Tony Priborsky had put his name on the Canyon wait list about 7-8 years ago, and was immediately joined by always-up-for-adventure Richie, who's normal hairdo prompted a waiter seeing him enter the restaurant to say, "Boy! It sure must be windy out there!" Now was the time to go or lose our slot.
Tony was also responsible for us, a fact that he would often make sure we didn't overlook: "Don't hurt yourself, because if you do, I have to fill out paperwork, and I HATE paperwork! And don't even THINK about dying!"
As for most of my adventures, I started growing my beard about 3 weeks before we left so I'd pass thru the drug-crazed axe-murderer stage while I was near people that know and love me - or at least might be willing to help put up bail money.
We really didn't have a good handle on what we were getting ourselves into, even though I'd been down the Canyon way back in the days when "made in Japan" was not a compliment, but I really didn't remember the trip very well, and the trip was a commerical one. The company just took care of everything. On this trip, we were pretty much on our own.
Fortunately, Tony and Richie, in a rare attack of realism (something that's treatable nowadays), realized that none of us could really plan a trip like this, so they contracted with a company for a plan advertised as the "painless" option: We arrive with our personal gear at Flagstaff, and the company supplies the rafts, all equipment, personal gear bags, and packs the food. We are given a choice of menues for the trip, and the Pro company knows how to pack everything (including monster dry ice chests) and suggests in what order food should be used to last for the trip.
The price is about $40 per person per day for equipment of quite high quality and good food. At least the food was good when we left. It was up to us to keep it that way. The Coleman camping stoves were brand new. And just like stuff you buy in the store, when we used something, we could never get it back in the same space in which it came.
Each person got an ammo can for day personal stuff like cameras, suntan lotion, etc., and two large rubberized waterproof bags. The end of these bags roll down, and there are straps to fasten the end down to make them waterproof. These bags worked quite well.
We eventually head toward Youngstown, OH. Well, there were 40 knot headwinds, so it's more like a crawl for 4 hours. A quick stop, file flight plans, and on to Burlington Iowa, just across the boarder from Wisconsin (4 1/2 hrs). The line guy, Tom, is very friendly. The airport has a picture on the wall that looks vaguely like Lombard street in San Francisco which is supposed to be the crookedest street in the world. Well, Tom here says that is wrong, that their street (in the picture) is the crookedest.
Onward to Beloit Kansas, flying for 3 hours. By this time it's getting dusk, considering we've been in the air today for 11 1/2 hours not including time on the ground. Fortunately we gained time going westbound.
Beloit is a very small town. They guy running the airport is the mechanic, CFI, and charter operator, and lives in a trailer on the airport. He's really friendly. He used to fly the Grand Canyon tours years ago in Arizona, but moved here to run the airport. The town gives him a small salary to run the airport, and he gets to keep whatever he makes (from selling fuel, etc.) at the airport.
Eric and I are really ready for bed. We borrow the courtesy car, which was made in the days when men hadn't heard of quiche and cars were steel. It'd been awhile since I drove anything that you call your navigation orders down from the helm to the engine room. The windows are electric and the left driver window won't go up. The price is right - all we have to do is put in some gas for him when we're done.
Beloit is a farm town and is really hurting from the drought. Things looked kinda green, but he said that Reagan had visited someplace in the farm area and rains came after that. I can understand the weather being depressed after a visit from Reagan, too.
We ate dinner at a little truck stop where I asked the waitress if there was anything interesting around here to see like historical markers or whatever, and she said, "Nope, there's nothing interesting around here." Everyone else in the restaurant looked like they were probably living off social security.
The motel was only $26, and we ate breakfast in town at the place recommended by the airport manager, then back to the airport to shove off. The airport guy was so friendly, I left my address since he said he might get traveling around the country.
After landing at Santa Fe, we taxi off the active runway. Like Odyssius and the sirenes, we are invited to follow either one of two golf carts, each driven by a female clad with barely enough cloth to make a golf tee flag, trying to get our attention with themselves and a "Follow Me" sign. Sometimes pilots need to make tough decisions...
I picked the place to the left. We get out and notice oil down the side of the plane. Somewhat disconcerted, I pull off the 50 odd screws for the side panel and have a look - one of the valve cover gaskets is leaking. It's not critical but looks pretty messy. I find a mechanic who is willing to check it out. Turns out he sends one of his guys over to the other side of the airport to buy a gasket from his competition so he can sell it to me. I should have picked the other scantily clad female to follow.
The mechanic cleans up the panels, we put it all together, and depart. It's a short hop to Flagstaff, but the forcast is not good. We really shouldn't have been delayed on the ground. There are thunderstorms all around, but fortunately, you can see for 50 miles around the storms and can avoid them, unlike thunderstorms in the northeast which are imbedded in harmless clouds.
The thunderstorms are really pretty. We can see the rain and the lightning flashing down from the cloud to the earth (or is it the other way around?).
Eric decided he REALLY wants to land in Winslow about 60 miles away from our destination. We can just about see Flagstaff, but he really wanted to land. The thunderstorms then engulf Flagstaff, so we lose our window to get to Flagstaff that day. We found out later that Flagstaff had really gotten pounded by the most severe thunderstorms they had seen in a long time. I spose we were lucky that we were stuck in Winslow.
I noticed that there is still oil on the side of the plane, but there's less, so I decide to look into it when we get to our final destination of Flagstaff.
So now we're stuck 60 miles from our destination. What to do to kill time. Well, there's a National Weather Service there. They have a baloon release station to do the winds aloft data collection. He releases a baloon with an audio telemetry (time multiplexed) transmitter (in a cardboard box) to radio back the pressure, temperature, and humidity. The transmitter (1280MHz) is tracked with an antenna that is directional enough to show the direction and elevation of the transmitter.
Inside, the telemetry data is processed with one of the original Data General Nova machines. He even uses paper tape to calibrate the humidity sensor. The machine also has the DG equivalent of dectape. (I haven't seen dectape used for 10 years.) The battery to run the transmitter is dunked in water for a few minutes. The baloon (hydrogen) is about 3 feet in diameter when he releases it. The baloon takes 2 hours to get to 10 millibars of pressure (about 100K feet or 20 mi) and bursts. In response to the most obvious question by a pilot, he claims that no plane has hit a baloon yet.
Fortunately, we are there around 4pm for a baloon release (also done at 4am). Unfortunately, there is a shower downpour in our honor for the release.
We got a ride to the Best Western hotel. It was expensive, but less than renting a car and finding a cheaper place. The hotel courtesy car passed several cheaper hotels, so I felt like saying, thanks, I'll stay here instead. There was good Mexican food nearby.
In town, I stop into a drug store and talk to the owner. We are near the famous meteor crater featured in the Starman movie a couple of years ago. The drug store owner said parts of the film were made here in Winslow, and in Holbrook (nearby) about 3 years ago.
I'm beginning to contemplate the magnitude of following Admiral Powell's adventure. At least I have the beard for it. Maybe I should go down the river with one hand tied behind my back - after all, Admiral Powell had only one arm and he did it.
We awake and find out lo-an-behold the weatherperson is wrong again! Just like back home in the northeast. Eric and I get a ride back to the airport to wait for some better weather. While we are there, we meet a couple of helicopter pilots from Durango that were hired by the Navajo Indians. Seems that there's a land dispute between the Hopi and Navajo Indians, and the Navajos have chartered the chopper to do some aerial surveying. The weather is so bad they are grounded too, so I figure that the Hopi's must have done a rain dance or something. The storms are quite unusual to be this intense in the morning. I guess Flagstaff really got pounded again.
I was listening to the aircraft radio at the airport and heard a call come in from a pilot, lost between layers of clouds, with black clouds up ahead. I talked to him a bit and was going to help him triangulate to get his position, but before I could, Flight Service wanted to know where he was so that he wouldn't run into any commercial flights in the area. They eventually talked him down to Winslow. He was in a rented Cessna 172 from Detroit, with about 120 hours total time, and (ironically) had dropped his son off at the Prescott Aviation academy. He had no idea how to run many of the navigation radios in the plane. I spent a few minutes teaching him about ADF's but he seemed not very interested.
He had left Sedona in spite of the forcast because it looked good and had gotten caught by the weather - an accident waiting to happen. He said he was as scared as he'd ever been in his life. He bought some gas, and decided it looked pretty good to the east so he took off again without even checking weather or filing a flight plan, not to mention checking the fuel or oil.
Some people don't exhibit learning even with as blatant a teacher as hard knocks. To his credit, he decided to follow the interstate to Santa Fe so he could put down anywhere. I heard on the radio later he landed at the next airport 20 miles down the road. I guess it turned bad again. I can't imagine what Flight Service would have done if they had had to rescue him again.
By this time it's early afternoon, and Eric is getting itchey to do some exploring, so we give up on the weather, rent a car, and drive to Flagstaff to let folks there know that we did almost make it. I started feeling pretty run-down because of the stress of the intense flying, so as Eric explores Indian ruins, I sack out in the back seat. The last thing I need right now is a cold or the flu from being run down.
We also stop by the meteor crater, but don't bother going in. I've seen it before and a hole is a hole even if it was a movie star.
