Henry Elden - Rafting the Great Colorado River

Published: Thursday, October 14, 1993
Page: P1D

J UST the idea of rafting through the Grand Canyon for eight days would be enough to scare some people. Add grandchildren to the scenario, and most sane adults would run the other direction.

Not Henry Elden.

Elden, a Charleston architect, offered his two grandsons one of two trips with him this past summer as a birthday gift.

Their choices: hiking the rugged Alaskan Chilkoot Trail used by goldseekers in 1898 or rafting the wild Colorado River.

The boys picked the rafting, afraid the Chilkoot would be too hard on their grandad.

Looking back three months later, he calls their rafting adventure "spectacular." And for his grandsons, Andrew and David Scavullo of San Francisco, Calif., it was the "greatest experience they'd ever had." But the challenge began back in West Virginia, as Elden attempted to get reservations for the trip.

"I didn't know it was so popular," Elden said. "I was stunned. People sign up for that a year in advance, and they are allowed to take only 20,000 rafters - 150 per day - down the river each 100-day season." But in July, Elden and his grandsons were among them, having secured reservations through a Phoenix travel agency. The group met there, rented a car and drove about 250 miles north to their starting point, passing the Vermillion Cliffs, the Painted Desert, the San Francisco mountains and primitive Indian reservations along the way After a night at the adobe-styled Wahweap Lodge, owned by the National Park Service, Elden and his grandsons embarked on a 30-mile bus trip to Lees Ferry Landing - a natural crossing for early travelers and the only platform within hundreds of miles that could be reached by wagon train from either side of the canyon.

Their raft - a 38-foot oval motorized rubber craft on pontoons _ and a guide named Holly waited for them.

While she might not have fit their image of guide, Holly proved herself during the next week. Said Elden, "Holly was little, but she could really handle that raft. She had been doing it for several years, and knew the high and low spots and could get the raft through with no problem." Days were spent navigating their way down the canyon - cliffs 5,000 feet high on each side of them and 122 major rushing rapids below them.

"We traveled 187 miles and the river dropped 1,900 feet over that distance," said Elden. "Some of the rapids had 30-foot drops ." Meanwhile, gear traveled with them - 700 pounds of ice, fresh meats, fish, fruit, cold cuts, sleeping bags, a spare motor and the very necessary porta potty, called "Oscar." "Leave nothing but your footprints," is the motto of the canyon, explained Elden. "We left nothing. We carried our solid waste out with us, and we cooked over charcoal, leaving no traces of campfires when we left.

"There just is no litter in there," Elden said. "The sand, the banks are pristine." At night, the rafters slept on the banks of the river under the stars. The tents were reserved for foul weather, which never came But the days were hot enough at 110 degrees to melt the icing in their Oreos and cause a soda can to explode. The 52-degree water that flushed over the raft at each rapid was a shocking reprieve.

"The water was so cold, I did not go swimming," said Elden.

"But my grandsons did." Elden kept a daily journal of the group's experiences, but a rapid claimed it on the fifth day and he had to begin again. On the third day, his camera was the victim of a rapid, and he had to borrow one from his guide.

The comradeship of the other rafters was one of the best parts of the trip, Elden said.

"We were a group from all over the country and had been thrown together," said Elden. "And we were compatible. We didn't solve any political or religious issues, but we became very close." RAFTING6D Rafting 1D ELDEN 30-