This is part journal, part trip log, of a 16 day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. I was on this trip as the "assistant" on a commercial trip -- a flunky to help the guides and the cook. The company was Canyon Explorations (CanX) -- one of the best commercial outfitters on the River.
I arrived in Flagstaff on 9-2, in the afternoon, lost -- supposed to be at a friends place, but the directions didn't work. I cruised the streets of downtown Flagstaff with no idea where to go, until I saw signs for the Lowell observatory, and realized I would like to have a simple star chart along. So I drove up the hill, just for fun. The sky was cool cloudy rainy, and when I opened the car door I smelled damp pine needles. I got a chart, and phoned for directions.
Next morning headed for the CanX warehouse, stopping at Macy's Coffee Shop on the way, where Laurie (one of the owners of Can-X) and I got a cup of coffee. We briefly encountered Blake, who was to be the cook on the river. Blake is a very small woman who smiled frequently, and spoke with a low, calm, and curiously uninflected voice. She would be over at the warehouse soon, she said. We left her to finish breakfast, and took our coffee to the warehouse.
We drove by Rob, the trip leader, who was forcing a mountain bike over the rocks and mud of the rough road to the warehouse. The rest of the crew trickled in over the next hour -- Chris, Trish, Jeri, Blake, and Pete. They were all strangers except for Rob, who I knew from a previous trip.
But I knew of Jeri (on the right) -- she was paddle captain. She was also president of Grand Canyon River Guides, a private pilot, and heavily involved in Canyon conservation and political issues. The National Park Service had just recently issued rules requiring drug tests for river guides, and Jeri had filed suit to fight it.
These rules by the NPS angered many guides; the companies that hired them were cast the unfortunate role of enforcers. A top-notch, popular, well-respected guide had recently left the business entirely, and others were considering it. As the morning wore on it slowly dawned on me that, in a vague steam of labor unrest, I occupied the ambiguous role of a new worker who was a friend of the managers.
An ignorant worker to boot -- I didn't know much about what had to be done to prepare for a trip, so I packed sleeping bags -- it kept me out of the way. Occasionally I thought I heard low comments that referenced me, but I couldn't be sure. Probably just lonely paranoia -- everybody knows everybody, but me. More offhand comments about how overloaded we were made me worry, and, in a spur of the moment decision I later much regretted, I decided to leave my running shoes in my car. I even thought of leaving my guitar behind, but I couldn't do that.
The "0324" is 3:24 AM. "9-4" is the date. The rest of the heading is the River Milage, latitude and longitude, and description. [I carried a handheld GPS receiver on the trip.]
Last night I got to know the crew a bit more -- sitting on the dock under a diamond studded sky we told jokes -- all forms of jokes, from the ultimate in sly and dry to the raunchiest of the crude. Pete, Rob, Trish, Jeri, Chris -- only Blake was missing -- she was recovering from a cold, and wanted to get one more nights sleep. She would arrive with the paying passengers in the morning.
Earlier in the afternoon and evening we rigged the rafts -- it was fun, and I managed to help. However, I felt intensely guilty about all the stuff I brought. There would be three guitars on the trip. Did I really need mine? Yes, yes, yes! It's a peace of mind thing, I guess...I am not much of an entertainer, but two weeks without playing would drive me nuts.
Beer and cold Thai food, in the dark. But it was tasty, and I was mildly drunk -- someone brought some super homebrew. That's when the jokes started... on my back, looking at glittering stars, chuckling quietly but uncontrollably, occasionally wiping tears from my eyes. Trish is from England, and, with a wildly exaggerated accent, told an offbeat dirty joke about Her Majesty.... "Is it bigger than a breadbox..." became a trigger phrase that would send people into gales of laughter all trip long.
...I've been awake for a while. A dog is running up and down the river's edge, making loud splashy dashes in the water. Why why why why is this crazy dog keeping me awake? I heard a loud "PLUNK!", like someone dropping a small watermelon from shoulder height into deep water. I froze. What the hell was that? It sounded big, out here in the dark and the open. After a few worried moments the explanation occured to me -- somewhere in passing yesterday I had heard a remark about beavers eating mooring ropes to get the sweat salt from them. So I got up and looked. Indeed, it was a beaver -- I saw him and his V wake in the light of my flashlight.
I must try to go to sleep...I should be grateful to the dog for keeping the beaver from our ropes, I suppose....
Awake once again. Damn. I've been awake for an hour or more. Boatmen from a couple of outfitters (GC Expeditions and Western River Expeditions) are setting up. A young fellow came up and asked if we had any coffee. Wish I had some myself, but I don't know if it was common practice to make any; and even if it was, Pete, Rob, Jeri, and Trish had moved their rafts up river a couple hundred yards to avoid the early morning clatter, and they aren't back yet.
A guy drove up in with a clean, shiny, but well used 4WD pickup, with a clean, boxy, aluminum boat on a trailer. The boat had a small cabin, and an inboard motor. A macho man, with a macho dog, and a macho boat. But elegant, clean, refined macho. The kind of macho that shaves every morning, keeps its equipment polished, and uses rugged cologne. The dog looked like a purebred Lab, all shiny black coat and slobber.
Quickly and efficiently he launched the boat. The motor started with the first touch of the starter. In minutes the boat was tied off, the truck was parked, and the obedient dog was aboard.
The motor was big, with a full throated, deep, well-muffled idle you could feel as it chugged slowly upriver -- like a miniature tugboat.
Chris came walking down from a bushy area with his sleeping bag -- apparently he slept up among some trees. I had just crashed with the big pile of equipment waiting to be loaded, comfortable on the stack of sleeping pads. It was very warm all night long -- I never used a sleeping bag.
The GC expeditions rafts started their motors and moved up towards the dock. Fairly quiet outboards -- small motors pushing large rafts. Two hundred yards up river, the little tug revved its engine and rumbled out of sight around the bend, kicking up a huge, macho wake.
The sun roared into full view. Everything is hot and bright. No possibility of sleep.
A ranger or game warden whisked up, and put his boat in the water -- a Johnson 160 outboard on the rear that spews blue smoke...it followed the other boat up the river...
