Archive for the ‘The Dream Trip’ Category

The Dream Trip: Camp 11, March 10

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

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Stephen’s Aisle is named for a Moorish guy named Esteban who traveled with the Spanish who came into the American Southwest. I don’t think he ever got to the Grand Canyon, in fact he was killed by the people at Zuni Pueblo. Conquistador Aisle is similarly misnamed but who cares?
We were not contemplating these ideas as we arose on the day after the cold and rainy day. We had slept somewhat poorly. We went to bed at 8 pm and went right to sleep. We were awakened at 11:30 pm by a strange crashing noise. I scrambled up and ran down to the boat to make sure all was well. I couldn’t find out what made the noise but it set me on edge and I didn’t relax very well after that. We didn’t get on the water until 11:30 am. The weather was improved but not warm and sunny.
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Right on the corner where Stephens Aisle turns into Conquistador Aisle Lee spied a cool garden of mosses and saw grass. We pulled over and I spent some time getting shots of the plants for her to paint from at home.

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As we floated down Conquistador Aisle the clouds kept pouring down over the Kaibab rim to the west as the sun was trying to make headway in the eastern sky. I was doing my best to keep Lee dry as we worked our way through the small splashy rapids in that section. Years ago she and I were floating through Conquistador Aisle not paying attention when I was bucked out in 122 mile rapid. I had drifted in sideways and rolled right out of the boat, Of course Lee jumped to the oars and handles the boat until I could pull my soggy bottom back into the boat.

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We stopped at Randy’s Rock for lunch and decided to make it camp as the sky darkened and snow poured over the rim into the canyon. Randy’s has nice sandstone ledges that overhang the camp and make for a nice sheltered kitchen and sitting area.

Randy’s Rock is one of those pieces of real estate in Grand Canyon that is named for a hapless boatman who messed up there. Here is the story of Randy Breckenridge. The version of this story that I am familiar with was not written by one of Randy’s friends and has Randy handing the oars over to a passenger and then going to sleep as the peop takes the boat left at the infamous rock.

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After setting up camp, which was a grunt because of the distance from the boat to the ledges, we had lunch and Lee convinced me to go for a walk up through the Tapeats ledges onto the Tonto platform above. We got some great views up and down stream and I found a like new pair of NorthFace gloves….river booty. By then the snow had pulled back and it was OK for an overcast day.

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After the hike Lee made her favorite pasta dish which consists of fresh broccoli with spaghetti, garlic, hard cheese and olive oil. We supplemented the dish with some spicy precooked chicken sausage. This was day thirteen and we were still able to have fresh broccoli without ice. That is one of the nice things about winter trips.

The Dream Trip: Camp 10, March 9 “The Cold and Windy Day”

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

It is always hard for me to want to get up early when it is raining outside the tent. Staying in bed and talking is great morning stuff. Breakfast was cold rice pudding, (The coconut milk idea was a good one.) hot cocoa and biscotti. We finally got on the river by about 11 am.
I was proud of my totally dry run of Ruby Rapid and nearly dry run of Serpentine. Serpentine is a big and violent rapid. Our first trip through it in 1992 we were totally clueless and our boatman took us over one of the big ledge pour overs on the upper right side of things. I broke my tail bone in that kerchunk. It took most of the next winter to get right again.

As the day went on the rain got worse. Lee suffered from the cold even with her dry suit on so I put her to rowing so she could generate some warmth. It didn’t work out so well because the rowing was stressing he back so she went back into passenger mode. She didn’t complain at all and kept remarking on how totally beautiful the Canyon is in winter. It truly was one of the most beautiful days either of us have spent in the Canyon. I guess that rain and cold was the price of admission. It reminded us of a day in December 2002 when we floated along from the Little Colorado to Carbon Creek where the rest of our group had gone to set up camp and get warm while we hiked up the south side of the LC. We were spellbound as we watched the snow swirl around us in the eddies. It was magic. A lot of this day was like that. The clouds, heavy with rain and ice, hung low on the ramparts sometimes obscuring them and sometimes revealing them. The lost and found quality of the scenery was wonderful even when we had to row into driving rain laced with sleet. We kept remarking at how lucky we were to get to be there and do it on that day.

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This last image is of a rock on river right just above Bass Rapid that Lee describes as her favorite rock in the canyon. It is the one she wants in our back yard.
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After a short stop at mile 111 to look at some amazing fluted rocks we ran Hakatai, Waltenberg and Rancid Tuna Rapids as dry as possible on a cold and rainy day. Around the corner at about mile 113-114 I shot these scenes as the light and clouds changed.

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The fluting, did I mention the fluting?

