Monday, June 25, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 14) - Owl Eyes

The following post is from the journal I kept of my recent adventure upon a 21-day private river rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon from Lee's Ferry to Diamond Peak (about 230 miles) that took place between April 18th and May 8th, 2012.

May 1, 2012 (May Day) 

I'm protected by schist!

As I sit here at a campsite called "Owl Eyes" near Thunder River, the wind is howling again as the sun sets. This, of course, creates an abundance and constant supply of sand that gladly gets into EVERYTHING! At this point in the trip I'm trying real hard to become "one" with the sand, but it's just not working. In an effort to combat this situation I've set up my tent, with rain fly, in a narrow pit area surrounded by giant boulders of granite and vishnu schist. I've used ALL of my tent stakes to secure the rain fly and then added small boulders both inside and outside the tent to try and keep it as sand/wind proof as possible. It seems to be helping and I'm also getting some shade from the relentless sunshine and cloudless sky. It's about 90 degrees right now. There's a spot high up on the canyon walls that actually looks like an Owl's face, hence the name of this campsite.

I can't believe that two weeks have past since shoving off at Lees Ferry. I think this is officially the longest I've ever stayed outside in my life. I'm starting to get a feeling of accomplishment even with one week to go.

Today we spent some time on the river and covered a good distance. Robert and I traded off the bigger rapids and we all took our turn at paddling. I paddled the 122 Mile Rapid, Forster Rapid, 128 Mile Rapid, Bedrock Rapid and Tapeats Rapid. Bedrock was insane! We ate lunch just above it at the beach next to an area of zoraster granite formations called the "Dollhouse" and then scouted it while our food digested. Bedrock is very straightforward in what you have to do, which is basically get through it. The only question is, "can you physically do it."

The river basically collides into this monstrous rock the size of a tennis court that is smack dab in the middle of the river. Apparently, that is the "Bedrock." You can't freaking miss it. Well, actually, that's all you have to do to get through the rapid... miss it.

Most of the water hydraulics at play are going to the left around the rock, but it's super narrow after that and curvy with lots of jagged rocks to hit. In other words, it looks fun if you're in a kayak, but a nightmare for an 18' raft. The route to the right is the preferred route and it's no joke. Both ways are demanding, but to the right is recommended. The only issue with going right is it is difficult to get into because the majority of the current is pulling left. So you have to enter the tongue as far right as possible and pull, pull, PULL to the right going through the first wave sideways like your life depends on it because if you don't make it you'll either go right or go straight up into the Bedrock, which will likely rip the boat apart.

For some reason, this Bedrock business got me anxious. More so than normal. Up to this point I've always had a sense of calm before the rapid. I'm usually focused, but calm and relaxed. This time I can feel that my heart rate is elevated and we haven't even left the beach yet. I walk back down to the rapid while the others are packing up the lunch supplies and visualize myself going through the rapid. Butch did an excellent job preparing me for this rapid when we initially scouted it. He was able to describe pretty much every paddle stroke I should take all the way through down to even the smallest details. I pick out marker objects along the river. An odd shaped rock near the beginning of the tongue, a mesquite tree on the left shore just before the Bedrock, etc., so I'll know where I'm at during the rapid. I drink a Redbull and say a silent prayer. I think again about what I have to do once in the rapid. I don't want to think about it during the rapid. I just want to do it.

Back at the boats we push off. Bob goes first and the river takes him so quickly that we can't see his run. Then Andy and Cathy go and we see how close he comes to the Bedrock before making the turn to the right. Now it's our turn. My last words to Robert and Athena before we start are, "if I do this right then you should not get wet and if I make one mistake this will go very badly." In other words, it's either going to be boring as hell or scary as hell. I put the stern of the boat so close to a pour over on the right side that I think we're going to hit the rock, but we don't. I start pulling with all my might in a controlled fashion timing each stroke to gain as much leverage as I can... just as Butch described to me. I'm focused and collected and I make each stroke count. We make it through almost perfectly and every single detail played out as Butch described and that's how I know it couldn't have gone better. This rapid simply has no room for error and I'm so thankful I didn't make one. Robert and Athena are dry.
Bedrock Rapid Run

Robert paddles Dubendorff Rapid, which we also scout. Butch and Bob both hate this rapid as they've both had issues before. I don't think any of us make it through looking like a million bucks, but we all survive. Robert tries to take us to the right, but the river does not let him. I learn later that he lost an oar and that's when we get taken across the rapid laterally and a wave broadsides us. I jumped to "highside" right as it hits and I feel the entire bottom of the raft compress below my feet. We end up on the left side of the river and the raft compressed so much that the GoPro camera mounted on a pole on the stern falls down.

Dubendorff Rapid

We stop just below at Stone Creek and walk up to the waterfall and while doing so witness a commercial raft (Canyoneers) get sideways in the rapid and then spin around 360-degrees. Butch says, "no way was that on purpose," put all the passengers clap at the end seemingly unaware of the mistake.

Tonight we're eating chili and I can smell it so I'll close for now. Time to go refuel!

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