...another truck, dusty and worn, two men in old clothes sitting in the back -- dark, weatherbeaten skin -- dusty black hair, shiny black eyes; Indians, perhaps Navajo. In the cab the driver and the passenger maneuver an old, dented boat to the ramp. A murmer of low conversation and quiet laughter, as they loaded their well-used fishing equipment...
This place must be crowded on a weekend.
A busy busy busy day. I said goodbye to Christina at maybe 1015 (after waiting 10 minutes for Blake to relinquish her grip on the phone), got on Chris's boat at the last possible minute, and started down the river, leaving behind a blur of hurried introductions of the paying passengers [seemed to be a contingent from England -- Trish drawled "bigger than a breadbox" over her shoulder, giggles all around the guides], last minute packing, and other flurries. Cold green moving water all around the boat.
Blake was on Chris's raft, too -- apparently they were famous old good friends. She was brimming with stories of her new love Todd, her commitment to the relationship, and the magic that had recently entered her life. I thought Chris was a little disappointed to hear about Todd, but he handled it well...
She asked Chris if she could row. She's tiny, like a child at the oars. But she handles the 18 foot, heavily laden raft just fine.
We drifted through the section in the Supai where, more than usual, unexpected cross currents pop up in otherwise flat water. It must be deep there...the water is a mysterious heavy dark dark green. But the surface really isn't flat -- it is in constant motion, with tiny boils, dimples, and odd tangled lines that sometimes persist for minutes, and extend for many feet. The surface of a living river...
...One time I asked a friend of mine from Louisiana if he had ever gone boating on the Mississippi, and he said no -- he had lived right near the river, but he was afraid of it -- sometimes strange big currents would just turn a small boat over. It's a giant river, but slow, and it's easy to forget its power....
A group of private rafters had a layover day at Hot-na-na Wash, where we were going to camp, so we decided to go on, through House Rock rapid. A thunder storm that had been building through the hot afternoon broke just then, and we had a couple of dark furious squalls just before the rapid. The water was high and fierce, and Chris ran us right into the hole. Blake and I got soaked. The rain got us first, so it didn't matter that we got wet. But the rain was warm, and the river water was cold.
Behind us, the paddle boat also ran into the hole, and flipped. Jeri struggled to get on top of the boat. One other passenger was with her -- the others were swimming. We tried to count heads -- all accounted for, bobbing here and there in the cold dark water.
Blake and I got a throw bag ready, and urged Chris to the nearest swimmer. Another boat was closer and made the rescue, but we managed to snag Jeri's water bottle. Upstream, two boats pulled into an eddy on river left. We pulled into an eddy on river right with the overturned paddle raft and another raft.
I hopped out on the beach. Drops were still falling, and the wind was chilling. The sand was wet from the sputtering rain, but three inches under the surface it was hot and dry. Close to the cliffs you could feel the stored heat still radiating.
It was hard to see what was happening with the upstream group -- I pulled out my binoculars. Everything looked OK. One of the English fellows (Keith, I found out later) asked to borrow the binoculars -- he was concerned about his friend (Pete -- there were three "Pete"s on the trip).
We limped into camp in heavy dusk. (18 Mile Wash, 036.38.871, 111.45.668)
Dinner was chicken caccitori -- all afternoon Blake fretted over a
package of frozen chicken, concerned that it wouldn't thaw in time
for dinner. It was fine. Blake, by the way, is an absolutely
Because of the threatening weather I put up a tent. Trish gave me a hand -- there were a couple of tricks to know with these tents. Later, Wayne showed up, looking for his sleeping bag. But they were all gone, except the spare, which he took...
We moored at Fence Fault, and hiked a hot trail that climbs up to top of the cliff and winds on back up the river. I returned early with Jackie and Trish. We rested at the rafts and sipped tea from Trish's thermos, until the others returned.
We hoped to camp across the river at a nice beach, but the current was strong, and it wasn't clear we could get across. Pete (the guide) made a great effort and caught the opposite eddy. Chris tried next, but missed. So we ended up a couple hundred yards downstream at a different eddy and a different beach. It was a nice spot, and we told Chris that he was a hero -- he had avoided the trap of machismo, and found us a better site. Pete said "Wait a minute! I'm the hero. I'm the one who made the eddy!". I wasn't sure if he was being funny or serious.
Jeri got out her guitar and played and sang while camp was being set up. Later that night Wayne got out his guitar. He, it turns out, is a monster guitar player, and knows 100s of songs.
The wind blew down the tent Chris and Blake were sharing - I helped them set it up again in middle of the night, and wandered around to find some big rocks to hold it in place...
Saw a bighorn family, a ringtail cat in camp last night, a hummingbird, an osprey, a heron...
Up at dawn again, eggs to order, ham, English muffins. Stopped above Vaseys Paradise, looked at pictoglyphs, and a cave that opened to a drop into South Canyon. Trish told about a young boy who fell from the cave into South Canyon, and was killed.
Down to Vaseys, then through the Roaring 20s! At Vaseys Rob told about his experience studying Amber snails during the time of the planned flood. During his little lecture the woman in charge of the food service regulations for the outfitters happened along on a park service raft -- they were doing some testing of water quality at Vaseys, apparently. She is uniformly disliked by the guides. One of them told about a lecture she gave to a collection of guides. She apparently said something like "When people don't wash their hands and prepare food it's like you are eating someone else's POOP!". One of the guides in the audience was squirming with with a humorous thought "But we're used to it -- we have to eat your shit all the time". But he saved it until after the lecture.
We relaxed for a couple of hours At Redwall Cavern. Some people played whiffle ball with another group, and there was an impromptu concert with Wayne and a fiddle, banjo, and another guitar player from a private trip. Wayne is REALLY good...
I rowed several miles, until President Harding rapid. We camped at Eminence break.
Up at dawn again -- I was on dinner duty last night, so worked breakfast, with Chris. Hiked up the redwall at Eminence, over a trail climbing up a fault zone. A gorgeous view above. No twisted ankles, scrapes, or falls, which was good, because it was a steep, rough, treacherous trail over loose, jagged, and very abrasive limestone debris.
We had lunch there. Rob was a little short with me when he yelled "last call on the unit" [latrine] and I said "maybe we should wait until after lunch to take it down" (On previous trips, for what I considered obvious reasons, the latrine was always just about the very last thing to be packed before you left). Maybe he was angry that I took a quick bath in the river after the hike, instead of immediately starting to work on lunch. The guides have a bunch of unspoken rules that I don't know -- I could have broken one.
