First Grand Canyon Trip - June 1985

South Canyon to just above Nankoweap

day 3
9 June - Sunday - South Canyon

I've been too busy to write much today. It's now late afternoon and an accident has altered our plans. Early this morning, while exploring caves way above the sandy beach where we are camped, David Differding had an accident. He fell and was found dazed and bleeding by a commercial boatman who was guiding his passengers on a tour of Stanton's Cave. He sent word back to us.

Fred and I immediately went to see what was up carrying the med-kits. Jerry Lindsey already had pitched a tarp over David to shield him from the sun. The discovering group was perched halfway up a good rocky slope watching everything. Two commercial boatmen were examining David when we arrived and questioning him about pain as they gently touched him here and there. A passing doctor from another commercial group briefly examined David and recommended that he not be moved unnecessarily due to potential back problems. The commercial boaters promised to use their line-of-sight radios to request a helicopter evacuation if they spotted an aircraft overhead. That would have to do for the moment. The walls in this part of Marble Canyon are straight up, we can't see either rim from here. Our signal mirrors are useless.

We helped David a few feet down to a flat rock shelf like area where, with tarp and oars, whoopee and rocks, we rigged a sun shelter. We continued first aid by giving him liquids and washing his wounds with salt water. His right leg had some good abrasions, his right shoulder a nasty puncture wound, a possible separated rib low on the right side, his right hand had a broken or dislocated ring finger on the joint closest to the palm, he had a dazed look on his face and, judging by his questions to us, he was experiencing recurring amnesia. He had no memory of his fall. After a while, we laid him flat out with a thermarest to cushion the hard rocky ground.

We established a "camp" around David and began tending to his wounds. We ate lunch. The amnesia - his asking the same questions repeatedly - gradually went away. Over the course of the afternoon, he became more lucid and clear. We fed him water and pop and orange slices and apple quarters and a few M&M's. To be ready for a medevac helicopter, we laid out an X on the beach made of brilliant orange plastic tube tents held down by rocks so that they would not be blown away by the hot winds that frequent this narrow canyon.

Late in the afternoon when only Dana, Rebecca and myself were in attendance, David decided that he wanted to go down to the beach where he could be more comfortable. The prospect of spending the night up there was not in his plans. He was probably just tired of laying on that slippery thermarest. After reminding him of Charley's adamant advice against moving, I helped Dana and Rebecca walk him down from the rock shelf to the sandy beach. "We need the others to help us move him", Dana said and I responded that the three of us were enough to help him down. Along the way, we paused in the shade and then gingerly moved down through a cleft in the rock wall, I with the firm intention of being the pillow should David trip or stumble. We successfully made it down and into the shade on the beach and heard that the advisability of moving David has been heavily debated by the others who are surprised to see us. We began supper and made David a lot more comfortable at the base of the rock cliff where it is cool.

With the aid of some codeine-tylenol, David spent a restful evening lying on Charley's air mattress. Dana and Ron cleaned and irrigated his abrasions and Charley saw to the treatment of the two puncture wounds with a little neosporin and a couple of bandaids. His broken finger has been taped to the adjacent little finger for support. Charley had thoughtfully packed a back brace corset, just in case.

day 4
10 June - Monday - South Canyon to below President Harding rapid (mile 43.8)

An airplane has just passed overhead, Piper Cub? Who has the signal mirror? Charley says that Ron is with a baloney boat upstream talking with the commercial crew - that had to be a definite contact!

Evacuation Team
Evacuation crew interviews David

The copter landed and took off before noon. David is now in professional hands and I feel an enormous relief.

The park service finally heard of our plight this morning and sent a copter to find us as soon as they could. Three people were in the turbine-jet helicopter, a pilot,a "lead" EMT technician (Ernest Kuncl) who introduced himself to us, and another EMT technician - functioning smoothly as a team. Their inspection of David was thorough and precautionary, they wanted no sudden problems to show up once they started climbing out of the canyon. The exam was similar to the boatman examination that I saw but more detailed.

