Friday, June 29, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 18) - LAVA LAVA LAVA!!!!

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 5, 2012 (Cinco De Mayo)

What are the freaking chances that my 200th Blog Post would coincide with my Grand Canyon journal entry for Lava Falls day, which actually occurred on Cinco De Mayo and one of the brightest full moons of the year?!?! I'm stoked! Here goes....

6 A.M.

Today is Lava Falls day. We are 13 miles away from this class 10 rapid that for many is the highlight of white-water rafting the Grand Canyon. We will probably hit it by mid-afternoon. Today is also Cinco De Mayo so a large portion of Americans will be getting shitfaced drunk across the continent to celebrate a holiday that doesn't really have anything to do with the USA. It's all good for us because we also enjoy an excuse to party and it also, just so happens, to be tradition to drink tequila after Lava Falls.

I'm writing at this super early hour in the hopes that i will better help me conduct myself today. I've struggled on this trip giving up the higher class rapids to Robert (Crystal, Hance, Dubendorff & Horn) and I have to constantly remind myself that I have been given the opportunity to paddle a few good ones (Upset, Fishtail, Granite, Bedrock, etc.), but man, deep down inside I really want a shot at just one of the big ones! I think I was right in demanding to paddle a few of them back in the inner gorge, but I felt like I really had to demand them rather than be given the opportunity. Even yesterday I had to fight for Upset Rapid. I had to give Robert an ultimatum and say "if you do Upset then I'm doing Lava," and Robert instantly backed down, but not before saying, "I just want more practice before Lava." I responded with, "you're either ready for Lava at this point or you're not. Are you ready," because I am.

I felt really bad after making that statement, but upon reflection I feel it's the truth. I am 100 percent confident of my abilities at this point and if needed, I would paddle Lava. Lava Falls is hands down Robert's rapid. He invited me to go on this trip... to go on his boat... so it's been silently understood from the beginning that Lava is his. I wouldn't try and take Lava for him for anything. My issue, that I'm just now figuring out is control. I never dreamed I'd have such a problem with it until I got out here and had to experience it. I've been psycho-analyzing myself for days now and I've finally figured it out. By figuring it out and writing about it I think I can come to terms with it and be a better person.

Here's what I've learned. If I were in a boat with Bob or Butch, I wouldn't have an issue being a passenger and being in their hands and giving them control over my fate because they've each got 30+ years of experience on this river. They're experts. Robert and I are NOT experts. Not even close. We're both super smart and in great shape and completely capable, but at the end of the day, we're both fucking beginners. We've both made excellent decisions so far on this trip and we're always thinking the same thing, which is good. Those decisions have come with having the right knowledge provided by Bob and Butch before hand. We are both at the same skill level. Neither him, nor I are better than the other at this point. This is the reason I'm struggling. It makes it difficult for me to sit back and be submissive. Everything in my upbringing has pushed me to be in charge and be an "alpha" male in critical situations. I feel and hope that Robert is the same way. I was also raised to be competitive or at least be the best when put in a situation where I'm surrounded by equality.

So.... today I must bite my tongue, hang on and try to enjoy the ride. I must be stoked for my cousin and share in his triumph. This is what I must do and I know it. Next time, if there is a next time, I will man my own boat and bring along Jenny. Hopefully, it'll be with Robert and Athena and the gang again, but each of us in our own boat side by side. That would be epic.

Oh... I don't think I wrote about Upset Rapid yesterday. It was my worst run yet. I planned to enter the tongue on the left and push left through the first lateral and the rest of the run, which curves right. There is a huge hole in the middle that has flipped even commercial rigs so that is what you are avoiding with this strategy. There is a cheat to the right, but it's narrow and hard to hit and often times the river pulls you left because the rapid is curving right along a rock wall.

Upset Rapid

Everything in my head was conflicted because every other rapid that looks like this one usually is the opposite in that you want to avoid the outside of the curve instead of pushing into it. I watch Butch go ahead of me and he makes it as planned. It's my turn and a domino of things cause me to miss my line completely. First, I start a little left in the tongue where Butch entered, but when I push into the first wave on the left side I missed a stroke on my left oar. This threw me off balance and the wave knocks us to the right. I lose my grip on the oar completely and during the time it takes me to regain control of the oar we are pushed halfway across the river to the right. Now it's too late to do anything, but take whatever this rapid throws at us. We are in the middle-right side of the rapid quickly approaching the hole. I hit a wave sort of sideways and really think we might come close to flipping, but we rock right over top the wave. This gives me enough time to turn us straight again and push directly forward as we enter the hole.