By this time it's late afternoon, and the weather is pretty marginal. We dropped off our stuff at a hotel in Flagstaff, scream back to the airport, and take off into the sunset and marginal clouds. It's dark by the time we get to the airport and the tower is closed. We found somebody to tell us where to put the plane and take a taxi into town. The side of the plane still has oil. Tonight is Saturday and tomorrow is Sunday - mechanics are tough to find on those days.
A few of us got a ride to the Flagstaff airport so I could check on the arrangements I'd left for the plane to be fixed. The mechanic wasn't there (it was sunday after all).
The airport had this little breakfast shop called the "PASTY" which sold (believe it or not) pasties - sort of like an omlette inside pastry. It was quite good.
We were picked up by a van and a U-haul trailer. The driver contracts to drive people to and from the canyon for raft trips. He tells us a good bit about the taking out of the rafts at Diamond Creek. He makes it sound more dangerous than any of the rapids. Diamond Creek is a bad flash flood area and whole rigs, trucks and all, have been washed out into the river. Flash floods are dangerous also because heavy rains can be so localized that you can get hit by one from a heavy shower up the canyon that you didn't even see.
We ride with him back to the hotel, and everybody loads their stuff in the trailer, and hops into the van (there's another car for the 5-person overflow). We drive to Diamond creek, set up camp just downstream from there. We all ride up to a restaurant nearby for our last civilized dinner (meaning free from grit) for quite awhile.
We get back to Lee's Ferry in the dark, and proceed to rummage around for our previously set-up sleeping attire. I decide to start the trip out using the tent since I haven't had enough experience with the weather to know whether it's going to rain or not.
We had 3 "G-word" people: Rusty, Kathy, and Paul. Rusty and Paul had been down before and had spent years on whitewater rivers. Kathy was also quite experienced, but not to the level that Rusty and Paul (pronounced Pah-oul because he'd spent time in the south) were.
Meanwhile back at the ranger talk, we were told there were a lot of washouts this year, so some campsites might have changed from the maps. They told us where we couldn't camp. The park service was coming up with a new plan for the management of the river this september (next month) and if we had any suggestions, they'd like to hear about them. Oh yea, if anybody dies on the river, we can bury him on the side of the river. But then, Toni, the one in the group that is responsible for what happens would be really angry because he'd have to fill out paperwork. As it was, he is supposed to fill out a report on any incident or injury that happens. We kept him pretty busy because most if not all of us got some injury at some point on the way down, ranging from broken foot and finger bones to minor lacerations.
On to the history portion of the talk. Before 1966, only 900 people had gone down the river total. In 1967, 2000 people went down in that single year. Now there's about 17,000 people per year on the river.
River flows generally range from 5,000 to 20,000 CFS (cubic feet per second), but on our day, it's 4000. The flows are regulated by the dam at Lake Powell which generates power for Los Angeles, so if people use more lights in LA, the water flows more. We are starting during a holiday weekend, so the flow is extra low. During normal work days, lots of water (15,000 or more) flows during the day and then drops back at night when people don't use so much power. This "bubble" flows down the river at around 4 kts, so it's kind of like a tide. To make the best time down the river, you really want to be just ahead or on top of the bubble.
Private trips are scheduled to start at a rate of one per day plus one extra every couple of days, for a total of about 9-10 per week. Then there are the commercial trips which start several trips per day. Lee's Ferry can get pretty crowded.
We have a slide show, and then, of course, there's the instructions of the use of the porta-potty which I'm sure is at the top of everybody's list when they ask about what a canyon trip is like.
Travelers are required to haul out everything they haul in, including processed food, if you catch my drift. You are allowed to pee into the river or shore, but you have to carry the "other kind" out with you. Pretty much everybody uses a large sealing ammo-can with a toilet seat on top. You also can't pee into the ammo can because that would exceed the capacity you have to store the stuff. Try doing "number 2" without doing "number 1" - it's not easy. In a touching bit of irony, by the time you run out of space in one ammo can, the food and supplies you've been using up supply the next empty can - sort of a crude recycling process.
After the talk and nice slide show, we drive back for our really-no-foolin' last civilized meal. I called the airplane mechanic and gave him instructions on what to do and said I'd try to call him from Phantom Ranch, which would be the next time I'd be at a telephone. We celebrate our last meal and hurry back to Lee's Ferry. We wanted to be on the river by 10 AM, but after packing and repacking, we actually push off around 12.
We have a 16 foot yellow paddle boat, three 18 foot oar boats, and one person brought a kayak along. At times we lash the kayak to one of the oar boats.
The yellow paddle boat has only people (maximum of 7 or 8) and one or two waterproof bags into which we can put cameras, etc.
The oar boats carrying all the gear and a couple of people, are rubber painted silver so that the rubber doesn't heat up too much. The sun is hot enough that even with the silver paint, you can almost burn your hand touching the raft sometimes.
The oar boats and the paddle boat are flat bottomed, ringed with a rubber cylinder bent into an oval shape. This cylinder contains 4 separate compartments of air, so even if one went completely flat the boat wouldn't sink, even with all the provisions in the boats. Then across the short dimension there are 2 more cylinders of air dividing the boat into approximately 1/4, 1/2, 1/4.
Each oar boat also contains a custom metal unit in the center half of the boat. All the provisions, ammo cans, and drinks are attached to this unit. The unit kind of rests on top sides of the raft, but hangs down into the raft, so the center of gravity is low without anything resting on the bottom of the raft. The oar-person sits in roughly the center of the unit and pulls on the oars mounted in oar-locks. The boats are pretty much symmetrical.
Now for our last stop at a relatively civilized bathroom before we start off. I realize to some of you that a brick building with a couple of stalls may seem rustic, but this was our last bathroom with even walls, much less fixtures and running water, for quite awhile.
We started off with 16 people - the maximum total for our permit. For several people, this is their first camping trip. I suppose their parents taught them to swim by throwing them into water, too. Oh well, I guess you have to start somewhere. We had 12 technical people, 3 G-word people, and, bowing to OEO "include minorities" pressure, one bar/restaurant owner.
Seven of us start in the paddle boat, with all the care and caution of the passengers of the Titanic. We initially were quite disappointed that we only got one paddle boat and three oar boats. We had wanted at least two paddle boats because we figured that people would be fighting for a spot in the paddle boat. The outfitters fortunately realized that our desires were the mad ramblings of delerious people, and paid no attention to our desires. We would not have gotten all of our provisions on two oar boats, and as time went on people generally wanted to be on the oar boats.
I still don't understand the physics of it, but one person oaring on the oar boat loaded with all of our gear can easily go faster than seven people paddling for all they are worth in the paddle boat. Perhaps astrophysicists using multiple dimensions and super string theory can explain it, but nobody on this trip fit that description.
Eric and I started off in the paddle boat, wildly cheering our defeat of the first couple of riffles. A riffle is a water disturbance so trivial that it's not even marked on the map.
We carried waterproof maps of the river along. These maps are quite detailed, and are essential for finding campsights and for finding out the difficulty level of rapids. Rapids are rated on a scale of 1 to 10 in four different digits, for instance, 3,4,4,5, indicating that as the water flow increased, the difficulty of the rapid increased, or 6,5,3,2 would indicate that as the flow increased, the rapid would change from formidible to trivial.
We were still celebrating our conquest of the river, when our first major rapid approached - Badger Creek. Even though we feel pretty confident, our guides (piloting the three oar boats) decide we should scout the rapid since it is the first one of any size (rated a "5"). We pulled over, and it doesn't look too bad. We decide that two of the oar boats should go first, then the paddle boat, and then Paul with the last oar boat. Thus there'd be a couple of boats on either side of the paddle boat. The two oar boats make it through with no problems. Richie pilots the paddle boat as he has the most experience with white water rafting of any of us, having spent some time doing the same thing at Brown's Canyon in Colorado among others. We approach the rapid, confident, with Richie at the helm. We call to him for orders. He says we're doing just fine even though Jeff in the front can see this big hole in front of us.
A hole usually results when the water flows over a rock. Rocks on this river are so far under the water, we wouldn't hit them, but the water flows fast enough to cause a standing wave, or hole, on the far side of the rock. The hole (distance from the top of the wave to the lowest part of the depression) was about 5 feet in this case. That may not sound like much but with that much water rushing past, it's quite intimidating, especially when you have a close up view, like from inside it.
The hole was right in the middle of the river, with fairly easily passage on either side. We were yelling to Richie to watch out for the hole. The last words before we went over the rapid were from Richie saying, "Trust me". We ended up not only hitting the hole directly, but we were *sideways* when we hit. The raft flipped upside down and we were all dumped out.
The river pushed me up the downstream side of the hole. However, it didn't push me hard enough to break over the crest, and so I'd be tossed back into the center of the hole and go under. I'd come up fighting for breath, only to get tossed back into the hole. At the time, I didn't realize what was happening, I thought I was floating down stream, when all the time I was pretty much in the same place. I found out later I could have gone sideways around the peak.