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It was a day for craning the neck.
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After passing Elves Chasm with out stopping we started looking for camp in ernest in Stephens Aisle. There are some ledgy places there and I hoped we would find a sheltered camp big enough for one boat. No luck so we camped at mile 118 which is a big camp with a flat sandy beach. It does have some ledges but not close to the river and we were not excited about humping all our kitchen gear way up under the sandstone so we set up our kitchen right by the boat. By the time we got to camp Lee was in early stages of hypothermia. I set up the tent as quickly as I could and got her into dry long johns and the sleeping bag. Being out of the wind was a big help. I threw together a green chili stew made from a can of green chili with pork chunks and some potatoes and onions. She was very happy with that and cheered up a lot as we ate in the tent. Lee does not complain much about anything but I could tell her back was hurting and she was obviously very cold. I’d have been howling like a baby.
Sitting in the tent together was very nice. It was really nice to have a bomb proof tent. The rain continued through the evening as we journaled and read. It was a truly glorious day despite the weather. We both expressed how great it is to share a place like this with someone who sees it the way you do. Around every bend was another painting or photograph waiting for us. Even if we didn’t make any images the memories will be fresh for a long time.

The Dream Trip: Camp 9, March 8

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

We were slow leaving our little ledge camp in the schist and granite. It seems that as we went down the river the one-boat camps just kept getting better. Maybe we just got better at spotting them. This one was a jewel.
Granite Falls was our first rapid and happens to be my favorite one to run in the canyon. Our run on day eleven was no exception; big waves and lots of adrenaline.
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Looking down stream towards Granite Falls in the morning. Lee enjoying a boat washing ride through Granite Falls with Mike Levitt on our Tour West charter trip in 2008. Do you think this woman likes riding through big water? (photo credit Howard Bennion) Looking back upstream at Granite Falls.

After Granite it was Hermit Rapid which I mostly cheated on the right and Boucher Rapid. We pulled in and scouted Crystal Rapid not wanting to mess up there. We were on weekend water and it was low which usually indicates a left run. I have gotten into trouble a couple of times over on the left and decided to make the center to right momentum run that I usually do. I was concerned about one nasty looking fang rock barely below the surface just upstream and toward the shore from the lower right hole in the rapid. We had a pair of electric bilge pumps mounted in the rear of the boat between the rear drop bag and a beavertail. I executed the pull to the right OK but pulled back a little out of concern about hitting that rock and possibly damaging the pumps. Well, the river shot us right back into the main stream and I could see that we would hit the hole dead center so I straightened out and pushed into it telling Lee to hunker down. The boat tacoed and filled with river. I usually push left of the rock island when running right in the upper rapid. This time, with a boat load of water, I limped along the right side which was pretty bony with the low water. I was more glad than ever for those pumps. I had switched them on going into the rapid. Below Crystal I eddied out and waited for the boat to drain. It took a loooong time.
Below Crystal there is a little break in the action and then it is Tuna Creek, Nixon Rock and the “Gems”. Nixon Rock is named that because it is “a little right of center and crooked”.
The sun was on and off all that day so we staked out a patch of it on river right below Nixon Rock and had a lunch of cottage cheese, canned pineapple and assorted snacks on the boat. The early Gems were uneventful except for the fact that I cheated most of them. (Lee loves that.) Below Turquoise we pulled over and made camp on a tiny beach with a high bedroom at mile 102.5 on river right.
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Upstream view from Hermit with snow on the high country. Looking up stream at “Nixon Rock from our lunch spot. In the Gems above Turquoise.

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Lee asked me to pull over in the Gems and get some images of this little moss garden she spied.
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It was a nice day, excitement at Crystal notwithstanding. I love the granite dikes running in clusters all over the place through this section. The lost and found sun light made for some dramatic scenes.

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Our camp at 102.5 was very quiet, a quality Lee favors. If I am with a group I like a noisy rapid so I can retire early and not be kept awake with all the talking. If no one else is around the silence is golden. We had leftover lasagna and the last of our green salad. I whipped up a rice pudding using coconut milk for dessert. We were early to bed as the night chill set in. The stars were brilliant at bed time and I wanted to sleep out under them but Lee won that argument handily. Of course as soon as were settled in the clouds rolled in and it rained all night.

The Dream Trip: Camp 8, March 6-7

Monday, April 12th, 2010

I woke up in the cave watching the stars fading away. Lee was sleeping beside me as I thought about the rock formed 1.7 billion years ago that surrounded us. It was hard to want to get up but I did……eventually.


The schist in the Inner Gorge is the most rugged looking stuff I have ever seen. It is like we had transitioned out of one world and into another. The shapes and orientation of the rock is completely different from the orderly sedimentary layers of the past 80 miles. Between the Tapeats Sandstone and the Vishnu Schist is a gap in the time line of about 950,000,000 years called “The Great Unconformity” . That is a lot of missing data and, as I said, it looks like another world, a gothic world.