We collide violently with the hole, but punch right through it. All in all, it wasn't as bad as I was anticipating. Butch asks afterward how the devil at the bottom of that hole is doing? I guess we're now in some sort of special club of people that have been down there to see the Devil. I really didn't think the hole was bad, but we might have hit it just right. What really didn't like was losing the oar and the control loss. It wasn't a good run, but it was a good experience. Upon reflection, the same thing happened to Robert in Dubendorff. Now I understand what he meant after that run when he said, "sometimes you wish you could have a 'do over' when it goes like that."

Alright, well, it's time for breakfast. I'll try to post again tonight given that all goes well! Bring on Lava!

10 P.M.

So... I'm a little drunk.

The word "so" seems to be the go to word on this trip when you want to talk to the group and state some kind of plan of action. Butch uses it all the time and now it seems that I've adopted it as well.

So... we are camped at the "Below Lava Falls," campsite otherwise known as Tequila Beach.

So... the day went well after all. I'm so glad I took the time to write this morning. I think it helped me sort things out in my head and be a better person today. Before we reached Lava Falls we stopped to hike Fern Glen Canyon (Mile 168). Not a big deal, but worth mentioning. At one point I did hike away from the group and was the first to reach a destination point and there was one single dove that flew away right over my head. I feel that the dove is a peace symbol and this was a sign to find inner peace with myself. We then ate lunch on some sandbar with no shade where Butch didn't even want to come ashore because of a science trip he did back in the 1980s where it was brutally hot.

Finally, we make it to Lava Falls! We scout it and then it's time to go. Bob goes first in the dory. Then Andy and Kathy followed by Butch and Tricia and we bring up the rear in the Flower Power. Robert did a fine job considering each person going in front of us did slightly different than what was discussed beforehand. We were all aiming for the same line, but everyone went slightly different from one another. Robert stuck to our plan and we did just fine. The actual rapid was somewhat uneventful; a few big waves head on and we were done without incident. Everyone did great. I felt happiness for Robert even though I long to do Lava some day myself. Next time!

After making it through upper Lava Falls (the serious part of the rapid) and before entering the lower Lava Falls rapid, Robert, Athena and I all share a round of tequila. Then, once we all make the beach below the rapid everyone starts binge drinking and celebrating our triumph. Tequila shots of Patron, brought by Andy and Cathy, are slammed down followed by mucho cerveza. A few days ago we switched our day 18 food pack with day 20 intentionally so we could have Mexican food tonight instead of Italian. Robert, Athena and I cook dinner for everyone. Spirits are high and everyone is stoked! After a few hours, I'm very buzzed and decide to call it a night, which brings me here to my personal campsite.
Lava Falls GoPro Video

I picked this sight during my intoxication and it immediately became obvious that I chose poorly. I'm right in the middle of a sand dune with exposure to the wind at all angles. I lay down on my air mattress and immediately realize that I'm going to be sand blasted all night. What to do? My first idea is to go back to the kitchen and drink more so I can pass out in my sand box. Then EUREKA! I'm struck with pure brilliance that for the life of me I can't understand why I figure it out now while drunk and not days ago when I'm sober.

I march back to the boat and grab my tent. I bust out the tent and throw it right on top of the air mattress. The air mattress is way to big to go inside my tent so for days I've been sleeping outside. Now I realize that I can easily set my tent up on top of my air mattress and stake it down just the same. I stumble around totally wasted doing this and 15-minutes later, WAA-LA... I have a tent to provide some shelter from the sand storm and a soft floor to sleep on! I take great pride in such a small accomplishment! I'm smiling just now as I write this because I'm still stoked!

Tonight I noticed a since of calmness coming over Butch and Bob. It's as if a huge level of stress was lifted off their shoulders once we were finished with Lava.

