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.