About six months after our first Grand Canyon river trip in 1992 Lee began painting images of that trip. I think it took her that long to process the experience. All the way through that trip she and another woman on the trip who was also a mother kept comparing the experience to the only other really big life changing thing they had done, giving birth. Above is a painting Lee calls “Woman in the River: Baptism”. Set in the schist of the Inner Gorge it depicts the emotional experience of being worn down to bedrock and then reborn in the river. It was a life altering experience. I am beginning to see this trip in the same way.
We were rigged and on the water by 10:15 after a breakfast of muffin, sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches. We ran Sockdolager and Grapevine without incident. It was cold and a little windy. Clouds were beginning to darken the sky. The good news is that the wind was blowing down canyon, always a blessing. We ate lunch on the boat after running 85 mile rapid while we floated toward Phantom Ranch. The schist provided an amazing floor show for our repast.
At PR we walked up to the cantina where Lee posted dozens of messages she had written to friends about the trip. There was a fat letter there from our oldest, Louisa, who lives in France and has been traveling in Ireland for a couple of months. Louisa works on the river with me sometimes and knows how nice letters at Phantom are. I called Zina to let her know we were alright, checked in with our house sitter and talked with our friend Christa about the rapids and camps. It was getting late (4 pm) by the time we were back on the water.
Below Pipe Creek there was a group camped on a cobble bar. They invited us to bunk in with them but we declined. I wanted to run Horn Creek on afternoon water. In the morning the water would be lower and I always prefer Horn at higher water. At Horn Creek I did something I have not done in years. I got out of the boat and scouted it. It looked to me like the run could be done between the horns or from right to left. I thought about it and as I pushed off decided to do the momentum run from right to left. It was fine. Either way you get rather wet in that one.

Below Horn Creek we began thinking about camp. We had been talking about Trinity Creek or Salt Creek but decided instead on a little granite landing on river right below Trinity and above Salt. I doubt anyone has ever used it as camp. There was one small place up in the boulders where we could pitch a tent and enough of a ledge by the shore for a kitchen. It was a lovely camp, one we will remember. The next day was Sunday so we decided to layover and rest. I love running with other people, even on commercial trips, but I liked very much being with someone who also liked to take one day in seven off and watch the river go by and think about its Creator. On that Sunday we read from Genesis as we sat on rocks as old as any I have visited. Being the son of a geologist who was also a church man I have never had much problem reconciling the story of Genesis with science. I find them both rather exciting.
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This was one of our most visually rich camps, but we seemed to say that about most of them. The granite and schist are amazing. Just upstream of our camp was a little stream coming into the river with beautiful pools and flora.
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The rain started up around 9:30 pm and drummed on most of the night driven by hard wind. We were already asleep and were awakened when it started. We were very glad we had buttoned everything down in the kitchen and had the rain fly on the tent. It was nice and cozy in there. We were awake until about 11:30 talking and reading until we got sleepy again.
The cold, wind and rain continued the next day. We were glad to be laying over. We both went exploring in different directions. I found some cool jetsam at the traditional high water line, very old plywood, bottles and cans that also had some antiquity. Lee spent some time when it wasn’t too rainy drawing. Around 11:30 the group from up Pipe Creek way came by. They had spent most of the day before waiting for a hiker who was coming in to join their group. Don’t ask me why I hate exchanges. They mean you have to hit Phantom on a certain day and if the hiker isn’t there you have to wait. No thanks. They also told us of their flip in Horn Creek Rapid just minutes before. What a rotten day to have an unscheduled swim. As the day went on and the storm persisted we thought of them running the gorge and heading into the Gems.
During one of the rainy spells we took shelter under a house rock and listened to some podcasts and read the fat letter from France. It was nice and cozy once again. In our spiritual tradition it is customary to fast on the first Sunday of the month so we observed that. Our fast was dedicated to gratitude. We feel so lucky to get to do this with just the two of us. We sat in the shelter of our rock and listed the things that we are grateful for. It was a long list. Lucky us.
Later we put up the rain fly over our kitchen area and built a small warming fire from our drift wood stores. We got some Mozart going on the iPod and Lee baked a lasagna and some biscuits. Later we made strawberry shortcake using the biscuits, home made strawberry freezer jam and canned whipped cream. This all went down very nicely on our empty stomachs. We sat up for a while after dark watching the fire die and talking.