I'm about to fade away to sleep here, but I can't believe we only have three more days and we're out of here. I miss Jenny more and more each day. I'm not sure if she would like the adrenaline rush of the larger rapids, but I know she would love everything else this pace offers. I can't wait to get back and never separate from her this long again!

The morning after... Sand still got into everything, but not nearly as much as without the tent. Yay, for drunken innovation!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 17) - Grand Canyon Proof

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 4, 2012

At this point in the trip there are a few pieces of equipment that have proven worthy and some that flat out suck. I keep thinking of that Grandma-type character that was a spokesperson for Columbia Outerwear a few years ago. She would be on the commercials showing some Columbia clothing taking a beating in some extreme weather condition. I feel like I've got the Columbia grandma beat out here in the Grand Canyon. Seventeen days and some things are beginning to break down.

To name a few, my Kelty "Good Nite Airbed" tops the list of SUCK and I know I mentioned it yesterday, but I thought it would make me feel better if I wrote that it SUCKS one more time. I can't describe with words the frustration I have with that piece of equipment. Kelty is a name brand that I've always trusted. Not anymore. 

Enough with the negative. Let's talk more about the positive; the things that are working great despite adverse conditions. Teva sandals. I have two pairs with me on this trip and surprisingly the older ones are out performing the newer ones. I have a pair that I purchased in the Bahamas in 1999. They are 13 years old and are finally biting the dust, but only because the glue holding the rubber tread on the sole has biodegraded over time. The left tread came off today, but you know what? I'm continuing to walk in them and they'll still holding together like a champ. I just have to be more careful about slipping on rocks.

My Pelican Case has done an amazing job of keeping my Nikon D7000 dry and free of sand. My North Face sleeping bag (Cat's Meow) is also a decade old, but continues to keep me warm and cozy at night. Sometimes too warm. Before the trip I purchased a Patagonia "Nano Puff" jacket with Primasoft insulation. It's not waterproof, but the dang thing stuffs into its own pocket down to the size of a softball and only weighs a few ounces. It's proven plenty warm during chilly mornings and is beyond comfortable and durable. It's my new favorite all around jacket. I really need to create a list after this trip of what works and what doesn't. That way if there's ever a 4th river trip for me I'll have the list to remind me!

Today we paddled 20 miles! It took all day and we only stopped once for lunch. We passed up the popular Matkatambia and Havasu stops. Athena was really disappointed about Havasu and it was even worse that when we passed it there was not one boat there yet and the water coming out of the side canyon was a beautiful blue, kind of like the Little Colorado. We've all seen Havasu before except Athena and I kind of suspect that Butch and Bob were dead set on avoiding it from the start of the trip. I can't blame them as it's pretty  much a mandatory stop on commercial trips so they've both seen it hundreds of times. Robert, Athena and I took turns rowing and passed the time playing silly games that you might play on a long road trip. We also drank a bunch of beer when we realized that our supply now is more than we'll ever drink during the rest of the trip.

I'm going sans-tent again tonight! Last night was the best sleep I've had in weeks on this borrowed air mattress that doesn't leak and leave me laying on rocks. It's also warmer outside at night now and not  cloud in the sky so rain chance is low and amazing star gazing is high! The wind is a little annoying, as usual, but I've found a spot that is some what protected. This rock I'm sitting on is getting really hard and dinner is calling! Peace!
Finding out if it is possible to do a headstand on the bow of an inflatable raft in white water after drinking several beers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 16) - Whispering Falls

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 3, 2012

It's dark. I'm freaking tired. Too tired to even set up my tent. I thought I might sleep on the boat tonight, but nixed that idea because we're camped in the middle of a freaking rapid and the water is not calm or quiet. This camp side is called Olo Canyon. The moon is almost full. It's so freaking bright that I don't need my LED headlamp to see clearly. To hell with it - I'm going to put on my sunglasses and sleep out in the open tonight. Oh, and did I mention I just drank three beers and a bunch of wine? Yup, this post should be interesting. . .

