Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 15

Fourteenth river day 4/08/2019

Oz had heard a noise and went to investigate the source. Having found the probable cause he asked Ben, “am I tripping or are there only 5 rafts.” Together they count again 1,2,3,4,5. “FUCK!” (I feel like we had this discussion earlier) almost immediately everyone is awakened, and we proceed to get a really bright light off Jake. We count one more time hopping that there are 6 rafts. We already know the answer is no but check again anyway. We hastily grab gear and ready two kayaks to chase the raft down. Coming up with as solid of a plan as we can in a hurry while simultaneously double checking to see if the kayakers have the gear they need. We quickly go over the plan one more time, while we look for the number of the satellite phone we rented. Surprisingly shortly after we discover the raft was missing, Ryan and Ben are in kayaks with what they need. We know from looking at the map while others are organizing the gear that there are no major rapids until Lava about 28 miles away. One more hasty check to make sure everything is good, and they are off to catch the raft. I hardly slept that night after we packed up as much as we could leaving the blaster out to make coffee in the morning; we head back to our tents wondering if they found the raft yet. The missing raft had about seven days of food on it not to mention all of Micah and Bonnie’s alcohol and gear that wasn’t unloaded.

Up until this point the trip had not felt like we were in the wilderness. I have spent a lot of time in the wilderness both backpacking for recreation and as a wilderness ranger or part of a trail crew. When you have everything you need to survive on your back, you feel like you have a time constraint. You are limited by the amount of water and food you can carry. Yes, it is possible to find water and food but that is also a constraint on your time, exchanging the time you have in search of what you need to survive. Having these fully loaded rafts with technology and more food and beer then we need for the trip while seeing other parties of boaters just didn’t quite make it feel like we were in the wilderness. The wilderness wanted us to know that wasn’t the case, however. Losing the raft with food for most of the remainder of the trip let me know we were indeed in the wilderness, and we needed that raft!

I awake every few minutes then every hour as the night wore on, checking my InReach for a message from the raft rescue crew. We couldn’t find the number for the device so the plan is for them to call my parents first letting them know nobody was dead, but they need to text my InReach with whatever information they had. I am fully expecting a message saying we stopped for the night and am hoping for, and we also have the raft. Reception is spotty and I have to manually search for messages every time I wake up. At 5:30 a.m. I awake for the last time at Ledges campsite. With no confirmation from Ryan and Ben I am worried. I make coffee while banging on a pot screaming, “wake the fuck up!” I really want to get on the water and see where they are, and to establish that they are okay. Making our way down the river expecting to see the raft and guys at every bend in the river, but nothing. At about the second mile in, we start to get disheartened. Not only do we have no confirmation on our friends’ whereabouts, but Havasupai was only about a mile away. It amazes me how a bunch of raft guides get stuck in the eddies from hell that the Canyon produces, often times struggling to get out, while the unguided raft that broke free last night managed not to get stuck yet. At one point previously on the trip I had time to open a beer and drink it as the eddy pulled me back up the river where I finally rowed it out back into the flow. This method of drinking a beer and waiting was far easier than fight the power of the water trying to get back into the main flow.

As we get even closer to Havasupai, we start affirming that the raft is in the eddy at the mouth of the river because we really didn’t want to miss this hike. Our prediction was almost true. Not too far from the mouth we come up on Ben and Ryan with the escaped raft corralled once more. We pull over excited to see them and have a quick, simple breakfast of oatmeal prepared on the blaster only. It is a chore to set up the whole cooking station and we had limited space. Excited that we have everything and everybody again, with full bellies and high spirts we head around the bend to Havasupai where our excitement only compounded as we pull into the crystal blue water pushing out into the brown Colorado River.

