Isaac Pato

With My Grandfather in the Grand Canyon

Here I was, standing in 120° heat, with my 73 year old Grandfather at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He had woken up one morning and decided to go white water rafting in the strongest rapids in the United States. Our skipper, Sal, approached us and told us that the raft was leaving now. My Grandfather and I boarded the raft for our second of eight days of pure adventure.

As the raft was leaving the shore of the Colorado River, I thought about how looking up the canyon was bizarre. The walls were like large steps, there was a 200-foot cliff and then it leveled off and there was another large cliff behind the first one. Because we were in such an enclosed space, there was direct sunlight for only five hours a day, so the air was usually cool and comfortable; but for those five hours, the heat was oppressive, like it was right now. When the sun rose above the canyon rim, the sudden change from shadow to broad daylight was as if somebody flicked a switch and turned the sun on.

The water started getting choppy. Eddies were visible, gurgling on the surface of the river. Icy water began splashing up on deck. Up ahead was a deafening roar, whitewater, and waves much larger than the raft. Like a roller coaster inches up a hill before a vertical drop, so the raft inched towards the towering waves of impending, muddy doom. My grandpa, who, compared to his young days in the army, was expecting this to be nothing too exciting, was sitting in the front of the boat where Sal warned us would be hit the hardest by the cruel cold waves. As the raft fell into a trough before a towering wall of water I feared my Grandfather wouldn’t be able to hold on. Suddenly the wall of icy cold water shattered the blazing hot day. I was washed backwards, but managed to grab onto a rope. The raft lurched up, grabbing ten feet of air over the next trough, and then fell violently down. I glanced up to see my grandpa’s face, eyes wide and mouth wide open, he was having the time of his life. Another, larger monster wave slammed into the raft catching me unprepared for another frontal assault. I was barely able to hold my grip on the rope. Sal quickly changed directions to avoid a boulder, plunging the raft into another monstrous wave.

Finally, the waves stopped and the river became calm again as if nothing had happened. Sal told us that we had only gone through minor rapids and the next day we would reach one of the strongest rapids in the canyon. As dawn broke the next day, something was different in the air. The humidity was oppressive making the air heavy and hot, which is quite unusual for the desert. There were clouds in the sky and I could feel a strong storm brewing. Sal could too, but didn’t care; we continued our journey. When we stopped off for lunch we saw distant thunderclouds darkening out half of the sky. Within minutes, the sky was completely black and with a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, the sky opened up with a torrential rain. Temperatures fell from a staggering 120° to a freezing 60° in seconds. Lightning was everywhere, the thunder boomed and the wind whipped at hurricane force.

Sal had us all get back in the boat. The hurricane force wind whipped the 40° river water at us. The heavy rain created flash floods, which created spectacular waterfalls from the rim of the canyon, that Sal told us were called rimfalls. We were cold and wet when we came to the rapids that Sal had warned us about. All I remember was being hit by freezing spray and being thrashed around by the crashing waves, wishing we could just stop and warm up before dying of hypothermia.

By late afternoon the storm ended and we stopped on a sandy shore for the night. Eventually we dried out and warmed up. Looking around, we were in the most beautiful part of the canyon. The walls were at an incline, instead of being vertical, and moss and vegetation was growing on them, making them glow green in the late-day partial sunlight. We were all exhausted and went to sleep early.

The next day we got to stop at a side-stream off the Colorado River. The water was warm and comfortable. There was a small waterfall that was fun to swim under. We stopped off at other places and got to hike around other areas of the canyon. On one of the hikes, we walked across ledges as wide as our feet. If we had fallen off we would have surely have died.

On the last full day of our trip, we went through the strongest rapids in the canyon. My Grandfather and I had been through so much the past six days that these seemed like nothing but a minor inconvenience. Instead of nearly getting washed out of the raft, I hung on and was barely moved by the chop raging on deck. We had acquired a thick skin and nothing the canyon did could hurt us.

Even though we overcame the canyon, we still longed for the flush toilets of civilization. On the eighth and final day of our trip, the raft took us to rendezvous with a jet boat that would take us out of the canyon and into the warm waters of Lake Mead at the Hoover Dam. Speeding out of the canyon on the jet boat, we watched the canyon walls fade away and the ground level out, leaving the trip of a lifetime for memories.


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