Today was a damn good day! LOoooong, but good. We hiked Kanab Creek Canyon all the way to Whispering Falls. It took more than 6-hours in total and as a result we got to camp super late in the day. I must say that the payoff at Whispering Falls was truly epic and absolutely beautiful. Several times, we almost turned back as it was much further than Bob or Butch remembered. I'm glad we didn't. After some difficult hiking/climbing we reached the place and with perfect timing. It's a long narrow pool of crystal clear water with a trickling waterfall into it and it probably only gets about 30 minutes of sunlight a day. We nailed it perfectly as the sunlight glistened into the pool. Twenty minutes later it was in the shade. Bob and I speed hiked the way out and got a chance to chat it up during a couple of beers at the boat while we waited for the rest of our group to arrive.

I'm so tired right now that I wish I could write more as it was such an amazing hike. On the way in I played a game with the Grand Canyon to see if I could make it all the way to Whispering Falls without getting my trail running shoes wet. This often left me way behind the group, but I would eventually catch up as I jumped from boulder to boulder and took extremely difficult routes rather than traverse the creek 500 times. This is probably why I'm so damn tired. On the way back I blasted through the creek at full speed and it felt so refreshing.
 Kanab Creek
Resting during lunch break at Kanab Creek

 My new bed!
The waterfall at Olo Canyon

Long story short - tonight I'm sleeping on a borrowed air mattress from Robert and Athena, who are sleeping on their cots instead. My air mattress, a Kelty "Good Nite-Airbed" that is made for camping, started leaking the second night of this trip and eventually got to the point of not holding any air last night. During the entire trip I've had to get up every 2-3 hours and manually pump the air mattress back up. It's been a shitty experience, but I've been determined not to let it ruin the adventure. Last night I ended up sleeping on rocks as all my efforts to patch it failed. Tonight I'm stoked to be on a mattress that seems to be holding air just fine. Looking forward to a good night rest!

 Swimming at Whispering Falls
Big Horns that Robert and Athena spotted along Kanab Creek

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 15) - Deer Creek Falls

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 2, 2012

Another good day in the books! Although it started off with some aches and pains in my lower back, probably from paddling so much yesterday, I spend some time stretching and doing a few yoga positions and took some Advil and it quickly got better.

We drifted a few miles down the river after breakfast and were the first ones to arrive at Deer Creek Falls (Mile 136). Like the the Little Colorado River we have the place to ourselves temporarily until other river parties arrive at this popular stop (by the time we leave there would be 18-boats here).

We all hike up to the Patio, which is one of the most beautiful areas I've ever seen. It's a slot canyon hundreds of feet above the river that leads back into a gorge with Deer Creek flowing all the while in the depths on its way to eventually go over the waterfall. There are dozens of mini-waterfalls along the way and it eventually opens up into a big area with lots of shade kind of like a natural patio.

From here, Bob, Athena, Robert, Andy and I continue on the trail on a mission to get to the "source" of Deer Creek and the famous Throne Room. The source is a powerful waterfall coming straight out of the side of a canyon wall high above the trail, which goes directly behind the waterfall and into a room where people have literally made "thrones" out of large flat pieces of rock. We stop and refill our water bottles directly from the source. It's the best tasting water of the entire trip! We then all stop, pick out a throne and eat our packed lunches. Bob reads his book, the Game of Thones, while sitting in one of the largest thrones for about a half hour.

When it's time to hike back to the Patio I decide I'm going to trail run, but this time film it on the GoPro mounted on my helmet that I brought up from the boat in my backpack. I'm only wearing my Teva Sandals so I have to be extra careful. I think to myself that Jenny will enjoy seeing this video. I really wish she were here to run some of these trails! I finish the run in just under 11 minutes. It takes an average river rafting passenger about 45 minutes to hike what I've just ran. I cool off by laying down in the creek at the Patio.

Trail run back to the Patio

I spend most of my time taking photographs of the area and I can't wait to get back to a computer to view them. The problem with these GoPro cameras is you can't review your video or pictures. I thought that the SD card would work in my other cameras from the GoPro, but they aren't compatible. Everyone wishes we could review footage instantly, but I kind of like it because it's like the old days of film where you just don't know until you get to the darkroom. I miss those days sometimes.

We are camping now at a place call the "Dorris" campsite and we got here early so everyone is super chill and relaxed. I'm not sure why it's called Dorris, but I get the impression from Butch and Bob that it's something dirty. Oh well, the weather is pleasant and I'm excited about an all day hike we're planning for tomorrow at Kanab Creek.

