Brady came by early in the morning to see if there was anything further that he could do for us. We waved goodbye as he drove off to Flagstaff towing Eva's SUV on top of his trailer. We and the other group that was launching that morning had our orientation talk around eight thirty. The Miller group had a physician in their party (an anesthesiologist) as well as an eleven year old girl, Jessica, who was the daughter of the permit holder. They appeared like they had a full 16 person crew (I think from Colorado) while we had a smaller 11 person crew. The ranger's talk went well and by around nine thirty or so, we were finished with the authorities and ready to go.
We launched our flotilla of one dory and three 18 foot rafts, and drifted down past the Pariah riffle getting used to our loads. A few hours later, we stopped and made lunch somewhere down stream river left after passing under the Navajo Bridges. We scouted Badger and ran it, center I think. The water level and flow was lower than any of the previous canyon trips I had been part of - more rocks and less pillow. We beached the boats and made camp below Soap Creek (river right) that afternoon. After unloading our gear, we began to make sense of the kitchen arrangements. A few hours later, as we were cleaning up after a fabulous dinner and folks were getting acquainted, we watched the other launch party pass us as evening began to arrive.
Just so you have an idea of who's who. We all swapped places and roles as we could.
- Ron Stark - TL rowing dory, from Albion, California
- Eva Andersson - initially a passenger in Ron's dory, from Albion
- Michael Dooley - rowing an 18' raft
- Rebecca Dooley - my lovely wife
- Jennifer Dooley - my beautiful daughter
- Josha Stark - rowing an 18' raft and occasionally paddling a Necky kayak, Fort Bragg, California
- Craig Reece - initially a passenger in Josha's raft, Berkeley, California
- Anne Bush - a passenger, Craig's significant other, Berkeley
- Bill Zimmer - rowing an 18' raft, Albion
- Lars Osihn - Eva's slightly younger brother, Sweden
- Ken Tolces - who eventually learned to row an 18' raft, Austin, Texas
Ron rowed a dory that he owned and had taken down the canyon many times before. After acquiring the hull, he outfitted the interior with decks, compartments, bilge areas, a pump and various pieces of equipment peculiar to the dory. Toroweap was quite a pretty boat. Ron could carry two passengers easily but preferred one. His storage compartments could hold a modest amount of gear after he loaded his personal effects and those of his passenger. The boat floated nice and high and appeared to be extremely maneuverable - especially when compared to our rafts.
One of our prospective boatmen had initially objected to rowing an 18 foot raft full of gear and people. When pressed for commitment money, he bowed out in part because he thought that the dory was not going to carry its' fair share. I objected at the time to the concept of "fair share" and as one of the permittees, I didn't really want a boatman who had notions involving who did what. As far as I was concerned, we all had to be prepared to do the things necessary to get the trip organized and running smoothly. As it turned out, we had two boatmen drop out within a few weeks of each other and we scrambled to enlist replacements. Bill had only rowed one other time, an 18 footer twelve years ago in the canyon and Josha had rowed several canyon trips as well as competed with the US team in Costa Rica where they won the kayak surfing world championships. Josha brought along a Necky kayak and, as it turned out, Ken, a complete novice, began rowing Josha's boat during the early easier stretches. Soon Ken was navigating rapids.
Things tend to work out if you let them.
We packed up last night's camp and were on the water by 9:30. We ran Soap Creek and Sheer Wall Rapid. We then arrived at House Rock and scouted it on the right from above the rapid. The current tends to push you left into two big holes (and the big one is at the bottom). The river is pinched off at the top of the rapid by rocky debris so the beginning of the run is narrow and shallow - very rocky, and it looked like you should be positioned to row right. Ron ran first followed by Josha. Bill ran third just in front of me. He dallied at the top of the rapid and finally dropped off the lip into the current. As we got to the top of the rapid and could see downstream, Jennifer said that Bill had flipped - she could see the yellow bottom of his raft. We dropped into the rapid, hit a rock at the top left and spun 360 degrees. Approaching the first hole, I lined the raft up to punch it directly but forgot about the accompanying lateral. We flipped. My last words were something along the lines of "We're going over - hold on."
I swam out from under the raft and grabbed the lifeline that runs around the perimeter of the boat. I looked for Rebecca and Jenn. Jenn popped up right in front of me and I grabbed her and put her hand on the lifeline. "Hold on!" We went through the second hole. I yelled for Rebecca as she appeared at the rear end of the raft. Holding onto the boat we partially swam and kicked our way over to the right shore where we collected ourselves for a moment. Boy was it rocky.
Rebecca and Jenn then began making their way downstream as I got up on the raft and, using one oar as a pole, began pushing the raft very slowly downstream. Josha appeared below us in his kayak and signaled to ask if we were we all right? We responded that we were and he returned to Bill's boat to rig a Z drag. Jenn and Rebecca came back with the information that we were going to right Bill's raft first and then ours. We were to partially derig our boat so that flipping it back over would be that much easier. I had managed to get our raft to a place where dealing with it was possible. We began to untie the gear that we could easily reach. One thing at a time.
A few minutes later, Craig appeared walking over the rocks and began helping us untie gear and corral various floating food items on the beach. Oranges and apples continued to appear as if by magic as they escaped from the upside down root cellar. The Miller group appeared at the top of the debris fan scouting the rapid on river right. They ran it one by one successfully and pulled over into the eddy to lend a hand in righting our raft. By that time, Bill's raft was top side up and Josha had paddled upstream in his kayak to set up the Z drag for our boat. With help from the other party's people, we managed to flip our raft back over in a few minutes. What a relief.
Our raft had been bottom up for about 45 minutes I think. We thanked the Miller group for their help and knowing that they planned to make camp at North Canyon, we floated a short distance downstream and made camp on river left at mile 19.1. Pawing through our baggage, we saw a little dry bag moisture but nothing too traumatic - our sleeping gear was completely dry. The rocket boxes were (surprisingly) dry - how sweet. We set up a clothes line for various items from Bill's boat that had not been so fortunate as ours. Our tent was wet as I usually carried it and a few other things like camp shoes in a canvas bag strapped to the top of the load and Rebecca set it up to dry out. We set up the kitchen and made dinner. People put on their warmies and talked about the events of the day. That night a breeze came up and the gear that was hanging out to dry became scattered out on the tammies and sand. Our partially rigged (and drying) Eureka 4 man tent was blown about ten feet along the beach and suffered a bent pole. We were so completely tired out from the swim and sorting things out that we didn't awake enough to realize that our old tent had almost become a kite.
In the morning, we made coffee and breakfast and chatted about the previous day's events. After breaking camp and packing up, we were on the river a little later than usual, maybe by about ten o'clock. What a beautiful day.
We ran North Canyon and began psyching ourselves back up for the roaring twenties. I think that one of the rapids that day was supposed to have a lateral that was undetectable from above but would easily flip a loaded raft. Perhaps this was 24 mile rapid - I forget. We ran Cave Springs and Tiger Wash rapids. We pulled over at Shinumo Wash and had a quick bite to eat while several of our party went up to Silver Grotto to see if they could get up the steep rock. I arrived at the base of the rock pile as Ron and Josha were walking back. Eva, Lars, Craig and Anne were up one level but appeared to be unable to get up to the next level. They returned to the beach where we set up camp and the kitchen early and prepared dinner. We were serenaded by 29 mile rapid as we drifted off to sleep.
© 2008 Michael Dooley