This winter I had the opportunity to spend 16 days in an oar rig rowing the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The trip was amazing. The weather was chilly, but not quite as cold as I was expecting. When it came time to apply for 2017 permits last month, I put in for another winter trip and won!
With the lessons from my last trip fresh on my mind, I’ve already started working on a new gear list. Here are a few things I’ll certainly be bringing this time around.
Chair with legs. The Grand Canyon is known for sand. Being able to sit up and out of the sand at night while you’re sipping beer around the campfire helps keep you sane in an otherwise sand-filled environment.
Scarf. The last minute addition of a scarf to my kit was one of the things I was most grateful I brought. Scarves are important especially if you have short hair because they keep your neck warm at camp and when it’s windy out.
Rubber boots. Even a $20 pair of rubber boots is a MUST TAKE on a winter trip. Being able to get in and off the raft without getting wet makes your life so much easier. If you want to keep your feet dry and toasty, Bogs’ Ultra High boots are worth the investment. Waterproof, comfortable, odor resistant and rated down to -40 degrees, these boots are the Cadillac of winter Grand Canyon footwear. ($140, bogsfootwear.com)
A drysuit (with optional tutu for flair). I wouldn’t venture down the canyon in winter without one. If you’re lucky, it’ll feel like overkill some days — until you end up taking a long swim through Hance in 45-degree water.
A toothbrush and a bottle of 303 to keep your drysuit dry. After a few days on the river, simply rinsing my drysuit zipper wasn’t cutting it. Applying 303 Aerospace Protectant each evening helped lubricate it, but didn’t go far enough. Eventually I began using an old toothbrush to scrub the zipper teeth clean first (remember: sand gets in EVERYTHING in the Big Ditch), and then rubbed 303 into the zipper. It took about ten minutes, but was perfect to do around a campfire at night.
A warm beverage game plan. Coffee drinkers usually need to strategize across a few email chains before any large river trip — the caffeine addicted will suffer if they enter the Starbucks-free-zone unprepared — but having a good warm beverage setup is especially important on winter Grand trips. We made our morning coffee cowboy-style in GSI Outdoors’ 36 Cup Coffee Boiler ($45, gsioutdoors.com). It was large enough that one round would get the whole camp moving in the morning with some left over for thermoses. On particularly cold days, a backpacking stove was handy for making tea or soup right on the rafts.
Disposable rubber gloves and salve. Every night I would coat my hands in Super Salve then wear disposable gloves to sleep in. My fingers still split open at the tips from the endless cam strapping, but the nightly coating helped combat the damage as much as possible.
Sunscreen. It may seem counterintuitive to take sunscreen on a winter trip when you think you may not see the sun much, but there will be days when you’ll need it. You don’t want to add a sun burn to the list of ailments your skin will already be facing.
Lip Chap. Between the dry air and wind, your lips are going to thank you a million times a day for remembering to throw lip chap in your bag.
Of course, the one thing not on my list is good tequila for after Lava. After we finished the last trip, we bought a new bottle for “next time.” All I’ll say is, don’t pinch pennies in the tequila department either.
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