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over the horizon
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Discussion Starter #1
Looking for general advice/stories/ideas about covering river through the night. Got a moonlight float planned soon. Bargin' up. Gonna sleep on the boat in shifts. Try to make a flat place. Fire coffee on the water at dawn.

I'm quite looking forward to this. Any wisdom?

Super Moderator
4,016 Posts
While I've reached the take out after dark a few times I haven't done it myself, but here ya go with the info:

-----Original Message-----
From: gcpba [mailto:] On Behalf Of brady black
Sent: Friday, April 16, 2010 10:09 AM
To: gcpba gcpba
Subject: RE: [gcpba] Re: Nightfloat Preparation

For folks Nightfloating from 240 Seperation to Pierce Ferry takeout it takes approximately 12 hours push off to touchdown. Don't push off before the time you want to awake in the morning. If you are passing Seperation at 7 pm you can be at Pierce Ferry 7am. If it is in January you may be in the dark:0 at 7am and baring down on Pierce Ferry Rapid:0 Leave yourself a buffer. Leave at 9p m in January, ie.

I suggest passing diamond from noon to 2pm depending on the water flows, weather conditions and ones trips needs to scout 232. That will put you at the last rapid in the afternoon with time to do dinner and setup for the nightfloat in the light.

Anyway Gneiss Canyon(237?) is the last rapid obstacle to nightfloating. After you pass Gneiss Canyon pick a good place to pull over. If you are pulling over at Bridge Canyon City? or Seperation Canyon, let anyone passing by know you are only temporary as they may need/want the camp.

So when you pull in, pull off your kitchen, groover and dinner items needed along with everyones personal bags and paco pads. This will allow the nightfloat technicians to setup the cleanest rig without all the participants schnedel in the way. While dinner crew is cooking dinner, tie the boats frame to frame, 5 boats wide, leaving the oars on the outside handy for evasive maneauvers. I suggest two people on watch at all times. 2-3 hour shifts work well. Make some coffee for the late night oarsmen. Red Bulls or other energy drinks are super easy as well. D-ring to D-ring is a big no no as when a 6,000lbs raft rolls off a sand bankment it can generate quite a force on a small d-ring. Frame to Frame is the way to go. I put one strap each on the corner of each frame. Easy to seperate strong enough to bump. Duckies make great beds for people with smaller shoulder span. It also can make a great guitar chair

Count up your sleeping spots, and danger zones. One example of a danger zone is a place one can put their foot while walking across the boats in the dark. Point them out to everyone and discourage cross boat travel. For peeing safely at night we deflate one or two self bailing floors so when you step into the floor you will be in the river. This is one safe and easy way to pee. Also the pee bucket is just as easy if you would like to keep your floors blown up. Sleep with your PFD as your pillow. If someone falls in at night be very vocal yelling out to the crew so they know where you are. Sounds at night are a good determinant to obstructions in the river. We used to bring a spotlight, lazers are pretty cool too. The spotlight doesn't last very long so limit your use, and save it for true discovery. The Park Service requires a white light(headlamp) to be on at all times. Red and Green lights for boats under power.

After dinner place all items back on the boat and instruct the peeps to grab their paco pad and dry bag and take them to their sleeping spot. For the outside boats sleep your heads to the inside and feet outside. This used to be more of an issue when our nightfloats would scrape through the tammies as the lake went down but it is a good technique nonetheless.

Possible problems: Hualapai docks are along side the river at mile 260. I've only hit them one time in 20 floats since the lake has gone down and that was at 25K with a 13 boat nightfloat, but it's still a possible obstruction. This is a good marker for location in the middle of the night. When you see the ghostly abiriations on the shore you may be at Quartermaster.

From time to time a waterborn tammie will pop up in the current usually beside a sandbar. Sandbar alley is 250m-260m. Since the lake has gone down I haven't parked on a sandbar yet as the boats tend to meander along in the current and find their way. If you get snagged on a tree undo the two straps on the frames and let the boats pass the tree and then re-connect. At mile 275m near the end, there are willows in the river. If you did your math right you should be watching the sunrise as you are 1 hour from Pierce Ferry:) If you didn't and it is dark you may hear the most gentle and soothing dripping sound of dripping springs right before you ram through a pod of Willows:) Plan to be awake here, Pierce Ferry is 1 hour away.

