On a white-water wishlist trek Abi Jackson overcomes her fears in and out of the water
This time last week, I was at my office desk. Now, deep inside the Grand Canyon, on the banks of the Colorado River, miles from civilisation, I'm lying under the stars.
It's night three of my seven-day adventure with Grand Canyon Whitewater, who offer guided rafting trips ideal for completely inexperienced adventurers such as me. Their rafts are motorised, which means there's no paddling involved, and their articulated design makes them particularly adept at negotiating the rapids.
Incredibly, they somehow also manage to carry enough grub to keep us very well fed for the week — we feast on fajitas, steaks and chilli, among other things — cots for all of us, plentiful drinking water, first-aid kits and "Oscar" the chemical toilet.
There are 26 of us. A few days earlier, we had assembled outside a motel in a remote corner of the northern Arizona Desert, giddy with excitement and clutching our rucksacks.
Ranging from 13 to 80-something, we are students, teachers, office workers, a marine biologist and even a brain surgeon. But this week we are level-pegging and we've spent the past two days arm-to-arm on rafts for about seven hours a day, squealing together as we crash through rapids, working together to unload/load supplies and set up camp, and washing and peeing together in the river (peeing on the banks and side-streams is strictly forbidden).
This isn't the sort of trip you book lightly. It's a long-dreamed-of cross off that wishlist option, the marker of a major milestone — an important birthday, to celebrate surviving an illness, or a fresh start after divorce. However, the moment we'd set off from our river starting point, Lees Ferry, all those things had started to drift from our minds. There were other things to concentrate on, like not falling off the raft, and keeping our eyes peeled for bobcats and desert bighorn sheep.
Each day follows a similar pattern: couple of hours on the river, hit the shore for lunch and a hike, and then back on the raft until we find a spot to set up camp. Much of our time on the water is spent cruising gently, our guides keeping us entertained with tales of the early explorers who discovered the hard way just how powerful this river was, and geology lessons about how the canyons formed over eons.
There are plenty of rapids too, ranging from fun teasers to full-on, heart-in-your-mouth grade nine-10 monsters. The biggest, Lava, comes on the last full day.
Talk of this bubbling beast, and how it fills even the bravest captains with dread, thrills us all week.
For me though, the height of my fear hits on day six. We pull up for a hike where we're promised we'll be rewarded with the most beautiful natural oasis.
Getting there, however, involves a bit of a trek through a narrow gorge, with a 12m drop.
I'm not good with heights but there's no way I'm missing out.
As we enter the gorge the ledge narrows for about 2m, with overhanging rock about chest-height, which means I'll have to traverse, leaning outwards over that steep drop.
I'm petrified but I make it — and yes, the oasis around the next corner is spectacular — however, all I can think about is the fact I have to tackle that ledge again on the way back. So while everybody else frolics in the natural spring, I sit down and do some deep-breathing exercises.
Obviously, I survive the way back too, then immediately afterwards, burst into tears with relief.
Lava is so ferocious, its roar echoes through the canyon. When we get near, we pull up on the banks and the guides hop out to do a reconnaissance, leaving us alone, wondering whether they're just pulling our legs.
But they're not.
And despite our now being old hands at this outdoor survival malarkey, when we finally begin our approach, we are filled with excited terror again. We're a bunch of regular Joes whose lives are suddenly entirely in the hands of Mother Nature and some pretty awesome river guides — and it feels amazing.
has a Whitewater Rush with Helicopter Tour, departing Las Vegas, from $947pp. Price includes ground transfers, Whitewater Rafting (Class 3-4 Rapids), and helicopter ride.