Grand Canyon Adventure
Hints & Tips for Members
This is a work in progress. I'll keep you informed when it's updated.
What to Expect
This is going to be a great trip. Possibly the most exciting one you've ever taken, and certainly the most unique photographic journey you're likely to experience. I don't know about you, but I like to research where I'm going and what I'm going to be seeing and shooting well before I leave. On this trip you'll have the advantage that all of the group leaders have done this trip before, and CC Lockwood has actually rafted the Colorado on our route more than 25 times. He really knows the area.
There are any number of books about the Colorado and the Grand Canyon. A search on Amazon will turn up a huge number of titles. One that I highly recommend is Grand Canyon: Time Below The Rim with photography by Gary Ladd.
If you haven't already done so you should also look at my write-up on our rafting trip from 2 years ago.
If you are a subscriber to The Luminous Landscape Video Journal you will have recently received Issue #2, which contains an extensive segment on our last trip. If you are not a subscriber (and if not, why not :-), please let me know and we'll send you a complimentary copy of that issue.
What to Pack — Camera Gear
The first thing that you'll need is a Pelican waterproof equipment case. This is a must! If you do not have such a case all of your photographic equipment will be destroyed, ruined, drowned, wrecked, soaked, smashed and otherwise made rather unhappy. So will you be, (unhappy, that is).
You have two choices. Buy a Pelican case with fitted foam and fit your gear into it, or remove the foam and place a backpack type case (like a LowePro Mini Trecker) into the larger fiberglass case. I much prefer this second alternative as it solves two problems. The fiberglass waterproof case keeps your gear safe from water, sand and hard knocks, while the backpack case can be removed when we're off the boat and hiking. If you just put your camera in the Pelican case's foam, how will you carry it on hikes?
I'm offering the two suggestions, but really, a backpack type case inside a waterproof case is the way to go. You can also put a lock on the Pelican and safely check it as airline baggage, though if you buy the right size you can carry it onboard as hand luggage.
If you're going to be shooting 35mm my strong suggestion is to bring two camera bodies. If you currently only have one you really must buy a second one. If you have a high-end camera like a Nikon F5 or a Canon EOS 1v, then use this as an opportunity to pick up an F100 or a EOS3.
A second film body is really a must though. If something happens to one, (and it might), you can keep on shooting. Without a backup body you'll end up reading a book by the side of the river while the rest of us are out shooting.
On our last river trip I also brought a small waterproof point-and-shoot. These are terrific fun for snapshots on and off the raft when your more serious camera gear is stored safely in the Pelican case as we shoot the rapids.
I recommend against just shooting digital on this trip. But if you will be shooting digital here are some things to consider. For the 8 days on the river there is nowhere to recharge batteries, so you'll need to bring along sufficient batteries for the entire trip. Also, you will need to have either a lot of Microdrives, or some sort of device to offload your images. Figure on shooting 200 frames a day, whether film or digital. However you do it, remember that whatever electronic gear that you bring must fit inside your Pelican case. Putting it anywhere else will definitely lead to its destruction.
You'd also be strongly advised to bring along a film body and sufficient film so that if anything happens to your digital SLR you can still keep shooting.
This is not an easy call. The real issue is, what can fit in your camera case and what can you carry on extended hikes? On my last trip the two lenses that I used the most were the Canon 24mm Tilt / Shift and the 100~400mm IS zoom. The 24mm was what I used most doing landscape work on hikes, and the long zoom was great for shooting wildlife as well as passing scenes from the raft. I would also take something wider, like a 20mm or very wide zoom, and also possibly something in the middle. A fast lens like a 50mm f/1.4 can also be handy for low light work and star trails.
As for me, I'll likely be shooting medium format. Most people will shoot 35mm, but I know that at least one trip member is planning on shooting 4X5". When I did my trip in 2000 I shot 35mm. While this was convenient I found that much of the time I was shooting with the 24mm Tilt / Shift lens on the Canon and longing for both higher image quality and more movements. So, this time I'm thinking of shooting with the Hasselblad ArcBody and 3 lenses. I'm also planning on bringing one 35mm body, the EOS 1V, and the 100~400mm IS zoom. The Canon and long lens will be for shooting wildlife and more casual shooting from the boat.
CC Lockwood is a Nikon shooter and Steve Kossack will be using Canon.
As far as quantity goes, figure (in 35mm terms) on at least 5 rolls a day. If you bring 50 rolls you'll have enough and won't become anxious toward the end of the trip that you're going to run short. Because of the very contrasty conditions deep in the canyon you'll end up bracketing a great deal. Given the cost of this trip, film will be the least cost to worry about.
As for film type, if you're shooting transparency film my suggestion is to go with a relatively low contrast film like Fuji Provia 100F.
A polarizer for every lens size is a must. Split neutral density filters (grads) are also very worthwhile to try and tame some of the extreme contrast found, particularly late in the day when there are wonderful coloured reflections from the cliff walls in the river. The cliffs themselves though are still very hot and need to be tamed so that they don't totally burn out.