We got the rafts packed and headed down river to Nankoweap, I almost napped for a while, then Chris and I tied on to Pete's boat. The two rafts drifted pleasantly down river, and we talked about various things. Pete and Chris managed to go through some rifles and avoid eddies, each using one oar. We broke apart at Nankoweap rapid, and pulled into camp below.
Several people hiked to the Anasazi granaries, but I stayed behind sorting through my stuff. Finally found my wallet and showed pictures of my infant daughter Sara to Blake, Trish, and Chris.
On the surface Chris is a very quiet, mild-mannered human, with short hair and a serious demeanor. More and more frequently as the trip wore on he would drop bits of wildly outrageous, self-deprecating humor. But sometimes in quiet conversations he is serious and humble.
He also has a young daughter and she has just reached an age where he could actually write a letter to her. He borrowed my pen -- a special pen, the one that Sara plays with, it turns out -- to write a letter -- the first real letter he's written to her, he reminded us several times. He's divorced, and doesn't get to see her often. He and I talked about kids for a while, how they get into your heart...
I also had a long conversation with Neil, one of the English passengers. He's been immersed in the music business all his life -- I discovered that he wrote the liner notes on a John Mayhall album that I have. And, though I have nowhere near the breadth of knowledge he has, there were certain topics I am familiar with that we could discuss in great depth.
He has just completed an unauthorized biography of Frank Zappa, which should be appearing in bookstores soon. He talked about a Zappa tune, and some of the name changes it went through, including, at one point "Kreegah Bundolo", for some strange reason. I told him that was from Tarzan of the Apes...
Neil is a very civilized fellow, with the engaging habit of listening carefully and taking your opinions seriously. He has little prior experience camping, and wasn't well-prepared for this trip. But it doesn't matter -- his resilience and good cheer are remarkable.
Fish and carrot cake for dinner...Jeri and Wayne played together. I was tempted to join them, but I wasn't sure I could play -- I had ripped the fingernail on my ring finger of my right hand while stuffing my sleeping bag, and the style of guitar I play uses that finger.
We went many miles yesterday.
In camp Rob pulled me aside to have a little chat. My mood had been a little sour since he snapped at me earlier, perhaps he was going to appologize. He asked how I was feeling. I said I was ok (though in fact I was still a little miffed), and that perhaps I was a little down because I missed my family.
Then he took an unexpected turn. He reminded me that the crew were professionals, and that knew what they were doing, and were offended when their judgement was questioned. "Oh", I said, "that was why you seemed annoyed when I said maybe we should leave the latrine until after lunch."
"Not to worry, it's forgotten," he replied. This wasn't the appology I had half anticipated.
The conversation continued, reflecting at strange polite angles. I was surprised to discover that he felt I did not respect his authority or the crews' abilities. I was so surprised that I found it hard to take seriously. And, though we made a decently polite and congenial close, the conversation left things in a curiously unsettled state.
For me, the situation was very obscure -- somehow my behaviour was crossing almost invisible lines, not just with Rob but with the other guides as well. I thought back to glancing looks, muffled comments, conversations that paused when I wandered by... Oh, nuts! -- lonely paranoia again!
But one of the points Rob made in passing caught my ear and stuck in my mind -- he commented that I was from a "different tribe" than he and the rest of the guides. As the days passed I thought a great deal about this statement.
In many ways professional river guides do form a tribe. I had some inkling of this from previous trips, but then I had been a paying passenger, and shielded from many things. Now, as an ersatz crew member, I saw much more.
Obviously, guides are united by a shared body of experience dealing with the conditions of their employment, and their time on the River. But there are many other subtle connections. Almost all the guides come from a white, middle-class background. Most share a strong concern for the environment, and most are politically liberal.
In the world of river guides Grand Canyon guides believe they are the elite. They generally have a great deal of experience -- the average age is well over 30 -- and they are resourceful, clever, and frequently talented individuals. But the pay is very low, so a full-time guide gives up many of the economic and social prizes of our society. In return, they get to spend months in some of the most glorious, spiritually invigorating scenary in the world -- in many ways, a fair trade. But implicit in this trade is a choice about certain values, and the guides all have made the same choice.
Also, a guide may go through the process of meeting a group of strangers and escorting them through the Canyon 10 or more times a season. The people come into their lives, and then leave, never to be seen again. But they see their fellow guides over and over again, sometimes on the same trip, sometimes waving briefly as they glide by each other on different trips, frequently in between trips at Flagstaff...
For most passengers a trip down the Canyon is a singular, once per lifetime experience. It is an important part of the guides job to keep the passengers happy, to keep up a pleasant front, and let the passengers get the most they can from their trip. So, underneath the banter, the jokes, the rough interplay, the relationship between guide and passenger is quite constrained.
And the passengers have enough disposable income to spend several thousand dollars on a vacation, while the guides generally have yearly incomes near the poverty level. The passengers are very frequently successful people, well-integrated in the larger society, and the guides form a distinct subculture, rather distinct from the larger society -- as Rob put it, a "different tribe".
The guides are very aware of this situation, but since part of the job is to make the customers comfortable, most of the passengers never realize that they being carefully handled. Also concealed from the passengers is a great deal of the complexity of coordinating the logistics of a two week wilderness trip -- Rob thought a lot about our itinerary, and was constantly making adjustments to deal with weather, other groups on the river, and a host of other things. But all the passengers saw of this was an occasional informal "Listen up, everyone -- this is what we're going to do tomorrow" kind of talk. For them, it's all pretty smooth sailing.
But I was an awkward hybrid of passenger and crew, and this forced us all to operate outside the safety of the standard roles. This made for a complex, priceless social experience, an opportunity for real personal growth...
....For lunch we nestled up against a tapeats cliff in a narrow strip of shade. Kwagunt, 60 mile, Tanner (tricky wave in middle), and Unkar, were the big rapids. I rode with Trish and Neil - 2 brits. Once again, an extremely civilized conversation.
We stopped at the Little Colorado, and walked up to the "swimming rapids", where you jump in the warm water and float through a small rapid. I went through about 9 times, getting into the zen of the current.
