Posts Tagged ‘Grand Canyon River Running’

Been on the river a bit.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

I’m sorry for the long break in posting. I have been preoccupied with a couple of long Grand Canyon River trips and the attendant catching up at home that six weeks away over two months can bring on. Above is a video promoting our next trip in 2012. Following are several from the last trip. I can’t express properly how important this trip was for me. It brought together a lot of things. I am leaving Monday for another three weeks away, this time Cataract Canyon near Moab, Utah.

Our trip leader Bruce was always saying that if you are in the Grand Canyon and you are too hot it is only because you are stupid. GET WET!

Whether the Little Colorado River is running Mediterranean Blue or muddy it is a great place to stop and play.

This video captures a serendipitous happening at Blacktail Canyon. Leonard and Kathryn Romney are the dancers. Read the blog entry he wrote here .

Our runs at Lava Falls were down the left side, something I haven’t done since the 1990’s. It was a big ride.

Havasu Creek is a must see for every trip through the Grand Canyon. Whether you go long to Beaver Falls or just find a quiet place to eddy out it is a day to remember.

The Dream Trip: Camp 19, March 25…end of the trip.

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

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I awoke at about 4:30 and lay awake for another hour before untying the boat so we could drift down stream as we watched the stars twirl over head. In and out of sleep we drank in the beginning of our last day on the river or what was left of it now that we were well below the last of anything resembling a river bed not mired in silt. The light that had been gathering on the eastern horizon started to form shapes and shadows on the upper layers of rock. I thought about how long it had been since we first slipped below those cliffs of sandstone, limestone and shale almost a month ago. I fired up the little stove we use on the boat and made cocoa which we had with biscotti and grapefruit.

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Before long we were coming up on Quartermaster Canyon where the Hualapai have allowed concessionaires to set up helicopter landing pads, picnic areas and boat docks. They fly their people in from the Vegas strip and give them an hour long “Grand Canyon River Experience”. It was nonstop chopper action. We were still in bed and not looking quite like the Colorado River Runners they were expecting, just two old people in a sleeping bag. Once again we were the object of touristas attention. For as long as it took us to pass through this zone we were gawked at and asked all manner of questions. They would get off the choppers, walk down to the “river” and board a pontoon raft for a 20 minute ride on the river and then back to the choppers and off to the casinos.
“You guys have been on the river how long?”
The Skywalk, another Hualapai amenity.
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I wish I could say that I looked as good as she did after 27 days on the river.
After the whole air show thing we pushed hard through the day watching the silt banks grow on either side. Often the banks would calve away and there would be a big crash as the clay splashed into the river. There were almost no places to camp due to the silt banks.
Looking west from the Grand Wash Cliffs the Nevada desert opens up. It is the most amazing thing after 277 miles of canyon wall to have them just drop away like that. Looking bak the Grand Canyon looks like a mountain range with a canyon carved into it. Our river journey was fast ending. It seemed tobe falling away like the banks around us.
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A few miles beyond the Grand Wash Cliffs we came upon the new Pearce Ferry boat ramp. It had only been opened a few days and we were very glad to have access to it as the rapids right below the ramp were quick becoming un-runnable. When we got to the ramp it was open so we got right after derigging. With in a few minutes the first Hualapai boats began showing up. I was glad for our little piece of ramp. It is an under sized ramp for a amount of traffic it will see now that the new rapid is so bad. It took us about two hours to tear the boat apart and get it loaded. Some of the Hualapai guys helped me load the rubber into the truck. The rest I was able to manage while Lee rested.
We drove carefully to Meadview not wanting to blow out a tire on the rocky road. At Meadview we used the “scat machine” to send all our crap from the month packing. It is always such a ceremony at the end of a trip.
Our last camp, number 19 was at the Hacienda Hotel and Casino in Boulder, Nevada. We got dinner of prime rib and settled into our two Queen bedroom and listened as the wind howled in the desert outside. We had gotten off the river just ahead of a bad storm that whacked the river runners behind us. Though we missed the star canopy we were glad for the shelter and hot showers….did I mention hot showers.
In the morning we ate a big breakfast and drove through Las Vegas and out toward Utah stopping in Mesquite for gas. At the gas station in Mesquite the gas pump refused our credit card. I went in and was told by the service station attendant that it was not being accepted. Lee called visa customer service and they told us that the account had been frozen due to unusual activity. We explained that we had been on the river for a month and that was why there had been no activity until the night before. I had paid for our meals at the Hacienda Hotel with cash but had used the visa card to pay for the room. The customer service person said that the concern was not the long break and then one purchase far from where we live but a $7.00 purchase made in Ohio the night before. Strange. I remembered that when I handed the card to the hotel clerk he had spent an unusually long time examining the card before hand ing it back to me.
When we got home I tried to contact the hotel management. My phone calls and emails have never been returned. I explained in both the problem. FYI, not only can this happen at the Hacienda Hotel and Casino in Boulder, NV, the management doesn’t care to stop it. A rather bummer ending to an otherwise sweet trip.
At the take out we had met two boatmen from Canyoneers. They were there to scope out the new ramp. Their comment was that with a 39 foot raft no matter how you do it your butt end will be way out in the current. There is not a nice eddy there to pull into as you take out. You are just in the current.
When we explained the nature of our trip to the fellows from Canyoneers they said “That is a dream trip”. From then on we have talked about it as the Dream Trip.
I don’t know if we will do it just like that again, just the two of us. We are getting older and have physical limits. Lee broke her pelvis a few days ago.(October 27) I have bad knees and other complaints. We are rather spoiled for running with large groups on a private trip., THree boats and maybe six people seems like a reasonable limit right now. We will continue to charter commercial trips through my employer, Tour West for larger groups. That is work and it has to be that way but for private trips it will ever more be very small.