The Dream Trip: Camp 7, March 5

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

The canyon around mile 70 is wide open so the sun was on us early. The light was just as stunning as the night before. We wanted to get out early so we could possibly catch Mike Glassgow’s group to run the gorge. Breakfast was quick and simple, oatmeal. We were on the water by 8:30 and found Mike’s group holed up at Cardenas Creek a half mile below us on river left. They were OK with us running with them so we went ahead with the plan of waiting for them above Hance Rapid. We ran Unkar and Nevills with no incident and pulled off the water on a nice beach below Nevills on river right. I napped while Lee went for a walk. after about 45 minutes the other group showed up. They scouted and ran left. Being a creature of habit (and thinking the water was way too low for the left run) we scouted from the right bank. They ran in two groups. Mike lead off making a pretty neat run on the right. Some of his followers seemed to bump and grind a bit. We ran after their first group and made the right entry pulling into the “duck pond”, pivoting and pushing hard to the left. There was enough water that I exited the duck pond by dropping over the pour over formed by the rocks on the down stream side. I was able to reach over and touch the “Whale Rock” with my left oar. In other words the run went as I had hoped. I have had some adventures at Hance like getting stuck in the eddy behind the large pink rock on the left run with two first time teenaged boatmen coming down on me from behind and running over the rock that divides the right tongue twice. It was nice to have it go well especially with an audience.
We headed downstream ahead of the others planning to run with them until were were all past Sockdolager and Grapevine. At about 11:30 Lee spied a nice little beach on river right about mile 78. She suggested we pull over and make it a lunch spot. I figured that running those other rapids without backup would be OK so we did. As Lee explored the spot she announced that it was camp. Above the little beach that was big enough to support our kitchen set up was a small cave with a flat sandy bottom. The sun =was on the spot and it felt like a great place for a half over.
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It was such a perfect little camp we decided to call it Booh Booh Camp in honor of our spoiled rotten little wiener dog who sometimes goes by that name. Sometimes I tell Booh he is “the very best one”. This camp was easily the very best one we found. Booh (his real name is Andy) came into our lives sort of by way of the Grand Canyon. IN 2002 I drew a permit to run the Canyon for thirty days starting December 13. I wanted Lee to come along. She wouldn’t go for that long and leave our youngest daughter Adah. Adah said she was not about to take on such a death defying river trip in the winter. She had been asking for a wiener dog for a while. I bargained with her to get the dog if she would come with us. Half way through that trip someone asked her what was the best thing about the trip to which she responded,” I got the dog and the trip”. I told her I thought she would make someone a great wife.
The afternoon was warm and sunny. The black schist of the Granite Gorge gathers and radiates the warmth. We bathed, did laundry and generally lazed around, writing and reading. I heard Lee say, “This is a perfect day”. She is right. I have to wonder why it is that we get to do this. When we got home we had to hit the ground running but for that day we just had to deal with another lousy day in paradise.

The Dream Trip: Camp 6, March 4

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

This the day we have taken to calling “the very windy day.” Morning broke with up canyon wind and dark clouds moving fast and high, not a good sign. After a breakfast of pancakes and sausage we suited up for a cold ride and began rigging. I have an old Patagonia sailing suit made of goretex that works well enough. It is a one piece affair that is warm and at least splash proof. I have used it for the past decade on off season trips. Lee purchased a used dry suit for this trip from Kayak Academy. It was a very good investment given the importance of keeping her as warm as possible. I wore my sailing suit a few days while Lee wore her dry suit a lot. She has low blood pressure and needs all the help she can get. Between rowing most of the time and just being warm blooded I wear less on the river than she does.
I pushed into the wind all day. It wasn’t the worst wind I have seen in the Grand Canyon but certainly the worst on this trip. It was by no means a miserable day. I enjoy the workout and being with Lee. She was warm so I was OK. At the Little Colorado we opted to not even pull in. It was running muddy, there was another group already there (Sunday’s Launch) and the wind was ferocious by then. The Little Colorado with its normally bright blue water is a top attraction for most trips floating the river. We have many wonderful memories tied up with that place. On our first trip in 1992 we were still rather shell shocked from our traumatic flip in Badger Rapid when we pulled in at the LC. Lee and I began visiting with a very friendly AZRA guide we met there. Little did we know that Bob Melville would become a dear friend over the next decade. Bob recognized our need and took us under wing encouraging us to be of good courage. He marked up my copy of Larry Stevens guide book with notes on most of the rapids. I still carry that copy and remember Bob’s kindness fondly.
The wind actually got worse below the confluence. That section between the LC and about Carbon Creek can be a real nightmare in the wind. It is very swirly with huge double eddies around the area of the Hopi Salt Mines. In this reach we began over taking Mike Glassgow’s group, the Saturday launch. Mike, a powerful oarsman, was way out ahead. Their plans were to make it to Rattlesnake Camp, mile 74. We were planning on 75 mile Camp above Nevills Rapid because of its shelter from wind and rain. Neither of us made our goal.
At about mile 70 mile I realized I was out of gas and began to look seriously for any camp-able spot. When I asked Lee what she thought about pulling in at 3 pm she said “Heck yes!” I pulled over to a spot I am quite sure no one has ever camped unless they were as desperate as we were. I parked the boat on some rocks at the foot of an eddy and found a very small clear spot up the bank a few yards that I could pitch a tent on. I set up a very hasty and small camp consisting of our tent, two chairs a milk crate and a one burner emergency stove. Of course as soon as I got the tent up the wind died and the sun began coming out. By the time I had busted out or “knock off” dinner of canned chili and bread it was quite pleasant with almost no clouds in sight. We had cocoa with biscotti for dessert.
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After our repast Lee lay in the tent nursing her back while I went hog wild with my camera. The light was very nice for over an hour.
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Soon the wind began to howl again so we went in the tent read and write. We read Charles Frazier’s “Thirteen Moons” together during the first three weeks of the trip; OK historical fiction.

