Continued from part two
Day 6: Phantom Ranch
We elected to get an early start in order to make it to Phantom by mid-afternoon. There were a few bigger rapids beforehand and we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on restocking ice due to a flip, so we pushed off before 9 (by far a record). Hance Rapid would be our first grade 8 rapid, and the biggest yet, which we hit around noon. I had been gaining confidence the last few days on the oars, and the day’s rapids went quite well for everyone. At Phantom it was imperative that we restock the ice for some of our coolers — one of the ones that was still sealed was already not looking too good. We literally bought every block of ice they had on hand (a couple dozen at least) and did some cooler rearranging. The coolers had been the last persistent cause of worry for me so it felt great to finally take care of them.
It was a little odd wandering around Phantom with beer in hand while dozens of scruffy backpackers were cooking freeze dried meals on JetBoils. River trips can spoil you. We decided to camp early and celebrate — best day yet of the trip for me.
Day 7: Mega Rapid Day
Most of the pre-trip conversations between boaters revolves around the big rapids of the trip: Oh yeah, I heard you should run Crystal center right to avoid the massive hole in the middle, then do an upstream ferry river right to avoid the wall. Really? I watched a few runs on YouTube and they just hit it dead middle. I dunno man, that hole looks huge!
And yadda yadda yadda, really there’s not much point to such deliberations beforehand. Rapids are highly chaotic — you really have no idea what they’ll look like until you’re 50 yards away scouting them from the bank. You can hit your line perfectly and still have that sneaker wave crest right at the moment you hit it, tossing you end over end. There’s a significant component of luck.
Granite, Hermit, Crystal. If you’re a boater you’ve certainly heard of at least two of the three rapids as well as their stories. Welp, we were about to hit ‘em all in a day, for the most exciting day yet on the river. Granite was first, around mid-morning. The other private party that had launched the same day as us happened to be doing a layover day just before Granite, so we chatted with them for a few minutes, exchanging liquid peace offerings in the process. Then came the scout — not gonna lie, it looked pretty intimidating. Granite might have been the most fun rapid of the whole river. At our level, the right run was doable — just a series of huge waves that you could hit while staying just left enough to avoid the wall. We whooped through them with glee and all three boats emerged without incident. This set the tone for the day.
Hermit was pretty straightforward, too — everything funneled towards a few big waves towards the end of the rapid that looked pretty big, however in a 16 foot boat we sailed over them easily. Crystal was the culmination — one of two grade 10s on the river. We scouted it, picked our lines, and I elected to go first. After the last two rapids it didn’t look so bad. Supposedly at other levels it can be terrifying, but we ran it pretty much down the center and didn’t even get that wet. However, while looking back upstream to see how the other boats were doing, I neglected to maneuver the boat either right or left to avoid a rock garden in the middle of the river. I pulled with all my might but just barely couldn’t get around a boulder that would’ve deposited us in the main channel. There was nothing to do at that point but just hang on as we bounced around for awhile before becoming solidly beached on a log braced on either side by a huge boulder.
Well, shit. Cam and Kevin did some jumping and pulling, but we didn’t budge. We tried getting off the raft, bracing against a boulder, and pushing, and managed to move it around the initial boulder, but there were another half dozen or so downstream that were unavoidable. The other boats docked downstream and hiked up til they were adjacent to us, but there was no way they could have gotten a rope to us as we were 50-60 yards away from shore. Eventually we decided the only option was to unload the boat until the reduced weight would allow us to move it. Luckily we were at a spot in the river where we could pile our gear onto a small gravel bed, otherwise it would have been a much more serious situation. After unloading the heaviest items, we could get out and push (again, luckily, the water there was only ankle- to knee-deep), with one person holding the bowline as a sort of belay in case the boat got caught in the current. Once we got really close to being un-beached again, we reloaded the boat (while it was belayed), and did a final push to get unstuck. The whole ordeal took over two hours, and by the time we were free it was only an hour before dusk. On the plus side, Kevin’s GoPro was running the whole time — you can view the video here. (There are some pretty hilarious shenanigans starting at around 3:00 when we attempt to dislodge the boat, check it out.) I am very thankful to have had such a strong crew that day with Kevin and Cam — both proved exceptionally cool, collected and strong in a hairy situation.
To make matters worse, I missed the pull-in for our desired campsite, and had to tie off a few hundred yards downstream from everyone else. It was a pretty terrible evening compared to the exultation of running the rapids (mostly) successfully earlier in the day.
The next morning we awoke to an intense thunderstorm. While cooking breakfast in our large cook tent with the doors open, we witnessed the river change from crystal clear to muddy brown within minutes. It was very dramatic, and a prelude to what was to come further downstream…