Fish just below the surface part as we enter, giving the water an even clearer lighter shade of blue. There were so many fish that they actually darken the water before they swim away. Just this experience pulling in surpasses the beauty that was portrayed in pictures and stories before having the privilege of experiencing it. It only gets better after we secure our boats to the pitons making sure to back them up after the previous two days experience. The hike up to Beaver Falls is slow because one had to pause and take in the beauty of the blue cascading water. Once we make it to Beaver Falls, we are really lucky to only see a few more people there. We climb up the cliff and jump into the pool eventually having the entire place to ourselves. Reenergized because we found our boat, friends, and are enjoying the beauty of Havasupai. Again, it is so amazing we had almost the whole thing to ourselves. After jumping in a few times, I go up stream a few hundred yards to explore and it is like Disneyland. Not far from our seemingly private paradise are swarms of people like locust destroying crops, but they are destroying the environment. Trash is scattered everywhere, trails crisscross the fragile environment causing erosion, and logs are stacked and piled along with hanging ropes to make more terrain accessible for destruction. The shock of seeing so many people after viewing with the same 15 humans for 14 days is intensified by smell of so much cologne and perfume. All my senses are on overload. Even with all this chaos it is still a beautiful sight to behold, and I count myself lucky to have seen it. I have a feeling the destruction will only worsen as time goes on.

Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 14

Thirteenth river day 17.3 miles Ledges 4/07/2019

This was scheduled to be a big day, little did we know how long of a day it would end up being. After floating down the Colorado for little bit we pulled into the first hike of the day, and were greeted by Deer Creek Falls plummeting to ground out of the Tapeat narrows, 2 miles from last night’s camp at Above Owls Eyes. After climbing up the canyon again, we repeatedly looked into Deer Creek Narrows searching for the rush of water we heard constantly before finally seeing it again towards the top of our hike before it cascades down the slot canyon out of site again.

Hiking the trail between the canyon wall and the narrows, our path becomes very slender in spots with the right edge dropping into the again unseen rush of water. Snaking our way along the dry, dusty red wall we are suddenly rewarded with an explosion of lush greenery surrounding a pool in Deer Creek before the water rushes forward again disappearing into the harsh red rock narrows.

On the water rowing again, we saw the hikers from before moving slowly picking their way across the rocky, uneven sloping shoreline. They started waving their arms beckoning us to them. They wanted a ride to get back onto a trail! Obliging we piled them into our boats giving them a lift to Kanab Canyon, saving them hours of rough scrambling and route finding in the process. We offered them beer and fruit from our coolers stocked with a seemingly never-ending supply of fresh produce, steak, and cold beer, which they gladly enjoyed on the float. When we stopped to drop them off, we offered them more fruit and beer to take with them, at this point being ultra-light hikers, most of them were appalled. That would add extra weight and they would have to pack out the empty beer cans. Thanking us again they hiked away with their perfectly weighted and rationed meals while we floated away on coolers stuffed with more food then we could eat, cracking fresh ice cold beers.

Next up on the agenda was Matkatamiba Canyon. Half of the rafts missed the eddy for this hike either on purpose or accident. The three boats that made it scoured the walls looking for anchors to tie the boats to. We ended up only finding one piton and tied all three boats to it. Hiking into what I though was the coolest slot canyon we had explored to date, we shimmed, waded and splayed our way deeper into the canyon until it finally opened up. Unfortunately, we were forced to turn around just beyond this point by time constraints. Heading back to the rafts we discussed how we would love to explore this canyon more if we did the Grand Canyon again. Our first surprise of the day was waiting as we approached the mouth of the canyon. Panic arose: we couldn’t see our rafts! The Colorado had risen on our hike and pulled the boats out into the flow, luckily, they were still attached to the piton. Trying to untie them we found that the tension was too great. I climbed on the furthest raft with Oz, we cut the strap lose, and it pinged back flying at him relived of its tension. With our raft free the rest of the remaining boats were able to be pulled back further back into the eddy. Surprisingly with all our fingers still attached I rowed to a downstream eddy to await the unstrapping of the remaining two rafts. We met up with the rest of the group then headed down river to scout Upset Rapid. Walking down the right shore we discussed the two different routes for the rapid. The left one where you run the meat of the rapid and right line that was a sneak, it appeared to us that the sneak line was a little shallow and one had the possibility of bouncing of a shallow rock and being sent into the massive munchy hole in the center of the river. I believe that we had flows between 13,000 and 18,000 for our 21-day trip after looking back at the gauge reading after our trip was over. As the route was debated, we saw Jared in his boat pulling out with his crew. As I was wondering which way he would go, his boat started angling left, moments later he smashed the off the big crashing waves at the top; well guess he’s taking the big line. Coming out the other side he tries to keep his moment to the left of the nasty hole in the center of the river! Powering forward he busts through the left side of the hole settling the debate for the rest of us. We are running the left line!