I remember coming up once, and Richie was inches away from my face, both of us were tossed up the wave, and I fell back into the hole. The next time up, he was nowhere to be seen. After a few cycles of that, I also was tossed out and downstream to be pulled up by one of the oar boats. I was glad to have strapped my glasses on or I probably would have lost them. I did bring another pair, but I left them in the plane figuring that if I lost these, I'd just continue the river trip without them, but if I had no glasses after the river trip, I wouldn't be able to fly home.
And speaking of glasses, we discovered that Richie didn't bring his glasses at all. He's not real nearsighted, but when you're finding holes from down on the water, every little bit of clarity helps.
Nobody remembered to hang onto the raft, but most of us did remember to hang on to our paddle. The right thing to do would be to have hung onto the line circling the outside of the boat and the boat would have pulled us out of the hole. It was such a suprise that nobody thought to do that. We had been told to hang onto our paddle so that's what we did.
Steve in the kayak was tailgating the paddleboat, and so when the paddle boat flipped, he went under it and had to swim away also. He hurt his foot. He thought it was a sprain, but when he got it Xrayed when he got back, he found one of the bones had been broken. Ellen sprained her thumb. We are all quite cold. Fortunately the sun is hot so we warm up. I was glad that I was wearing my wet suit top.
We all now realize for the first time just what we've gotten ourselves in for. The trip now passes the Rubicon from informal jump-in-the-boat-and-go to realizing we could be in some real trouble unless we get our act together more.
Not only do we all now have more respect for the river, but we have a name for the paddle boat - the Yellow Submarine. The favorite song before entering a rapid now is "Gimmie that Old Time Religion" sung with the same care and tonal quality that several drunken sailors might have. I guess a few of us were willing to accept help from anywhere to survive.
I suspect the guides were having second or more thoughts about teaming up with this bunch of amateurs at this point.
The final loss statement was one pair of sunglasses and one hat. My glasses are incredibly wet and dirty but there's nothing really handy to clean them with - and we haven't even hit the muddy part of the river yet. I cleaned them when we eventually got to camp and was able to get another half hour of light.
Now there are only 6 of us left in the paddle boad, 3 left, and 2 came in. I felt that even if we were dumped over again, I knew now to hang onto the line around the side.
We make it through the rest of the rapids of the day OK, although occasionally it looks tight. We ended up stopping just past Lower North Falls. We had to paddle furiously during and after the falls to get over to the eddy so we don't get washed downstream. We just can't paddle against the current. We can barely move across the river. We have to be set up in just the right spot for each rapid well before, because we just can't move the boat sideways very effectively.
At camp, we divided up the working duties, 4 groups of three and one left over. It was getting dark by this point since we had gotten such a late start. The one left over was the manager of the "rocket box" - the ammo can holding the "processed food" - for the entire trip. The rest of the groups alternated the cooking and cleaning chores - one group cooked, one group cleaned up, and two groups were off for each meal.
It never really got pitch dark because the moon kept things fairly light, although it didn't really rise until later. I was able to see the moonrise - the light of the moon crept down the wall of the canyon before engulfing us in silvery light. The light made the canyon walls look like they were covered with snow or frost.
With the sun down, the air cooled off. The rocks are still hot from the previous day however, and tend to heat the breeze. On the other hand, the water from the rapid tends to cool the breeze. So as the wind shifts, the temperature can change suddenly from a cool breeze to hot and dry, back to cool in seconds. The wind tends to kick up sand, too. By the next morning, the temperature will be about 60 degrees.
I decided that the weather looked nice enough that I'd risk not having the tent up. I'd read about scorpions and rattlesnakes, but decided that with constant people, especially as obnoxious as us, they probably wouldn be at least in the next area code. Laying here on the plastic, I can still feel the boat rocking from the day's lurching through rapids.
The milky way and stars were so gorgeous. As I was falling asleep, I saw 3 high altitude airplanes or satellites and a shooting star. I felt deeply moved by the beauty. During the day, there's too much to do to really sit back and enjoy it. The relaxing time at the camp was really wonderful.
We unloaded everything from the boats except for the metal units, dragged the boats to the shore, and loaded everything back up. It's truely amazing that it all fit. By the end of the trip, some of the charcoal will probably be turned into diamonds because of the pressure. A number of the aluminum soda and beer cans have been crushed as the boat rocks and twists.
Several trips pass us as we are portaging over what feels like the continental divide. After the loading and unloading, I'm pretty tired to paddle.
In spite of the late start, some of us still went on a hike about a mile up a side canyon, scrambling over rocks, and get up to a nice little pool and river. It's just a perfect size to sit in like a small and shallow hot tub, though not as warm. Some of us sitting in it overflow the sides of the pool, others of us tend to cause a veritible tidal wave. The water is slightly warm, in comparison to the 50 degree river water.
Here, with the sandstone walls much closer, the grand scale of things is much more impressive. There are huge sections of wall that have just slid down. In another place, there is an undercut with almost perfectly straight corners as though a huge box (50-60 feet wide, 15 feet high) was cut out of the rock and taken away.
Back at camp, we all take to the boats again. I stay in the paddle boat today again, as we hit some more fairly large rapids and even some fairly large holes (larger than Badger Creek) but nobody falls in - at least completely. Jeff, our official hole spotter (mainly because he's the loudest), only fell in about half way, probably because he was laughing too hard to hold on. At least we are exhibiting learning.
Since our paddling ability is embarrassingly poor, as compensation, we try to develop our musical talent:
What do we do with a drunken rower...and
Throw him in the bilge with the rocket boxes...
We all live on a yellow submarine, ...And today, we trust our lives mostly to Jack. Richie and Jack are piloting by committee, barely getting to forming a task force while Jeff up front alternately yells "Watch out for the Hole!" and "Just tell us what you want us to do!" and John C yelling, "Can I bail now captain?"
And our friends... are overboard,
Many more of them, still to go, ...
Today will be a short day because we're tired and it's late. We plan to stop at Silver Grotto but notice that somebody is already there and river etiquette dictates that we don't bother other people even to get water unless it's really necessary. We should have enough water to last until at least the next day. We also have a ceramic filter (called a Katadyne filter) capable of filtering out the giardia virus so we can always take river water, allow the silt to settle overnight, and filter the river water.
It's too late for a real on-shore lunch, so we just snack a bit for lunch while floating downstream. We'd better start making some better time, or our food and permit will run out before we get done.
The wind starts blowing the sand up the river against us. So the current is pushing us forward, the wind backwards. It feels like they are fighting it out and our paddling inputs are superfluous.
We arrive at camp, at milepost 30.5, just above South Canyon. The wind is still there, still blowing sand everywhere like a person directing movers where to put boxes... "Put it here, no, maybe there, well, how about..." Plastic sheeting doesn't seem to help much for some reason. Sand almost seems to go right thru the plastic. Maybe Planck's constant is very large in this area, and the uncertaintly principle is causing sand to spontaneously be inside everything.
We get to camp and eat dinner in the dark again around 6:30, resolving not to continue the pattern on subsequent days. I can't tell if it's zucchini until it's too late. Fortunately I got shots for that before I left for the trip.
The cooks also make a chocolate cake for Kathy, one of the guides, for today is her birthday. It must have been dark chocolate cake considering the time of day. She's from West Virginia and has a slight twang in her speech.
There's also a little stream with which we were able to replentish our water after filtering it thru the Catadyne filter.
The guides promise us that even if the river level goes down again in the night, we still won't have to carry the rafts over rocks and the sand bank is steep enough we should be able to just push the rafts back in.
Steve has a clever "miner's hat" with a big light on the front. However, when you wear it, you have to be careful not to look directly at whoever you're talking to or you blind the other person. It was great for washing dishes in big pans on the ground.
A second thing that works well is some people have one of those aluminum mini-flashlights with a shoelace to tie the light around their neck. The light lays on their chest pointing down but provides enough light spilling around you can walk and eat in some semblance of light. People pay a lot of money to go to restaurants and get to eat by less light than that.
The bugs are around but not too bad, but as dusk begins (about 7pm), the bats come out and the bugs magically vanish. The bats are great for that purpose and didn't bother us at all. They look like small birds, and fly like flies, zooming erratically. The wind starts to die down as darkness sets in.
The guides throw rocks up in the air, and you can see the bats change direction as they are tracking the rock, trying to figure out what this strange ballistic mosquito is.
Now to bed - continuing to throw caution to the wind, with no tent. Actually I don't really need a sleeping bag - a reasonably heavy cotton sheet is just about right. The sky is incredibly clear. I saw Cassiopia and Ursa Minor. Usually all I can see is the north star, but here I can see all the stars of the little dipper easily. Again saw a bunch of satellintes and a shooting star that left a shimering, sparkeley trail. Then all of a sudden it got cloudy and started to sprinkel, then rain, so I put up the tent for the rest of the night.
The canyon gets light very early, but the sun doesn't really rise and get warm until several hours later because of the high canyon walls. If clear, the sunrise line against the far canyon walls is quite distinct. Today, however, it's a bit cloudy and the light is diffuse. We need the sun to warm us as we dry out from experiencing the canyon from a VERY close perspective. The canyon at this point is roughly going south-southwest.
