Camping in the Grand Canyon: where’s the toilet?

An individual faces many questions when rafting through the Grand Canyon. But number one on the list is “Where do I go the bathroom?”

Unloading our raft after a long day on the Colorado River.

During a seven-day trip which took my wife Angela and I a total of 188 miles along the Colorado River, the question of bathroom-going was on the minds of all 16 guests on the raft.

So each evening, after a long day on the Colorado River, we’d pull up to shore and carefully unload our precious cargo - the “shitter”- a 12-inch square metal box with a sealed lid. It was the first item to come off the raft each evening and the last item to be loaded back on the raft each morning.

Our helicopter lands on a makeshift helipad.

Our rafting guide Ray would gingerly carry our “shitter” to a remote location, normally behind a rock or bush and commonly with a view of the river. He would then remove the sealed lid and attach a traditional toilet seat. We were home.

It came as a surprise to me that the Colorado River had so many beautiful beaches. Each evening, the raft would softly come to rest along a sandy shore. Our first job (after the toilet was ready) was to set up a human line and unload all the overnight bags, fold-up chairs, army cots, kitchen supplies and of course, our booze.

The view after a half-hour hike up a mountain.

Once everything was unloaded, we would scurry off in couples to find our little piece of heaven. Some people set up tents, but most people slept under the stars each night. We were blessed with a full moon for most of our trip, which was good and bad. It provided additional light after the sun went down (because campfires were not allowed), but at times it was almost too bright as the moon rays bounced off the canyon walls.

Our meals were spectacular. One night was steak with all the fixins. The next night was salmon, followed by spaghetti with meatballs the night after that. Each dinner came with desert, including homemade cakes to celebrate both a birthday and anniversary. While the guide and his helper prepared dinner, we would sun ourselves along the water’s edge enjoying a beer, glass of wine or cocktail. In fact, we were so spoiled that our guide came up with olives so one guest could enjoy a concoction called a Dirty Martini.

Setting up our kitchen for dinner.

Each morning we woke up to the smell of fresh coffee, eggs any style that we wanted, cereal, juice, bagels and fresh fruit. Lunch usually included a variety of sandwiches, salads and munchies. The massive coolers on the rafts even kept blocks of ice frozen for a full week. When my camera battery went dead, I was amazed to find out that the raft had a charger. Unbelievable.

Following a long day sweating on the river, most people would attempt some type of bath in the evening. Attempt was the key word. Not only was the Colorado River ice cold, you had to be careful about currents pulling you out to deeper, faster water.

Our metal toilet could only hold so much, so going number one was done in the river. We developed a system called “pants down, dresses up”. Men would go for a bath

Enjoying a drink while our guides prepared dinner.

or pee down river, while women would relieve themselves up river. The ladies also had the option of a pee bucket if squatting into an ice-cold river wasn’t tempting. If I’m spending too much time discussing bathroom issues, it’s only because it became a priority out in the middle of a national park.

Sleeping under the stars in the Grand Canyon was even more enjoyable with the absence of any flying insects. However, various patterns in the sand suggested that crawly, slithering things passed as by in the night. Luckily, no one was bothered beyond our own imagination.

At one overnight stop, another group of rafters were camped nearby and decided to go for a night hike. Unfortunately, the place that Angela and I chose to set up our cots was on their trail. I was shocked out of sleep more than once as a hiker passed between my wife and I with a flashlight and multiple apologies.

The one beach we stopped at resembled the surface of the moon.

But perhaps the biggest surprise and rush came on our last day, when we were scheduled to fly out. The plan was to pack up at first light and prepare for the landing of a helicopter. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any helipad except for a small section of flat ground a few feet from our cots. Yes, that would be our landing pad and every item including ourselves had to be weighed in order to determine where we would sit in the helicopter. So after peeing, bathing and farting in front of each other, we now faced the final embarrassment - how much we each weighed.

I had never been in a helicopter before and I was a little apprehensive. However, I quickly learned that flying in a helicopter is awesome as the pilot lifted off and hugged the canyon walls. Our home for the last week took on a whole new perspective from the air and I was surprised that the pilot didn’t fly higher.

After half and hour, we landed at a local ranch where we enjoyed a long, anticipated shower before embarking on a short plane ride back to where we started.

Our Grand Canyon river adventure had come to an end, but it will remain one of the most incredible experiences of my life.


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