The Dream Trip: Camp 18, March 23-24

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Sleeping out was nice. It was warm enough that no tent was needed and the stars put on another amazing show for us. As the stars winked out we watched the light growing in the east. We didn’t get up until 7 am just watching it all begin and knowing that by the next night we would be off of the natural river and somewhere on the silt bed canal of Lake Mead. There is current all the way out to Pearce Ferry and beyond but it is a different river. It moves sluggishly and the sounds are all wrong for a river.
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Morning was lovely. We worked our way through breakfast of Spam with french toast and rigged the boat, getting on the water by 10 am. The rapids at Bridge Canyon and Gneiss Canyon were big and demanded some attention.We got hosed in both of them. 237 mile rapids was little more than a wave but it is coming back as the silt goes out. At Separation and Spencer Canyons the rapids are just starting to reassert themselves. It won’t be long….
It doesn’t look like much but it was just about the meanest rapid on the Colorado at one time.
It was a very pleasant sunny March day and we moved right along, stopping at Spencer canyon to look around at the improvements the Hualapai have made there. While floating we were passed by six boats full of tourists outfitted by the Hualapai. They were doing the daily from Diamond Creek to Pearce Ferry. We were the subject of many photographs as they hurried by.Shortly after we left there the wind came up and soon was howling up canyon. We had to really push to make any progress. Lee did her part by keeping a low profile. We took camp at Surprise Canyon on the lower end of a long sand bar. At least the wind coming up the river was not carrying sand as it blasted us. As we were putting up the tent a group of boaters passed us rowing like Trojans into the gale.
Lee really is a great boating companion. She loves it even when it is blowing and cold. I made us a dinner of hot spicy tomato soup with grilled cheese. For dessert we broke out some home canned peaches….yum.
I first rowed past Surprise Canyon in 1994. At that time it was flooded and choked with willows and tamarisk so badly that entering was near impossible. As the water has gone down and the silt has gone out with the increasing current the mouth has reopened and hiking is an option, so on this last full day of our trip we decided to hike as far up Surprise as we could. I made breakfast of Spam,egg and cheese muffin sandwiches. I made extra so we could pack them for lunch.
We had an amazing beautiful day hiking up Surprise. It is a gem. We had been reading about Harvey Butchart’s forays down into Surprise from the top. We really hoped to get up at least to the Redwall narrows. It was not to be. It is long canyon without the kind of gradient we were seeing up around 210 and thereabouts. For the first mile or so we could see the bath tub ring left by Lake Mead with banks of silt still clinging to the stone walls here and there. For the first two hours we were in the granite and schist narrows. The light was dramatic. We stopped for a snack break in some Tapeats ledges by a deep clear pool where the canyon cut through that sandstone formation. From there we hiked another couple of hours through a much wider canyon as it opened up in the Bright Angel. The stream braided and wandered through Fremont Cottonwoods and some sort of ash trees in a wide open valley until it began to close in as we entered the lower limestone layers ahead of the Redwall. As we left the wide open area we came into a slumped area. The geology was all gone to heck, everything upside down and backwards. There were hundreds of huge limestone boulders choking the creek bed and slowing our progress. As we reached our turnaround time we came to some beautiful deep clear pools that begged a dip. We ate our Spam sandwiches and bathed soaplessly in the warm afternoon sun. After we dried off we dressed and headed down. The desert has more blooms here in the lower end especially brittle bush, Whipple’s Yucca and cactus. The walk down took slightly less time that going up, probably because I took less pictures going into the sun.
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We were pretty bushed back at camp. I made tuna sandwiches while Lee lay down in the tent to rest her back. Ten I began packing up and loading the boat so that we could start early in the morning. When she got up we ate the sandwiches with more canned peaches and cottage cheese. MNot bad for a no ice trip on day 27, eh? We finished loading the boat and made up our bed on the deck leaving nothing on shore. Even the groover was on board but close to the top for morning use. I moved the boat to a rock tie up and we settled in for our first night on the boat on this trip. The moon was in the last quarter but would be in our eyes before morning.

