Archive for April, 2010

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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

The Dream Trip begins: February 23- 26, 2010

Monday, April 5th, 2010

After seven weeks of preparation we left for Lee’s Ferry early on February 23. Driving down I was struck with how much snow there was all over central Utah. We did not get all that much snow from the January storms but from Marysvale south to Flagstaff was hammered by the storms.
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Just south of Marysvale.

Of course we had to stop in Kanab and eat Mexican food at Escobar’s. In Fredonia we stopped to see Dave and Pam at the Tour West warehouse. Tour West (my employer) is who we will charter our next Grand Canyon trip through in June of 2011. Contact us if you are interested. Driving over the Kaibab Plateau I was again struck with the massive snow pack. Even Houserock Valley and the Vermillion Cliffs were covered.
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The snows on the Kaibab.
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Houserock Valley and the Vermillion Cliffs.
We spent two days at Lee’s Ferry. Lee is organizing a Lee/Udall family reunion there in September so we spent a day checking things out and hiking. It will be great event.
We visited Lonely Dell, the Lee family homestead, where Lee’s ancestor John Doyle Lee lived while operating the first ferry. We also hiked Lee’s Lookout, Cathedral Wash and the Spencer Trail. We also spent some time visiting with Ray Bush who led a trip launching two days before us. Ray is the owner of Tuff River Stuff which manufactures an array of remarkable river gear. Being an avid river runner he is able to devise gear that really meets the the day to day needs of river runners.
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Lee Udall Bennion at Lee’s Lookout with Lonely Dell in the background, Lee in Cathedral Wash and Lee’s Ferry from the Spencer Trail.
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More Cathedral Wash. This is a really nice short hike. From the ferry road to the river and back takes a couple of hours and is fairly easy canyoneering.