The Dream Trip: Camp 5, March 3

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Duck n Quack is such a nice quiet camp. I can’t believe I have never used it. I suppose that its proximity to the very popular hike and camps of Saddle Canyon has made it easy to bypass. From the river it looks like nothing, just a narrow break in the dense tamarisk choked shore with a trail heading steeply up. If the camp had not been noted in Dwayne Whitis and Tom Martin’s excellent guide book I would have never guessed that there was such a nice camp in there.
Our breakfast on this morning was simple fare; cracked nine grain cereal and grapefruit with my famous cocoa noir. Lee was able to help a lot more with rigging this day and we set a record by being on the water by 10:30. This is a quote from my journal for that day:
“Every day at least once Lee gives me a hug and tells me how much she loves this trip. How can I argue with that? I must be doing something right. Lee seems as alive as I have ever seen her. It reminds me of our early trips down here especially the first one. Though we were with a group on all of those trips we were running pretty close to the river with people who knew little about it. We were not so sure we would make it OK through all the rapids and challenges. It drew us together in ways that our familiar routine at home usually doesn’t.
The past few years of working commercial trips with me have been hard for her. The work is just too much. People we take down here appreciate us but really have no clue how much we have to put out to keep them safe and comfortable and make it look easy. I love the commercial work, but I am a bit of an extrovert. Not so with Lee. This trip is very hard work but it is different. There is an ease between us. We don’t have to look good or be impressive for the sake of anyone else who is paying to see this wonder of the world. We are just here together in this place that we, after 18 years, are still in awe of, this place that has become a member of our family of sorts. I guess it is like the rest of our life. We don’t work for anyone or have real jobs but the work is really hard. What makes it good and even easy is that it is our work whether we are working in our separate studios or in our orchard, garden or the house we share. This trip is ours, no one else’s.We have been a unit for so long that we just know how to be together. There are a lot of questions that were answered decades ago. We are adept at over looking irritation and enjoying the places where the fit is right.
We are starting to hit our stride on this trip. The camp chores seem to have settled into his and hers. There are some things that we both do and some that we may alternate on but there are many that one or the other always does, just like at home.”

We didn’t bother to stop at Saddle Canyon. It has a lovely hike to a little waterfall in tight narrows abounding with ferns, monkey flowers and columbine. The first time we went there we were alone. The rest of the group stayed in camp sleeping. We went up early in the pre-dawn light to see where the trail we had noticed coming into camp went. There was a wonderful sense of discovery about it that built as we ascended to the terminus. About the time we got to the narrows we were overtaken by Art Vawter and Jude Irwin, two of the others in the group. Art and Jude, who have since married and have a lovely family, had met at Lee’s Ferry four days earlier and were fast falling in love. We were likewise falling in love with them as a couple so it was right that they were there to share this discovery with us. It is different when someone else, even a guide book writer takes you to a sweet little place like this one. Discovery has its own feeling that is hard to duplicate. Add to that sharing it with the one you would most like to run home and tell about it and you have a peak experience.
My first experience with Whispering Falls in Kanab Creek was like that. I was hiking with my daughter Louisa. We had turned up a side canyon coming in from the right about 2.5 miles up the canyon. She was scrambling up ahead of my older plod and came back to where I was and said, “Take off your shoes Dad, it is one of those places.” I knew just what she meant and complied. Those of you who have been there will know. In my mind Saddle Canyon will always belong to me and Lee and Whispering Fall to me and Louisa. That is what discovery does.
Below Saddle Canyon we drifted on still water until we came to the head of Nankoweep Rapid. Looking up there was the snow on Nankoweep Mesa. We pulled into the upper Nanko camp around mid-day. We chose that camp because neither of us have used it before and it is the least popular of the three camps there. We didn’t want take a camp that other parties were gunning for. Sure enough before we were even through unpacking the group we had seen at Redwall Cavern two days before floated by and took the middle camp. Later we saw that the lower camp was occupied by Mike Glasgow’s group who we had met at Lee’s Ferry and who launched the day after us.