We get an early start today, as we need to make 21 miles to get back onto schedule. We'd prefer not to miss some side hikes to be able to be able to get out of the canyon on time. There are only 3 small rapids this morning. I'm really tired. Somebody said it gives a new perspective on the term "committment". The trip reminds me of what an outward bound is like.
I swap with Eric so I can try my hand at oaring today. I haven't tried oaring for probably 25 years or so but I had forgotten how confusing it is. I felt very uncoordinated, trying to figure out if this hand does that, what happens to the boat. To successfully oar in a rapid, this calculation must be automatic. If you have to think in a rapid, by the time you have figured it out, it's too late and you want the boat to do something else. It helps a bit to oar facing forward, but you get stronger strokes if you oar facing backwards.
I looked at the canyon map for what lay ahead. Only a couple more days until we hit rapids that say "Not recommended between 4000 and 10000 CFS" which is probably the flow level we are at. Rusty, ever the optimist, says the book doesn't matter in that area.
We next stopped at a small waterfall coming out of a hole in the rock, and some of us washed our hair and washed the mud off. The gushing out of the rock was quite cold, so I didn't bother, figuring we'd get dirty again pretty immediately.
We stopped for a quick lunch. There were no bonecrushing rapids for the rest of the day, so Rusty went on ahead in the kayak to reserve us a campsite. He wanted to stop at Nankoweep, just after the rapid, but he found that the choice spot had already been taken, so he paddled back up the rapid and found a spot about a mile above the rapid on the left.
It's a good thing we stopped here because the thunderstorms came in and the water really came down. We got our average rainfall for the week all in one dump. We saw a couple of boats pass, still on the river in the downpour. They'd be unloading in the rain. At least we managed to get a tarp up and were able to cook under it. I cooked the steaks for the dinner, and Karen and Dick kept mumbling about hygene. What hygene? I can't find any.
Actually, Rusty was quite concerned about hygene, insisted on washed hands, etc., which is good. It'd be a real problem if somebody had gotten really sick. I brought along an aircraft band walkie-talkie that we could use if things got really tough. I could have called an aircraft for assistance.
Cooking for a large crew is certainly interesting. It was by far the largest crowd I've ever cooked for. I sure understand now the problems chefs have in trying to make some steaks rare and some well done and have to keep track of them. Fortunately my customers were starving and so by and large didn't care how they came out.
The rain was more like a vertical river, so that we were able to catch a lot of it to replentish our drinking water.
Tonight was the earliest night so far, but it was still dark too early. Most people on the trip are late night sort of people, so being up from dawn to dusk caused them to change several timezones.
The rain tapered off and the sky began clearning toward night, but I put the tent up anyway, which was a good thing because it rained again just before midnight.
They had also tried to hitch onto another motor rig trip earlier, but they couldn't take any more people. About 20 years ago, I went on one of the monster motor rig trips, and we actually did pick up a hitchhiker, so it is possible to get a ride.
This morning there was gorgeous fog settling over the river. Another group who must have camped above us was already floating past us as we were getting ready. The scene looked eerie as the rafts materialized through the mist.
Around mid morning, we stopped at the intersection of the main Colorado river and the Little Colorado. And we thought the river was dirty before. The water coming from the Little Colorado was almost liquid mud. Our concept of cleanliness sunk to a new low.
We hiked up the north bank of the Little Colorado for a hundred yards or so. Across the river, there was a little shack made out of mud (can't imagine where they'd find mud around here) and rock. I guess the Indians eeked out an existance here at one time, and without subscriber trunk dialing, too!
Onward down the river. The water level was high at this time, so we could make quite good time. All we had to do was not get stuck in the eddies along the side of the river. Curiously enough, if you don't watch the current, you can get stuck in this circular water flow and it's difficult to get out. It's difficult enough that many of them have names like "Forever Eddie" and "Helicopter Eddie". So when Jeff our professional spotter wasn't spotting holes, he was spotting eddie's: "How come we're paddling like crazy and the oar boat drifted past us with nobody paddling?"
I tried my hand at piloting the paddleboat today - I got pretty intimidated by one of the rapids. Richie piloted some, and we only lost Dave out of the boat once.
I got the hang of some good sized rapids - as long as you hit them straight on, you're OK. The current is awefully strong. I really had to concentrate on reading the current of the river to stay in the current and not get caught in the eddies on the side. That's how you make the best time, in not fighting the river.
We also had along John C, arabian prince of the Colorado, named for his handkerchier stuck under his hat down the back of his neck. He is very sensitive to the sun, sporting a white zinc-oxide nose, and long sleeves and long pants. I don't know how he stood the heat during the warm part of the day or the soggie feeling as the day cooled off. His goal was to end up less tanned than when he started the trip.
We stopped at mile 76 for the night - the earliest stop yet. We did many miles today because we riding the bubble. We pull over below Nevill's Rapid.
Dinner was good - included fudge made in a dutch oven - a heavy pan and lid that you set down in the coals, and then put coals on top. The fudge came out very rare but good - was much like licking out a mixing bowl with a finger. I can vouch for the chewey-ness also because I stepped on a small piece. It had the stickeyness of industrial strength juicy fruit and had to be removed by a surgical team.
The diswashers (Karen, Dick, and myself) actually were the first team to be able to wash dishes in the light tonight. I was able to dry out the tent and other stuff that had been packed wet because of the rain.
As darkness approached, I heard our friendly bats again. If I listened closely, I could hear a sound like the high pitched tinkling of a bell, which was probably the sonar the bats use to track the insects. The flies were pretty bad here until the bats came out. The bats look like black butterflies.
Paul (pronounced Pah-ool), one of the guides, is an outward bound instructor. He talks about some of the adventures he's had. He's from the big city in San Jose, and drops in now and then to see his parents, but that's about it for large cities for him. He has led outward bound trips above the tree line in the mountains, with only lava rocks around and no toilet paper. It gives the term "roughing it" a whole new meaning.
As darkness fell, and I drifted off to sleep, I managed to see only one shooting star. I think I've seen more shooting stars on this trip than I have seen ever before this trip.
Actually since I haven't washed anything but hands and occasionally face, I haven't really needed to add much suntan lotion. I don't burn too easily, and the mud and silt add another layer of protection. I do keep a long sleeve white (well, it was white when we left) shirt on. In fact, it's the same shirt I wore when I went down the river in probably 1972. The river was quite clear and clean at that time, and we drank right out of the river without filtering the water.
We also will be hitting Phantom Ranch today - as thoughts from the real world invade the privacy of the Canyon. I wonder how the plane is doing. Nothing relaxing about this vacation. I get on one of the oar boats today - at least I can spend most of the day relaxing while one of the guides does the work.
Last night I just had a plastic ground cloth, pad, and cotton sheet with my sleeping bag for a blanket as the temp got cool in the middle of the night. In early evening, it was still quite warm from the heat stored in the rocks.
I'm still wearing the bathing suit that Meg hates - it's too small for her (she gets embarrassed easily) but it's so light it drys fast. And my long sleeve whith shirt I had the last time I went down the canyon. There's no such thing as "white" anymore after going thru the heaviest rapids in Granite Gorge.
For those of you who wish to truely experience the refreshing sensation of the rapids, I am including a recipe for duplicating the feel of the Colorado River:
We eventually got to Phantom Ranch right around lunchtime. Unfortunately, lots of other boat trips had also arrived for lunch. But there was plenty of room for everybody and we got to see what sort of food other people had and they got to look at what we had. Also, a 1/2 mile walk away was the beginnings of Phantom Ranch - a place where people can walk or mule down from the rim and stay in a nice lodge. I walked up just to the flush toilets (it's amazing how you can get excited over the most mundane things after some deprivation) and the phone. There was quite a line at the phone. There was fierce determination in the eyes of the people in the line I hadn't seen since the gas lines of the 70's.
We all had important business to take care of. I called my airplane mechanic and found that the work needed was not serious, just an oil return line from the valve cover was sawed thru by a baffle hold down retainer. Another of our group called and found that his girlfriend had moved all of his stuff out of their apartment. Talk about stress, he almost decided to walk out. Might be better not to call out. I could hear a real nightmare like maybe an evangelist is leading the presidencial poles or something.
Dick and Karen of our party did decide to walk out. They were really having trouble keeping warm. We continued carrying most of their stuff the rest of the way because they couldn't carry it out.
Next to the phone was a single water faucet. The faucet didn't leave any doubt as to whether somebody was a rafter or a hiker. Hikers would daintily take out a handkerchief, wet it, and dab their forehead. Rafters would squat under the hose and drench their whole body and clothes. It was sort of like comparing a shovel and a thermonuclear device for digging a hole.
Today marks the first day I actually washed my face (without help from the rapids) since the start of the river trip.
We filled up our water jugs and carried them back to the boats. There are some big rapids up ahead so we strap stuff down well.
I got onto Paul's boat since Dick and Karen left from his boat. He's also into wondering what life's about. Talking with Paul, I contemplated the guide's lifestyle - whitewater kayaking and squirt kayaking all summer, and skiing all winter - quite different from mine. I play it a lot safer, a lot closer to the norm of society, yet around most of the people I'm with, I'm more of a rebel. Hanging around with these folks really reminds me where I am in the spectrum of humanity. I have a good sized jealous streak for their lifestyle. I'm more of a closet adventurer - a wimpy, yuppie, non-grueling, adventurer.