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Rigging Homer (the boat) went OK on the 25th. It always takes a while to figure out the rig. It is different with every trip. This one was difficult because we are one boat but we still have to carry all the required gear plus our personal stuff. It really wasn’t until day four or five on the river that it started to all fall into place and I didn’t have to scratch my head as I threw the rig together in the morning. Ray Bush’s everything bag really helped with this.
By quitting time on the 25th we were pretty beat. It is mental as well as physical exhaustion. I was feeling frustrated because things had been slowed down by people who wanted to talk with us about our planned trip. A one boat trip through the Grand Canyon, though not unheard of, is a bit unusual and everyone wanted to chew the fat. I about blew the trip as I was getting the boat in the water. We had rigged the boat on shore. My plan was to push it in with our truck. I didn’t communicate the plan very well to Lee. (Bad idea) I was a bit snappy with her, not considerate of her feelings after a long day of hard work. I pushed it in and got out to discover that it was not quite in far enough to float. I was tired and frustrated and hit the boat too hard the second try. To my horror I saw the boat cruising out into the river with the bow line trailing behind it. I jumped out of the truck and without thinking went in after it. I was able to catch the end of the rope while there was still ground to be found under my feet. I got to shore with the boat and felt pretty stupid but the trip was salvaged. I can’t say as much for my cell phone.
After saving the boat I was in a rare mood and spoke roughly to Lee about taking the car up to the long term parking lot for the night. After she had gone I took the boat down off of the ramp, tied it in the willows around the point from the rigging area and made my way to the river runners camping area where we had set up our gear for the night. As the time went by I started feeling badly about my behavior. I always do. Lee says that I am getting better on the turn around time and frequency of offenses. She came into camp after a long time had gone by. I spoke to her sheepishly about my reckless actions. She told me that she had gone to the parking lot and had thought hard about going on home, leaving me to run the trip alone, but she knew that would be wrong. She knew this trip was important for us to do. She had felt good about it from the start and wondered why it was starting out so bad. We talked a long time. She told me how unsafe my actions made her feel. I promised that I wouldn’t be like that again on the trip and then prayed that I could make good on my words.
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Vermillion Cliffs from Lee’s Ferry on the morning we launched our adventure. Our boat finally rigged and ready to go on the launch day, February 26, 2010. (Photo credit: Mike Glasgow) I decided in the morning that the rig was wrong and spent a couple of hours redoing it, all the time paying attention to my frustration level. At one point I expressed to Lee that I was feeling frustrated. She gave me a hug and thanked me for not demonstrating those feelings. It was a start.
We launched by 1:20 pm, bidding farewell to the other boaters rigging for the next day’s launch. As we floated toward the Paria Riffle Lee and I took turns making intentions for the voyage. As we passed the floating marker that signifies the beginning of Grand Canyon we let little pieces of turquoise fall into the stream and watched them sink in the green depths. I have realized that each of my trips through this canyon (40 so far) has been a ceremony of sorts. The canyon is medicine and this little ritual helps open my mind and soul to possibilities. I have never felt the need to enhance the canyon experience with anything more than what she offers me. The experience of traveling through this place always open me up and shows me something I may or may not want to know but it is always something that gives me greater self knowledge.
This trip was very important to Lee. She pushed for it for several years. We picked up the permit seven weeks before the launch date and had to scramble to get it together. As we drifted into the riffle I watched her tears roll down to her chin. She is an amazing woman and has always pushed me into things that are good for me and us. She is also very patient and careful, a counter point to some of my deficits. I thanked her for not driving away the day before, or at any other time over the past 34 years.
After the swirly waters of the Paria Riffle we ate lunch on the boat while we floated down stream. I love being able to do that. The food is simple and easy and we make miles while we eat. Today it was P B and J, cottage cheese with canned mandarin oranges. The day was sunny and Lee radiated her good feelings about our voyage.
Eight miles on we encountered Badger Rapids where on our first trip in 1992 as passengers we were flipped and “maytaged” for over a minute. Forty trips later it is not the fear inspiring maelstrom that it was that June day nearly two decades ago but I still give it my respect and stay focused. Below the rapid we pulled in on river right and collected an obscene amount of firewood. As of March 1 firewood collecting is illegal on the river, but the ranger told us we could collect and carry all we wanted to before that date. We doled out the wood over the next four weeks supplemented with a nice stash of cord wood someone left at National Canyon.
A couple of miles down stream we pulled in to a little beach peppered with sheep droppings and tracks. We named it “Sheep Camp” and set up our gear. We had decided to try where possible to camp where we have not camped before and perhaps where no one has camped. We tried to do the same with hikes though with both there were some we used that we had before.
Another thing we did with this trip was to go iceless. We had no cooler but kept produce in plastic bins and crates below deck with precooked meats and lots of canned things. We did enjoy fresh meat for the first while. I brought a small styrofoam cube filled with hard frozen meat that we ate as it thawed. Lettuce, avocados, broccoli and peppers kept well into the trip in the bilge. Of course things like onions, spuds, carrots, cabbage, citrus fruits and apples did well below deck also. If we were running in summer maybe things would not have gone so well.
Dinner at Sheep camp was BBQ turkey, rice, broccoli and green salad. Dessert was chocolate truffles and cashews. The evening was cold enough that there was no question about putting up the tent. Ours is a very nice three man structure from Mountain Hardware. Bedding and shelter are very important and we chose not to scrimp. Our sleeping bag is a 5 degree rated square bottom affair that sleeps two and fits neatly on our pair of 4″ Paco Pads from Jack’s Plastic Welding. We are as comfortable on Jack’s pads as on our own bed at home.
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Our little beach at Sheep Camp. Lee with Homer. She is the “mom” of Mom’s Stuff.

Ascending out of the mists.

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Lee and I have been back of dry ground for a little over a week now, lots of cleaning and sorting gear. Re-entry is always strange but when it has been over a month it can be mind bending. The past few days we have pruned our entire orchard. I wandered into my studio today and It feels like time to get muddy again, clay I mean. It is still to wet to start the garden. It snowed on and off all day and is pretty cold.
Easter was nice. I don’t do a lot to celebrate it. Lee went to Provo to care for her mother. I arose early and went for a sunrise walk with Ernie and Paul Larsen. The clouds were rolling all around and it was quite nice. Later Zina and I went to Anderson’s for an Easter brunch. It was LDS General Conference this weekend so she and I spent the day listening on the radio. Lee returned in the evening and we had supper with the Larsens.
Resurrection, Atonement and Grace.