Trish is, I think, the oldest of the guides on the trip, and is very careful and conservative in the rapids -- I made a reservation to ride with her in Crystal. Her personality is very appealing -- she has a deep and abiding habit of straightforward honesty, a relatively rare characteristic, and there is just a hint of melancholy about her.
We took a quick blistering hot hike in the Furnace Flats area to see a couple of petroglyph rocks. I talked with Rob on the walk back to the rafts about Delgados -- that little restaurant with the practical joker theme in Seligman. On a previous trip we had stopped there, and apparently someone was filming a tv special about Route 66. I got a milkshake, and sat for a few minutes at an outdoor table in back.
There were a bunch of scruffy guys there, with black leather and Harley Davidson motorcycles, apparently part of the filming -- I overheard a bit of their conversation -- an erudite but completely incongrous discourse by a big fellow with a bandanna and long scraggly beard, on the subject 401(k) plans and mutual funds, and retirement planning in general.
Rob told me about being in South America during the winter -- he speaks fluent Spanish, and works as a guide. He wasn't sure he wanted to do it again, because of a potential of getting accepted to a graduate program somewhere. He knew about 401(k) plans, and was saving money for retirement -- amazing! At his age I was completely oblivious to such things.
In camp I talked a bit with Jeri about doing web pages. Later I got out my guitar and played a little -- my finger wasn't too bad. Wayne walked over with his guitar, and we played "No Expectations". Pete knew the song, as well. Once again I was blown away by how good Wayne is.
To continue...yesterday after rising we went on a hike to the Tabernacle -- a couple thousand feet elevation gain, a 4.5 hour hike. Beautiful views, but I was beat when we got back. Neil has essentially no previous hiking experience, apparently, but he made the hike. A very impressive display of spirit. But he seems much tougher than he knows.
This was a difficult hike, but the River Gods were very kind: clouds developed by the halfway point, giving us intermittent shade, and at the top a spatter of heavy rain cooled everything down. A 360 degree view of -- of what? I don't know. Sometimes the Canyon just overwhelms me, and I don't know if it is beautiful or ugly or sublime or common. "Grand Canyon, who are you?" A huge vista, a tiny corroded pebble, they are all part of the same thing, a place where the world is shouting at you in its own language, and you struggle to understand.
We boarded the boats, went through Nevills, and camped just below (RM76 036.02.953, 111.54.171). I just fell asleep for a couple of hours on the ground, I was so tired, then woke up, set up my bed roll, and listened to the Cranberries and Al Stewart on my Walkman for a while.
Next morning (today) ran Hance, Sock (big water straight through), Grapevine. We stopped at Phantom, and I called CF. It was so delightful to talk to her. She got the flowers I sent her. I miss her and Sara a lot.
Neil and Pete (Pete the Brit both got me beers -- I had befriended Neil a couple of times, and given Pete some of my tiny ration of beer -- I didn't think I should drink as assistant, but I didn't want to be impolite, so I drank one of them. I also mailed my postcards -- several to CF, a couple to friends, and one to my piano teacher.
Then on through Horn Creek rapid (right side, then left before
second rock - sometimes keep totally to the right), lunch, stopped to
look at Granite -- curves around wall (keep right just off wall, to
avoid rocks on left side - perfect - waves on alternating sides of
boat, and we barely got wet), and Hermit (enormous wave train
- everybody but Pete cheated to left, though Trish hit a rock on left
that messed up her line). Pete's run was incredible - right down the
wave train, straight as an arrow.
Rob called Garrett while at Phantom, and it is raining in Flag. It may soon be raining here -- clouds are steadily increasing, and its dark.
Not a drop of rain. But the morning was gray and overcast, and, as we had Crystal and the Gems to run, I donned my paddle jacket. I had earlier made an arrangement to ride with Trish through Crystal, so I joined Neil and Blake on Trish's raft.
Crystal is probably the most respected rapid in the Canyon. It is huge, difficult, and the consequences of a screwup are very severe -- a swimmer could be rasped across the sharp rocks on the left cliff, or trapped in the "rock garden" below.
The rapid was very big -- huge -- (try to cheat it on the right, to avoid the two big waves. There is a strong lateral current that throws you toward the left, into the big raft eating hole, as you aim toward the slower water on the right. So you have to row like hell to the right, after drifting in hugging the right shore. There is also the rock garden in the center of the river that you must avoid - take it on the right, as well.)
As we went through I caught a glimpses of Trish's expression. It was so intense that I had to tear my eyes from the churning water to look back at her several times through the brief seconds of the run. I don't think have ever seen more intense concentration.
"ABC - alive below crystal". Trish's run was perfect.
The Gems were mostly straightforward. Agate (I think) had a tricky side current, and Trish hit a rock on the left. Also, somewhere a tube got seriously sucked -- the raft suddenly tilted 30 degrees, and stayed there for about 5 seconds. Ruby was big -- bigger than I remember.
Wayne, I found out later, came out of his raft somewhere through the Gems, and was sucked way down in the muddy water. He said it was totally dark, and he didn't know which way was up.
We stopped at Shinamu creek. I was sleepy, but roused myself for a most refreshing swim. Onward to Waltenberg. We stopped above Waltenberg to walk up the canyon. We hiked up a ways, climbing a small wall, and stopped at a chockstone. Neil climbed it, among others, but I didn't.
We camped below Waltenberg a little way on river right (mile 114), a big party night - Wayne sat on a rock, and did a funny song he wrote about duct tape, and "Hot Rod Lincoln". Blake and Trish and I fixed burgers and dogs, while a marguerita party raged on the rafts below. After dark the party raged even more, with insane drumming on tables and pots and pans - an "ABC" party, I suppose.
Next morning we fixed bacon and french toast, packed, and were on our way, down through several rapids, and a stop at Elves Chasm where I sat on the boat and watched the river go by. I had memories of Elves Chasm that I didn't want to disturb, for one thing, and for another, I was meditating myself into transparency, and I didn't want to disturb that either. Like the closing lines of "A River Runs Through It" -- everything becomes one thing "and a river runs through it".
