Seventeen days. Two hundred miles. Eight guys. Four boats.
This was all part of a Grand Canyon National Park rafting adventure that gave seven young men who grew up in Batesville, along with another friend, the adventure of a lifetime.
Organizer David Hortemiller, Indianapolis, guided rafts commercially in West Virginia one summer while in college. While talking to other guides, he heard the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon was an amazing trip. However, a noncommercial trip is exclusive to those who are chosen from a lottery a year in advance.
He entered the permit lottery in February 2011 and won a launch date for May 14, 2012. The permit allowed up to eight people to go and permitted up to 16 days on the river between Lees Ferry and the Diamond Creek Takeout. They went an additional day beyond that to Pearce Ferry Takeout.
The other seven adventurers included his brothers Tom Hortemiller, Batesville, and Jon Hortemiller, Bloomington; and friends Gordon Lang, Washington, D.C., Joe Vonderheide, Tuscaloosa, Ala., Ben Cooley, Muncie, Teddy Cooley, Batesville, and Jon Catlett, Kentucky.
Vonderheide recalls, “In preparation for this trip, we each had to get in physical shape because the trip was going to be extremely rigorous. We also read as much as we could about what to expect in the Grand Canyon.”
Ben Cooley adds, “Six months before the trip, we secured an outfitter who got us the boats, gear and food .... Then we spent time getting pumped up by watching YouTube videos of the major rapids on the river, going through our gear, e-mailing each other about the trip and planning our method of transportation to Flagstaff, Ariz.”
Their outfitter, Moenkopi Riverworks, Flagstaff, packed all the food. Hortemiller reveals meat was prefrozen into an ice block and put into the cooler. The group also had a dairy and produce cooler and a menu they followed for every meal, as food was packed accordingly. Water was filtered out of the river using a battery-powered water purifier.
“Our days were fairly busy,” Ben Cooley reports. “We traveled about 15-25 miles each day. We would get up with the sun and cook breakfast and then pack up our boats with all the gear. Most days we departed our campsite around 8 or 9 in the morning. The time on the water was spent rowing through slow-moving water, scouting rapids and maneuvering our boats through the whitewater.
“Some days we would stop along the river and hike up canyons or visit waterfalls. We would find a campsite around 4 or 5 in the afternoon and spend the rest of the evening cooking and eating dinner, nursing dry skin and blisters, swimming, playing cards, throwing frisbee, playing beach croquet and reading.”
Hortemiller points out, “Most of us had been whitewater rafting, but only myself and Catlett had guiding experience .... We relied on our guidebooks to know what river mile we were at and what large rapid or side canyon/hike was approaching.
“We would stop to scout the major rapids so we could see what we were about to descend into and talk about any technical maneuvers we needed to make with the boat so we wouldn’t flip. We only had one boat flip the whole trip, and we realized flipping over a boat with over 800 pounds of gear isn’t easy.”
Vonderheide adds, “We had completely mobile kitchen and bathroom systems on our boats. It wasn’t great, but it worked .... (In the evenings), since cell phones didn’t work, and we didn’t bring any electronic devices besides flashlights, we had plenty of time to get to know each other.
“Every night, we would sleep less than 50 yards from the Colorado River. Some of us slept in tents and a few had hammocks, but most of the time we slept under the stars, which was pretty awesome. Most of our campsites were very sandy, but sometimes we slept on flat rocks that almost looked like massive shelves.”
Teddy Cooley sums up the adventure: “It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life so far. It will never be forgotten. Never before had I slept under the stars without a tent for so long and got such a great night’s rest each night.
“We all got along the entire time. The trip is definitely not for everyone. It takes a certain person to be able to handle being in the wilderness for 17 days, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.”