We stopped to scout out the rapids - Horn Creek, Granite, and Hermit, all look pretty nasty with waves a good 10 feet high.
We decided to make Hermit a picture stop because there was an easy walk alongside the rapid. Rusty took the kayak thru and was dwarfed by the waves.
We ran the boats thru and took on a lot of water, but no upsets. Even the paddleboat ran OK. Tony oared one of the boats thru well, and I took a roll of film for him on his motor drive camera. Tony was still in extasy later this evening from his Hermit's rapid oarboat run.
The walls in this part often were right down to the river with no passage except down the river. They were black and hard, just like Powell had discovered years ago. It's incredible to see some of the stuff Powell got thru or portaged around. There's not many sand bars around for camping - there's barely any level spots on the sides.
Rapids can change quite a bit not only from water level, but also over the years - some get harder and some get easier. Crystal, ahead of us tomorrow, was once a minor ripple. One day in 1966 the canyon had a torrential downpour and the worst flash floods the canyon had seen in a long time. The flash flood in the side canyon, washed enough rocks into the main channel to turn the rapid into a killer overnight. It's so big in fact that there's only one that's bigger. The next day, some trips came upon the rapid and some people were killed when they didn't expect the monsterous size.
We stopped for the night on the left side at mile 96, just after Hermit and before Boucher. It's a bit cloudy this evening, and it looked threatening while on the river, but now looks better. There's not much sand, and it looks like a flash flood area. The tents are pretty close together like western wagons circled with the ant indians attacking. I put my sleeping bag about 10 feet (about 3 meters for you-all down under) from the anthill. The ants are coming out of the anthill in a different direction for about 15 feet. I'm hoping that whatever is over there interesting them will hold their interest at least for the next 12 hours or so.
I saw several airplanes and choppers - they really weren't a bother to me. People talk louder than the planes sounded. I guess people talking are more "natural".
The rocks up on the high walls look pretty precarious. They could really ruin somebody's day. I hear that one camp got rained on with boulders one time. Fortunately it was during the day and the people were all out hiking or something. The granite here is the color of coal - pitch black.
I was quite intimidated today, but after going thru today's rapids, I'm feeling less overwhelmed because we've passed thru so many large rapids. There are only 2 ahead larger - Crystal and Lava Falls. I guess I'm feeling more of a presence in the canyon. It's amazing what a few moments of terror will do. I guess I've become accustomed to terror in the sky so it's less of a big deal than thousands of gallons of water constantly pounding like terrorists armed with rotten tomatoes. It sure looks bigger when you're in the middle and the boat gets launched over the waves. It's all a matter of perspective.
It's amazing to contemplate what thoughts must have been going thru Powell's head (not to mention his accomplices) coming thru here. He had no idea if there were any impassible falls. He staked his life that there wasn't and we have a map.
I also got a lot of sun today, but I kept putting on the "liquid concrete" and I didn't burn.
John C found a warm stream that you could get clear water from but not very fast. By carefully skimming off a bucket of water once in a while, we were able to replentish our supplies (filtering the drinking water with the Katadyne ceramic pump filter).
Memorable exchange of the day:
Joe (in bare feet): "Do I need shoes to get to the sunshowers?"Tomorrow we'll be off the top of the bubble of water, so the water flow will be reduced. That'll be good to run thru Crystal because this rapid is easier with low water. Some rapids, however, get worse with low water.
Richie: "You need either shoes or caution but not both."
Joe: Shuffles off to get shoes...
It's ironic my life jacket is named "Crystal". So that everybody can find their own lifejacket, the river company wrote different names on each lifejacket. I hope the rapid doesn't claim it's named lifejacket back.
Rusty spoke of bad karma if you take artifacts. A couple off days ago, we saw a bunch of indian ruins and people had found tons of arrowheads and pottery chips. They put the artifacts all out on display right there for people to see rather than taking them home.
I found that I'd bruised my lower back yesterday when I got tossed back against the metal unit in one of the rapids.
I'll have to renew my face suntan concrete today, since I washed my face yesterday.
Today we really got the experience of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (actually the agony of defeat was first). I found that I was wearing the "Bessie" life vest instead of my standard "Crystal" life vest. One advantage was that if Crystal claimed it's named-vest, I wouldn't be in it.
We left camp, and Crystal was only a mile away. I could almost hear it laughing the night before. We got out on the right to scout the rapid.
There would have been a lot of room to portage if we had to on the right. And the right side of the river was pretty calm and shallow, but the calm part (we're talking relative here) was very narrow and there was this monsterous, boat-chewing maw that if you were so lucky as to successfully run down the right, you would be able to look over the side of the boat into a 5 foot hole, with a 5-10 foot wave. The hole was very small and deep, definitely not to be messed with.
The left side looked a bit easier, there was more room on the far side of the big hole, but there were some nasty looking waves. Also, on that side, the canyon walls went almost vertical into the water. There were a couple of waves that you could point straight down river and hit, but just beyond them, there was a wave at a 45 degree angle that was hard to see so naturally we didn't.
That wave turned out to be a real problem because after passing the first two, you had to pivot the boat to the left to hit the 45 degree wave with the maximum length of the boat perpendicular to the wave. Miss rotating the boat in a couple of seconds, and you risk disaster from the 45 degree wave. The river was rising, so if we had started earlier, we could have hit the rapid at a lower water flow. Of course, some of you arrogant, armchair adventurers might say that we could have hit it even better if we'd stayed home. But then we would have missed the terror...
Rusty decided to run the left side first because the right was so close to the huge hole. Hit that hole and the boat with our gear could have been flipped. We would have been in serious trouble then (not to mention the people on that run). He almost lost it at the 45 degree wave, but managed to get thru OK.
Then Kathy took the second oar boat thru with Tony aboard. Her boat almost flipped and in fact washed her overboard. She hung onto one of the oars. Tony saw her in trouble and just reached over, grabbed her life jacket, and yanked her in just before she would have been pinned between the raft and the canyon walls. That would not have been a good place to be. She was almost tossed in again, but Tony held her in.
Then, the paddle boat was to make its pass. I was back in the last oar boat waiting for the paddle boat so I didn't have a good view. I saw the the boat go down into the first dip and out of sight, then up over the first wave, and everybody was still aboard. Then down into the next dip, and up again, and everybody was still there. Then down again, and up the next time and nobody was aboard. The sideways wave flipped all 7 of the inhabitents overboard, 3 held on and rode the rest of the rapid. Two more rode the rest of the way by themselves but had a lot of trouble breathing and weren't sure if they were going to make it for awhile. The perspective from the surface of the river is so low, you really don't know what's going on when you're in the water. There is froth and spray everywhere mixed in with the air.
And Richie and Jack (they were in the back) got caught in an eddie on the far side of the river below the sideways wave. In fact, there were two eddies, Richie was stuck in the upstream one. The current actually circulates upstream sometimes along the side of the wall with a swift current running down the middle. They were unable to get out and kept getting slammed back into the wall rather than getting swept downstream and out. They finally were able to climb out of the river on a narrow ledge to regain their strength.
Paul also watched a couple of boats run the right side and were able to miss the gaping hole and decided that was the way to go. There was no room for error there. Go too far toward the shore, and the shore rocks would bounce you into the huge hole. I went thru with Paul, and it was a piece of cake. He's truely a master oarsman. We pulled out down below and joined the others trying to figure out what to do about Jack and Richie.
Richie decided to try to climb up and downstream past the rapid. Unfortunately, he'd lost a shoe and the rocks were burning his feet so he tied his hat on his foot, dousing it with water now and then. He could not see what was beyond, so he couldn't see there was no way to climb below the rapid. And one slip and he would have been knocked out against the rock wall. He climbed up several hundred feet, but we could see there was no out and waved him back down to where Jack was patiently waiting for us to figure out how to rescue him.
Rusty took the kayak, paddled halfway up the rapid, cut across, and told Jack to jump and grab the rope. Rusty towed him back to our side so that left Richie. Paul, Eric and I with some help from people from other groups, helped us drag an oar boat upstream. We then got in, paddled across the river to try to reach Richie. We got to within about 50 feet, and told him to jump. We tried to throw him a rope but it didn't go far enough for him to reach, so he ended up floating free thru the rapid just behind us to be picked up part way thru the rapid. Well, at least everybody was safe.
We congratulate each other that we made it thru, and proceed onwards. Everything else seems pretty tame. We stopped for a couple of side hikes to see waterfalls and to jump in to clear water for a change (to get muddy right away again back in the river). We do some rock climbing to get to the falls - made me think that this is what sand would look like if I were an ant. The rock climbing and jumping 10 feet or so into the pools was fun.
I stayed on Paul's boat and an exhausted John C comes aboard too. I think Paul's a great pilot, because he takes chances, but he does a lot of calculation before he does and he has enough experience that his calculations prove to be right.
The water seems much muddier now than before the large rapids. Also, white has become a relative term. There is nothing really white anymore.
