Photo credit (various pictures in the Grand Canyon series of posts) to David Bogle, Robyn Cantor, Art and Jillian Cook, Cathy Cox, Randall Huebner, Sheila Reiter, Leslie Reuter, Steffen Saustrup, and Sheila Torres-Blank
Last set of pictures and videos! This has been a fun journey, both the actual time in the canyon and the writing about it afterward. Thank you John for the trip of a lifetime!
We rejoin the show already in progress, at Lower Cove camp and the start of the volcanic landscape. We had no idea how many lava flows there are in the Grand Canyon. I sort of just assumed all the red coloring in the map book was ink bleed, but instead it signifies basalt and other lava rock. You may not know this, but we're amateur fans of volcanoes and all the resulting craziness in the geologic world. So this was a happy surprise.
The morning started quietly and slowly. John was rowing away when we looked back to see everyone else taking their time. It was less than 4 miles to Lava Falls Rapid and apparently no one was in a hurry to get there! This is it, the big one that we had been anticipating for months.
We docked to scout the rapid, and wow is there ever a lot going on in that maelstrom. First it was imperative to miss the Ledge Hole at the top. Then there were rocks and waves everywhere. Toward the end is a large boulder on the right that the current washes right past, and that's the location of the Big Kahuna. The Big Kahuna is a giant wave that comes and goes - you might get completely flooded or it might let you by with a light jostling. Needless to say, you want to hit that one head-on.
I thought they were all crazy to get back in the rafts, but it's probably clear by now that not everyone thinks like I do. Robyn and I followed the little trail leading down and over to the scramble along the bank, while Pam found a spot to wait at and take pictures.
Partway down our "dry run", Robyn and I paused to watch the goings-on. The kayaks went first as usual, and we saw Mark get sort of stuck midway up the Big Kahuna wave, going neither forward nor backward, paddling uphill it seemed. Thomas found the bottom of the wave while Mark was still there, and they both had a moment of "this could be bad" before Mark's kayak made it over the top. The presence of mind they both had to stay calm and maneuver their boats apart was a sight to see.
The rafts all did great! They followed the exact right line, missing the top ledge, handling the turbulence, and hitting the Big Kahuna straight on. People definitely got buried in water! And it was quite exciting.
Here's a Lava Falls video from Randall's perspective riding in John's boat:
And an excellent video that Thomas compiled for a great view of various rapids at water level (and sometimes below water level). It includes footage of John rowing Georgie, Jeff falling out of his raft, plus the 2 kayaks meeting in the Big Kahuna:
Yay for good runs and no issues! We reconvened, got back in the rafts, ran the class 4 Lower Lava rapid, and jumped out for a quick celebration on the beach across the way. Great work, everyone. I would still walk it next time.
The rest of the day was calm, just rowing another 20 miles and admiring the different views. Lava rock in the middle of the river, for example:
Another angle at the same location:
The book showed a picture of a fan-shaped "basaltic jointing" and we were rather excited to happen to see it, just above the bushes to the right of center in this picture:
Everyone was pretty relaxed, including Payton:
Robyn giving John a break at the oars:
All this lava rock inspired us to sing our adaptation of Sonia Dada's "Lover, Lover" - I pulled it up on the phone because we just can't help ourselves. "Lava, lava, lava... you don't treat me no good no more"
Unbeknownst to us, Randall captured it on video:
Lots of columnar basalt at river level - so cool. Apparently there were A LOT of lava flows into the canyon for many miles in this stretch. Had no idea,
Randall got some good rowing time in:
We were happy to snag Parashant Camp, giving us room to spread out at the mouth of Parashant Canyon. Another fine end to an excellent day:
Day 16 haiku:
Creeping to Lava
Big Kahuna - hit it straight!
That night I heard rustling in the bushes near our tent, and it was loud enough to make me suspect something larger than a mouse. I crept out and shone a light into the branches - yes! Hello little ringtail! This one was much shier than our friend at Bass Camp, and it scurried away. I heard it off and on, and since I tended to wake up early anyway, I sat out watching for it but didn't catch sight of it again. That did explain the little holes dug around the groover site off in the trees.
The next morning Leslie trekked off to find the "Book of Worms", a large rock with worm burrows from 550 million years ago. She eventually found it and led little hikes over to take a look. Thank you Leslie!