After the group was all successfully through, we looked at the map and decided to stay at Ledges Camp for the night. Pulling up to the low limestone ledges we hop out and stake our rafts to the small sand area above the low ledge which was cursed as we were soon to find out. After unloading and setting up camp, we wait for a huge steak dinner. The smell of meat cooking on charcoal wafts through the camp drawing spectators to the kitchen, which consist of three foldout aluminum tables, a propane stove with multiple burners, and a blaster, think of a huge jet boil, for heating water quickly. Tonight, the kitchen was lighted by headlamps, Luci lanterns, and strips of Luci solar string lights stretched between a tree and a tripod of Warner kayak paddles lashed together. Brett dressed in a red puffy and swimming trunks watches over the steaks both to cook them and guard them from the pressing group. After dinner with an extremely full belly, I crash out only to be awoken later because one of the rafts had broken free and was missing!

Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 12

Ninth river day 15.1 miles Bass Crossing 4/03/2019

Packing up after the much needed layover we prepare for 3 of the bigger rapids rated (8) on the rating scale developed by Otis R. Marston using a 1–10 rating, 10 being the most difficult. As opposed to the International Scale of River Difficulty, which classifies rapids from class I to VI and is more common elsewhere in the US and internationally. There are only 6 runnable rapids out of approximately 80 numbered rapids (According to most estimates) with this (8) or above rating in the Grand Canyon. We will be knocking half of them out by the end of today. Having previously rowed Hance (8) this will leave just Lava (9) and Upset (8) after we make it through Granite (8), Hermit (8) and Crystal (8) before arriving at our home for the night. Having watched the previous group run Granite and Hermit the day before we were ready to run them without further need to scout.

I rowed Hermit which was a fun wave train and ran it “hey didle didle right down the middle”. Ozz was up for Crystal to my relief. He rowed the large yellow raft rolling though the choppy water towards his goal: a massive lateral wave at the top of the rapid. Smashing through the goal on its bottom left, my mouth was dry from anticipation. In that instant, water came flying over my head covering my face, reliving some of the dryness in my mouth. We stayed left not daring look at the large hole on the right for fear that it would somehow suck us in.

Arter running Crystal, the last of the major rapids for the day, we quickly stop at the Ross Wheeler. It’s a small, tippy, and very heavy boat that was designed by Brett Loper in 1914 and abandoned here in 1915 by Charles Russell, August Tadje, and Leslie Clement in a failed attempt to run the canyon. We ended up staying at Bass Crossing Camp because Bass Camp was occupied.

Shortly after unloading the rafts since it was our night off, Jackie and I hiked to Bass Cable Crossing and tried to hike to Shinumo Creek Camp to see the top of the Shinumo waterfall, but decided we didn’t have enough time. Enjoying the view at Bass Crossing for a little while, Jackie decided that we wanted to try and find Bass’s inscription, which we didn’t manage to find, but enjoyed the blooming wild flowers that we were lucky to have seen. In a dessert environment, most plants only flower for a few weeks as their heat and drought resistant seeds remain dormant most of the time until next year’s annual rains. I feel super lucky that our permit coincided with this beautiful display in the overall hostile feeling desert environment.

We hiked back to camp to the smell of kabobs wafting up the valley. Brett and his cooking crew had the hardest dinners, but the best tasting in my opinion. After the delicious dinner I found a secluded spot up above the camp with a clear view of the sky to cowboy camp. I was stoked for some star gazing later in the night, however, right as Jackie and I were laying down to watch the sun set before the stars, I saw a cricket jump into a spider web right by my face. Immediately a huge black widow came charging out right beside me and pounced on the struggling cricket. As she was wrapping up the cricket, we immediately wrapped up our camp pulling out the tent, setting it up, and stuffing all our stuff inside.