The Dream Trip: Camp 16, March 20-21

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

We moved camp again on day twenty three, taking a quick breakfast of cold cereal and apples before pushing off at 9:30. The night had been warm and clear with no wind so we slept out.
On the water we floated down to Spring Canyon at mile 204. We filled our six gallon jug in the clear side stream there and commenced a hike up the canyon.
The first quarter mile of Spring Canyon is a jungle of willows and bramble infested with snakes that come to feed on the abundant rodents living in the brush. It is slow going and weeds out all but the most curious boaters. Past the water source things open up and the vegetation returns to its usual desert flora. We hiked a ways and stopped to rest, eating what snacks were left in Lee’s day pack. We had not consciously taken any food thinking that the whole hike would be two hours or less. We kept thinking we would go just a little farther to see what was around the next bend and things looked so good that we would decide to go a little more. It began eating up the whole day. Below are some of the small wonders we ran into.

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About the time we thought we would turn around we came to a fork in the canyon and just had to see what was up the right side. Almost imedeately we entered into some very nice narrows in the Bright Angel Formation. It was a wonderland. I still can’t get over how beautiful it was. We had not expected anything this sweet up Spring Canyon so there was that sense of discovery again.

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Back at the boat we ran Mile 205 and had a late floating lunch as we drifted toward 209. We had planned to stop at 209 (Granite Park) but there was a group there so we floated down to 210 and made camp. Our bed was very near this Sand Verbena and the smell was heavenly as we bedded down under the stars again.
Day twenty four was Sunday and a layover. We had been affording ourselves the luxury of a Sunday layover all the way along, but with as much slack time as we now had they were becoming more frequent. As mentioned above many trips by this point in the canyon are :smelling the barn” and moving through at a pretty good clip, partly because the trip is winding down and they are focused on home and partly because, at least in the warm weather, it is beginning to be pretty hot that far down the canyon. For us it was finally getting warm enough to really enjoy.
After a grand slam breakfast of eggs, blueberry pancakes, fruit and Spam we held a devotional service of sorts and went for a walk up the side canyon coming in at mile 110.

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Looking down there were little wonders like these acacia roots wandering through breaks in the bedrock and the big view if the towering layers above.

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Soon after starting up we stopped to sit around in some lovely limestone narrows with nice pools and narrows.

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As we moved up through the BA layers we came to a dramatic pour over in the Muav that formed a bowl with amazing acoustics where our exploration terminated. We stayed there for a long time eventually eating a lunch of dried meat, fruit and nuts. We watched the light change as the day flowed by talking, not talking and reading from the Butchart book. It was a very nice way to spend the time in our “fun bank”. Of course naps were in order.