On to Blacktail Canyon (I rowed some), where we hiked the pasta salad up the canyon along with Jeri and Waynes guitars. Jeri and Wayne performed, Wayne played an original "No Cerveca, No Trabajo" and some other stuff, then asked if anyone else wanted to do anything. Blake did the "Come See What This River Has Done" song that Nathan taught her. I volunteered to play. I did "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", then "She Belongs to Me", started "Whiskey Man", but stopped 'cuz Waynes guitar was too different. I noodled through a couple of other things, but I normally play nylon strings, and the steel strings were eating my fingertips alive.
On through several rapids - Fossil was interesting - a long windy rapid similar to Blossom Bar. After Fossil was an unmapped rapid they called "Buttsucker Rapid" -- Pete told a story about a kayaker that went through the rapid essentially vertical, because some strange hydraulics pulled his stern under and kept it there.
Specter was serious, kept to the left, I think. Bedrock was big, but it is easier at high water. You have to cut to the right against a heavy current to the left. Pete just made it -- we almost bumped the rock. He later said that he missed a stroke in the approach, which cost him some momentum.
Then down through Dubendorff (there is a flat rock in the middle at lower flows -- we didn't see it), and camp once again at Stone Creek. Thai chicken curry for dinner. It was great, and I absolutely stuffed myself. I was called to the rafts before dinner and included in the guides powow - that was nice. Long talk after dinner with Jeri about GCRG. She also talked about her anti-drugtesting lawsuit. Thence to my camp, where I am now writing all this.
Yesterday was a big hiking day. It started with me being stung on my inner thigh by a scorpion while I was packing -- apparently he had climbed into some clothing that I clamped between my knees as I stuffed it into a black bag. I stomped the critter into oblivion, and regretted it afterward. He had his posthumous revenge, however. The sting was alternately burning and numb for the next three days...
We hiked up Tapeats creek to Thunder River -- an absolutely exquisite trek I hadn't done before -- as Powell says "sublimity ... never again to be equaled on the hither side of Paradise."
Neil spotted a bighorn only 10 feet from the trail. It was healthy, young, and muscular, and watched us coolly, with veiled intentions, as I took a picture. We left quickly and with deference.
We ate our packed lunch at Thunder River. Neil and I hiked up to Surprise Valley -- we were slow and took an early start. Trish and Chris caught us at the ridge line, and we rested and chatted a bit. Neil started off down the trail while I fiddled with my binoculars. Somehow his batteries recharged -- his gait became quite brisk, and I didn't see him again until that evening. Chris and Trish followed him, and I paced myself so I could hike alone between them and the following group. The sun was blocked by beautiful building clouds, and there was a gentle warm breeze.
The presence of other hikers captures so much of your attention, but hiking alone your spirit floats and your feet play with the trail. Just for a brief hour I was nearly alone, and it was delightful.
But though I only saw them occasionally, and at a distance, the people in front of me, and the people behind me, were never far from my mind. I hadn't been hiking 15 minutes before I met a couple who had hiked down from the rim. And 15 minutes after that I met Pete and Jeri, doing the reverse hike to pick up the rafts we had left behind. In truth, I was far from alone. In truth, my thoughts of being alone were a romantic fantasy. But it was a nice fantasy.
Just before the drop down to Deer Creek I caught up with Trish and Chris, and Rob, Blake, and some others caught up quickly. We started down the steep drop to Deer Creek as a group, but very shortly spread out again. And once again we bunched up at another small waterfall cascading from a spring. I started out before the others, and in a few minutes Trish caught up with me.
We hiked together. The thought of a cool dip in the Jacuzzi Pool in Deer Creek was very motivating, so we motored down the trail at a good clip. On the way we noted the sobering evidence of a very recent flash flood in Deer Creek -- Trish thought only a day or two old. The plants choking the stream were knocked flat, or gone, and there were pockets of soggy, fresh mud twenty feet from the stream.
The "Jacuzzi pool" I remembered from a previous trip -- a small waterfall hits in just the right position to massage your back and neck, and a cool dip after a long hike was a heavenly thought.
We arrived at the pool. Unfortunately, so had 50 other people. There were people everywhere. People on the ledges, people in the water, people in tents, people chattering away. Lots of people. The pool lost all appeal.
So we continued on down to the river, encountering more groups of people on the way. At the river we found rafts everywhere, including many big motor rigs, and more people -- there were probably over 150 choking Deer Creek that day. I found Neil and the other faster hikers sitting near two of our rafts
We rinsed our sweaty bodies, and waited for Pete and Jeri to arrive with the other rafts. Rob was anxious to move on -- there was some question where we could camp, because it was late, and all those motor trips needed campsites in the same region we did. When Jeri and Pete arrived we jumped on and headed out immediately.
He selected site on a very large eddy ("Backeddy Camp", I think) (RM138 036.23.587, 112.31.410), with a steep 6 foot bank and a narrow sandy strip against a cliff, hemmed in with Tamarisk and other bushy plants in either direction -- a small camp, only suitable for small parties. Upstream on the same eddy there were other, larger camps in a more open area -- two other groups apparently tied up there later.
Our site had good ledges overhanging, enough to shield the kitchen area from what might be an impending storm -- all afternoon the clouds had been thickening, and now the sky was dark, and the air was cool. We moored the rafts against the steep bank, and hastily began unloading.
I was on dinner duty with Rob. We just got the kitchen set up when the storm broke - a wild wind whipped under the overhang, throwing blinding clouds of sand at our eyes, knocking over equipment and whisking loose items down the beach. We dashed around, throwing heavy objects on light ones, and then hunkered down to protect our eyes. Fifteen feet from the cliff big raindrops hit the sand and the muddy Colorado.
In minutes rain was pounding down. Thunder rolled through the Canyon, and flashes splattered across the dark sky. The wind continued in furious gusts, but there was less dry sand for it to fling at us. We watched the rafts from our protected cover. "Is my ammo can closed?" Blake asked plaintively. No on knew...Pete's blue sleeping pad had blown over into the gap between two rafts. "Is your pad secured?" I asked. "I'm watching it" he replied.
It was really impossible to do much but watch, and huddle. A bottle of tequila appeared from somewhere, and was passed around. Before the squall hit the passengers had mostly disappeared down the bushy beach to set up their tents. Now they straggled in a few at a time to join us under the protecting overhang. We discussed how trite the word "awesome" had become, and wondered at the fate of the campers upstream, in their more exposed location.