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!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 13) - Surprise! A rock!

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 30, 2012

It's late (a whopping 8:45 p.m.) and I'm tired. This is going to be a short post.

Got up early this morning and climbed around solo in a slot canyon before breakfast. It was "good" solitude.

We stopped at Elves Chasm soon after launching down the river and were delighted to discover we had the place to ourselves. Bob, Andy, Robert and I hiked, climbed and clawed our way all the way up above the first (famous) spot where everyone stops and jumps into the pool of water below a waterfall. We made it past about a dozen or so similar mini-waterfalls and at the top was a 100' waterfall that was absolutely amazing. It was super lush and green and without looking up and out of the side canyon you'd never know you were in the Grand Canyon. The climb up is super technical, the most so far, and not exactly safe without climbing equipment. I actually stashed some of my gear about halfway because I needed to be free from carrying it and unrestricted in my movement. I don't think many people make it up to that spot and I'm honored to have the opportunity. On the way back to the boats we stop at the first pool and Robert, Athena and I do take a few turns jumping through the waterfall and into the pool. By  now, there's another private river trip here. They see us come down from above and start to climb up the way we came. I know it's not a nice thought, but I can't help but look at them, see how fat they are, and think they'll never make it or their injure themselves trying.

 I've just discovered how easy it is to add a YouTube video to this blog. I'll try and add more of the GoPro videos from the trip in future posts.

Once we were back on the river something caught us by surprise just below Elves Chasm. A random rock, but not a big rock and not an obvious rock, caught us. Robert was paddling and was smart enough to turn us right into it when he saw it at the last minute and realized there was no avoiding a collision. Our raft wedged up onto and slightly over it causing us to stop. I jokingly say, "OK, no one panic," because that's what Butch always says to the commercial passengers in briefing if something "interesting" were to happen.  Athena and I then scramble to the rear of the raft and use our body weights to shift the center of gravity of the raft. With this and Robert pulling on the oars we are able to dislodge ourselves and continue down the river.

Butch and Tricia are not as lucky. We look back and in horror see them heading for the same rock. There's nothing we can do, but watch them collide into it broadside. It turns out that they just weren't paying attention, just like us, and the river naturally takes you right into the slightly submerged rock. They didn't even see us on the rock and we were probably stuck on it at least 3 minutes. It's not even in white water. We quickly paddle over to a beach just below where they are stuck. I grab a long rope and Robert and I start climbing over shoreline rocks to try and get near them when we see them coming down the river free of the rock.

All is good until we catch back up with them and discover that the rock ripped a 6-inch hole in the side tube of their raft. The tubes are chambered so it's not like the boat is sinking. It's just going very awkwardly down the river. Not something you would want to run a serious rapid with...

At this point Butch is f*cking pissed at himself for the lapse of attention and consequence. He admits he was just in "motorboat" mode, because that's what he's used to - having horsepower to save you at the last minute. Not today. We make it a few miles down the river to a place called Blacktail Canyon. This is another one of my favorite spots on the river. It's 2 p.m. and we decide to unload the boats, make camp, and concentrate on fixing the hole in the boat. I have to give credit to Bob for keeping the peace and spirits up. Butch is so upset (I would be too) that none of us want to get close to him. We're all being quite and keeping our space and Bob (who has been on the river as long as Butch and known him forever) steps in and really helps out as a communicator of sorts. First, we unload Butch and Tricia's entire boat onto shore and then flip the boat upside down onto the beach. Then we organize into two groups. One group sets up camp while the other group works on patching the hole. Butch does the patch himself and is assisted by Tricia and Bob. He attacks the raft like a surgeon on a patient. It's 95 degrees outside and the sun is relentless. Bob and Tricia set up all our umbrellas over the surgeon and his operating table. He uses a hole punch to create several dozen holes laterally along the tear on both sides. Then he uses some of Cathy's fishing line to sew/stitch the hole shut. After ensuring the surface is completely dry, he uses the repair kit to apply a huge patch over his work. Later, they apply another patch over the first patch. In the long run, this actually works and we're saved!