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Heading down there was no need to hurry so we lolled around checking out pools from last week’s rain and taking lots of photographs. I was agin impressed by the endless variety in the Bright Angel in this lower end of the canyon.

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Endless variety in the jumble of geological decay as the forces of gravity have their way on the material laid down and lifted up over the past…wow, and wow again.
Back in camp we bathed and made two pizzas, one with red sauce and one with caramelized onion and pine nuts. We made sure that there would be enough for the next day’s lunch. Even with Lee’s pizza appetite is the best sauce. Later we read by fire light, burning a piece of pinyon we had been hoarding since the eddy below Badger Creek at mile 8. The stars came out in force and chased us up the hill to bed next to the Sand Verbena.

The Dream Trip: Camp 13, March 15

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Beware the Ides of March. Two moments define this day on our river journey: Sitting with Lee in the alcove in Fern Glen Canyon by the waterfall talking about our relationship, where we have been in terms of accomplishments and time, the changes and commitment, where we are going and recommitment; and standing with her at the Lava Falls scout looking down on 8,000 cfs of chaos and violence. I have run that rapid 40 times now. This run was easily the most challenging of them all because we were there alone. There would be no one to spot us, no one to help us if we got into trouble, just the two of us trusting each other and God to pull through. The right side looks pretty good at 8K but the tail waves are HUGE and sharp. Lee offered a short sweet prayer and we shoved off with a kiss for good luck. A couple of minutes later it was over except for the bailing. The actual time from the brink of the falls to the safe zone below the “Black Rock” is 12-15 seconds that feel like a lifetime.
We went intentionally slow that morning not wanting to get to Lava early. The water drops as the day goes on and we felt it would be a better run later in the day at the lower flows. We stopped at Fern Galen and hiked/climbed up into her unique terminus where we just sat at talked and then didn’t talk.
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Fern Glen is a world within a world. The silence there is only disturbed by the little water noises and occasional raven’s cries. The only place that compares to it in my mind is Whispering Falls up Kanab Creek. We have a lot of memories stored up from our visits to Fern Glen over the years. With my eyes closed I could almost hear Louisa’s “The Gray Horse” echoing around in the alcove. We stayed along time listening, watching and discussing “us”.
I had a tight gut all day thinking about Lava. I would have felt a lot more relaxed it it had just been me. I could see the anxiety in Lee’s face. I wouldn’t call it out and out fear, just a certain uneasiness. When it was over we both expressed how glad we were that we had done it solo. It meant a lot to us and always will. It certainly was the crux move of this trip, this trip that seems a metaphor for our life. After the run Lee demonstrated her feelings with one of her world class kisses that I have come to look for over the years.
Lee talked about how all of our other trips together and apart in the Grand Canyon have been preparing us for this one. I felt that every other run of Lava over the years has been a rehearsal for this one. It was a text book run. I have had some ugly runs there. I have never tipped a boat over in Lava but we have both taken unscheduled swims there. This one was not ugly at all, it was perfect. Every oar stroke was where it needed to be threading us through the holes and waves. Lee’s prayer was echoing in my mind as we hit the Vee Wave dead in the middle, submerged momentarily in the boiling foam, and ran right of the tail waves almost missing them completely. It was indeed a providential run.

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After Lava we took camp on river right below at what some have called “Tequila Beach”. We celebrated with some home grown plum juice from the trees in our back yard. We ate hot dogs and enjoyed a loaf of bread Lee baked in the dutch oven with dough she had been working on since the night before. The light on the rocks and in the sky was as good as it gets. We also broke out some of our supply of pre-March firewood and indulged in a little blaze…atmosphere you know. The stars were amazing and the distant roar of Lava Falls only another night noise.

Day nineteen began before light. We had retired pretty early after our Lava run and woke at at 4:30. We just laid in bed watching the day begin and talking. What excess! As the stars blinked out a pair of wrens trilled back and forth and up the beach we watched a couple of ravens mating. Lee wanted to feed them so that the little ravens would hatch out strong. I assured her that ravens get plenty to eat and that the little guys would be as strong as ravens need to be.
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After breakfast of hot oatmeal and grapefruit we decided to venture back up to Lava Falls and watch the water for a while. Every other time we have looked at Lava it has been with the knowledge that in just a few minutes we would be in the middle of it. It seemed good to go back and look at it a little more objectively for a while.