After a quick lunch we set off for an afternoon hike up into Nankoweep Valley. It was a very pleasant hike. We were in no particular hurry. I had hoped to get up into the valley and perhaps hike up to the saddle between Nankoweep and Kwagunt but that was not to be. Lee had to go slow and by the time our turn around time had come we were still short of the valley. It was just the same a very pleasant afternoon together. We could see the upper elevations of Nankoweep Valley and it looked like a ski resort. I have never seen that much snow in GC.
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Nankoweep is one of the most beautiful places on this earth. The canyon walls are massive and colored in warm hues from the Kaibab down to the Bright Angel formation. The camp we chose has about the best wall paper in the canyon. We sat on our private beach eating more 1/2 lb cheese burgers with home made fries and watching the light change on the wall in front of us. Once again we concluded that this was the best day and the best place we had yet had.

The Dream Trip: Camp 4, March 2

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

We stayed in the tent until 7 am. It is really easy to do. I wake early but with no peops (boatman slang for passengers) to take care of and a warm wife who likes to cuddle and talk in the morning, why should I get up? It was another beautiful spring day beginning with bright splashes of color high up on the snow dusted Kaibab and echoing down in the narrow limestone depths of Marble Canyon. I rustled a breakfast up of muffin, egg, sausage and cheese sandwiches with cold apple crisp on the side. Rigging was getting better every day. By this morning Lee was feeling up to taking down the tent, organizing the kitchen and taking down the stove. She was basically back to normal (for five months post surgery) but tapping it light and working at keeping her back warm. With Lee’s help we were on the water by 11 am, no record but not bad for two old folks who slept in. It was finally starting to sink in that I was on vacation, not down there to take care of people and make miles.
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Our morning consisted of floating through the great depression. I had to kind of wake up for 36 mile and President Harding rapids but not really. Lee loves this section of Redwall with its spooky looking forms. She says it has always reminded her of Mordor. Not being into Tolkein it has never done that for me. For some reason I tend to think of the Pleistocene. I imagine huge condors with 17′ wingspans dropping out of the sky with dead things to feed their voracious offspring in the many limestone caves in that section. Very soon we started seeing the Muav Limestone which is the beginning of the Tonoto group. Right about that time we also started seeing the Temple Butte Limestone here and there in these cool lenticular shapes that show where an ancient river ran across the flat plain that the Muav was then. I imagine a braided stream in a very damp landscape.
As we were making our “crack of 11 am” pull out into the river’s current I looked up stream and saw a few bright yellow boats pulling into Redwall Cavern. That, I guessed correctly, was Sunday’s launch. I wanted to talk with them and see if they had any better information than ours on what the March flow regimen would be. The water had gone down on the weekend which is to be expected but was not really following the tidal pattern I had become used to over the past decade or so of working down there. Talking with them would have to wait.
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At around 3:30 we pulled in at another camp that neither of us have ever used. At mile 47 on river left just above Saddle Canyon is a sweet camp up a bank and back against the Muav overhang called Duck and Quack. I don’t know why, it just is. It is a beautiful and very quiet camp. We were able to get derigged and set up inside of 50 minutes and had lots of time to relax and get dinner on. We ate one my favorites, Tom Ka soup (chicken in coconut milk) with green salad. Lee made bisquits in the DO and we had those with butter and home made jam.

Even though it wasn’t really cold and wet we broke out a little of our wood supply for a nice blaze and sat with it for a while.

The Dream Trip: Camp 3, March 1

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

I busted out of the sleeping bag at 5:45 on that morning and started doing the guide thing; making hot water, rustling breakfast, pumping poor old Homer up and all the rest. Lee slept in and did her back maintenance thing. It is nice to be up early and watch things come to life as the grayness gives way to the brilliant colors of the Supai and Redwall in early light. Higher up it seemed strange to see snow starting to show up on the Kaibab. It was a cloudless spring day in the making.
We actually got on the water by 10:15, a whole lot better than 1:20. Maybe the layover helped. Lee, feeling much better, had begun picking up small things to hand me on the boat and found that if she sat on a bucket she could organize our kitchen and staples box.
Our kitchen box consisted of a 20mm can with various gadgets and things, a milk crate with pots and pans wrapped in a construction grade plastic bag and our two small dutch ovens in the “hell box”, a large aluminum dry box built for me by my friend Dan Toone. Dan also did the welding on my homemade canyon type frame. When I met Dan he was making bulk tanks and such for dairy operations and other applications and agreed to help me get my river outfit together. He has a rather well developed body of metal sculpture now.
It was a glorious morning on the water. My favorite section of the river is where the Redwall Limestone is at river level. The light bouncing around in the tight confines of the limestone is just magic. What follows the “roaring twenties” is the “great depression”. From about mile 29 on there are few rapids if any so it is really quiet. And then there are the sweet little wrens with their distinctive call. We just floated, hardly putting an oar in the water listening and visiting. It was wonderful to not have any other boats to keep up with or to wait on and only stopping where we wanted to stop. We really started realizing how different and wonderful this trip was going to be. Though we still had 24 days ahead we felt the need to savour every moment and make it last like a piece of delicious hard candy that if you suck it too hard it is gone soon. Neither of us ever took naps or read during the day while we were on the water, not wanting to miss anything.