Oar locks are danger zones. If you reach out to use one to hold you up? it may not! sending you face first into ? Also if you are walking around as you were instructed not to do, one could fall on one. Never run oarlocks with no oars in them. Its a fork without an oar:)

I can't imagine a jetboat running at night but if you hear one, :0 all hands on deck!

If you are going to bump something don't reach out and try to stop it. There's alot of force behind your floating barge. Let the boats handle the bump.

Pearce Ferry Rapid below the takeout. When you pass through the Gates of the Grand Wash Cliffs(276m) and out into the faulted open planes you will be baring down on Pearce Ferry. Unattach the boats so you will be ready to pull over. Don't try to pull your raft in tied together as their is a good current rolling by Pierce Ferry takeout. It's difficult and unneccesary to line boats back up to the takeout.

Others? Of course, I don't have to say how alcohol impairs ones judgement?

I hope this helps.

Brady Black
Moenkopi Riverworks

Super Moderator
4,016 Posts
I'm glad Brady had some time on his hands this spring...

And another from Brady:

-----Original Message-----
From: gcpba [] On Behalf Of brady black
Sent: Sunday, March 14, 2010 9:09 AM
To: gcpba gcpba
Subject: RE: [gcpba] Re: Nightfloat Tales, don't start to early or else!!

For the Record I told them it was crazy to do it in January:)
The Night Float

Author's Note: This story begins January 26th, 2010 at the end of a 280 mile, 23 day trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

We made our last official camp at Separation Canyon, 40 miles from our take-out at Pearce Ferry. We stayed in camp all day, a layover of sorts, and soaked up the sun. There was some debate as to wether the sun would duck behind the ridge directly across the river from us but miraculously, it just skimmed the top of it. The sun is always a factor in the desert. During the summer it is hot and unrelenting and you long for the smallest bit of shade, but during our trip in January, the sun was a blessing. We had just been through 5 days of rain, so every precious moment in the sunshine had been well appreciated and our spirits were high.

The 40 miles it would take us to get to our take-out is flat water with no rapids but with lots of current. Naturally uncommon, but due to the power of man and concrete, this is what the end of the canyon now holds. The small bit of information from the guidebook on the section we were about to float reads like this: "After multiple years of drought beginning in 2000, Lake Mead's elevation has dropped to 1108 feet by May 2008 and further declines were predicted. At such low water, strong current was flowing from river mile 237 to river mile 292.5. Nevertheless, sediment deposited in this reach of the river has buried the original rapids and altered the river's gradient." Brady (our outfitter) had told us it would take 11 hours to float to mile 275. We had previously pushed on our longest day just to go 20 miles in 7 hours so it was hard to imagine floating an extra 15 miles in 4 hours. Billy was the only person on our trip that had ever floated this section before, and their trip had a motor, and he was drunk the whole time and did not remember it, so we really had no way to judge. We could only trust Brady and the guidebook.

We decided not to cook lunch, just to graze on the snacks and leftovers, and to have an early dinner. That way we could pack up the kitchen and have the boats ready before it was dark. We were all excited about the night float. We had assembled the boats in a party barge several times already on our trip and it was a great way to bring the group together. We took off from shore at about 5:15 p.m. and strapped the boats, 3 in the front and 2 in the back, and began our journey into the night. We joked about setting up the blaster like a fire because this would be the first night in 21 days without a campfire, and we joked about waking up in the morning in an eddy, only 2 miles downstream of our departure point.

The sun soon went down and the canyon was lit only by the light of the moon. It was about 3/4 full and provided enough light to make out basic shapes and shadows along the walls of the canyon. Looking downstream, Danny brought to our attention a dark object in the river coming towards us. It was a huge rock! Dave wanted to row around it but we all wanted to see what would happen afterall, we would soon be asleep and needed to know how our party barge would handle floating into an immovable object. We were approaching somewhat to the right of it.

"We're gonna miss it."
"I don't know I think we're gonna hit it."
"Here it comes!"
Smack! The boats jolt and shudder and we spin to the right of the rock. “Well, that wasn't so bad.” All is well and we have a laugh.

It is a strange feeling to not take control of your boat when you see something to be avoided like an imminent collision with a rock. It is a lack of control that is contrary to what whitewater guides learn in the first few days of experience, but you must let go and see what the water can teach you.


