Archive for April 7th, 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.