Butch and Tricia decided to get a non-self bailing boat when we hired Cieba Adventures to outfit us. The reason is because Tricia wants to get exercise by bailing water and they both think that the boat will preform better than the self-bailing boat that Robert, Athena and I rented. The problem is their boat is super old. The hull is lined with dozens of patches. I don't know what the lifespan of one of these boats are, but this one is got to be geriatric. Someone said it's the only one that Cieba has and all of their other boats are self bailing. I'm nick naming it the "SS Fragile."

Robert, Athena and I make dinner. It's pasta alfredo with a strange coleslaw and it's surprisingly good. We also wait until dark and explore Blacktail Canyon. It's a huge slot canyon that looks like it belongs in Lord of the Rings. The acoustics are amazing inside it and again, I'm kicking myself for not bringing my trumpet. Andy, Kathy, Robert, Athena and I slowly approach the entrance. It's very visible from outside as the starlight and waxing moon light it up well. Right at the entrance we all turn out our lights for effect. Just then a frog makes the most horrific sound and Cathy freezes in place. I look back at her and can't help but laugh out loud at the expression of fear on her face. "It's just a frog," we say. Inside the canyon it's pitch black. The walls are so tall and narrow that no moon light penetrates to the floor. Back in 2008 we camped here and my friends and I attempted to sleep inside it, but quickly left as we each got freaked out one by one. There are bats flying around, frogs making gnarly noises and at this time of year, quite a few spiders and beetles poking around on the floor.
This is one of my favorite panoramic of all the ones I took during the trip. It's real size is about 4-feet long. It's hard to tell on the computer screen, but it's got some amazing detail to it. You can see the scale of Blacktail Canyon by looking at Robert and Athena in the left side of the frame. This spot is about a 10 minute hike up from the river.
Blacktail Canyon entrance.

Wow.... I had meant to make a short entry, but got carried away. Now I'm super tired after today and really going to go to sleep! Bring on Day 14, which is May Day I might add!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 12) - Bass Camp

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 29, 2012

I wish everyday was like today; a perfect mix of hiking and rafting. We decided at dinner last night to pack the boats and tear down camp first thing this morning and then hike to the Bass homesite from where we camped. This way if anyone comes down the river they won't think we're a layover day and pass up on such a good campsite.

The hike to Bass is a good one. It's all single track trail and well established. It switches back and forth up about 700 or 800 feet over a hill and then goes down a significant ways to Shinumo Creek where it eventually meets and passes the Bass homesite. William W. Bass settled one of the first tourist camps in the Grand Canyon in about 1890 and later constructed a trans-Canyon trail and cableway across the river. Butch and Bob say that he actually came into the Canyon looking for something to mine, probably gold, but soon figured out there wasn't any and ended up finding himself a wife, starting a family and turning to tourism to support his family. Today it's just a bunch of very old rusty tools, parts of an oven, pots, pans and other artifacts all in a little rock shelter area by the creek. It's all laying out on display for hikers to look at. A little further down the trail I find a great shot of Shinumo Creek and take a few minutes to compose the photograph. I don't have a tripod so I support the camera on rocks. Like Phantom Ranch there are cottonwood trees growing around this site, obviously planted by Bass.

The entire hike is beautiful. Many of the desert plants are in bloom. On the way back I decide I want to trail run so I tighten down the straps to my backpack and start to run. I'm wearing my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes so why the hell not? Some sections are too steep to run so I speed hike them kind of like many of the runners did when Jenny and I ran the North Face 50k in Virginia last year. Once I make it to the top of the hill I really let loose and use gravity and my long legs to my advantage. It's not only a physical activity, but very mental also as I plan each step carefully always thinking 4-5 steps ahead of where I'm at. During the run I make note to bring a helmet with the GoPro mounted on top for video the next time. I think this is the steepest and fastest I've ever ran down a trial. I make it to the boats 30 minutes before the others hiking back. My eyes are actually tired from focusing so hard on the trail ahead of me.

We eat deli sandwiches for lunch and hit the river! Just like the past two days I somehow get first shot at the controls. Shinumo Creek rapid is long and curvy, kind of like a mini Tuna Creek. It's not big, but requires lots of pulling and pushing to avoid rocks and the sides of the river. The entire thing takes nearly 10 minutes and it's not until some while after that we realize we ended up going through a second rapid named for whatever river mile it's located at and thought it was part of Shinumo. Anyways, it's a hell of an arm workout and after the trail run I feel like I got a well-rounded workout today.

