Slow, leisurely movements, deliberate activity, the morning before Lava Falls. You've heard the PR about its being the fastest navigable rapid in the United States; the most famous rapid in the river-runners world? Boatmen have been swapping info with us constantly and it seems that the river is about at 45,000 cfs, corrected opinion. That is, for every second of time that passes, at any given point on the river, somewhere in the neighborhood of forty five thousand cubic feet of water will pass by that point heading downstream. Sitting here and writing this, I can look up and see between our ledge camp and the sheer wall on the river's opposite side, one hell of a current flow. Water with but one idea, go fast, go faster.
The American River in California's Gold Country usually flows at 17 hundred cfs; the Tuolumne is real tolerable at 21 to 24 hundred cfs; the Middle Fork of the Eel, we do between 15 to 35 hundred cfs; and these flows are less than the increments by which the Colorado's flow is raised or lowered. Do we feel helpless here?
Our best guess is that Lava will be significantly covered by the volume of water that is passing through right now. The holes at the beginning will be doused. The waves, however, will have more punch and will tend to be bigger and thus harder to ride through. I will definitely look for a chicken chute, everyone is a little apprehensive at their daily duties. We just can't wait. Traveling with cranks like these is fun. And edifying too. The computer wizard squashes empty cans. It is time to finish packing and head downstream ourselves.
Just as I was ready to topple out of the boat over the left tube while clutching one oar, Daniel reaches out with one hand and slams me back onto my bench where I belong; "You're not finished yet, Mikey," he said as I slammed my left oar back onto the thole pin and desperately pivoted to meet the biggest wave I could see in Lava. We had been blowing through Lava Falls when a cresting wave had thrown the raft sideways down the face of a huge wave almost spilling me out and putting us all in a nasty situation. Looking over my shoulder at Rebecca's face, gray with fear, I get a good estimate of how she felt during the ride. She wanted desperately to get this over with. We pumped on through. What a relief!
Scouting Lava (on river left) we all agreed that the left of center run was the one. Ron and Fred both elected to punch through the diagonal waves at the entrance to the tongue with a downstream ferry while I placed more confidence in maneuvering using an upstream ferry. This bit of foolishness placed my boat about three feet closer to the big stuff and caused our ride to be more dramatic than necessary. Fred and Ron, who had gone through first, thought that we had flipped as the last sight they had of us, we were sideways going down a wave. After we didn't appear for a few seconds, they almost got worried. We made it through right side up but somewhat waterlogged.
The weather is solidly socked in this morning, no blue sky, just dark clouds and a muggy feeling to the air. Every so often a warm breeze. We're out of the Middle Granite Gorge now and we have a much bigger sky and a wider horizon. This delightful trip is beginning to near its end, the brandy is gone and the beer stashers now hold power.
Our day looks to be a nice one - less sun for a change. Lots of bats, toads, insects, lizards and such will miss us tonight, we'll be 20 miles downstream. The food continues to hold out, we have enough for 18 more days at least, though somewhat simpler meals would be an inevitable result of compressing the organic food into the last waning days of our trip. At least the rice cakes would get eaten and look, we've got lots of dry health food organo grains. Indians used to mash their molars over stuff like this. Spam for breakfast. Yum...
The canyon opens up
Supper can only be too much this evening. Not being able to settle on whether spaghetti or ham and mashed potatoes would do, both are being prepared for the evenings repast. This is our last sandy beach in paradise.
Fred's doing imitations again. Jerry's taking lots of photos of the crew. Charley and Ken are talking by the water while pumping more water through the Katadyn. Will the effort retain value in the outside world? Daniel, Ron and Dana are doing part of the dinner. Rebecca is lying in the little Tahiti that Dana took her afternoon nap in. I am shaded by a rock and have just finished pumping up the air mattress, spreading the sleeping bags and lying out the pillows. I can stay here indefinitely.
A leisurely breakfast was enjoyed by all, each of us regretting that the trip was coming to an end. The sky was heavily overcast and soon it began to rain. We all got into rain gear and hurriedly packed up all the stuff we have carried, packed and unpacked before. Lightning cracks and then loud bursts of thunder. Ken spots a place on the cliff-wall opposite us across the river about three tiers down from the top, where forked lightening has just now struck. We see smoke and steam rising from the area. We push off and boat the Colorado together for the last time.
We arrive at Diamond Creek. The vehicles are not there yet but Ron reminds us that we had arranged for them to be delivered between 12 and 1PM. Everyone wants Ken to get his watch from the deep recesses within his dry bag where they had exiled it after he had been spotted wearing it at the first campsite down from Phantom Ranch. And this, just so that they could know how late the shuttlers were? Big deal.
The vehicles arrive. The truck and trailer is loaded. The rain pelts down some more. This is the coolest day yet. We drive out, reach the dump at Kingman before closing time, beer up in town and drive to Las Vegas, stopping at Hoover Dam on the way.
We arrive in Las Vegas. We drive around from 6ish to almost 10 before we can decide about group feeding. People feel fragile, out of place and definitely out of step with the version of 20th century life being presented here in Las Vegas. We cannot take the loud noises or flashing lights - really, this all that is all that there is in Las Vegas. Circus-Circus blows their circuits as does the next joint, then finally we come to an acceptable restaurant, not a casino, that serves food too, and, famished, we eat.
It's about 2AM now, and for the lack of suitably smooth moves, Rebecca and I are parked at the airport with our gear heaped around a clump of very uncomfortable plastic seats that we have pretended to use as restful accommodations for the night. We have separated our clothing into the distinctly foul and the still wearable. Both of us have taken restroom baths using a washcloth and have reconnoitered the airport. It is under reconstruction and has rows of slot machines that make typical slot machine noises. I think this place is one of the registered rings of Hades. The good news is that United has ended its strike and our tickets are valid, and that our flight is supposed to leave at 7ish tomorrow morning. I can't wait to leave Nevada.
© 1996 Michael Dooley