Day 22 – The Nightfloat Watchmen

Day 21 —————————————————————— River Journal

Day 22 – Separation Canyon(239.8) to Pearce Ferry(280.5)
River Miles: 40.7
Hiking Miles: 0
April 8, 2013

The sun sets on our 21st day in the Grand Canyon, and it’s time to suit up for the group’s last float down the Colorado River. Never again will this group of remarkable individuals be together on the River. This trip has been the best of the stuff that life is made of, folks… no more, no less.

21 days ago… photo by Chris Atwood

There was an electricity in the air as we packed up the kitchen for the last time. The idea of floating through the night was new and exciting, and it was here. It was all over, but not yet… not just yet.

It occurred to me in these waning moments that I was missing a picture of something that was very, very important. This was my very last opportunity to get that picture, for soon it would be put away and the chance would not come again.

Each individual in our party needed it almost every day.

A team of two or three people was dedicated only to its maintenance, every morning and every evening.

Precious cargo that needed to be handled with the utmost of care…

The groover!
(Pictured complete with riser for optimum filling capcity)

All of our rafts got lighter and less burdened as the days passed, but there was only one that had the honor of getting heavier each and every day.

Nightfloat time… I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat. We had in total six 18-foot Maravia rafts. We tied them together, side by side in two rows of 3. These two row of 3 were then attached from bow to stern. The cataraft was tied sideways along the center of sterns, and now we had a great big party barge!

The great flotilla!

photo by Doug Nering

The first hour of darkness was fresh with endless chatter, silliness, and electricity. It was a great big slumber party, a sleepover party like we were kids again with sleeping bags and glowsticks… but in big rubber rafts on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon!

It was stimulating and incredibly fitting to now be floating together as a single entity, a tribe united. We’d all been in this together, after all.

Soon the reality of the long night ahead settled into the group. The barge could not just effortlessly guide itself down the River. There would be obstacles, and some could be especially problematic for our large assembly. The Hualapai day-tour operations had some docks that we’d definitely need to look out for.

Reportedly there would also be tall vertical sand banks along the edge of the River. Not exactly trusted for their stability, hitting one in the night could trigger a sort of avalanche of dirt and sand. It was an awfully frightening thought… imagine being rudely awakened by thousands of pounds of dirt pouring onto you, burying you… yeah. Seriously.

So we needed watchmen – nightfloat watchmen – at least two at all times to man the oars and keep us away from the shores. Shifts were assigned to switch on the hour, just like people would have someone “on watch” through the night in the movies. Dave and Doug took first watch. Jackie and I wouldn’t be on until something like two in the morning, so we did our best to get comfortable and try to get some sleep.

I was sure that I didn’t get a minute of sleep throughout the following hours, but Jackie later said that she heard me snoring. She also said that she didn’t sleep at all, but I’m sure that I heard her snoring. So it goes.

It seemed that nobody really slept. Soon it was evident that just two oarsmen would not be enough, so we kept hands on all four of the oars. The regimented watchmen shifts were abandoned. The cataraft was also doing funny things to the integrity of our steering, so we essentially de-rigged it in the night and loaded it on board the greater barge.

It was a dark night, far from ideal conditions for a night float. We couldn’t see a thing through the inky darkness. There was no moon. Even the stars were veiled. We couldn’t see much, even though all of our brightest headlamps were put to use. It was difficult to even discern if we were on the right side of the River, on the left side, or in the middle. At times I couldn’t even say with certainty which end of our craft pointed downriver. We used GPS to try and determine our miles per hour, and how soon we’d come upon the Hualapai docks and other obstacles.

Things got really interesting when we encountered the crowns of a few old, dead trees sticking out above the surface of the water. We hadn’t been expecting these specific obstacles, so now the dark night took on its more common, primal fear of the unknown. There were long, strained hours of peering desperately through the dim beams of our headlamps at the vague shapes and outlines that surrounded us. Everything was a potential hazard.

There was stress in just about everyone’s voices. Constantly peering into the inky darkness for hours upon hours was hard work after a long day, and now a long night.

We passed the famed and infamous “Skywalk” up there somewhere. Supposedly it looks like a big old toilet seat from down here.

Finally we safely cleared the last of the Hualapai docks, and there was some space to relax for the last hour or two before dawn… but at this point some of us just kept up the vigilance for the rest of the night.

At least once in your life you’ve probably stayed up all night long, so I need not describe the hazy renewal of sunrise. We were greeted by the mythic “Grand Wash Cliffs,” typically known for little more than bringing closure to the Grand Canyon.

The water was smooth and wide – this was not the Colorado River that we’d known. It was over.

Everyone began to stir under the new light of day. We disassembled the flotilla, separating into our individual boats for the couple of miles that remained.

photo by Doug Nering

The dawn of April 8th carried a fierce west wind. It was a headwind, the worst we’d experienced for the entire duration of the trip.

It wanted to blow us all the way back up to Lee’s Ferry.

Maybe it would have, if we’d let it. But alas, we had friends and families and jobs waiting for us… and hot showers… and a big truck at Pearce Ferry to haul all of this stuff back to Flagstaff.

The dis-assembly of our night-float barge had created a significant separation between the rafts. In the howling lakewater wind there was almost the sensation of being adrift in a great open sea.