Super Moderator
4,016 Posts
3 miles after Separation Canyon the river makes a sharp bend to the southwest. The flotilla of course, continues it's previous northwesterly direction and we have another encounter with the canyon wall. The collision is jarring and noisy but bearable. After a while we come to a place where the canyon opens up and a large side canyon comes in from the southwest. The air is noticeably cooler as we pass the mouth of the canyon and a slight breeze sweeps across the river. To the left, rock black as night veined with bright white towers 100 feet out of the water. This must be Lava Cliff. Before the dam and before the lake, this was one of the most technical rapids in the Grand Canyon but now, the silt from Lake Mead has completely filled in the rapid and it has been reduced to the tiniest ripple (not even worthy of being called a riffle) but with just enough constriction and flow to form a long languid eddy along the left bank. An eddy which we found ourselves in.

It was actually a few minutes before anyone ever noticed. The shapes and the shadows so hardly perceptible in the dim light, that we were inches from the wall before I realized we were moving upstream. The wall was sheer and blocky, maybe limestone, who could tell. With only moon light and shadow there existed a lack of color and definition which fooled the eyes into seeing a wall of faces. Just as you would pick out statues in the clouds like a dragon or a pegasus, there was an indian warrior, characteristic profile of the natives, fully adorned headdress of feathers, and a scarf around the neck. Then 2 more, facing each other, brows, noses and mouths pressed against one another. Must be lovers.

Dave hasn't noticed the eddy yet.

“Everything looks the same, look at that rock.” Pointing to the lava outcrop. “I feel like we've seen that rock already.”
“We have. We're in an eddy.”
“Maybe we should row out of it.”
“Nah, it'll kick us out eventually.”
The oars are tantalizingly perched in the chocked position and it's hard not to take a stroke to help the boats out. But we leave it up to the river, it knows the way. The front of the boats begin to enter the faster current, it catches the ridges of the floor, spins us around and we think we might make it out, but no, not this time. We circle back around for another ride around the eddy and a chance to examine the cliff faces again. We circle a second time then on the third time, the current catches enough of us and we continue our downstream journey again.

The sky is beginning to look ominous with clouds moving in covering the moon. I feel a few drops of rain on my face. Oh please god, no more rain! Although we came well prepared for it, 5 days of rain had felt like enough for a lifetime. Liz and a few others break out their tarps so they might remain semi-dry throughout the night if the sky did begin to cry on us. “This is when it becomes epic.” she says. I grab my tarp too, reluctantly because the sound of crinkling is doing nothing to augment my wilderness experience at this moment. But once we have the tarps ready the sky clears a bit and the heavier clouds move on. The epicness of the trip has moved on too, at least for now.

Everyone is pretty quiet, watching the shapes, sipping our beers, some have crawled into their sleeping bags already and are attempting to sleep. We are several hours into the float and I know I should try to get some rest but I don't think I sleep, the world around me is too fascinating. I'm watching Danny stand on his drop, looking up, watching. I follow his silhouette, dark and beautifully maned and bearded, still against the mountains and sky moving behind him. I'm so glad we did this.

Eventually the silence is broken by what sounds like a large rock falling into the river, about 20 feet away. Those who were attempting to sleep are now wide awake as we search for the source of the sound. There it is again, coming from the same spot. Headlamps are just a cruel joke as you can't really see past the end of the boats. After some debate, we determine it must have been a beaver letting us know that we were not welcome in his home. Where they were once diurnal and curious creatures, the beavers are now nocturnal and ever weary of an unfamiliar presence. They have been this way since the boom of the fur trade in the early 1800's, another example of human impact on even the most primitive wilderness. I decide I have to get some sleep. I lay in my bag and close my eyes and it's surprisingly easy once I shut off my mind and listen to the sounds of the water and it rocks me to sleep.

I woke with a jolt, don't know how long I've been asleep, could be minutes or hours. We've run into the bank again. I look around and try to get my bearings. It is still cloudy, the moon covered, but some light. The left bank looks low, all the water is pushing to the right. Probably a side canyon and debris fan on the left. The right is a tall rocky bank (the one we ran into) and a large, debris catching eddy before that. The river runs into the rocky bank and diverts to the left. It might be a bit harder to get out of this eddy. We'll have to be just right to fit the boats through the small channel leading out past the rocky bank.