Lee was feeling a whole lot better and really wanted to hike Fence Fault. Neither of us had ever stopped there so we tied up below the fault and set out to see what was up there after having another nice floating lunch of hummus, cheese, fruit and crackers. Breaks in the Redwall Limestone are few in Marble Canyon and where there is a fault there is often a way to climb up. We made our way easily up through the Redwall and started contouring up canyon back toward Shinimo Wash. In warmer weather we usually stop at Shinimo and scramble up into this narrow slot canyon dubbed “Silver Grotto” to catch some cool and shade. Not so in March. We entered Shinimo above the Silver Grotto where the wash widens as it cuts through the Supai formation. We could look down into the frigid depths of the limestone narrows. On a hot day with some climbing rope and descending gear it might make a fun adventure.
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Looking downstream from Fence Fault. Lee climbing through the Redwall. (Where are those gloves girl?) Looking down into upper Silver Grotto. The natural color of the limestone is revealed where it is abraded by flash floods like in Silver Grotto. The characteristic red color that gives the formation its name is washed down from the Supai and Hermit Shale above that is rich in iron from sediments originating where the Rocky Mountains now stand. The cool thing about the Redwall is that it stretches all the way eastward across the North American continent to the Appalachian Mountains. Of course way out there they don’t call it Redwall. They have some local name for it.
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Lee silhouetted against the Redwall Limestone and Supai talus in Shinimo Wash above Silver Grotto. Need I ask if she is liking this hike? You will notice that as the days went by on this trip she just got looking better. I can’t say the same for Mr Stubble Face.

After the hike we continued floating without much propulsion down stream not really thinking about where we would camp. We carefully took on water at Vasey’s Paradise and floated right by Redwall Cavern. Below the cavern on river left we found a nice little camp about mile 33.5. After a the grunt of derigging and setting up camp (Lee was a bit hammered by the hike so I did it.) Dinner was our attempt to duplicate the offering at Ray’s Tavern in Green River, two 1/2 lb burgers cooked over charcoal with sliced avocados hosed with lime juice and salt on the side. BTW, if you ever get even close to Green River, Utah check out what is possibly the best cheese burger and fries in the USA. We also made a small dutch oven full of apple crisp using a filling we canned at home from apples we grew on our place.
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The camp at 33.5 mile. Looking upstream at Redwall Cavern from camp. Looking down stream from our parking spot.