Robert takes us through Waltenberg Rapid and that was a big one. Bigger than I expect. Just as we're approaching the tongue we look ahead of us at Andy and Kathy and see them almost flip! Bob had gone before them and Andy thought he was trying to cheat it so he followed. Only thing is, there was a big hole halfway through and they both hit it. We quickly change our plan and decide to go left at the entry just the same as Butch did before Bob and Andy. We take a huge wave right over the bow. I saw it coming 20 feet ahead of time and because of my experience in surfing I can tell the timing is just right for the nasty thing to crest and break just as we will hit it. I brace hard as hundreds of pounds of water come splashing down upon our bow. It's actually cold and refreshing in the heat, but hair-raising at the same time.

We're now camped at the lower mile 114 campsite near Garnet Canyon. It's our turn to cook dinner so I'll close for now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 11) - Gem Stones!

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 28, 2012 

BIG WATER DAY! That's what today is... chalk full of big rapids (world class) as we will travel about 20 miles through the "gem stone" rapids. Sapphire, Ruby, Turquoise and of course the notorious Crystal Rapid to name a few. I just learned from our fearless leaders that back in the 1980s Crystal Rapid got so crazy that more than 100 rafters had to be airlifted to safety. The water was at 100,000+ cubic feet per second (CFS) back then. Today it's only running at about 10,000 CFS so I think we'll survive.

We start the day off with Granite Rapid, which is right next to our campsite from last night. I'm at the controls and I'm stoked. Granite is a class 9 rapid and there is a turn in the river right in the middle of the rapid. The turn tries to pull you into a wall and at the same time on the other side there are some huge holes and rocks to avoid. There is a long and nasty lateral wave in the middle of the turn. I make mental note of all these potential "bad-day" makers as I paddle through the rapid. It all goes as planned! It's absolutely amazing at how priceless the knowledge that Butch and Bob are providing Robert and I in advance of these rapids regardless of if we scout them or not. Without their guidance I'm sure I'd be flipped and broken by now.

The three of us switch out most of today and it's good to see Athena paddling some of her biggest rapids yet!  I paddle Granite, Tuna Creek (class 6), 104-mile (class 7) and Serpentine (class 6-8) rapids. The most fun is Tuna Creek for me. It is unexpectedly LONG as there is an upper & lower section with the river turning several times. It's not big in comparison at all, but it involves some technical paddling and endurance. The rapid takes about 7 minutes to get through while most rapids are less than a minute. I like it because endurance is involved! Serpentine rapid is also fun. There is a huge hole on the right and the river curves kind of like Ruby Rapid so you enter on the left tongue and pull left as it pulls you to river right.

We take the most video yet today with the GoPro cameras. We also split the group while running Granite to get some action photos. I set Bob up with my Nikon D7000 and he took pictures of us from shore going down the rapid.

Robert paddles Crystal. We stop and scout it before hand and he gets excellent advise, which helps him nail the rapid without incident. After Crystal Rapid we stop at a beach just below for lunch. Butch says this is the beach that "saves everyone's ass when things get ugly" up there. We all drink an "ABC Beer," which stands for "After and Below Crystal Beer."

Near the end of the day Robert and I take turns paddling Bob's dory, the Abbey Rose - named after his daughter. All and all the day is a great one! Thinking about it; so many things could go wrong considering what we accomplished. About the worst thing that happened was Robert lost our beer bag, which is a mesh net we fill with beer cans or other beverages and hang overboard into the cold Colorado River to chill to river temperature. He apparently didn't get the clip secure while moving the bag and after Athena ran Turquoise rapid we noticed it was gone. Butch and Tricia have an extra so we're saved from drinking warm beer!

We're camping at Bass Camp tonight. In 2008, I remember stopping here for lunch and it being one of the hottest days of the entire trip. It left everyone searching for shade that day. Right now, however, it's quite pleasant. Another thing I've noticed the past few days is less bugs. The "midges" seem to have disappeared somewhat (hopefully died!) and it's not so bad at night. There's talk of doing another layover day here tomorrow. I guess that will be discussed over our pork chop dinner tonight.