I try looking at the map to locate our position. There are a few side canyons in this reach and I study each one. I finally decide on Reference Point Creek, 13 miles downstream from our departure point at Separation Canyon. Positive identification however, cannot be achieved with just a map, and without the aids of sunlight, a watch, or a compass. (I now believe we were at Quartermaster Canyon, 20 miles from Separation.) A GPS device would have been a perfect tool for this float however, 10 days earlier my GPS had taken a swim along with my journal, toothbrush and solar charger, aided by a raven who was seeking the 2 day old salami at the bottom of my dry bag. Trust when anyone tells you to secure your belongings from those crafty ravens. We're floating back upstream in the eddy and I spot a downed tree in the water, gnarled branches sticking out a few feet above the surface. The trees are what worry me. We already had an encounter with a large branch that almost stole Adana's pelican case and threatened Tim's sleeping head with it's protruding member. The boats scrape against the branches and I hear the wood pop and crack under the pressure. I hope a branch doesn't snag anything important. The current catches us again and we slam into the rocky bank. Thomas is awake, sitting up and watching the show. I wonder if anyone else is awake. Could you sleep through the crash of the boats against the bank and the scrape of the tree? No member of our group stirs as the cadence is repeated. Crash, wall; swish, upstream; scrape, crack, tree; squeak, whoosh, current; crash, wall. The barge circles 6 or 7 times before it finally gets it just right and slowly spins off the wall to the left, downstream once again.


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4,016 Posts
I feel comforted, although naively, by the fact that at least 1 person of our crew has been awake whenever I open my eyes to peek at our progress. I don't want to get too far downstream and drift past the take out or even worse, into the nightmare of a 10 man sleeping barge, the rushing water and deadly holes of Pearce Ferry Rapid. Someone will be awake, I'm sure of that as I close my eyes for another stint of sleep.

“We're on the lake”
“Where are we?”

“Oh my god, I hear a rapid, wake up David” Several members of the group are talking as I open my eyes. It is still dark and I try to get my senses about me in the early morning sleepy haze that is on my brain. The sound of the water enters my ears, travels through the proper channels and flips the right switch. Rapids! A big one! Yes, I know which one, I can hear it clearly now.
“Hey everybody, let's get the hell out of here!” I say loud enough to wake anyone still asleep.
I grab my oar, sit up on the seat, and still in my sleeping bag attempt to get the barge to the shore. I'm the only one rowing so we're just going in circles.
“Which side is the take out on?”
“River left”
“Which side is left?”
“I can't see the bank” We are not coordinated or awake enough to get anywhere yet. Where is my PFD I wonder? That was stupid I don't even have it at arm's reach and we could get swept into this rapid. I think about all my gear that is not secured to the boat.
“Danny grab your oar and let's go back.”
“Should we unhook?”
“I don't know I'm just going to row.” We're still going in circles. I'm pulling and Danny is pushing, both of us sleepy eyed and confused about which direction we need to go.
“There's the bank in front of us, go forward.” We finally get it together enough to go in one direction.
“Keep going we're almost there.” Liz, always the encouragement when we need it most.
Tim grabs the oar and I throw on my ditch boots. Billy is at the front, ready with a rope to tie the barge up.
“I'm not going to be able to hold the boats, somebody needs to help.”
“I got it Billy!” I make haste to a bow line and jump out, not close enough to the bank yet, my feet sink and my boots fill with water. I slosh to the bank and Billy and I hold tight to the ropes and pull the barge to the sand looking for something to tie to, anything.
“Get some sand stakes.”

“Hold this rope while I find a tree.” The barge-- boats, gear, people-- weighs several thousand pounds, and the current is swift. We have to get it tied up good. A couple of sand stakes and a few brushy tamarisk trees hold all 5 bow lines to the bank and the barge is finally secured. I dump the water out of my boots and wring my socks out. Adana's watch alarm starts to beep.
“What time is it?”
“Is that Pearce Ferry Rapid?”
“It has to be, it sounds big.” I lay back down in my bag to get some more sleep before the sun comes up. It is surprisingly easy, knowing that we are safe tied up to the bank.

