The Grand Canyon National Park is a thriving wilderness, perfect for camping, hiking, and adventuring of all kinds. The run-of-the-mill Grand Canyon tours are incredible, allowing you to take in some of the most awe-inspiring sights in the world one by one, but visitors looking for the most authentic experience often make their own tour, and one group took it a step further by recreating one of the most famous rafting expeditions in American history.
Replicating John Wesley Powell’s 1869 voyage via raft was no small task for the team of eight expert rafters and tour guides embarking on this dangerous journey. It was a 53-day trip – a trip nearly twice as long as any of the rafters had ever completed before – across 950 miles of ruthless river.
Setting out from the Green River, home of the Flaming Gorge Dam, the team of eight was on a course to follow the stream down to the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon, to a safe arrival at Lake Mead on the other side. Fearless, they set off on what was sure to be a remarkable journey. They didn’t expect the weather to remain bright and sunny for the duration of their trip, but Mother Nature had a surprise in store for these seasoned veterans of the wilderness.
On Day 10 of their 53-day expedition, they heard approaching thunder ricochet off of a cliff side. With less than an hour of daylight left, the team immediately began to make their storm-resistant camp for the night. This was nothing new to the team, since many of them had made camp in earthquakes and worse, but the storm grew much faster than anyone had anticipated.
“In 10 minutes, lightning was all around us,” said Richard McFarland-Dorworth, a member of the rafting team. “The thunder wasn’t a boom, but was so close that it was a crack, so loud it was like the air was being split apart. Two tents were blown into the river. Two of us jumped under a camp table to try and hold it down. From under the table, you could see horizontal hail and sand come in from two different directions. We were right in the middle of the vortex. On a wide open sand bar, I was just hoping not to get hit by lightning.”
No one was injured by what turned out to be a miniature tornado that had found the group, and instead of turning back, the group bonded over this exciting and dangerous shared experience and continued on their journey to recreate the original voyage.
Throughout this life-changing journey, the group took in many of the same sights as their predecessors, each more jaw-dropping than the last. Most people gaze down into the Grand Canyon and are inspired by how far below the Colorado River is, but these daring rafters earned the rare chance to look up from the bottom, up 5,000 feet of terraced stone, worn away by centuries upon centuries of the very river they rode in on.
Would you brave some of the world’s most dangerous whitewater rapids to see what they saw? Do you have any rafting stories to share? Let us know in the comments section below!