Soon we discovered waterfalls gushing out from the cliffs across the Canyon -- beautiful muddy falls starting from the highest cliffs, blowing red streamers in the wind. Big falls, thick muddy rivers of water falling several hundred feet free, majestic dirty cascades. Oddly, binoculars gave a better sense of scale, because with more detail it was possible to see how long it took the water to fall.
At a lower level two parallel streams caught our fancy -- one was the usual dirty brown, but the other was almost the normal white of cascading water. For some reason we called these the "black and tan" falls. I got my camera and snapped picture after picture, all the while knowing that the likelihood of a good shot was almost nil.
The tequila bottle passed from hand to hand, and people whooped and hollered and laughed. The bottle cap vanished in the wind, and thus we were required to finish the bottle. The rain became stinging hail, and a sudden cluster of rocks from the cliffs above slashed into the water near the paddle boat. One of the English fellows stepped out from under the cliff to look up -- I yelled at him to get back under cover.
The wind picked up a sleeping pad and threw it in the river, where it floated among the driftwood and other debris in the eddy. It was too far from land to reach, and anyway, no one was willing to risk getting their head bashed in by a rock to make an attempt.
The storm raged in furious waves, but time passed and it began to fade. The thought of dinner intruded, so Rob and Blake and I bent our minds toward work. Jeri and a group of heros launched an expedition to retrieve the sleeping pad before it floated to Lake Mead. They braved minor flurries of stinging hail and rain, and paddled out into the muddy, debris studded eddy.
There was a sudden rumble 50 yards to our right. A gush of muddy water burst out from high over our heads, a small flashflood , hitting very near the tents.
Trish ran over, yelling "Get out of your tent!" several times, but everyone already was out. The torrent of water was pounding the ground like a giant fire hose 20 feet from one of the tents, and almost immediately filled a small gully with churning foamy chocolate water. The excitement rekindled, and people ran with cameras. But we were too close, so more boats were launched to get photos from across the river. But it was a short-lived flood -- after half an hour it was over, and the reality of our bellies returned.
Steak over coals -- I was tasked with running the grill, but Jeri took charge -- she likes raw meat, and didn't want me screwing it up. The steaks were huge and tasty as we sat like dim intoxicated wolves in the light of the two propane lamps.
It was a long day. I collapsed on a sleeping pad near the kitchen and dozed while some sodden visitors from the upstream camps talked into the night. A polite, but tired, conversation persisted for 45 minutes, but eventually they left, and I passed out.
We spent the day at Matkat, and camped right below (RM148.5 036.20.283, 112.41.005). Next morning I went with Pete, and put on my paddle jacket for Upset -- Upset is a tricky rapid. (Pete took a carefully selected route in the center of the left side.)
On to Havasu. Havasu Creek flows through the Havasu Indian Reservation, and there is enough agricultural and human activity there to seriously pollute the water. Despite it's exquisite turquoise beauty, you definitely don't want to drink the water. In fact, you almost don't want to touch it.
Most people went hiking up Havasu Creek, but I stayed at the boats with Rob and Chris. Several other trips stopped by -- a private group, and a Moki Mac trip. Kent Frost, an old timer who made his first Canyon trip in 1947, was on the Moki trip, and I talked with him for a few minutes. And an older but quite active lady with the same group talked with me a while -- she was annoyed with the private group, and told me about another private trip that was trying to annoy people by being nude all the time. I listened politely, but found myself wondering about a hidden agenda.
After a while the crowd thinned out. I sat in the sun and watched the river flow by. The heat and glare became obtrusive. I waded over to rafts, floating quietly in the shade, and draped myself in exquisite comfort over Trish's gear-laden but neat raft.
Across the creek crisscrossing constantly moving strings of light danced under the dark overhanging rocks, like the electric flow of thoughts in a dark, material brain -- an intricate construct of sunlight reflecting from gentle ripples in the water. I watched it for an hour, as the sun moved and the patterns slowly changed...
But a pesky fly reminded me of sweat and grime, and I decided that even polluted water would make me cleaner. I slipped off the raft and carefully waded upstream. Rob and Chris were dozing on their rafts, and I moved very quietly, so I wouldn't disturb them. The water reached my waist, my chest, my neck, and then I pushed off the ooze bottom, never letting the water get above my chin. Alternating treading water and a silent breast stroke, I progressed slowly up the shady stream, moving from one eddy to another.
Up around a bend I floated for many minutes in a sun-drenched pool, and traced my fingers through the thin layer of dry mud that coated the rock walls.
After a time I kicked into the current, and drifted back downstream. The entire time my mouth never touched the water.
Refreshed and energized by the liberal dose of cool, I decided to take a short hike. However, instead of going up Havasu Creek I decided to walk down the river. The ledges around the creek mouth continued a couple hundred yards downstream, then disappeared in a complex broken slope, prickled with cacti and sharp-thorned bushes. I continued out past any obvious route, and marked a secret spot with a cairn -- perhaps I will return someday and try to find it.
The hikers returned, and we moved on down to camp (RM158 036.17.719, 112.47.428) -- Jeri and I were on dinner -- I was scheduled to work dinner two nights in a row, and we had chicken pot pie. Chicken pot pie is one of the more complex dinners, and it takes a long time to prepare. It's one of Blake's specialties, but some guides don't like it because of the work involved -- the saying is "We had chicken pot pie - in the dark." When Blake fixes chicken pot pie, you always eat in the dark.
But I had rested all day, so I stayed up late, and sat in the dark at my camp, writing, and playing guitar after everybody went to bed. I could barely hear myself because of the noise of a nearby rifle, but it was nice to be musical for a while.
Next morning Rob hurt his foot in an extremely treacherous sand trap. Sand was piled over a pile of boulders, but hadn't filled the spaces between the rocks -- sort of like snow over a hole. His foot went right through the sand and scraped on the sharp rocks below. He was lucky he didn't break his leg, because we were loading the boats and he was carrying something heavy, like an ammo box of shit from the latrine. As it was it tore a bunch of skin off his big toe.
Jack and Ann Marie were on his boat, but I rode as well -- I hadn't been on his boat before, because he had his oars rigged with oar rights, and I was trying to practice feathered strokes. But if his foot became a problem for him I could offer some backup. I asked if I could row. Of course the first thing I did was run into a rock...