The first rays of sunlight peek through a crack in my eyelids and I check out my surroundings. The river flows under my boat with a determined destination, the current is fast. We're parked on a small sandy beach on river right and both upstream and downstream of us, cliffs of muddy, crumbling lake silt rise 20 to 30 feet out of the river. The same silt cliff on river left. How did we manage to pull over here, the only possible place to tie this beast up? Call it luck or God but there we were. Then upstream of us, on the opposite bank I see what looks to be a ramp. It is. It's our take out and we're a good ways past it, on the other side of the river. I have to laugh at this situation. Well, at least we're here a day early. We don't have to leave until tomorrow morning and we'll have all day to get the boats upstream on the other shore.

Some folks take a walk to get a glimpse of the rapid that could have been our demise and some grab the 'day groover' to take care of their morning business. Thomas and Tim return from their scout and declare the rapid unrunnable. From the pictures I had looked at, taken a few months earlier the rapid looked bad, but still runnable with a wide tongue on the left pushing all the current into the left wall and a steep pourover on the right. Now apparently, the declining lake level had turned the tongue on the left into a hole that stretched from left bank to a mid channel island and the pourover on the right was steeper, leaving no safely navigable line through the rapid. If we would have drifted into there tied together in our sleeping bags, we would have certainly lost gear and had some injuries and it is very likely that someone could have drowned. But we'll ponder those thoughts later, we still have to get the boats to the takeout.

We put our heads together and devise a system for lining the boats upstream far enough to ferry across. The lining is slow. The bank is extremely steep, muddy and unstable. It goes something like this: Unhook a boat from the bank and the barge. Pull it along the bank, sloshing and sinking in the mud, struggling against the current and kicking it away from the bank every few inches. Get to the point where you can go no further and attach to a rope bag floating in the water. 1 person will pull you up to the next spot where you can barely walk along the silt bank and pull the boat again along the shore. 2 or 3 more times like this and then you're ready to make the 'hairy ferry' across the swift current 300 ft. to the other side. If you don't start high enough, or if you blow your ferry and miss the eddy on the left, downstream you go and hopefully, you can find another spot to stop before the rapid. But we can't see around the corner, and the silt bank doesn't look promising.

Keith and Danny are the first ones ready for the ferry. They take off from the bank and we cheer them on. Keith is pulling for the left bank with all his might as the current pushes them further downstream. “Go Keith, don't give up!” 'Watching with baited breath' would be an appropriate statement for this moment. This is the time when our whole plan could be defeated, when all the tireless work of the lining cloud be swept away with the current in just a few seconds. Finally they reach the slack-water. They are low in the eddy, just upstream of the silt bank, but they are safe. Boat 1 success! 1 by 1 we repeat this scenario, working hard to make it happen, covering ourselves with mud and sweat, running off of nothing but adrenaline. And 1 by 1 we succeed. What a relief when you reach the other side.
“Now I can rest.”
“Now I can have some coffee.”
“Now I can eat.” Now we can be at peace by the river, the place where we all love to be.

Bad planning is the mother of adventure. I had meticulously studied trip itineraries, weather patterns, maps, water flow data, rapid descriptions and menus and planned out most details so that all we had left to do was enjoy our time away from the hum of electricity, climate control and roofed shelters. Our entire trip from the permitting at the very beginning, the rapids, the camps in the sun, the miles we made each day, and even taking shelter from the rain, had gone smoothly. I needed that birth of adventure now, on our last hours in the canyon. When we left the shore at Separation Canyon we were 10 people with an audacious crave for unfamiliar horizons. We strapped our 5 boats together and became 1 boat and 1 team, with virtually no plan except to travel while sleeping. No one was the leader, no one had any more information than the other, there was no skill involved, we were all equals. Any tension or animosity that had existed between us in the last 22 days was lifted as we drifted through the night. All heeds were dropped into that great river that swept us downstream and rocked us to sleep. When disaster began, we existed in that state and our teamwork was phenomenal. We had lived that bold adventure we were seeking, we had avoided disaster, and we all agreed, when we were safe on the other bank, that this was going to be a great story.



77 Posts
During my first night float we thought someone was throwing rocks at us! Turns out the beavers were slapping their tails at us. Night floats are great. I have run sections that I know like the back of my hand and are safe, easy, etc. but you still get a rush. Even with full moonlight you see and hear very differently! Enjoy!

over the horizon
290 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
Put in at Loma 7:30pm before the morning of our Westy permit. How relaxing to float the still evening hours with no stress of finding camp! Lashed up a combo of four rafts and watched the canyon walls go by in the moonlight. Sausages were grilled at midnight. All agreed it was a fine way to do that stretch.
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