The rest of the rapids for the day, and in fact the whole trip are much less than Crystal (except for Lava Falls), so we breathe easier now. We were planning tomorrow to be a lay-over and hike day, but since we did only about 20 miles today, so we have to do 13 tomorrow to our prime spot: Thunder River. We want to get there early and beat out any other potential campers.
At this point, we begin departing the granite gorge and just like Powell said, the rapids get easier as the rock gets softer. The granite goes underground - some polished smooth black as the sandstone replaces the granite as our jailers. The red sandstone is very stratified and undercut by the river, with beautiful red cliffs above. There's much more green growth in the sandstone than the granite. In his time, the flow was probably low because of the time of year he went thru the Canyon. The river is very high in the spring but he went thru this part of the Canyon in the summer.
The air seems very hazy ahead and toward the sun, and crystal clear behind. I don't think there's much moisture in the air, so I think it's an anomoly of the sun direction.
I discover a small hole in my bathing suit - Meg will be overjoyed at the possiblity of me throwing it away. Considering the size of the suit, a small hole could be most of the material of the suit.
I also smashed my finger when one of the waterjugs came up in one of the rapids. The 5 gallon plastic jugs are tied onto the metal units and I was hanging onto one of the metal unit pipes too close to the water jug. Oh well, what's another injury when we were able to laugh death in the face earlier. Later, in the dark, I kicked a rock and got a small cut on my toe. I'm a bit concerned about infection since we're so wet all day long on the river. I put Isodine on the cut and try to go barefoot as much as possible since my wet suit boots really hold water.
Kathy seems to have been bitten by a scorpion from the symptoms - sort of a bad bee sting, with a swolen leg. She's also banished from the paddle boat. The paddlers have a lot more fun when she's not on there because they know she knows what she's doing, and that removes much of the terror from the rapids. John C puts forth the assertion that a committee of non-experts will do better than any individual, but an expert will do better than a committee of non-experts. They enjoy being a committee of non-experts.
We're camping at Steve's Isle, at 120 miles or so. It's another perfectly clear night of stargazing. The north star is in the same place relative to the river, so with all the turning and twisting we went thru all day, we ended up in the same direction. My thoughts turned to the Greeks gazing up at the same sky seeing all sorts of animals and gods in the stars. They must have made them up with the aid of vast quantities of wine.
After the river splashes up on your skin from a rapid, the air is so dry that your skin dries in short order, and you're left with muddy silt. The mud drys on the hair so that when I bend my leg or whatever, the mud pulls the hair a bit like if I had let hot wax cool on my skin.
The main stream is too cold, the sun is too hot, but the side streams are just right.
There were a lot of sand fleas at this campsite. All of the campsites are quite clean, however. It looks like people are really doing a good job following the park rules. We've really found very little in the way of trash and ashes. The park service's rules really seem to work. The litter that is there may have been washed out from the side streams on flash floods.
The outside world seems quite distant, but I'm curious what's happening. Will the Reagan presidency turn out to be just a bad dream, or will the nightmare be continuing when I get back?
It's a short day on the river, and the trip is half over today. We plan to stop at Thunder River and hike the rest of the day.
I also think about the people that actually go down this river during the winter. We saw some slides at the start showing ice forming at the sides of the river. I'd imagine full wetsuits if not drysuits would be necessary for some of the river. It'd sure take more planning than we did for this summer trip.
Today was the dirtiest and cleanest. I was able to wash off in the clear side streams, then back into the river to get brown. The shirt stayed brown. I couldn't wash it out clean again.
Just before House Rock rapid was one of the scouting stops. That rapid was named for a huge rock in the middle of the river that's as large as a house. There is some driftwood stuck at the top of the rock that has been there for decades, marking how high the river had gotten before being tamed by the dam.
Now, the river was fairly low and there was silt all along the shore. I climbed off the raft and immediately sunk up to my calves in silt. In attempting to lift one leg out of the silt, my other one sunk up to my knee. It was like trying to walk on a hillside of axle grease. When Richie pulled his foot/sandle out of the mud, it looked like one of those clown shoes with the huge toes.
We finally crawled to the rapid, the lower part of everybody looking like we had made it to the finals in mudwrestling. The mud really dries out my skin. Fortunately I am an ample producer of skin oil so I didn't have a problem with that.
The book said stay to the right of House Rock, so naturally we watched helplessly as the paddleboat folks paddled for all they were worth, and got sucked around the left side of the rock. As it turned out, the left side wasn't that bad, especially after Crystal, and they survived to torment other rapids (or visa-versa).
Today, we saw 4 longhorn sheep, several blue herons, and a bunch of snow egrets and sandpipers. The snow egrets accompanied us for several miles.
We stopped for the night at Tapeats canyon (mile 134 or so). The campsite on the right where the hike starts, is already taken by hikers because there are trails up to the rim from there. We set up camp on the left, just below the small rapid, but leave the paddle boat aways up stream, so we can cross the river and hike the next day (our day off the river).
The granite popped up again for a couple of miles, then went back under again also as noted by Powell.
I forgot my thongs, so I use my tennis shoes for most of the hiking, and just remove them for crossing the river at times. The rock on the trail is sharp enough that it would be a real pain to hike in bare feet.
Campers are already there, probably hiked in from the rim preventing us from camping on the convenient side of the river.
We hiked in about 5 miles, and cross Tapeats canyon river 3 times - sometimes the vegetation is like a rain forest next to the river, and barren desert a stone's throw away. The views are spectacular. We followed Thunder River up to where it comes right out of the rock. At each opportunity, I'd dunk my long sleeve white (well now brown) shirt in the water to cool off.
After some pretty hairy climbing and leaping across crevasses with a 200 foot drop below, and using a rope up a steep wall, we get to the mouth of the cave. The guides and Eric go in. Rusty slipped and gashed his head. I went in about 6 feet because to go further, you have to cross a crevace where if you slip, you go zooming out to the 200 foot waterfall, then Tony would have paperwork to fill out and you know how he HATES paperwork. I opt to stay behind.
The mouth of the cave had a constantly wind blowing cool air out of the cave - like standing in front of an air conditioner. Very refreshing because the sun is merciless.
Lunch is cheese and left over chicken quite good when we're famished.
The trail up to the rim is another 7 miles from this point, but we decide not to hike all the way out. The 5 miles to this point is already pretty strenuous.
I lost my hat at Thunder River (sounds like a T-shirt, doesn't it?). The hat evidently blew to a ledge when I put it down to do the climb up to the cave mouth.
During the hike, we met some people (lots actually) on the hike that had their faces all painted up. On of the people on their trip was a face painter from New York. The paints were quite a gay contrast to the subdued colors of nature.
I got one of my shoes wet, and I didn't want to put them in my backpack, so I asked somebody else to bring them back across when we went back to camp. He evidently didn't hear me, so my shoes became part of the litter of the canyon. Somebody is able to loan me a pair of extra shoes so I don't have to finish the trip with just wet suit boots and flip flops because we have some more hikes up ahead.
On the other hand, we did find a drag-bag with a 6-pack of beer and a left foot thong in the garbage, so we did our part to clean things up.
Upon our return to our camp, we find out that the lettuce and potato bag got left out in the sun and was cooked. The waterproof black bags were painted silver, but they still got very hot, so we've no more lettuce and potatoes for the trip.
A motor rig passed us by followed by an inflatable whale bobbing in the water.
So here we are, eating in the dark again. The worst part of it is that I'm on cleanup tonight and it's always a pain to clean up in the dark. On the other hand, we had chocolate cookies for hors d'oeuvres.
There were dark and forboding clouds here and there today, a couple of sprinkles, and then completely clear again for another night of star watching.
Another group pulled up across the way, but the camp over there was already taken so they had to push on. Hope they found something. It could be real interesting to run rapids in the dark.
We plan an early start tomorrow because we have 4 more days of serious traveling. We have to get to Diamond Creek at 9am on Saturday, so we need to camp near there.
The boats are all out of the water now - I'm not sure what part of the bubble we'll be on, but the bubble should be low because it's a weekend. We may really need to push tomorrow to make our miles because the river will be flowing less with a low bubble.
We met the face-painted group again, floating alongside. I had thought them to be a bit strange, and my judgement was vindicated, because they were having their morning poem by Mather. Can you imagine? After being on the river as long as we had as grubby as we were, it felt like a vacuum cleaner salesman getting his foot in the door of the cave containing Atillah the Hun. So when they were done, we retaliated with with a few verses of our now-famous "Give me some of that old-time religion" we would sing just before going over a particularly nasty set of rapids. They had also found my shoes at the Thunder River side hike and had brought them along, so I got my shoes back.
Shortly below camp, we stop at Deer Creek, a fairly high waterfall easily visible from the river. In what must have been a latent desire to waste time, we stopped and washed lot of mud off the boats, soon to be replaced by new mud. The waterfall was quite spectacular and the water is clear (as are all the side streams) so we are constantly reminded at how muddy the main river is. And there was a guy there who decided to go swimming and had obviously forgotten his bathing suit and didn't want to get his clothes wet.