But he didn't make a big deal of it, and I rowed quite a bit - flat water, against the wind. It took a while to get used to his oars, though.
We moored at National Canyon, and hiked up. We stopped at the first major obstacle -- getting around might have required ropes, and certainly would have required time. A beautiful place -- part way up a recent rock slide had made a dam. Water had pooled behind it and then dried and left crinkly mud cracks. When the pool was full it would have been quite large -- 30 feet across, 8 feet deep, and maybe backed up a hundred feet or more.
A story was told about someone who spent a great deal of time in National Canyon supporting a science trip of some kind. This person explored far up the canyon and found a natural skateboard rink far upstream, and sent word to a friend to include a skateboard in the next supply trip. I don't normally think fondly of skateboards, but somehow the image of being totally alone, up some wild smooth sculpted canyon, with a skateboard. It would have to have quiet rubber wheels, though...
Lunch at the rafts after the hike, and then onward past Tuckup and Stairway rapids. Right below Stairway we sprung a leak - Jack and Ann Marie kept jumping from the front of the boat to the back because Ann Marie detested being cold even more than I do, and apparently they somehow jammed the floor valve down. The floor almost completely deflated, and we were riding very low in the water. We pulled into an eddy -- "Help! Help! we're sinking" laughter "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" "No, seriously, look how low we are!" Chris, Trish, and Jeri came to the rescue. Trish had a nice Leatherman tool that could manipulate the valve, and Chris had the air pump. Jeri took Ann Marie and Jack on the paddle boat. Rob fixed the valve, and I pumped up the floor again.
A sunny camp, normally, but there were clouds and sand storms... (RM174 036.14.197, 113.00.958 - Cove Canyon)
Yesterday was Lava day. I rode with Trish and Blake. An interesting theological discussion in the morning, riding to the rapid -- Blake is very much into Tibetan Buddhism -- she knows real Tibetans, works at an ashram, and reads Tricycle.
The conversation reminded me very much of the kind of discussion I used to revel in many years ago, about the nature of truth and reality...but we all know that ultimately words fail, and consequently such discussions leave me feeling a little dishonest. If I was honest, I just wouldn't talk...but it's just this mild *ego* thing that sucks me in...
The Lava scout was intimidating. The left side run was the choice -- its a high water run, and the water was high. So we landed on the left side for the scout. The private trip that had been leapfrogging us for the past couple of days came up at the same time, and we all studied the water. There were a couple of young lovely girls -- all the guys ogled them, then got back to the rapid.
The rapid looked much more imposing to me from the left (my previous runs had been on the right). The Ledge Hole really looked fierce. The V wave looked impossible. The left side was a maze of rocks and holes, and the run wasn't obvious to me -- every natural path had serious obstacles.
The key, it turned out, was a cross current that would throw you to the right just enough to avoid a serious pour-over rock. However, if you went too far right you would catch the left edge of the Ledge Hole.
We returned to the boats and lined up for the ride. People from the private positioned themselves to watch. Trish's boat was next to last, so we got to watch most of the runs from behind -- the boats would float into position, the guide carefully dipping the oars to adjust for entry, and then suddenly tip wildly and disappear over the edge.
Rob's raft was first -- they reappeared in a moment, all aboard, but we could see it was a wild ride (later Neil said that Rob burst out "OH SHIT!" just before they crashed into a wall of water). Pete's boat disappeared over the edge, and suddenly reappeared, twisted 90 degrees from the direction he should point. The front of the paddle boat suddenly dropped, and Jeri was almost catapulted into the air. It was Trish's turn.
Blake and I crouched down in front, and rechecked our grip. Our raft went exactly through the planned entry, and over the edge. Then the cross current caught us. We hit one wall of water (not too bad, I thought momentarily). Then our 18 foot raft with probably 1000 pounds of gear, and all the momentum that the speeding current had given us, hit a back-washing wave that stopped us like it was solid rock. Tubes bent. I was buried under muddy water, and pushed to the floor. The raft tilted wildly -- my side was high! I pushed frantically towards it.
Then we were free, bouncing and splashing through big benign waves. My left thumb hurt like hell. Blake was chattering about how she thought she was out of the raft, how all she felt was water all around, and her two hands gripping something. Trish pulled into a tight little eddy. Apparently the water had pushed her visor over her eyes at the same time she lost hold of one of her oars. That was lucky, she said, because it meant that her hand was free to clear her vision, and luckily, the oar was still where she left it.
We sat in the eddy for a while, burning off nervous energy with animated talk, and watched Chris and the private boaters come through. They had the benefit of our experience, and adjusted their entry accordingly -- their runs were much less exciting. It turned out that we had underestimated the strength of that right-trending current, and had all been pushed a little too close to the Ledge Hole.
Trish gave me some homeopathic remedy she thought would help my thumb. I know the theory behind homeopathy, and I am skeptical. But on a previous trip someone had given me some "Rescue Remedy" cream for a painful, mildly inflamed abrasion on my arm, and the next day the pain and the inflammation were completely gone. (I had also put some antibiotic cream on it. But I have used antibiotic cream many times in the past, and the healing in this case was almost supernaturally fast. I have tried Rescue Remedy since, and the effect has never been so dramatic, so it remains a mystery to me what happened.)
We topped at a shady/sunny beach for lunch, and afterward I rowed for a while -- I thought maybe it would help keep my thumb from getting too stiff.
We pulled into camp, and after unloading the raft I realized that I didn't have anything to do. So I sat for a while sipping a beer and watching the river, and the sun on the cliffs. Several people wandered off to hike up the wash, and after a while I started up that way also. A hundred yards down the trail I noticed a few tracks in a game trail going through some brush, and up the steep, broken slope on the left. On a whim, I decided to see where they went.
The trail faded to nothing in 50 feet. The slope angled up at about 45 degrees, and was strewn with loose, jagged limestone. Further up the slope was a band of black lava making a cliff about 30 feet high. But the cliff faded into talus on the right. I picked my way upward through prickly stands of cactus, piles of naked dirty abrasive limestone, and dry, apparently lifeless, scrubby plants.
A misstep would be painful -- the limestone had everywhere weathered into a crinkled, sharp, unfriendly surface that would remove skin at the slightest provocation. Touching a big rock for balance required careful and delicate placement of the hands -- it would easily shred even the thick leather of my palm.
