How Demanding is a Grand Canyon Rafting Adventure?
There are a lot of considerations you want to make when deciding whether a Grand Canyon rafting trip is the best choice for you. These rafting trips are very physically demanding, as Grand Canyon is a very demanding place. It’s real and raw and there are dangers around every corner. We do our due diligence to mitigate as many risks as we possibly can, but there are many aspects of the trip that are out of our control. You also are an integral part to keeping yourself taken care of!
The information below is relevant for everyone on our trips, and are common aspects of a river trip that most people don’t consider. If you haven’t already read about the risks and rewards of a river trip in Grand Canyon, that is a great place to start as we go into more of the big picture items you should consider.
Listed below are some of the specific facts that can contribute to making a multi-day rafting expedition difficult/demanding:
Bruises and Scrapes
These are very common for everyone on all our types of Grand Canyon rafting adventures. One thing to consider is, as you age, you’re likely to have thinner skin, making these injuries worse and more difficult to heal. Evacuations have occurred due to tears and cuts in skin that couldn’t heal or became infected.
Maneuvering around Camp
Most camp sites in Grand Canyon have varying degrees of uneven and unstable terrain. Don’t underestimate this. Most people come back from their rafting adventures telling us they had no idea what to expect, and that this aspect was much more difficult than they anticipated.
You can expect muddy, slippery beaches, steep sandy hills, rocks and/or cobbles, fast-moving current, and much more to negotiate. You could experience all of this at one camp location.
Negotiating your way to the bathroom locations is difficult due to this terrain. We also try to find beautiful, but secluded locations for the bathroom facilities, which means they’re often challenging to find and get to, particularly in the middle of the night with low light.
Balance issues can occur in anyone, but tend to increase with age, which means the chances of falling increase. Brittle bones can increase the odds of severe injury. Trips and falls are very common in all aspects of this adventure, from getting on and off the boats, to hikes we take every day.
Most hikes have sections requiring negotiation of rocks/boulders, loose uneven trails and might even require some minor cliff climbing. Many hikes will have deadly exposed sections walking along or near cliff edges. This is another part of the trip that our guests commonly tell us was much more difficult/demanding than they could have ever imagined. Hiking in Grand Canyon is unlike hiking anywhere else, so it is difficult to express what it’s really like if you’ve never seen it.
Weather and Its Effect on our Bodies
The high temperatures (over 100F is common in May-Sept) on most Grand Canyon River trips require bodies and organs to work extra hard metabolically. Likewise, the low temperatures guests can experience (particularly in spring and fall, but also in the summer months) when the weather turns cool, or rainy, or the combination of cold water and deep shadows coincide, can be challenging.
Kidneys and different hormone producing organs will be under stress when subjected to the extremes of weather, particularly high temperatures, which most trip participants will experience.
For every person on a rafting trip, our organs that regulate our bodies must work extra hard to maintain metabolic homeostasis, and this becomes more difficult for more mature bodies or bodies that already come with pre-existing conditions.
Regulating and maintaining equilibrium of our body’s water, salt, electrolyte, glucose and hormone levels become more challenging in the harshness of outdoor environments, both hot and cold.
You will have little or no respite from the heat or cold on a Grand Canyon rafting adventure, because you cannot move into a temperature-controlled environment. You can only get wet with cold water to stay cool down or add more clothing to stay warm. If you have decreased metabolic function, being exposed to temperature extremes can increase your chances of developing heat- or cold-related illnesses.
Common prescription as well as some over the counter medications can contribute to decreased metabolic function or cause other issues. On active raft trips in a challenging outdoor environment, one’s body is already working hard to keep metabolic function in equilibrium and many medications can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy equilibrium. Mature folks are more likely to be on medications. For a few examples, blood thinners can exacerbate the bruises and cuts discussed above. Some antihistamines, blood pressure medicines, laxatives, diuretics and chemotherapies can increase the risk of dehydration.
Swollen Feet and Ankles
These are common for many rafting guests. It is painful, distracting, and can diminish the enjoyment of your adventure. Swollen lower limbs can result from decreased metabolic and circulatory function.
Length of Trip
The longer you are subjected to the physical stresses of a river trip, the more likely you are to experience a decline in your body’s physical (and even mental) performance over time. Although, we recommend going on the longest Grand Canyon trip your schedule allows so you can really commit to river life, choosing a trip type and length based on your body and experience, is an important aspect to consider.
If you become ill or injured on a trip, and require medical care, evacuation is usually hours away. In the worst-case scenario, it can even be days away.
Treating and/or evacuating injured or ill patients takes time and often results in a change to trip pace and plans.
We do not have any control on when an evacuation occurs—Grand Canyon National Park Service has a triage system they use to decide who needs to get out first if there are multiple evacuations occurring at the same time. They also make the final decision on whether someone does get evacuated or not.
No matter how safe an evacuation scenario appears, there is always a certain amount of risk to the guides, fellow participants, and outside rescue personnel.
Although no one plans to need definitive medical care by means of evacuation, putting yourself, your crew, fellow participants, and rescue personnel at risk by not being capable of a rafting adventure is unwise.
It is hard to overstate the impact of all these things and more, when taken together. Challenged sleeping, rigorous activity, challenging terrain, and unanticipated injuries add up to be more than they are individually. A Grand Canyon rafting trip on the whole when looking at the big picture, and all difficulties cumulatively, can make for a difficult adventure. One that you should seriously consider in regards to what is best for you and your traveling companions.
When choosing a Grand Canyon rafting adventure, we ask you to honestly consider the challenges and increased risk to you personally (and others) if you’ve never done a trip like this. When all is said and done, most of our guests go down river and are just fine. We do have a handful of evacuations each year for various reasons, and we do hear a lot of feedback after trips via our post-trip evaluations that express how difficult this trip was, and how they just had no concept of all of that.
What You Can do to Prepare
If you decide this trip is a good travel option for you, it’s important that you make conscious decisions to be aware of all of the impacts mentioned above, and then do your best to try to mitigate the risks yourself.
Getting physically fit for your adventure is a really great way to be prepared for the many impacts you could experience. You can do so by following an exercise program we have on our webpage, or speaking with a personal trainer. The healthier, fitter you are for your adventure, the more enjoyment you’re going to get out of it, and the less your body will feel the culminating effects.
Having awareness of your surroundings once you’re on the river is also really important. Although many of the topics discussed above come with the territory of being down there, the more aware you are of your surroundings, the less likely you are to step on a rock hidden beneath the sand and cutting your foot. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the less likely you are to fall into fast-moving current or slipping off the side of a boat. Pay less attention to the photo you’re trying to take, and more attention to where you should be placing your feet (though we understand the importance of capturing great photos).
While we are so looking forward to sharing Grand Canyon with you and as many people as possible, it’s also very important to us to thoroughly prepare our guests for the unanticipated rigors. If any of this makes you concerned about a rafting adventure with us, contact our office, and we can talk to you about it!