|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 2/18/2020
|Topics/Keywords: #GrandCanyon #Rafting #WhitewaterRafting #O.A.R.S.||Page Views: 1779|
|Photos and narrative our our second day rafting the Grand Canyon Sampler.|
The early night had been so hot. But eventually it cooled down, and so did I. I was so not ready to awaken at 7 AM. (What is it about river runners and these damned early hours?!)
The river guides took turns cooking each meal. For breakfast that meant they had to get up around 5 AM. By 7 AM most of us were up, too. Mike, our rafting partner, had not had a pleasant night. No one had told him that removing the tent fly after the storm was over would be a good idea. In fact, none of the visitors knew this; ours was the only tent without a fly that morning. (The guides sleep on their rafts and have canopies, not tents.) Mike was ready to leave right then, but of course he couldn't. None of us could. In a case of medical emergency, a helicopter could rescue one of us but that was the only exception. Mike was trapped on the river until we reached our take-out point a day-and-a-half later.
No one could complain about the food. For breakfast we had eggs made to order, kiwi fruit, sausages, pancakes, melons, cranberry juice and coffee. There was also boxed cereal (Total Raisin Bran, I think).
Before we got back into the rafts, Rob offered us all the chance to swap guides and/or partners. It would give us a chance to hear some one else's stories, he said. But everyone stuck with the same rafts we'd had the day before.
It was cloudy and much cooler, in the eighties, I think, that morning. Going through our first major rapid was not such a big deal. It was fun, but not scary. Perhaps it would have been more thrilling if I had had less faith in Rob's ability to deal with it. But we just got a little splashed and went on.
This didn't mean I was disappointed. As I told Rob the day before: the camping, the beauty of the Canyon, the joy of drifting down the river—all these made the trip worthwhile to me. I had been bit by the Canyon bug, and no rapids could have made it better.
Because there'd been rain and storms upstream, the water was again its chocolatey color.
Because of the silt in the water, it is doubly neccessary to filter it to drink. The boatmen had a ceramic filter with which to accomplish this, and I offered to help filter some water. But the silt was so thick it made the filter very difficult to pump, and I gladly gave up when someone else offered to take over.
The sky began churning, as well, as clouds built up. It looked like we might get some rain-and-storms right here.
To be honest, we didn't mind the clouds. It had been so hot the day before, that the shade was more than welcome.
Then the wind began to blow upstream. You'd think the current would overcome that, but with people and stuff on the top of the raft, we actually presented a lot of surface to the wind. Thus, the boatmen had to row instead of drift, which of course is a lot more work.
But then the clouds broke, the sun came out and the temperature again began to rise.
Since it now didn't look like rain, and the silty water was so difficult to filter, Rob decided to hike to a nearby water source, Three Spring, that wouldn't require filtering. So he had us stop in the shade of a great overhang while he and most of the other guides hiked to Three Spring to get some more. I was almost tempted to go with them, but instead I jumped in the water to cool off. Then I swam to a rock ledge and climbed onto it. The ledge was barely above water level and was covered with a two-inch thick layer of mud.
I've got to tell you about the Canyon mud. It isn't just icky mud. It's more like beauty parlor mud, the kind they put on women's faces. It's thick and smooth and very relaxing. So I just kind of vegged out on the ledge until the guides came back.
They gave us the chance to take Three Spring Rapids by ourselves—just floating down it wearing life jackets. Four of the passengers did it and had a great time, but I was still cooled off after my swim and didn't bother.
Mike, our raft-mate, asked Robby if he could try rowing, as I did the day before. Rob gave permission, and Mike rowed for about an hour…
struggling as we bobbed along from one side of the river to the other. Rob just sat with a frozen smile and took over before we got to a rapid milder than the ones I had navigated.)
Robby did not tell Mike he was a "natural."
We did get splashed.
Wet as we got, none of these rapids was all that. From pictures I'd seen, I had expected kind of a bigger deal. I mentioned this to Robby in private.
"Between you and me, Paul," he said quietly, "this part of the Canyon doesn't have the huge rapids, like Lava Falls, that you find upriver. That's why we call this part of the run a 'Canyon Sampler'. But we try not to say anything, so passengers who've saved up for the trip, made time for it, travelled out West for it—don't feel cheated."
That made sense to me, so I decided to not say any more about it. But I also was already planning, in my mind, to come back and do the entire river, all 16 days.
There was a weird, orangey sort of thing on the river's edge. Rob announced that that was Pumpkin Spring, a natural warm spring heavily laden with all kinds of minerals.
We pulled in at a beach just next to the warm spring, which stood in the shade of a huge, overhanging cliff. Rob said this provided the only noontime shade for many, many miles. Of course, I wanted to check out the warm spring. Dottie went along, though she wasn't willing to dip even a toe into the "interesting" water.