The Dream Trip: Camp 2, February 27-28

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Morning at the Sheep Camp found us beached. I had thought I gave the boat enough slack but we were about out of the water. For those not familiar with Grand Canyon river running, there are “hydro tides”. That means that water levels change, sometimes radically, from day to night. As you move down the river the water rises or drops depending on how far below the damn dam you are. What this meant was that we had a unplanned “half over” as we waited for the water to come up which gave us some time to work on figuring out our rigging. We didn’t get on the water until 1:30 pm.
Another factor in our slow rigging was that Lee’s back went out. She had back surgery just five months before our trip and is really still in recovery mode. All of the work and stress of getting the trip together and on the water came to a head that morning and her back was all tied up in spasms and knots. Getting cold doesn’t help and it had been quite cold at Lee’s Ferry.
It was hard for Lee to sit and watch me load all the gear and not even be able to hand me things. She wondered why she had such a good feeling about this trip going in to it. She is a very intuitive person and puts a lot of stock in her feelings. I told her that I am used to working my butt off on the river taking care of people I don’t even know so taking care of her was still a vacation of sorts. Fact is I needed to spend more time looking after her and the universe just handed me that opportunity. As the trip wore on we both found that the experience was giving us an intense dose of relationship tuning.
Luckily Lee had anticipated the possibility of back trouble and had brought a bit of a pharmacy along. She started that morning on a series of prednisone that tapered off for three day. In camp she took a muscle relaxer which she then repeated at bed time and had some sleep aids to counter the steroid’s tendency to make her too wired to sleep. Lee hates to use steroids like that as she is a survivor of Cushing’s Disease. Keeping warm day and night was also important. I was glad for the monster supply of driftwood we had taken on for the occasional warming fire after a particularly cold or wet day on the water. As we proceeded down the river Lee figured out more and more how to care for her back in this environment. Every morning she would spend 45 minutes doing physical therapy and yoga specific to her back’s needs. That was her morning work. Mine was breakfast and rigging.
By noon the water had risen enough that with some extra inflation old Homer slid into the river and I could finish the rigging and get us launched. Even though I had replaced one of Homer’s valves in preparation for this trip I found that he was loosing enough air that I needed to pump every day. As the trip went on this got a little worse. Homer will be dry docked at home until I can give him an over haul when the weather turns warm.
Soap Creek Rapid was routine with a run straight down the middle. I found myself trying to run as dry as possible all the way down the river on this trip. Though Lee was dressed in a full on dry suit most days dry runs still kept her warmer and warmer means less back stress. It was quite a change for this habitual hole hunter. It became a bit of a challenge that I enjoyed and I can say that I got pretty go at it.
House Rock Rapid was sweet. I scouted on river right. I have not scouted House in some time but with my “precious cargo” I wanted to make sure my line was right for keeping her dry. I caught a nice line by pushing in just right of the top curler and pivoting to pull away from the lower hole. We didn’t even take much water. It was a bit exhilarating. We actually took more water in the little splashy thing below House Rock.
One thing Lee insisted on for this trip was my “Bucket Buster“. It is an electric bilge pump that is solar powered. I can’t say enough good about this gadget. We could not have done the trip in Homer (a bucket boat) without it. A lot of boaters have switched over to self bailing boats that drain water after each rapid. I am an old school hold out I guess. I like the feel of a big bucket boat especially in big water when the whole river wants to tip you over. Being really full of water gives a boat stability. Of course the down side is very reduced maneuverability. If GC were continuous white water I would feel differently. In the Canyon the big issue with most rapids is getting the right entry and then keeping the boat steady with momentum all the way through.
After Houserock we relaxed and had another mellow floating lunch with more cottage cheese, fresh oranges and PB&J. North Canyon Rapid more or less marks the beginning of the “roaring twenties”. For the next six or seven miles there are a series of mostly fun splashy rapids. There are some that you have to know the run or stop and look at it. I was especially pleased with a nearly dry run of 24 mile rapid which features a big wave right at the top. By hanging right of the main tongue I was able to miss all of that. It looks and feels like you are dropping right off the edge of the earth but it actually takes you right of all the trash but allows you to cross the wave train and miss the rocks on the lower right side. We barely missed that rubber magnet rock. Our good friend Christa Sadler gave me a couple of pages of notes on various rapids with strict instructions to keep Lee dry. Christa has run with me enough to know that I can be a bit of a rough rider. She also loves Lee like a sister and would like it if I brought her back safe and well. In this case I decided to be very teachable.
All the way down that day I was thinking about a little beach on river left just below 25 mile rapid. I have used it for a lunch spot many times. It is much too small for a camp to all but the smallest river parties. We were about the smallest you can have so we took it. I got the tent up first and got Lee lying down. Dinner was a quick one involving hamburger, onions, spuds and a green chili gravy with bread and butter to sop it up. Lee loved it. I left a lot of fat in the stew since it was still pretty cold and we needed the calories to fuel our furnaces.
i had brought a little battery operated FM/Am/short wave radio to check weather reports. As i was tuning it I found Hopi Radio and we listened to some traditional pow wow songs and then A Prairie Home Companion. It was kind of nice with the sounds of 25 mile rapid in the background.

We dubbed this place “Little Cave Camp. It has a nice limestone over hang that kept us from even knowing that it rained most of the night. I got up in the morning and was surprised to see the wet sand outside our little cave.
Looking upstream from our Little Cave Camp.

We woke up around 7 am but stayed in bed until 8. What a luxury. I am so used to working commercial trips where I am getting up around 5 am and busting out coffee and breakfast so we can get on the water by 7:30 or 8 am. It is good and satisfying work but this is great to just lie there and talk with Lee and wait for it to get light.
With last night’s hamburger heavy in our gut we opted for some granola with yogurt and grapefruit that Sunday morning. We lazed around and read some scripture in observance of the day. Lee rested lying down while I cleaned things up and worked on the boat. She was feeling a lot better from the prednisone but I stayed on her case to not get up too much or do any bending twisting or lifting. We sat around journaling, reading and talking, mostly observing a day of rest.
Toward evening I whipped up a dutch oven full of chicken cooked slow in white wine with garlic, rosemary and potatoes. I also made corn bread to chase it around the plate with. It was a kick butt dinner.
For this trip we bought a cute little 8″ dutch oven to go with the 10″ one we have had on past trips. Both vessels have their legs cut off so they will pack easier. Under the dutch we place a trivet of sorts that Lee calls a “spider” to take the place of the legs. The spider fits neatly inside the DO for packing away. We used these two pots almost every day. We use these pots at home in our kitchen as well. With the legs gone they work well on stove top or oven rack.
I was reading from Wayne Raney’s book “Carving Grand Canyon” that day. Looking at a satellite image he includes of the Grand Canyon I was struck with the scale of our journey. When we floated through the Grand Wash Cliffs four weeks after launching we had covered 277 miles of river. It is a long way for two “getting older” folks to go. I am glad we are doing it now while we are still able to do it solo. I am glad we are doing Grand Canyon in its entirety. I would hate to have had this trip end at Diamond Creek like so many. I am also really glad that our less than workaholic lifestyle allowed us to take a whole month to do it. Averaging 10 miles a day left us plenty of lime for hiking, solitude and reflection.