Then on to Kanab Creek where we did a quick look around. There was a couple of frayed ropes there to allow people to climb up above the splashway of water (dry at this point). The guides and I were the only people to make it up the rope for a look around. They jumped into the pool (about 20 foot drop) but I opted to climb back down so as not to damage my glasses from the water pressure. Then onward to Olo Canyon at mile 143 where the side hike was up a very narrow and windey crevasse with a small stream at the bottom. To get up some of the steps, I had to use what rock climbers call "chimney move" - you wedge youself across the opening, feet on one side, and push with your back against the other side, and sort of climb up using the friction against the wall to keep from falling.
After lunch, we proceeded to Upset Rapid - we scout and there's a huge hole that would be quite dangerous to fall into. Paul pilots the paddleboat very expertly - we sneak past the hole. He knows the dynamics so well, that we don't need to paddle.
Rusty takes an oar boat down the left side for a wilder ride. Both Rusty and Paul take all the boats thru because we don't trust "piloting by committee" in dangerous rapids.
We stop at mile 151.5 at rock ledges. There is very little sand here, the least of any campsite on the trip. The river is about the narrowest we've seen and may be the narrowest on the river. We could throw a stone across the river at this point.
We also want to be on the river by 7am so we can spend a half day hiking at Havasu Canyon. The earliest we've been able to manage so far is 8:30 when we get up around 5:30 or so. This will be one of our toughest tasks so far. We could have traveled farther, but we'd risk the camps just above Havasu being full and having to move on and miss the hike. The other camps are small anyway, and there's no camping at Havasu. It's supposed to be the most gorgeous side hike. We made lunch tonight so we could get out early the next morning.
We hear about 2 or 3 airplanes per day (most we can barely hear if we strain), and jets at much higher altitude are just as noisey. I keep wondering where are all these small planes distroying the serenity of the canyon. If there is this little noise, raising the altitude to 12000 feet in places (as is proposed) really won't change anything except maybe to discourage people from flying here at all. The motor rigs and rapids are much more noisey unless you are perhaps on a side hike way up the canyon, much higher than the river.
There are two more severe rapids - Lava Falls on Thursday morning, and we'll probably hit it on the bubble. The high water will probably make the rapid worse. Fear starts to creep in to the trip... Lava Falls is supposed to be the fastest whitewater in the world, or at least North America - just under 30mph.
Rusty and Paul, ever the adventurous (foolhardy by some standards), drag the kayak up to a ledge overhanging the river by about 15 feet. They take turns, one gets in, the other shoves him off the ledge into the river. Ideally the kayak plunges nose first halfway into the river, then squirts back out and ends up flat upright.
After dark, we experimented with the echoes off the canyon walls - the delay was about 1/3rd of a second or so. There were a lot of ring tail cats here, but I didn't see any. Jack actually camped under one of their holes, and in the middle of the night, they jumped out of their hole onto Jack's chest as he slept. He decided to move.
It looks like low water this morning, so maybe Lava (tomorrow) might not be so bad (or good as the case may be).
The Havasu falls hike today has another spot called Mooney falls, that I'd like to get to in honor of my plane, but they're 5 1/2 miles so that's a bit far to hike. The Havasu falls is about 3 miles from the river.
We scoot over a couple of rapids, then arrive at Havasu Canyon on the left just above some more rapids. The pulloff is tough to catch, because you can get sucked down the minor rapids there. In fact, while rearranging the boats to securely tie them off for our hike, we almost lost one of the boats down the rapids. There isn't much room there and it's a very popular spot, so we try to tie off the boats out of the way to be considerate for other people who will come later. We are the first people at the spot today.
We hiked about 3 1/2 miles to Havasu falls and Beaver Creek falls. There were many fords (not to mention Toyotas) to get to our destination. There was even a natural tunnel thru the sandstone for the trail.
Havasu Falls contains beautiful clear water cascading over wide, small, falls, similar to an overgrown backyard garden stream. We could walk on the rim of the falls, and the water was only 4 feet deep or so, but there were deeper sections.
You can also get to these trails from the rim, so there were quite a few hikers around, and some with kids and inner tubes out for the day so it must not be very far. The place isn't called "Hava-zoo" for nothing. It got quite crowded.
Across from a good-size pond, you could climb up a steep cliff (with barely enough rock protruding out to form handholds), then jump into the pond from a height of 20 to 30 feet, depending on how bold you felt. I jumped a couple of times, then found out that my watch was gone, so I must have lost it on one of the jumps as the water tore it off my arm so I guess the band wasn't all that secure.
A few of us hiked up to some more falls called Beaver Creek which feeds Havasu Falls. There is a "green room" under these falls. If you dive down under and through the falls, there's a 3-person cave there in which you can look thru the falls. I had left my glasses behind with somebody figuring they wouldn't help under water, so I had to pick my way up the path to Beaver creek. I jumped in at the falls, missed the cave entrance, and got pounded and spit out from the falls against the far bank. There were some pretty sharp rocks there and I scraped the side my right foot and my lower back (near my bruise from before) pretty badly and we had no first aid on the hike.
I also was concerned about having to hike back to the boat with my shoes rubbing my cuts, so I decided to hike back barefoot to keep the cut dry, 3 1/2 miles back to the boats, in spite of the rough terrain and hot rocks. I put Isodine on the cuts when I got back to the boats.
Actually the number of people on the path was probably good, because it scared all the snakes and scorpions from the foot path and into at least the next zip code.
We all arrived back at the boats around 3:30 or so, to make another 10 miles today. Here we go camping in the dark again but at least it's my night off cooking and cleaning crew. The camp was a gorgeous spot on the right called Fern Glen, about mile 168, with each campsite able to be in its own private area in the growth - just like a commercial camp.
Tomorrow we undergo Lava Falls, so I make sure my wetsuit is dry in case I wear it at the falls.
There were lots of airplanes overhead today, mostly twins, so they were probably tours, not transients like myself. I asked a few people about how objectionable the planes were and they'd say "Oh yes, they are terrible". I started explaining that they are tours and they're allowed to fly lower than the transient pilots, but transients are a convenient scape goat on which to blame problems. Prohibiting transients like the current political mood wants, won't do anything for the noise that bothers people, but I could tell, that these people were not the sort to let facts get in the way.
Scapegoats are great: you can hate them and not feel guilty. They're also great for the politicians because it's a convenient way to avoid real issues and avoid making difficult decisions.
Before we left, Rusty and Paul explained the Lava Falls ritual we had to do to petition the river gods for safe passage:
We float on down to the anvil, about 10 miles down the river, eagerly searching for our piece of lucky trash. I found one for our boat - a piece of cardboard bashed in one of the previous rapids. We bounced against the anvil and just manage to kiss it because at that point, the river is moving at a pretty good clip but is very calm.
We pull off to the right at Lava Falls and tie up. There are numerous tours on both sides of the river, each tour waiting for somebody else to go first. There were even some kayaks.
Lava Falls is by far the biggest, baddest, worst, pile of foaming froth we've seen on the entire river. We've seen some big holes before, but nothing like the number and size here. There's no way to sneak this one. The start of the left side has 2 monster size holes, either of which could swallow our 18 foot boat and possibly flip it, but after that, not too much.
The right side has lots more holes but not quite as big as the other side. At the bottom of the right side is "death rock" - a rough lava rock that sticks out from the shore and deflects the water to the left, not a good thing to hit, in or out of the raft.
For this one, I decide that it would be a good idea to remove the emergency radio from the raft before riding the rapids in case anything happened, we'd still have the radio.
We watched several kayaks go thru. One flipped upside down, and he was able to flip rightside up again in the middle of the rapid. Another kayak flipped upside down, and couldn't get upright again. He rode the rest of the rapid upside down, then got out toward the end. He would have had a real problem if he had gotten stuck in one of the holes or had been on the right and had hit death rock.
We also watched a raft, about the same size as ours, go down the left side, hit one of the holes, and stop dead in the water for a few seconds, trying to decide whether to continue down or just stay there. I'm glad we're on the right.
I make a mental note to hang onto the raft for dear life. This is one rapid in which you don't want to ride without a raft. On the other hand, the raft can flip in which case you wouldn't want to be trapped underneath, but we'd still have a better chance with one hand permanently gripping the boat.
Rusty took the kayak thru the right side and had an excellent run. Then Paul took the first oar boat thru with Dave and myself aboard. The last command I heard was "Hang on!". Not that we really had to be reminded. Not that we would have done anything else if there had been another command. In 20 seconds or so it was all over. In looking at the pictures later, the run is much more impressive from the shore. When you're in the middle of the run, it's tough to get a good perspective because it happens so fast.
I walked back up to the middle of the falls with my camera to take pictures of the other rafts. I sat on a rock that jutted out into the rapids. I didn't think until much later that if I'd fallen off the rock, I would have been in serious trouble, and would have headed straight for death rock.
Rusty's first oar boat run was a bit trickey, turns out the water washed him completely out of the seat. He was able to scurry back into the seat and continue piloting.
