Rafting the length of the Grand Canyon

Posted: December 2022

There are few terrains as harsh and beautiful as the Grand Canyon. Etched and eroded by the Colorado River over 17 billion years, it delivers magnificent views and chameleon colours which change throughout the day.

The Grand Canyon attracts over 5 million visitors annually yet barely 8% of those venture below the rim, and even less take to the water and raft through the middle of it.

The NDL Group have been taking visitors to explore the Grand Canyon for years and from varying altitudes. We’ve followed the snaking trails into the belly of the canyon and soared high above its sculpted rocks in a private helicopter. However, here at the NDL Group we are reinventing the wheel.

Our aim is to constantly deliver new and incredible ways to discover those unmissable bucket list items. For this reason, our Head of Travel Products, Iain Shiels, took to the Colorado River to raft the entire length of the Grand Canyon in eight days. The aim to deliver our brands and their customers the most unique experiences for prizes and incentives. Below is a recount of Iain’s time rafting the length of the Colorado River.

I’ve been fascinated by the Colorado River since reading how John Powell and his team, set off on the first ever expedition in 1869 in ill-prepared wooden boats. They didn’t know what lay in store or whether this was a one-way-ticket to a watery grave, yet in the true spirit of adventure, it prompted one of the greatest voyages.

John Wesley Powell’s first expedition down the Colorado river.

Modern technology and inflatable rafts with a shock-absorbing pontoon on either side, have made this journey significantly more comfortable than for John Powell and his men, yet every bit as spectacular.

The trip is a rare chance to disconnect from mobile reception, Wi-Fi, charging facilities and modern technology. There are no shops, hotels, creature comforts or other people. This experience gave me the chance to reconnect with nature, where views in every direction are nothing short of perfection.

Every time I visit the Grand Canyon I realise how little I knew the time before. There is a rich bio system and a vast array of flora, fauna, bird species and geological wonders. The geology includes one of the most complete and studied sequences of rock on Earth. Nearly 40 major sedimentary rock layers detail its history from about 200 million to nearly 2 billion years.

We set out from Las Vegas when most were still sleeping off the night before for three hours to Lees Ferry and the start of our journey. There were no other boats or people to eclipse the sound of the river gathering speed for rapids further downstream.

The guide gave us a detailed account of the canyons history and prepped us as we approached the rapids which range from grading from a leisurely one, to a white-knuckle ten (US rating). There were times when the brown water churned angrily as it pounded its way downwards, but also times when there was absolute peace with nothing but awesome views to fill the silence.

I spent days following the watery path the Colorado River cut through the valley, either riding rapids or simply admiring the views around me. Each day without fail the scenery seen from the river or land can only be described in one word…EPIC. When I was on dry land, hikes into the canyon revealed picture-perfect slot canyons, glacial-coloured pools and animals including the Bighorn sheep.

Grand Canyon and Colorado River, aerial view, Arizona, USA

By night, I spelt on a camp-stretcher inside my tent, however on nights when the heat lingered I pulled my stretcher outside and slept under a blanket of stars and the Milky Way.

My favourite morning routine was waking up as the sky turned from dark to light to the smell of bacon sizzling and coffee, when most of the camp were still sleeping. I’d wander down to the river and enjoy a swim, when everything was quiet, and I could really sit back and appreciate the magnitude and vastness of the canyon. How the different rocks merged with colours blended together, smoothed by the endless flowing of water.

The food was nothing short of exceptional – I mean the guides baked bread and cakes down there. Seriously – fresh cakes and bread…from the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

Although I could go on about my eight days rafting the length of the canyon, the entire experience was more than I could have expected. The chance to disconnect but reconnect with the natural world was something I will never forget.

Inside obscure rock caverns by the Colorado River

Let the team at the NDL Group know if this experience could work for a promotion or incentive that you have planned.

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