Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 6) - The Dark Castle

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

April 23, 2012

I'm starting to get used to this way of life and get settled in for the long haul. After the past two days I feel like my issues are gone, over and I'm ready for whatever this big ditch throws at me! I took another Zrytec first thing this morning and haven't had any allergy issues today. I think I will continue taking them for the rest of the trip just to play it safe. Life is so much more pleasurable when you're not sneezing every few seconds.

Instead of hitting the river after breakfast we loaded up our water bottles and laced up our hiking shoes (Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes for me) with a different goal in mind. My aunt calls the ominous cliff overlooking this campsite the "Dark Tower" because it sort of resembles a giant round turret of a mid evil castle. I'm not sure what the official name of the bluff is, but I have to agree with her that it looks like some kind of castle that you would see in the Lord of the Rings movies. It's got to be about 1,000 feet high or so above the river and it's a very sheer drop off all the way down. Butch and Bob know of a trail from years ago that leads up the side canyon and around the backside of the bluff eventually to the top overlooking where we're camped. None of us has ever been to the top so it's truly new and exciting. Our goal is to find our way to the top and make a day out of it.

Nearly two hours of steady hiking and some free climbing without stopping gets us to the top. It's only Bob, Andy, Robert and myself now since the others turned back a little before a really sketchy section of free climbing around the halfway point.  Bob trail blazed most of the way up like an animal on a mission! Robert and I both kept pace, but without having to give it a strong effort. For being in his early 60s, that man is in amazing shape. As soon as we reach the top Bob and Andy immediately go into a technical conversation about base jumping down to the river. They're both pilots and world-class sky divers so it's not surprising. It takes a rock nearly 10 seconds to hit the ground after Bob tosses it over the ledge. That's when I realize I'm probably standing here with two of the best skydivers in the world. What an honor!

We see Kathy at the boats fishing and we scream, yell and whistle and get no response. That's how high up we are. Bob estimates it is a 600' free fall before reaching an outer ledge below that is probably still another 600' above the river.

Coming down is a complete bitch! It takes less time than going up, but only because we're able to go faster in the easy sections. When we reach the river I take off my shoes and socks and soak my legs in the icy cold river water, which is about 50 degrees, and I notice that I wore a hole in one of my brand new socks. I've never even done that running marathons. My legs feel like I ran about 15 miles and I'm starving. We eat lunch and then decide to make a few miles down the river before camping.

We pass Nankoweep Canyon and the rapid at mile 52 without stopping. Nankoweep is a very recognizable part of the Grand Canyon because of the ancient Anasazi structures carved high up in the canyon walls that were probably used to store grain in the winter time. I've been here before and don't care that we're passing it up. It is a beautiful canyon and there's a very small rain cloud that gets us a little wet making the canyon even more pretty. The rapid at Nankoweep is very long. Robert starts it and I finish the second half. It's not big, but more of an endurance rapid. I like it immensely.

I'm noticing that I'm getting better at controlling the raft in the rapids, but feel that Robert is still a little ahead of me because he has had more time at the oars. Tomorrow I'm going to lobby for more stick time. We are starting to get closer to the BIG rapids of the inner gorge and I want to have complete confidence with it almost being instinctual if I'm going to get a chance to tackle any of them.

We make camp at Kwagunt Canyon. It's another gorgeous side canyon and there's talk of taking all of tomorrow to explore it.

On another note, I'm starting to miss Jenny more and more. If I ever do get an opportunity like this again I've decided that I'll only go if she can be part of it. There are so many things here that she would love. Right now I'm really starting to look forward to the one opportunity I'll have to make a phone call to her at Phantom Ranch, which is another 35 miles that we should make probably by Thursday. It's rained a little today and this makes me a little nervous as I don't want the river to change. It's clear and clean and I want it to stay this way!

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