The wind was literally pushing us upstream. The hikes and rapids and routine and even the night-float were all behind us, but the Grand Canyon wasn’t going to let us go so easily. Like all else on the River, we were going to have to work for it. It was only right.

I took the oars, spun the boat around, and began a long, deliberate backstroke. I got into a steady rhythm of pulling on the oars with my whole body, every inch and nerve-ending of my being.

It was a final, glorious sprint for the finish. I truly enjoyed myself in this moment. The endorphins of a grand runner’s high had kicked in, and all my senses withdrew into its cadence. All else was drowned by the sound of the wind. All of the oarsman similarly seemed to have submitted themselves in begrudging solitude to the climactic task at hand.

We closed in on Pearce Ferry. I felt a strange, homely sort of reassurance at the sight of my car parked there in the distant desert, at the end of the Grand Canyon.

Doug brought his boat into the shore.

We stepped onto the beach. The wind still howled.

A truck with two representatives of our outfitter were there to meet us. It wasn’t so much their cleanliness as their concentrated, focused demeanor that shocked me. Their faces held the look of the everyday world, the 9-5, forty hours a week world. They were there to get us de-rigged… the sooner, the better, and on to the next item on the to-do list.

photo by Doug Nering

So there was the flurry of dismantling the rafts and loading the truck. Then Jackie and I loaded our personal gear into the car, and it was done.

We made our rounds of goodbyes, and there was nothing left but to go.

It was a long night, after all, and I feel as though I wasn’t the only one at this time to be looking forward. There’d been all the sunny, sandy, free days on the water to imagine all I wanted to do next. I was ready.

We were driving for less than thirty minutes when a steady rain began to hit the windshield.

~ The End ~

Day 21 —————————————————————— River Journal


  1. Loved your blog and your photos are truly amazing. I’m going on a guided dory trip for 18 days next year. Assuming you didn’t take your computer with you, or have photographic memory, what was your method of writing this blog? I assume longhand but suppose a phone or tablet might have been used.

  2. Thank you for the very EXCELENT write up of your trip, I know it’s a lot of work as I blog a little also. I don’t know if it would be possible to have a site where others who would like to go on a trip could get together to form a group or groups for 8 or 16 people. The other question I had was if the gov site opens in its lotto system in Feb – and all the paper work needs to be submitted 90 days prior to the trip , how can you do your trip in march – does their year in which you pick your dates run from June 1 2014 to May 31 2015 for example ? PS …. It’s amazing that 18 people over 22 day would only fill up one Groover as you called it 🙂

    Cheers Jerry

    • Jamie Compos says:

      Hi Jerry, thanks for the comment! The lottery system runs almost a full year in advance. For example, lottery applications taken in February of 2014 were for the launch dates of January 2015 through December 2015. The lottery runs in early March, so Josh won his permit in March of 2012 and had a full year to plan our trip for 2013.

      There’s a Grand Canyon rafting group on Facebook and an email list on Yahoo where people sometimes hook up. Finally, the seat on groover is detachable from the ammunition box that’s pictured, so we filled up several of them. :-p

      • Jamie

        Thank you for the follow up. I just did a few days below the Hoover Dam to Willow Beach only 12 miles. The guide there told us to pee into the river but if we wanted we could dig an 8″ deep or deaper hole for #2. We used a 5 gal bucket with peat moss. If ones does not use to much peat moss, 1 person can go about a month or 2 on a single bucket. Are amo cans required by the park service ? If I can also ask how much per person did the trip cost you guys. I’m not being noise but wanna compare cost to the outfitters who are asking $3,750 for about 14 days – I would guess your 22 days would still come to $4,000 renting most all equipment ?

        I will repost some of your great stuff on my blog when I can find the time so more people can read about your adventure. I’m also carefully thinking about applying for a permit or going with a group If I win a permit you will be the first guy I invite for my trip. After what you posted I’m sure you are ready for the 2nd , 3rd & 4 trip as your still quite a young guy 🙂

        Cheers Jerry

  3. This is without a doubt one of the best reads of GC experiences I have ever encountered. Even better in that I got to ba a small part of it. I have read Jaime’s trip reports in the past, before this, my favorite was his Colorado Trail Trek. But this take first prize.
    Talk about saving the best for last . . . pictures of and a snippet about OUR GROOVER.
    That was “to die for”, I’m still laughing.
    You missed your calling. Stop cooking and start sending your stuff to a publisher!

  4. Abby Sorrell says:

    Wow, that was a great read! I felt like I was right there with you all…Rib-eyes and halibut on those last days?? Holy cow, how did you manage that? I’ve only been down once and on our 18th day we were down to canned chicken…the hiking reports were awesome…lucky you to have been able to do the Nankoweek to Kwagunt! And glad you made it up Carbon..that was my favorite-I’ll never forget how mind-expanding those colorful hills and vistas were. I’d never imagined places like that actually existed on this planet! There’s not a day I don’t dream about that canyon and it all started from a river trip 6 years ago. Such a treat. So happy you had a great time and thanks again for the report!

  5. Josh Case says:

    At least the rain waited until day 22…. Thanks for this Jamie, it was fantastic!

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