Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - Day 3 on the River
It was a very hot night, a low of 87. I got up at 5:00 a.m., before coffee was even ready, and bathed in the icy cold river. Refreshing. I was looking forward to this camp in the wide part of the canyon for the excellent view of the starts, but alas, it was cloudy last night. The moon shined so brightly I didn't even need a flashlight when making my way to the "ladies room" overnight. We had pancakes, sausage, and fresh fruit for breakfast.
Sunrise over Surprise Camp
Today is our biggest rapid day, and Chris, Jacob, and I are raring to go. As soon as breakfast was over we had our cots broken down, our gear packed, and we were waiting by the raft. We amused ourselves by watching the lizards fight while we waited. As I was off getting a second cup of coffee, some of the gang encountered a Grand Canyon rattlesnake, a variety of the western rattlesnake that lives only in the Grand Canyon. Stine managed to capture it - on film, of course.
Grand Canyon rattlesnake
We ran Unkar Rapid first thing this morning, then Nevills, and then Hance. Hance Rapid has the biggest drop of any of the canyon's rapids, 30 feet. Hance was the first "down-and-in" rapid we'd come to, meaning it wasn't safe just riding the tubes holding on tightly; we actually had to crouch down inside the raft and hold on for dear life. Awesome!
Riding down and in
Next we ran Sockdolager, Grapevine, 83-Mile Rapid, and Zoraster. And this was all in the early morning. We got repeatedly soaked and were glad it was a blisteringly hot day. All day long it was run a rapid, apply sunscreen, drink lemonade, run a rapid, apply sunscreen, drink lemonade. We had entered a section of the canyon called Granite Gorge, and the Canyon walls were spectacular.
Mid-morning we stopped at Phantom Ranch, mile 88, so the crew could restock our water supply. It's the only place to do so on the trip. Everyone but Tom and I walked the quarter mile to the ranch, where flushable toilets, air conditioning, and souvenirs are available. That's not what this trip is about!
Kaibab Suspension Bridge
From the Kaibab Bridge
While the others visited Phantom Ranch, Tom and I took a short hike across the Kaibab Suspension Bridge, a bridge for hikers and burros, where we took some great pics and chatted with some hikers. July 20 was a BAD day for them to hike the canyon. Brian saw a thermometer at the ranch - 115 in the sun and 108 in the shade. I'll stay near the 50-degree water and not hike, thank you. The hikers we met were dying for a beer, and we offered them some of ours, but they didn't want to walk 100 feet out of their way to the raft. They continued on to the ranch.
Opuntia phaeacantha, better known as prickly-pear cactus
After that we ran Pipe Springs Rapid, Horn Creek, and Salt Creek, all before lunch. Our lunch stop was just above Granite Rapid, in the tiniest bit of shade you've ever seen. We were able to hike down to the rapid and actually see what we were in for. It's much scarier when you can contemplate it first! Granite looks serious. We had taco salad for lunch today rather than sandwiches. These guys are good.
Tom at Granite Rapid
We came through Granite Rapid unscathed, but the River Gods demanded their price - they took Brian's hat! He had forgotten to fasten his chin strap after lunch. Cameron turned the raft around in an effort to retrieve the hat, but we watched as the river sucked it under and it never came back up. Thank God nobody was attached to it! The River Gods had already taken Tom's Leatherman yesterday at the Little Colorado, and before the trip was finished, they would take my Chapstick, Jacob's Chapstick (twice), Stine's sock (her shoe was returned), Tom's sunglasses, one bottle of my sunscreen (I had a spare), and a pound of flesh. No problem - that stuff we can spare. What I can't spare is a nephew! When I came here with my brother Mark, the river took his wedding ring. Now that was just rude!
Stine and Brian after the hat sacrifice
Cameron was at the helm when we tackled Hermit Rapid, mile 95. He told us that this was an "optional" down-and-in, but that he personally would get down and in. Knowing that Cameron is a wild man, everyone was immediately finding their safe zone, except, of course, Jacob. Jake, riding point as usual, naturally thought he could just ride it out up top. But after Brian told him in no uncertain terms, repeatedly, to get down, he reluctantly did so. Jacob was in front on the right, I was immediately behind him, and Chris was behind me. This is what would soon become the Neighbors mosh pit.
What Cameron was thinking when he made getting down optional is beyond me. Hermit was a wild and crazy ride! It kicked our butts. I really couldn't see what was happening with anybody in the raft but Jake, but I could also feel Chris flying around as the three of us collided and bounced off of one other. Jacob and I flew up and landed down on the raft's metal plating on our butts, then I flew up and landed on my knees, then Jake landed on me, then he flew back off again. I thought Jacob was going to fly right out of the raft. Our bodies flailed wildly, but our grips were locked down. There was no way we were leaving that boat. It was carnage - a Jana sandwich on nephew bread! After it was over, we wanted to do it again! I especially wanted a do-over. I'm sure I could ride it out more gracefully next time!
After we made it through Hermit, everybody was asking me if I was okay. I was like, yeah, I'm fine, and couldn't figure out why they kept staring at me. Then I looked down and saw I was bleeding profusely from below my left knee. I had gouged it on the metal plating one of the times I was slammed down on it. Dave cleaned it up and gave me a Band-Aid - all the guides are trained medics - and I finally stopped bleeding.
One of the rapids today was so violent that it lifted a huge metal storage box high enough to trap Chris's backpack strap underneath. It later took four men to lift the box and free the pack.
An amazing view
Mid-afternoon we passed an unusual formation that caused Dave to turn the raft around and actually dig out his camera. It was a well-built sandcastle, randomly placed on a beach never used for camping and rarely used as a lunch stop. Whoever built it did a good job.
Guide Dave finds something photo-worthy
We ran several more rapids, but nothing like Hermit, then we stopped at Shinumo Creek, where we took a short hike to a little grotto with a small waterfall and took a swim. The water wasn't warm, but it was way warmer than the main river. Then Dave motored back 100 yards upstream to a great large campsite at Mile 108.
Russ served crudités and ranch dressing appetizers while Dave fixed his specialty for dinner, pork chops in a mango-barbecue marinade, cole slaw, and applesauce, with spice cake for dessert. Extra delicious tonight.
100 yards downstream from camp was an area where the rock had weathered away to form a natural bathtub. Many of us took advantage of this spot. Others, who shall remain nameless (you know who you are) had sworn off bathing for the duration of the trip.
View from the bathing area
This camp, and some of the others, had bats. A blood-curdling scream alerted us that Jenn had discovered one at rest on her cot. Ha! That's good luck, you know. Later I spotted a moth with a six-inch wingspan. Cool. We felt a few raindrops this evening - very few.
Later in the night, while passing around the whiskey, Tom asked Dave what happens if Glen Canyon Dam breaks. A bad subject, I thought, when the answer seemed so obvious. Dave said we wouldn't even know what hit us. The air blast forced ahead of the water would kill us before the water ever reached us. How comforting, especially since the damn dam has leaked since they began filling it in 1963. Over 2,500 gallons of water per minute seep around the dam through the crumbly sandstone anchoring the concrete.