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On the way up to look at the falls we came upon a little cavity in the rock that bore witness of human occupation at two very different times both with inscriptions in the rock and evidence of domestic life.
We watched the falls for a long time. It is rather hypnotic, maybe mind bending. As we were leaving to get to the boat and on down the river we saw a group of other boaters pulling in to the scout at Lava. It turned out to be the bunch we had run Bedrock with last week. We decided to stick around and watch the festivities. We were not dissapointed. No one flipped but there were some moments when I wondered. They put on a fine show and made us all the more glad we had worked at hitting Lava the night before at lower water.
As with many groups they scouted for a long time. I hate long scouts. It gives the stomach acid too much time to work. I like to look at it and run. To each his or her own.
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After the entertainment we made our way back to Tequila Beach where our friends had pulled over to eat lunch and relive the adventure of Lava Falls. We had a great time catching up, looking at my photos on replay (Isn’t digital fun?) and swapping tales of the happenings since we saw them last at Deubendorf. The invited us to have lunch with them and we hungrily joined in.

The Dream Trip: Camp 10, March 11

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

I think someone at Glen Canyon Dam has been smoking crack rock. I can make no sense of the flow regimen at this point. The night we spent at Randy’s Rock the water started coming up around 8 pm. When I got up at 5:30 am to check the water had already gone out again. ?????

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Camped away from the water it took us a while to get the gear to the boat and ready to launch. We were rigged and launched by 9 am. It was a clear crisp morning. We enjoyed the float down to Specter Rapid. I was able to stay fairly dry in Specter by cutting left through the lateral waves at the top. Below Specter we stopped to look at the waterfall on river right between Specter and Bedrock.

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We scouted Bedrock and decided to take a stroll up the creek there. I have always thought I should do that but have never taken the time. As you can see from these pics it is sweet. There is a lot of variety in the rock. She looks good in her Kokatat, eh?
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As we were getting back to the boat a party we had not encountered yet came up to scout. They launched on Monday, March 1. The permit holder was a guy named Raven. We scouted with them and asked if we could run with them through Bedrock and Dubendorff. We ran first and had a very clean run staying way right of the rock. My last encounter with BR I ran left and was not keen to do it again. Above is an image from that run. Note how FULL the boat is. We were bailing for a long time. We also ran Dubendorf with the Raven group. My run was good except that when I made it past the Table Rock I got too much into celebrating and almost hung up on the rock below on rive right.

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Raven tried to get us to lunch with them at Stone Creek but we prefered to have a floating lunch. We stopped and looked at a nice little ephemeral waterfall on river right above mile 133 Mile Creek. Above Tapeats Creek was saw the group who launched on February 28. They were laid over at Racetrack, a small and miserable camp who’s only virtue is its proximity to Tapeats Creek. In Granite Narrows we stopped to check out some cool rocks and take pictures of the view upstream looking at Powell Plateau.

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Though we had planned to mostly only stop and hike places we had not tried before we decided to stop at Deer Creek. It was late in the day and there was no one else there. Having a place like Deer Creek to ourselves was something not to be missed.
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The Deer Creek Narrows are sacred to the Southern Paiute peoples. Their belief is that this is where the spirits of the dead come to pass out of this world and into the next. It is the portal. The hand pictographs found here represent the ones who have passed on. Many people visit this beautiful place each year unaware of its significance. Some lower themselves on ropes into the narrows below the foot path. This is offensive to the Paiute. This is their most sacred site. Some rappel out of the narrows down the path of the waterfall. This is illegal and can end in a citation and fine.
How often do you see this? Deer creek is usually a circus. After the stop at deer creek we floated down and made out camp at Poncho’s Kitchen, a lovely over hung beach on river left at mile 137. Poncho’s is special to us. It was Paul Frisby’s favorite camp. Paul passed away in 1998 while preparing for a Grand Canyon trip that he was not able to make.
Dinner was red enchilada casserole in the dutch oven. It was warm so we slept out watching the stars pinwheel around Polaris.

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.