Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Grand Canyon 2012 Part Five: Lava!

Continued from Part Four

Day 12: Lava Falls and its aftermath

We got a nice, early start from our pretty mediocre campsite — on the river by 8:40, probably a record. Most of the day went by rather slowly. It was oppressively hot and everyone jumped in the water to cool off — but only for a few seconds since the water was still freezing. The hot/cold dichotomy was quite strange, but the cold water very welcome. Without it the trip would be much less comfortable.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon we pulled over right before Lava Falls, the other grade 10 rapid on the river. And holy shit, did it look scary. Brown, opaque water chundered through massive holes and drops across the entire river. A recirculating 20-foot-wide hole right down the middle looked disastrous, and any sneaks would line the boat up for a huge ledge drop, certainly flipping even my beefy 16-footer. Remember, we were floating the Grand with one sixteener and two 14s, so the big water looked especially intimating for our group. However, we were highly confident, having not had any mishaps thus far, even with our moderately experienced group.

So, we scouted on river right, and like usual, picked the obvious line right away before deliberating over the myriad other options, only to circle back to our original plan after 20 minutes. We all planned to run it far right, plow through a couple massive wave trains, and pull back left before running into a massive boulder just below. Easy…

I said ‘@#$% it’ and elected to go first again. The typical group indecision in these situations tends to annoy me, so I pushed off first and hoped for the best. The run-up to the rapid took an eternity, but soon enough we were lined up right where we wanted to be, if not a little bit left. (Just writing this and re-living the situation is elevating my heart rate!) We slid down the entrance, picking up speed, then hit the first of the massive waves ever so slightly turned left. Immediately, the distinct, familiar separation between river and boat disappeared, and the impact of the wave swept Cam, Zac and I several feet upstream (or up-boat, which were one and the same at this point). I managed to hold onto one oar, which was the only thing still attaching me to the boat, while floating back on the edge of the rear tube by our gear. Cam was swept off the boat, but desperately kept a death-grip on the rope threaded through the rings on the tube. I would have been swept off myself, were it not for the oars, but I quickly scampered back into the rower’s seat to try and straighten us out. The wave had punched us to the left, and we kept spinning until we were careening completely backwards into the next big wave. By the time I got the oars back into their locks it was too late.

WAM! We were pummeled again, but the wave wasn’t large enough to halt our forward progress, and we kept spinning counter-clockwise. At this point Cam was swimming, and we headed sideways into the huge boulder creating a pourover on either side. I’d like to say I deftly maneuvered past it, but in reality we slid a few feet up the water channel pushing up against the boulder, and it spit us river left back into the main current again. Zac and I hooted victoriously, having made it through the big stuff upright. We quickly spied Cam downstream and river left, and were thankful that he had abandoned ship, creating space between himself and the boat before we got anywhere near the boulder. After seeing that we had made it, he starting side-stroking upstream towards us, all while staying in the swimmer safety position. After 30 seconds or so he reached us, and we pulled him back in.

The other two boats had a much more elegant, and dare I say skillful, passage through the rapids, without any mishaps. We rendezvoused just downstream to tell our tales, and played around on an exceptionally cool beach where there were pockets of water trapped beneath the sand. The water beneath made the sand jiggle like jello, and he bounced around like kids, ecstatic from the successful rapid passage and anomalous jello-beach.

After a couple miles we made camp on river left, and had by far the biggest party of the trip. I must have laughed until I cried on three separate occasions throughout the night, and we all bonded with jubilation.

Day 13-15: Wrapping it up

The next day was laid-back but productive. We passed the time playing river frisbee and scrabble. Kevin had brought a gc_scrabble travel Scrabble kit, so he and Zac and I played a spirited game. Soon Falco docked his kayak and joined us. It was a bit challenging keeping the boat in the main current while playing, but I managed to do minimal rowing, and we covered 26 miles before camping at Granite Park, mile 209.

Day 14 brought us past Diamond Creek, and I was happy that the trip wasn’t yet over. We ran a dozen or so fun rapids, up to grade six, before setting up camp in a tight gorge right at the end of the rapids. There was talk of starting the night float early and not worrying about finding another camp the next night, but I wasn’t too excited about the idea as it would entail copious flatwater rowing. Blech.

It ended up being the last night, and it was the hottest yet, probably 90 degrees still after dusk. We stayed up fairly late chatting, reluctant to start the next day’s float.

The next day was long, boring, and exceptionally hot. Graham and Travis rowed like a bat out of hell to try and make the 43 miles before dark. I was far too lazy and didn’t see the rush, so Shawn and I mostly stayed together, even bumming a ride from an outfitter for 5-6 miles. After a long day, the sun went down around nine, and we pulled out the GPS to track our progress so we wouldn’t miss the takeout and take an unwilling ride down Pearce Ferry rapid. It was rather unnerving floating in the dark with absolutely no visibility, but it only took a half hour or so before the roaring of outfitter truck engines greeted us. Docking was a bittersweet moment. We all moved into go mode as quickly as possible, but it was emotionally difficult to so abruptly switch back into real life after so many days on the river. Skipping dinner hadn’t done much for team morale, either, but nevertheless we de-rigged, loaded the trailer, and packed up to find a campsite nearby.

A Grand trip indeed!

1 Comment

  1. Hey, Alec.
    I can’t remember if I read the entirety of your Grand Canyon adventure, so I looked at your 4th and 5th postings once again. Fun!

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