gorgeous view of the Grand Canyon. They then retreat to their boats for a brief rest, their only one of the day. After a while, food for the evening's meal is unloaded and cooking begins (by the way, the cooks have never been known to wax indignant if someone offers to help). Hot water for tea and the like is soon on hand, as are puupuus of several kinds. Most people now socialize, relax, explore, have a beer, a swig of their personal elixir, or some wine as the shadows lengthen and the canyon walls begin to glow golden. In spite of such delights, it is wise to learn now (while it is still light) where the groover has been set up, and also to get ones flashlight. We generally avoid giving talks in the evenings, which are reserved for R & R. However, I am more than happy to answer questions you may have on an individual basis. Evenings also are the preferred time for us to tell you what happens the next day in terms of hikes or no hikes, so you can plan what gear to have on hand next morning. Should we forget, please be sure to remind us.

Eventually, dinner is announced. Now you need to wash your hands, grab the cup you have been issued, go to the bucket line to wash a plate and silverware (this is done religiously even though the stuff gets washed after you have finished eating -- there is no such thing as too much hygiene on a river trip), get into the food line, fill up, and chow down. A river trip is not the place to be on a diet. Please make every effort not to drop food on the ground -- river people go to great lengths to avoid this, and pick up whatever falls. Food scraps only encourage red ants, of which even a few are too many. When you are done eating, back to the bucket line. More socializing is now in order, or watching the spectacular stars, or seeing the moonlight gradually work its way down the canyon walls, chasing away the deep black shadows and eventually bathing you in startling brightness. If the weather is good, there is much to be said for sleeping out -- you sleep better, and the stars are outstanding.

In the morning, the crew is underway at first light, getting breakfast going. This is announced by the roar of the "blasters", blow-torch-like devices that are used to heat water. In due course, the shout "Coffeeeee" echoes across the canyon. That is reveille, and it is wise to get up in short order, as there is much to do. In the time that follows, you need to wake up, have coffee, wake up, do your personal toiletry, use the groover, and have breakfast. Wise people will also start stowing their stuff soon after getting up. After breakfast, it is time to break camp, meaning, get into river clothing, keep out hiking stuff if needed, pack your bags, collapse and stow the tent (another reason for not using one), and bring the duffle to the loading pile. At this point, we load the duffle then maybe discuss coming events.

After the duffle is loaded, and while the crew is readying the boats, we may go on a hike. This probably will happen the first morning, for example. If no hike, we probably have a talk. Then, onto the boats, and off for another day's running the river. Yeah, and it is precisely once in midstream that you realize that all that coffee is now making itself felt in no uncertain way. What to do. The obvious thing is to take it easy with the coffee. Easier said than done. On research trips, modesty is not greatly in vogue, so we just go to the back of the boat and do our thing. On commercial trips, this is not very acceptable, but the boatmen are wise people and will make 'comfort' stops, especially if they see several passengers in the grip of contorted despair. On shore, the rule is: urinate in the river or on wet sand. "WHAT?". Relax, there are reasons for this, and it will all be explained. Also, the rule is: Skirts up(river), pants down(river). What about more serious evacuations? The answer is: do it in camp if at all possible. In an emergency, there are portable facilities available en route. Their use will also be explained, but the groover is far better, believe me. Simply going somewhere on shore is highly unacceptable and will result in banishment and hard labor for life. In the Canyon, just about everything that an expedition starts with at the top with must go out at the bottom.

Around noon, you will experience the strange daily ritual of the Lunch Feeding Frenzy. A landing is made and most will disappear to pee. The crew, however, will unload tables and supplies, and prepare a remarkable lunch. When it is ready, you, who will have done absolutely nothing other than sit on the boat for a few hours, will behave like a famished vulture, consuming unexplainable quantities of food. Don't believe it? We'll see.

Some days there will be one or more hikes. There will also be rapids to scout, to the accompaniment of blood-curdling tales from the crew. At some rapids there will be a chance to photograph the other rafts going through. On a few days, we just keep sailing downriver until a landing is made at the next camp, and the process repeated once again. Before long, it all settles into a well oiled and pleasant routine that many miss upon returning to the real (or is it unreal?) world. In my book, life cannot get much better. Historically, most of you river runners have agreed, and the experience is not soon forgotten. Many people have had their life changed deeply and for the better after being in the Canyon. We will have 225 to 300 miles of it, a splendid opportunity to leave the "outside" world right where it belongs, outside, for this space and this time.


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