Another interesting find was heads of cabbage and pieces of grapefruit in an eddy near where we had parked the rafts. Someone had spotted one in another eddy upstream the day before, and here there were others. Our produce is packed in boxes with lids strapped down, so assuming most people similarly take care of their food, Mark suggested that another party had gotten a raft stuck in the Lava Falls ledge hole. Apparently that could shake a lot of things loose, including fruits and vegetables. We all sincerely hope the Cabbage People are OK!
A bit of morning exercise:
I had debated whether I needed the full set of warm clothes that morning, but figured it was always easy to cool off (taking a dunk in the river if needed) and much harder to warm up.
Somewhere along the back stretch of the trip, I can't recall exactly where, we were cruising along like normal when Mark and Thomas over to the right started yelling, pointing, and doing all kinds of gesturing with fingers on their heads and such. We looked all around to try to figure out what obstacle we were missing - ? Was there a hidden hole to steer around? It seemed really important.
Then we heard the word "SHEEP" and looked over to the left bank to see a whole herd of bighorns really close to the water. Oooh! Super cool!
Hello sheep! This is probably not the same group, but the picture reminded me of this humorous happening:
Day 17 was about making miles. Mark was looking at the schedule and calculating how far we still needed to go within a set number of days, so we couldn't do a lot of extracurricular stuff... I wish we had more days available for hiking and exploring. There is still so much more we could have done!
Meanwhile on the river, we were doing fine, rowing along, running class 5 and 6 rapids, no worries. Then we came around a corner and encountered Little Bastard, a class 3. It threw us for a loop, trying to knock us around or suck the rafts under, I can't remember exactly except that it lived up to its name. That was a bit of a surprise.
Only a few minutes later, the sky turned dark and a howling rounded the bend ahead of us. We had a moment to ponder this development before we were hit with a massive headwind. Rowing was pointless, we made zero progress. Then the rain started and we were soon soaked. The only good thing was that it hadn't happened while we were in the middle of the Little Bastard!
Time to head for shore! The rafts scattered literally into the wind. John found us a small bank next to a big rock where we were still getting wet but mostly sheltered from the wind. We ran around the small area to stay warm, watching the rivulets of runoff cut into the mud. One piece of ground turned bouncy, quite an interesting phenomenon.
Randall was very cold, and his dry bag was on a different raft so John went on a quest on foot to locate it. Eventually he returned and Randall was able to change clothes - much better. I was so thankful to be wearing light wool underlayers.
Finally the squall let up and the rafts started testing the waters. Mark chatted with everyone and we decided this was a good time to have lunch and run around some more, so we rowed a short way to Pumpkin Spring camp.
Happy birthday, Jimmy! Check out this weather we got for you! He was actually in a great mood, finding all of this highly entertaining and unusual. I'm not sure anyone else would have seen it quite the same way.
Lunch food was slung around, impromptu beach games were played, and a few people trekked over to see Pumpkin Spring. It's warm but otherwise not very inviting. The neat thing is that this pool is several feet above the river surface, despite how it looks to be at river level in this picture:
The rest of the afternoon was much less exciting. Just a few small rapids, more great scenery, and the sun even came out to help dry us off - thank you sun!
We looked really hard at the eddy next to Granite Spring rapid but didn't find any hats, paddles, water bottles, or cabbage.
Mark had been aiming for the camp at 222 miles, but another group had already claimed it so we continued on down to mile 224. One long day done. As a reward, our amazing cooks made cake in the Dutch oven - awesome!
Storm squall blows us back (alternate line: I chose the right clothes!)
Rainy lunch and muddy games
Jimmy birthday cake :)
Another wonderful group breakfast - I miss these morning hang-outs:
While we were packing up the boats, someone yelled that the water polo ball had jumped over the side and was floating downriver - no, Wilson, don't leave us! Mark sprang into action, grabbing his kayak and paddling on it upside-down as Wilson approached the top of the next little rapid. Just in time, the ball was retrieved and all was right in the world again.
And I thought I wouldn't have much to write about today, silly me.
Continuing down the muddy Colorado on another lovely morning:
We passed the Diamond Creek takeout where some trips end and some Hualapai trips start. We spotted the first vehicle we had seen in almost 3 weeks - that was a bit weird to contemplate.
Continuing down through a series of small rapids, we passed the colorful Travertine Falls:
Approaching Killer Fang rapid, Mark seemed a bit concerned, and Robyn and I were like "wait, there's more?" It's a class 6, but apparently significantly more challenging at low water. Which we were in (since the dam releases in October are less than in September). Holy cannoli, it just doesn't end.