They conducted their interview partially as an education for the rest of us, asking David much the same questions as the guides did before but with the capability of doing more than we could to affect things. Ernie felt that there was a possibility of internal bleeding due to the lack of intestinal noise when he used a stethoscope on David's stomach. Also when David stuck out his tongue, it turned slightly to the right and his uvula also hung slightly to the right - possibly due to a head injury. Ernie then stated that he was "somewhat nihilistic about the use of drugs" in our environment and in our predicament. That was in reference to the pain-killer that I gave David last night. Feeling that the least drugs were the best way to go in a general sense, he pointed out that where the liver's function is cut down or curtailed, the use of tylenol could cause sickness and even death. The codeine had been buffered with tylenol. I hope David suffers no ill effects from the medicine that I gave him.

As Ernie prepared David for the flight to the Rim, we all crowded around to say goodbye. He looked relaxed and chipper when we loaded him into the chopper. He winked and grinned, not a bad performance for someone who has hopped over hot sand in flip-flops with an IV taped to his wrist. I hope he's going to be OK. Remember to click on the thumbnail pictures if you'd like to see larger versions.

Vasey's Paradise
Water pours from cliff at
Vasey's Paradise

After the copter took off and flew up the canyon, we loaded up the boats. By the time we were ready to leave, another private group was circling in the eddy, hopping out onto the beach and ready to take our place. These folks say they are from Idaho and seem to have all new boats and plenty of photographic gear.

The float down to our new campsite was particularly enjoyable. The springs and gouts from the cliff at Vasey's Paradise were spectacular. All the appropriate words do the Grand Canyon less than justice. It has to be seen up close to be believed. My ability to comprehend and "see" the natural scenario in the Grand Canyon is dwarfed by the magnitude of this special place.

Redwall Cavern beach
Lunch stop at Redwall Cavern

Ron caught four trout after we reached camp. The look on his face as he hurried over the crest of the sand dune to show off his catch was vintage ten year old boy. What a grin... So tonight we have for dinner broiled trout and sirloin shish kebob with salad, rice, wine and a few cans of beer for the plebes. Ron actually got all five fish with lures we found on the bush stuff that lines the shoreline. The longest was fingertip to elbow on my right arm. They've been put in the meat ice chest for tomorrow morning. Rebecca says trout almondine. I say wrap a strip of bacon around them. Fred says that they're salmon.

Trout Dinner
Trout for dinner

day 5
11 June - Tuesday - President Harding to just above Nankoweap (mile 50)

Another day in paradise. Coffee in the morning. Trout. I drew in my journal. Jerry wanted to know what a SportYak was, so I sketched one for him. He has begun to question the rest of us on equipment matters. Does this topic ever wear out? Charley said that he only got about three hours of sleep, he was so wired from the events at South Canyon. We're all beginning to feel more at home down here. Pack up gear and launch downstream.

Drifting downstream
Drifting downstream

As I pulled into camp that afternoon, last because of the Shoshone's desire to dwell in Colorado eddies, I asked incredulously if this was really our campsite. "Isn't it too big for our small party?" Fred and Ron assured me that it was OK but I found it hard to believe. Big, big beach. Stunning view. Parties commercial and private were passing us without needing to confer about who's gonna camp where.

The folks who pulled into South Canyon as we were packing up just drifted by - every boat a new Sport. They look well outfitted. Another party floated by on what appeared to be about five older boats with orange rubbing strakes around the middle. I think that they are Udiscos but I'll get a chance to check them out more thoroughly in the coming days.

I re-rigged the boat during the afternoon to be sure to get everything properly and neatly tied down before doing any heavy duty rapids. Not that those are coming up soon but we've all been busy with other things that seemed more immediate. This pig leaks air at a rapid clip. One of the tubes, the left rear one as a matter of fact, looses pressure quite well while the other three perimeter tubes just ooze. I always have to equalize the tubes before the sun hits the boat and gives it a false bearing of tautness in the morning.

Ron caught more trout for dinner. Porkchops, apple-cinnamon cake, salad, baked potatoes, drinks. We cannot see starvation just yet.

Click here to continue reading about my 1985 Grand Canyon trip.
Click here to go back to the River page.

© 1996 Michael Dooley