Soon I was above the lava. I thought for a moment it would be fun to contour around back toward camp, but instead I continued carefully upward. I was completely absorbed in finding a route through impenetrable patches of brush, cactus, piles of rock, and small cliffs. Every five minutes or so I would stop to survey my return route, and look level across the river at the slope to see how close I was to the big cliffs above the talus.
Above, a band of rim-rock blocked view of the slope behind, and, looking at my watch, I decided that would be my turnaround point. I worked up and over a broken place in the rock, and discovered that what I thought was a rim-rock cliff was instead the spine of a rocky ridge, and immediately on the other side there was a spectacular gaping fall of several hundred feet to a narrow slot canyon below. I climbed onto the rocky ridge, and walked as far as I could toward the river.
The top of the rocky spine granted an eagle's view of the river stretching far upstream and downstream. Directly below were our tiny yellow rafts at their mooring. To the left was Parashant wash, and to the right was the adjacent narrow canyon. I stood for a long time like an invisible stone Buddha, maintaining reality in the universe just by being.
Last night we camped at Mile 224. The day was a heavy water day through 205 (Kolb rapid, which I rowed on my first trip), then down through 209, 'Little Bastard' rapid.
There's a story about Roger, one of Can-X's oldest guides, getting caught in the keeper hole in Little Bastard with his girlfriend and two other ladies -- the raft rotating rapidly, heaving and tilting as it did.
They had to high side on one side, then the other, with stuff coming loose and falling in the river. His girlfriends stuff came out of an ammo box. Finally Roger decided it was getting dangerous, and told the ladies to jump. But they wouldn't. So he tossed them out of the raft, one at a time, screaming..
Then he had to deflate the floor and tubes, which finally got the raft low enough in the water to come out of the hole.
Pete obviously enjoyed telling this. Pete has a little thing about Roger.
Little Bastard has beautiful rocks - fluted limestone and basalt - and lunch was at a beautiful spot just after. Somewhere along here Pete pointed out a cabin up on the slope. Nobody knows who lived there, but Pete said he had hiked up to it one time -- stuff like old box springs, square nails, and so on.
We had meatless spaghetti -- Something-or-other Pasta in Putenesca sauce, Blake called it -- for dinner. She said that using a name like that was the only way Garrett would agree to a meatless spaghetti...
After dinner we saw a bighorn ram silhouetted on a spire above camp. We watched him with binoculars as he came down the slope towards us. Later we saw him much closer, on the low ridge above camp. He stood and watched us in lordly silence for about 20 minutes. ....
This morning got up real early for our dawn silent float to Diamond Creek. It was quite peaceful. But at Diamond Creek we worked like banshees derigging the boats -- potentially several other groups could be derigging at the same time, and the Hualapi were rigging boats to take a trip down to Lake Meade.
Blake struck up a conversation with a Hualapi woman who was helping them run their trip. Blake introduced herself, and said she would probably be there again. The woman was very friendly and pleasant, but she told Blake not to be surprised if she didn't remember Blake, because she had a hard time "telling you apart". She said a few more words of explanation -- it seems she meant she had a hard time telling white people apart. It's always a bit of a shock to realize yourself as the "other".
We all rode back in the truck. Blake read aloud the newspaper account of Clinton's national monument declaration -- everybody was overjoyed. But Paul, the truck driver, let slip that some cars at the warehouse had been broken into. When we stopped outside Seligman (so Rob could play the scratcher lottery) Pete phoned the warehouse, and found out that his car, and Chris's truck had been broken into.
After Pete got off the phone I called CF -- it was wonderful to hear her warm voice yet again.
Back at the warehouse Pete and Chris had to go take care of their cars, and Trish had to go pee in a cup for the random drug test. Blake, Rob, and I worked like mad unloading the truck and stowing and cleaning everything. We were done by 3.
Laurie, bless her, had my keys and my car and a hotel reservation. I went and cleaned up, then met Laurie and talked for a while. Then I went over to meet the guides and had a beer.
We all walked over to some place for the trip dinner. I had a steak, and it was superb.
point date.PDT lat/lon ----------------------------------------------------------------- Home 0901.1019 037.43.654, 122.03.616 1 0901.1256 037.41.907, 121.58.693 2 0901.1315 037.44.390, 121.35.398 3 0901.1355 037.18.047, 121.06.230 4 0901.1528 036.15.287, 120.14.923 5 0901.1643 035.25.048, 119.25.532 6 0901.1802 035.07.980, 118.25.125 7 0901.1824 035.02.278, 118.07.897 Mojave 8 0901.1837 035.00.555, 117.52.849 Edwards AFB 9 0901.1949 034.53.680, 117.00.250 Barstow 10 0901.2240 034.50.915, 114.36.820 Needles 11 0902.1024 035.22.496, 114.03.923 Kingman 12 0902.1238 035.15.057, 112.11.789 Williams 13 0902.1452 035.12.067, 111.39.909 Flag (Lowell Obs) -----------------------------------------------------------------
Locations of campsites nite date.MST GPS lat/lon Landmark ----------------------------------------------------------------- 0 0904.0332 036.51.967, 111.35.190 Lee's Ferry 1 0905.0509 036.38.871, 111.45.668 18 mile 2 0905.2103 036.30.972, 111.50.879 Below Fence Fault 3 0906.2054 036.23.179, 111.50.845 Eminence 4 0907.1644 036.17.784, 111.51.607 Lower Nankoweap 5 0909.0526 036.04.028, 111.53.396 Tabernacle 6 0909.2009 036.02.953, 111.54.171 Below Nevills 7 0910.2042 036.06.488, 112.13.531 96 mile ? 8 0911.2131 036.12.937, 112.25.457 114 Above Garnet Canyon 9 0912.1446 036.20.835, 112.27.211 Stone Creek 10 0914.0806 036.23.587, 112.31.410 Backeddy 11 0914.2112 036.20.283, 112.41.005 148.5 Below Matkat 12 0916.0307 036.17.719, 112.47.428 Below Havasu 13 0916.2039 036.14.197, 113.00.958 174 Cove Canyon 14 0917.2023 036.05.665, 113.19.360 Parashant Wash 15 0918.2205 035.47.155, 113.20.582 224 mile -----------------------------------------------------------------