It soon became apparent why Mark was telling us all this information about Killer Fang. The top of the rapid has a hole on the left and big waves down the middle, which would be no big deal except that the main current pushes you way to the right and toward one "fang" rock sticking up at the bottom. From the guidebook, "Flips are common and ugly here" and "Take this rapid seriously".
The main idea was to barely clear the hole and then pull hard to the left to jump out of the wave train partway down. Sure, because that's a move we have accomplished successfully approximately once, back at House Rock.
Two of our rafts, including John's, got up close and personal with the Killer Fang. The good news is that neither got pinned or flipped or damaged (so grateful every day that these rafts seem about indestructible!).
I believe this is the rapid where Jeff tried to hit a big wave at an angle and caused much consternation in everyone watching. Hit it straight, this is the one thing I know.
John maneuvered well at the top, ALMOST cleared the main current, but didn't quite get there. He turned the raft backward into the big waves and hit them completely straight. Although it was weird going down backward, I actually thought this was a great idea, giving him the best chance to get turned to pull hard back to the left before the jutting fang. There was a lot of yelling and a bit of minor freaking out from the front of our boat as we got way closer to the fang that we would have liked, but in the end we were OK. Everyone cheered while Robyn and I sat there trying to recover.
Randall's Killer Fang video from our boat - note that Randall is looking off the back of the boat as we hit the big waves at the top:
Well that was more excitement than we expected for the day!
The last two class 5 rapids were nowhere near as challenging, thank goodness.
Here is our much-better run down Gneiss Canyon rapid:
NOW we should be finished with the big water, finally!
Admiring the metamorphic rock along the shore:
Following along in the guidebook around mile 237, we looked hard for the door in the side of a cliff - hey, there it is! Wish we had gotten a picture of it. They used to store dynamite in the wall there, fairly odd as river sights go. There was a dam proposed at this location, thank goodness that didn't happen!
We pulled into camp at Separation Canyon. Here is where, in 1869, 3 guys decided to hike out of the canyon, away from one of John Wesley Powell's boating trips. They were never seen again, and there are various theories as to what happened to them. I believe I will stay with the rafts, thank you.
As was typical, a game of horseshoes got started, even though the beach was on the smaller side. And steeply sloped on the edges. It wasn't completely surprising when an errant horseshoe rolled down into the water. The rescue effort began:
Mark's SAR ability showed up again as he was the one to locate it. Well done, Mark!
Mark rescues Wilson
Up close - too close - Killer Fang!
Mark rescues horseshoe
We had been watching the basic weather forecasts using the InReach Mini, and every day looked fine (the squall was a minor blip). Then all of a sudden a "forecast of concern" showed up for our last day on the river. High winds were predicted, coming from the wrong direction. That got all of us to thinking.
Mark had already told stories of how strong winds could keep a raft party from making any progress, and then we had the squall to prove that point. An entire day of big headwinds? When we absolutely had to be off the river in two days, with 40 miles to go? That sounded challenging.
We schemed and played with scenarios. I paid for a couple premium weather forecasts and we started sending messages to people asking for more in-depth weather checks. Each one came back with similar results - we had one good day for river travel, then it could get bad.
Mark said we could do most of those 40 miles in one long day, especially if we tied the rafts together and floated into the night. The "night float" had been an idea since the beginning, a way to drift downstream in the dark on the section of river where there are basically no obstacles.
I texted PRO to ask if there was an option to take out a day early? That would keep us from having to sit around in crappy weather near Pearce Ferry for an extra 24 hours. Beth started working on that question, maybe it was possible.
With additional forecasts coming in overnight, it was clear that we needed to get moving early. I was awake and getting ready before everyone else, even before Jeff (the coffee man) for once, which was quite odd.
We did have a few minutes to run over and find the Separation plaque above the canyon - nice view!
Sheila and Sheila with a plaque selfie:
This cactus is having an interesting life so far:
Anyway, time to load up the rafts. Leslie remarked at how we were ready an hour earlier than usual, but my watch said it was the normal time. We were both pretty sure - so what time was it really? Could this explain why I was up before Jeff this morning? John had been thinking, "wow, she really wants to get off this river."
I texted Dave - "what time is it in Arizona right now?" which had the added benefit of making us laugh about asking Dave all these ridiculous questions like where is this island that's not in the river and is it going to rain here? He confirmed that Leslie was correct. My watch had changed time zones on me. Just a bit of discombobulation away from civilization.