A skylight or UV filter is a good idea on the lenses that you'll be using for shooting from the boat, as there's always spray.
Of course. A must. Whatever you normally use. If you've been looking for an excuse to get a light weight but rigid carbon fiber model, maybe now's the time. You'll also want to get a tripod sling or strap since we'll be doing hikes where having your hands free is sometimes a necessity.
Lots of little things. Here's a partial list...
Batteries, A fresh set in everything that needs them, and a second set as backup. There are no corner stores where we're going.
Lens tissue, cleaning fluid and a large bulb type blower brush. Sand is a fact of life on the river and you'll want to keep things clean.
Large plastic sandwich bags. Use these to store film (discard cardboard boxes before leaving home but use the plastic canisters at all times when film isn't actually in the camera. Put all film (in canisters) inside the plastic bags. It keeps things organized, dry and free of sand.
Waterproof marker pens. Put your initials on all exposed and unexposed film. 12 photographers shooting together means lots of opportunity for confusion.
A waterproof note pad. You'll find these any most large outdoor equipment outfitters. You're going to want to make notes about situations, locations, shooting details etc.
Flash. No, you won't light up the Grand Canyon
with one but you may want to use one for fill-flash when doing close-up work.
What to Pack — Clothes
Since our trip is in early to mid-May the weather can be variable. In 2000 we needed sweatshirts and jeans on day one and nothing but shorts and t-shirts for the next 7 days. On the last few days of that trip it was 115 degrees F.
But, we can expect everything from snow to extreme heat, so we need to be prepared. You're going to be provided with comprehensive lists, but all you really need is as follows. The expedition provides sleeping bags and tents (if needed).
Clothing that's described as "river-wear" is available from most good camping supply stores. It is made of polyester and dries extremely quickly when wet. You'll find that if you rinse your clothes in the river before bed each evening, and hang them on a branch overnight, they'll be bone-dry by morning.
|2-3 pairs of river shorts|
|2-3 river shirts|
|1 pair of jeans|
|1 Tilley Hat (a broad-brimmed canvas hat). The sun is really strong!|
|1 pair hiking boots|
|1 pair river shoes (Tiva) (rubberized thongs)|
|socks for use with boots|
|your usual toilet kit|
|a couple of medium sized towels. (River Towels preferred)|
|a rain jacket and rain pants. Good quality Gortex is recommended|
|sunglasses with sports strings (for keeping them around your neck)|
|a River Bag (a waterproof duffle bag for holding all your clothes)|
|a small "dry bag". Useful for holding things you'll need during the day. The river bag is usually not accessible while on the boat|
|flashlight and extra batteries.|
As I said, you'll get a complete list in the months ahead, and most of this stuff you may already own. But this will get you started thinking about what you need to bring.
Get in Shape
We will usually be doing two, 2-3 hour hikes a day. These are not necessarily difficult, but because they're daily, if you're not in decent shape, you won't be happy. Take the months between now and May to get in reasonable shape. Be aware that CC, Michael, Chris and Steve are all in our 50's, so don't imagine that anything will be demanded of you that a bunch of middle-aged guys in reasonable shape can't handle.
As far as hiking goes the group will fall naturally into three classifications. The "mountain goats", will be lead by CC Lockwood. A medium effort group that will take a somewhat slower (middle-aged) pace lead by Michael Reichmann, and those who want to take a more leisurely pace, or who have concerns about heights, lead by Steve Kossack. You may feel like being in one group or another on any given hike, but you'll never need to feel that you're pushed into doing anything that you can't handle. Someone will always be staying with the boats, and an afternoon siesta instead of a hike is always an option.
Food and Alcohol
Remarkably, given the venue, the food on this trip will be very good. Breakfast is usually eggs, toast, bacon, cereal, coffee and tea, etc and lots of it. For lunch we beach the boats and have picnic style fix-your-own sandwiches, with cold meats, cheese, chips, soft drinks, etc. Dinners are everything from barbequed steaks, to chicken, to pasta; with fresh salads and baked deserts. Fresh fruit and soft drinks are always available while on the boat.
Because the river is very cold, and the food is stored on ice in the bottom of the boats, there is ice and therefore fresh fruits, vegetables and meats every day.
Steve Kossack is a vegetarian and we'll be accommodating him, and if any of you have similar or other dietary needs please let us know beforehand.
Alcohol. We are allowed to have it on the river but the Expedition company is not allowed to provide it. We'll find out what people's preferences are the night before we head up to the river from Las Vegas, and we'll be able to buy beer, wine and whatever else people want for the trip.
Out of Touch
Be aware that for the 8 days that we're on the river we are totally out of touch. No cell phone, no modems. In case of a medical emergency the Boatsman has a radio, but that's all it can be used for. How many times in your life have you ever been that removed from the world? Savor it!
There are bound to be questions, so don't hesitate to ask them. You can email me or call. My home-office number is 416-963-8005.