Meanwhile, Robby and the other guides set up a table with sausage, cold cuts, cheeses, whole-grain breads, and watermelon. This set the tone for the meals on the rest of the trip: gourmet, all the way.
Now, you'd think we'd have been anxious to get going. But in Grand Canyon, even more than elsewhere, it's about the journey, not the destination. Besides, we'd all been up since 5:30 AM. So we took a siesta.
After our naps, I discovered Dottie was missing. Bless her heart, she thought no one knew she smoked and it was actually a topic of conversation while she was gone! But I looked around, and was able to spot her red blouse.
After we napped for an hour or so, we reboarded the rafts just to cross to the other side of the river for a little hike up to the remains of a cabin 1000 feet up the side of the Canyon. In the 1930s, a Mormon hid there from his six wives, who were trying to kill him for cheating on them! After that, he must have found the effort of climbing up the side of the Canyon to his cabin to be child's play. There was a fresh water spring near his cabin; we let the water drip on us and drank hatsful of it. The Grand Canyon is a desert environment, in spite of the river. A very real danger is that of dehydration. The guides were always after us not to forget to drink. We each carried a water bottle and were supposed to sip from it constantly. That was okay, but bottled water gets to tasting a little stale after a while; so the spring water was a real treat.
Oh my gods, the view from the cabin site was fantastic! I started envisioning myself living there. In my mind I was a real estate agent. "And look at this view! It sells the place, don't you think?"
Of course, after all this time there isn't much left of the actual cabin. Nothing but the fireplace, really. But a real estate agent would focus on what the place does have. "Comes with fireplace!"
As we sat, resting gratefully after our climb, Robby pointed out some other artifacts, like the old canned goods the Mormon had brought with him. ("The kitchen comes pre=stocked!")
Considering that the guy had to find these stones and drag them here to make the fireplace, I'd say he was pretty frantic to stay out of sight. Hell may hath no fury like a woman scorned, but he had cheated on six women…who knew each other. I'd have run, too.
Anyway, after we'd had a chance to rest, explore the ruin and enjoy the view, Robby directed us to head back down to the boats.
By now it was again up to 110°; so the ride through the Mile 217 rapids that afternoon was a pleasant diversion. This is rated a seven (on a 1 to 10 scale), so we got a little wet. It still wasn't scary to me. But a private party going through the Canyon at about the same time, didn't have Rob's expertise. They flipped their raft and lost an expensive camera they had neglected to tie down.
This was, Rob explained, our first "real" rapids—the others we'd been through were actually more what's called a "riffle". This one, however, would require a little planning. We started off with the rafts all lined up.
Rob took our raft through first; we then waited in an eddy to be available to help if anyone should flip or fall out.
Robby told me quietly that, even this rapid was actually not much compared to the ones in the Upper Canyon. "The Canyon kind of calms down at this end," he explained.
Having spent most of my life on the East Coast, especially New England, I am used to small, tidy mountains. But everything out here is so immense, it just kind of makes one's spirit soar.
As we floated along, Rob pointed out a huge monolith just sitting in the middle of the river. "That's House Rock," he said. "Named by some boatman years ago after he smashed his dory into it. 'It's big as a house!' he said, and the name stuck."
Robby then pointed out a landmark on the horizon. "That's Diamond Peak," he said. "We'll be there tomorrow."
That night we camped at Mile 220, another great beach. This time no storm threatened and, once the sun set, a cooling breeze blew on down the Canyon. We ate filet mignon, lentil pilaf, and had fresh-baked carrot cake and whipped cream for desert.
There was one complete family on the trip, husband and wife and their son and daughter. Dottie and I thought that the kids were in their early teens, but it turned out that the son was 17 and the daughter was in college. After dinner they never did anything; they just sat quietly and stared at the river while the rest of us talked, explored or played horseshoes. We began to refer to them as "The Stepford Family."
There was also a guy who was about fifty, at least 250 pounds, with a beard to his waist and the hair shaved an inch above his ears to better show off the tattoos on his temples. He looked exactly like a member of ZZ Top, but he turned out to be a neat guy. He knew way more about the constellations than I do, and spent an hour pointing them out to us.
You've never seen the stars shine with such brilliance. There were so many of them, they actually drowned out some of the usual constellations. The Milky Way spilled across the sky like real milk. The stars were even brighter than they are in Vermont. They were so thick you could see them occluded by bats, swooping and flitting to get their fill of insects. Flying insects never bothered us, though, although I did get one red ant bite at Pumpkin Spring that hurt for days.
That night, after we talked with each other for a couple of hours, Dottie and I laid out on our sleeping bags under the stars and stared at them until we dozed off.