Paul's paddle boat run was done very well. At one point he yelled "Duck!" and everybody held on. The paddleboat completely submirged and filled up with water, but everybody stayed in and made it thru OK. Paul later said that there was a huge difference between a 16 and 18 foot boat in a rapid of this size. The bigger the better, and make sure you keep it straight. Also, weight in the front is a good idea to help pull the boat over the holes.
We had a short celebration and thanked the river gods for safe passage, and we pushed on to Whitmore Wash, about mile 188 for lunch about 4pm (we had munchies floating down the river at lunch time). The canyon was quite open at this point with lots of helicopters around. For folks that can afford it and are in a hurry, they can be helicoptered out to a small strip, then charter to Las Vegas. The aviation around here was pretty noisey. If people are worried about noise, they should come here and hear.
At this point, we're past all the dangerous rapids, so all we have to do is drift to Diamond Creek to be picked up on Saturday.
Continuing down the river, we passed water bubbling out of the rock near the level of the stream, so we stopped and filled up our water containers for dinner.
We paddle onwards to camp. We are in the shade, but the sun is still lighting the clouds a brilliant orange. The bats are out playing tag for keeps with the flies. I try to focus on the orange clouds and watch the light dim, but my mind constantly lurches off like a '57 chevy 6-banger running on 5 cylinders. Everytime my mind comes back, the clouds are noticeably dimmer. My focus isn't very good. The colors continue to be more subdued until they become incarcerated and night has sprung forth.
We can hear the locust calls laughing can cackeling at us, echoing off the canyon walls. The camp is near a riffle (before the trip, we would have called it a rapid), to accompany us to sleep.
It got cloudy, then clear, and cloudy again, several times during the night - maybe mother nature is getting senile in her old age. I kept waking up during the night - must have been the cup of "nuclear waste" drink I sampled last the night for the post-Lava Falls continuing celebration.
We travel an amazing 34 miles today - the biggest help for the paddleboat was tieing all the boats together and floating while eating lunch rather than stopping for lunch.
I did a bit of oaring for awhile and took one oar boat thru some small rapids. It's obvious that to be a successful oarboat pilot, you really need to be coordinated about pushing which oar which way to cause the boat to go which way. It takes quite a bit of time (I never really achieved coordination).
The force of water also ripped the oar out of my hand several times and the oar locks also came loose. The oars are not permanently attached to the boat so that the oar system won't break if the boat crashes into the side of the canyon in a rapid.
I'm reading the river much better today, but it still takes constant attention at the water, whereas for the guides, it appears to be sort of automagic. They don't look like they're paying much attention.
Eddies are hard to keep out of because the current channel is often quite narrow. If you stray out of the narrow channel where the water is moving, half the boat will be in the current, and the other half will be in the eddie, and the boat will spin around and perhaps the eddie will win and the boat will be pulled up river.
The narrower rivers are easier to navigate because there aren't so many eddie lines to be reading constantly. Wherever I am, it looks like the river is moving faster someplace else.
We're also getting low on water. We keep a sharp lookout for the spring marked on the map but we can't find it. We're only 3 miles from the pullout point - Diamond Creek.
We will have to stop before the pullout and not be sucked down the river by the rapid right there or it's another couple of days on no food. We're also a couple of miles above Diamond Peak - reminds me a lot of the Matterhorn mountain circled by stars shown during Paramount Pictures movies.
We stop at 223, just 3 miles from the pullout. Across the river, the canyon wall forms a giant sleeping dog.
The clouds looked ominous but they mostly blew away. I watched the late clouds party and dance in the sky dressed in gray tuxedoes with bright orange trim. I watched until they danced off the trim and headed for home, to be replaced by a backdrop of glitter.
Tonight is our last night on the river, blissfully away from the "real" world. There were some beautiful spots on the river, but too little time to really enjoy them. It seemed we were always pushing ahead, racing to keep ahead of darkness.
I watch the peaks as they try stare me down, but they've got several hundred million years head start on me but I still try. I wonder what they've seen, or what I'd see if I were able to compress the years down into a comprehensible size. Do they know more than I or do I just have more questions. They seem content - they don't need to vacation to be here.
The locusts suddenly stopped and I can feel the blazing silence.
Rocks seem strewn around from the mountains like the cast off toys of a spoiled child.
The wind is still hot as the rocks cash out their earned heat from the day. Seems strange to see desert plants and climate this close to permanent water. The river break-down lane is green, the rest is desert.
Mobility has it's advangates. Animals seem to work more for a living. Plants seem more content to just be. Maybe the song of the desert is finally overcoming the stress of life in the real world.
Tomorrow will be busy - repack, check out the airplane, and figure out a destination.
There's the first star of the evening, dubious about whether he heard his cue properly as he ducks back behind a cloud. It's the bats first, then the stars.
Eric found a scorpion this morning, about 3/4 inches long, but it knew how to hold up its tail into attack position already.
We get on the river pretty early, and mosey on down to the Diamond Creek pullout. We arrive first, at 9:15am before rush hour, and initiate the old ritual of the death of the rafts: unpacking, disassembling, and deflating. The scenery is still great down here - we get our last close up look at the cliffs and red sandstone erosion of the canyon.
We scrounge thru the food remains, there are a couple bags of Oreos. The truck doors are wide open, the radio assaulting our ears with the first sonic debris of civilization. It feels like College at the end of summer - everybody arriving in the same place at the same time with tons of junk.
We pack up everything, and pile into the van, and drive out over what I can be sued for misrepresentation for calling a road. The dry river bed crossed back and forth over the road like a drunken driver careening up the canyon. I lost count of the number of times we hit the axle on a rock. Every few miles there was a bulldozer parked to reopen the car path when there's a flash flood down the canyon. In fact, the flash floods have been so bad, vehicles picking up rafting parties have been swept right out into the river and down the rapids. The owners want to spend as little time there as possible. I could feel their tension until they got beyond a danger point only they could see.
We arrived at the dump for offloading all the trash and "processed food".
We proceed to the garage of the outfitters of our trip called "Pro" in Flagstaff. That's where our suitcases have been sitting while we were on the river. I explode my stuff from the black waterproof bags into garbage bags to be repacked later. I got a ride past the airport where I dumped off everything I didn't need for the night and ate dinner with the guides at a Mexican restaurant.
Across the street in a shopping mall parking lot, there was a band playing for some benefit. There were a gaggle of fantastically restored cars, a '57 T-bird, etc.
Toni drove Eric and myself around to find a motel, not a short task because the local college was having some alumni shindig so many were full. After awhile, we were ready to take almost anything. We finally found a place with a room, where the pillows and towels were as small as the price, and the hot and cold shower faucets were marked backwards, but it was a shower, the first in almost two weeks. Even without my glasses on, I could see the brown from the river making a mad dash for the drain. We may have stolen some silt from the canyon, but at least we returned it to the same state in which we took it.
Washing my hair felt great - it actually would like down flat. On the trip, some of it liked to stand straight up. Maybe that's how Einstein got his hair looking like that. And some people actually pay good money for it!
Sleeping outside without socks or anything may have improved my circulation because my feet seemed to stay warmer at night.
The guides are great people - living far closer to the financial edge that I could be comfortable with. They were all pretty much broke, so we donated all our leftover food, soda, and beer. They were about to make a mad dash across the country to West Virginia to a river that's particularly wild once per year when they open the dam flood gates. They seem to have a way with being in the present without worrying about the future. Wish I could. Paul and Rusty were pretty easy-going, just looking as far ahead as the next rapid or beer.
Back at the hotel, the sunset was stupendous, as though saying good-bye to us. The pink of the sun lit up the underneath of the dark clouds so that they were trimmed in orange-pink. Tomorrow we shoot for an early wakeup, and McDonald's is right next door for breakfast, then a fast break to the Airport and the beginning of the trip home. I'm hoping to make St Louis tomorrow.
The motel door bends like cardboard when you open it, and the bathroom sprays a circular pattern around the faucet instead of down. Clouds are toward the southeast, with the canyon to the northwest clear.
At the airport, I paid for the plane (about $250) for the oil change and the replacement of the oil return line. We depart up toward Peach Springs to overfly the Canyon. The new canyon rules have not gone into effect yet so I'm still able to fly as low as 9500 feet eastbound. That's pretty high, but we still get good views of the Canyon. If we were going westbound, we'd have to be at 10,500 feet.
This time we are able to identify many of the sights we had just floated past. The only rapid we could identify was Lava Falls. We could identify Havasu canyon, Thunder river, and Phantom Ranch easily. Beyond that, we couldn't identify much. It was quite interesting to have both the bird's eye view and the worm's eye view this time. The last time I had overflown the canyon, last year, the various points really didn't mean too much to me.
After the Canyon, we just wanted to scream back as fast as we could to get back to work. We didn't make it to St Louis due to darkness setting in, so we stopped in Topeka, Kansas for the night. The prevailing wind allowed us to return to Boston in 2 days over the more distance than the trip out that took us 3 days.
We made it back home (stopping in Findlay, OH) without anything in particular interesting happening, older and wiser from the adventure. I started shaving again, and Richie is still crazy, as is Toni, who put his name back on the list to go down the Canyon. He received a waitlist number larger than 3400 which converts to about a 15 year wait.