For the beginning of the day we hiked up the bottom of Shinumo Creek. The day before Baldy “the chief asshat“, if you remember the guy from day 1, was ,surprise, surprise, still a dick when we saw him and his group again. He gave us a warning, saying the water was too high to hike up and we should do…. Blah, Blah….. Well I zoned out and thought to myself, “how many rafts did you flip?”, as we walked away from him. Well, believe it or not we actually made it to the base of the waterfall. The only casualty we encountered was Micah, he lost his footing wadding backdown the canyon in the current, so he floated the creek laughing and beat us all back to the rafts.

Rafting the Grand Canyon, Private River Permit Part 10

Sixth river day 13 miles Upper Rattlesnake 3/31/2019

We scouted Hance Rapid this morning, the biggest rapid we have encountered so far. The plan was to start right and push left to some calmer water to set us up for the wave train while avoiding the pourovers river right down stream. As I tried to push left I quickly realized that the current was too strong. I tried to swing the raft to straighten it up for some of the water features I was trying to avoid while attempting to now pull towards the left. The butterflies that were in my stomach on the scout became a palpable fear as I hit the first pour over sideways because I was only halfway through correcting my angle. Luckily the 18 ft rafts were extremely forgiving, their size making them resilient in the large rapids. Everyone got pushed off course on this rapid because we were not used to oar rigging. After every raft made it through Hance the group read and ran Sockdolager and Grapvine Rapids, the only two significant rapids between us and Horn our next big one.

Pulling into Phantom Ranch, a historic oasis nestled at the bottom of Grand Canyon, is the north side of the Colorado River tucked in beside Bright Angel Creek. It is the only lodging below the canyon rim, and can only be reached by mule, on foot, or by floating the Colorado River. Of course we took the easy way and floated in. I set a brief time limit needing everyone back shortly. I was concerned with the amount of time we spent figuring things out at the beginning of the trip. I really wanted to expedite the trip a little to be proactive, so we were a day ahead instead of a behind. Before everyone left I wanted to start filling water jugs at the tap. This is way easier than filtering it. To filter the water one had to get buckets of water from the river the night before. This allowed the sediment settle over night in the bucket. Next the filter was taken to the settled water and hooked to the battery. The filtering then began, taking care not to bump the bucket or lower the filter intake to near the settled sediment. Your drinkable water is limited to how many buckets worth of river water you let settle.

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I chose to stay behind a forgo the rumors of ice cream, beer and pay phones, to fill the remainder of the water jugs because I wanted to give everyone else as much time as possible, since most of the group really wanted to send post cards. Ben also stayed behind helping me fill and carry the remaining water jugs before eating lunch on the boats.

While eating and discussing April fools pranks,  since he had brought saran wrap and Smirnoff Ice, a women approached interrupting us to asking questions. We didn’t know a lot of the answers and tried to explain that we were on a self supported trip with a group of friends had never been down the canyon before. She seemed to get a little frustrated we couldn’t answer her questions. She left abruptly, angrily saying “I hope you don’t tell your clients you don’t know anything!” We probably should have explained what self supported was a little better, though she should have payed more attention instead of being so demanding with her questions.

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Wishing we had time to saran wrap someones kayak now, we to decided to ice someone instead. The idea behind the wrap was to seal off someones cockpit with the clear plastic. Instead we stuck a Smirnoff Ice wrapped up in duct tape in case the glass broke, the duct tape would keep the glass contained so we did’t litter in Grant’s kayak. The group started trickling in finally. Grant found the Smirnoff in the bottom of his boat. He grabbed the bottle unceremoniously took a knee as he twisted the red cap off to chants of chug… chug…, throwing his head back and downed the bottle as the gathering group cheered.

Finishing up at Phantom Ranch we head towards Monument Valley where we would stay the next two nights. In between us and our destination is Horn Rapid. After scouting Horn Rapid, Grant was supposed to run the line we discussed in his kayak and signal us by raising his paddle when he passed  through the horns, two rocks which were under water at the time. At some point he decided he did not like the the way the line we had discussed looked because he went right on another possible line we had talked about running. Micah followed Grant as I followed Ben down the original line. When I dropped in, the hole was so big and steep the nose of the raft actually came forward and hit Jackie,  who was sitting in the raft in the front compartment, in the head.

We stopped just above Grant Rapid at Monument Creek camp for the night. The site was occupied by another group who was heading down river in the morning. We managed to set our camp up in up river corner section of the beach where it ended the sheer canyon wall.

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