The morning started out quite lovely and sunny, with the Spencer twin towers on the horizon:
I received a reply from Beth - our pickup is coming tomorrow! We all started working on new hotel arrangements, via various contacts back at home.
I love this picture Steffen took from Jimmy's raft - thank you Steffen!
Randall enjoyed one last day in the inflatable kayak. He poked around along the banks, and I think he mentioned something about finding beaver evidence in a little cave:
Another river party approached, using a motor to push their barge (rafts tied together) without needing to row. They were happy and friendly - and they offered beer! Well yes, that sounds amazing! Thank you, kind folks!
Leslie and Molly showing off the gifts:
Thomas says, "cheers!"
I'm still enjoying following along with the map book:
After we passed all possible little riffles and fast water, Mark had us gather up. He organized the barge tie-up, with our raft in the front (facing backward), two in the middle, and one in the back. He and Thomas loaded their kayaks on and joined us. Something new! Randall took a picture from his kayak:
He also took a little video showing the barge moving down the river:
And someone took a picture of Randall:
The barge worked great! We had a group lunch on the water, passing food around. Everyone took turns on the oars, and we walked around the rafts and got to chat with different people.
Charlie steered with a long kayak paddle so the oarspeople didn't have to make any corrections (which would have been quite taxing), looking a bit like The Old Man and The Sea:
We actually made really good time in this configuration.
Occasionally we were passed by a jet boat. The first time it happened we were slightly concerned about the boat wake, but that turned out not to be a problem. Hello people! Sightseeing helicopters buzzed by. Wow, there is a lot going on down here.
The book shows various places where there used to be rapids, but the water from Lake Mead has backed up so much that they are underwater. And there is almost no current, so all the sediment from upriver just lands and sits here instead of getting washed further downriver. It's amazingly different scenery compared to what we had been looking at for so long, with high sandy riverbanks.
Even more odd, the edges of the high banks would frequently break off and splash into the water, creating mini sand avalanches.
We were lazing our way down the river. Robyn stared up at the sky, then asked, "is that an airplane?" We looked up to see a huge bird just soaring across the sky without flapping - that's a condor! Woo hoo, thank you Robyn for spotting a condor! Steffen got something of a picture:
The Hualapai Skywalk up on the rim, where you can stand on a glass floor and look straight down into the canyon:
Occasionally a shallow sandbar mid-river would slow us down, although Charlie got pretty good at spotting them in advance and steering around. Once we got slightly beached and had to mostly offload and push. Several people (especially those who paused to pee) had to move it to catch back up and jump on, turning it into a comical event.
Wow, it looks like we're going to make it to mile 279 (last possible camp before the take-out) before dark! That was an impressive 39-mile day, barge and all.
We looked back to see a stunning sunset:
We unhooked the barge and rowed to camp:
Some of us overshot it a bit and had to walk back, lining the raft up-river... oops. Well, we never did get very good at eddying out. Even when there wasn't an eddy in sight.
Mile 279 camp was basically in a cow field, but hey, they can't all be special.
More amazing evening colors - and a celebration of a day with great weather:
Thank you beer party!
Rowing all together now
Beat the rain - and wind?
It started raining overnight, if I remember right. We got a bit concerned about fighting wind for the final river mile, so we packed up and got out early. It turned out to be a calm rain, surely could have been a lot worse.
Pulling up at the Pearce Ferry take-out - the last few feet in our (now muddy) rafts:
With good instructions from PRO and good oversight from Mark and excellent work by everyone, we had the rafts derigged and rolled up in no time. Much better than our rig day performance, even though it was again... in the rain.
We got all the boxes and gear in lines and piles, then went for a walk to see the infamous rapid beyond the take-out. We had been told, "do NOT miss the pull-out no matter what you do", and OMG what a crazy rapid! It has a wave you (or someone with skills) could SURF. Loud, large, and menacing. I saw it and started laughing rather hysterically. I still laugh when I think about it.
It rained all morning, so we set up the little tarp to huddle under. Thank you Robyn for bringing this awesome little shelter!
The PRO vans showed up early and we got to loading everything, including the POOP cans all lined up and ready to go:
Finally out of the rain. Sure glad we didn't have to sit in that for another day, wind or no wind.
Soggy van riders heading back to civilization:
What an amazing trip, y'all! That was a special one that I will always remember.
In summary (and in the voice of Jeff Probst):
21 days, 20 people, ALL survivors!