Thursday, January 9, 2014

Rafting the Colorado River Through Grand Canyon - November 16 - December 7, 2013

Spider is the symbol for "the infinite possibilities of creation" according to David Carson and Jamie Sams who wrote the book "Medicine Cards". The book is based on Native American teachings and in it Carson and Sams redefine "medicine" as anything that improves one's connection to all life. Native American medicine is described as an all-encompassing "way of life", that involves walking on Earth in perfect harmony with the Universe.

Spider's body is made of the number 8. It also has 8 legs. 8 plus 8 equals 16. With this group of 16, (see below - minus Buzzsaw), the possibilities were infinite. In Grand Canyon the newly formed "family" of 16 lived in harmony with all life forms, one another and the environment for 22 days.

North Creek Rafting Company (NCRC) organized and outfitted the expedition. Nate Pelton and I, the owners of NCRC, see below, led the way and were well aware of Lencioni's five functions of a healthy team:

1) Attention to detail

2) Accountability

3) Commitment

4) Conflict

5) Trust
And there we were, living in the moment, for the moment as carefree children, feeling the pleasures of being alive.

Bessie Haley Hyde wrote in 1928, "My church is made of rocks and sand with clear blue sky and pounding waves". I concurred. Exuberant was how I described myself. 

November 15, 2013(Day 0)Hotel Monte Vista to Lee's Ferry
At the KOA in Flagstaff, where they have the coldest ice blocks around, we encountered the same dude. He said he remembered us from last year. He gave us some words of wisdom about flipping a raft in Grand Canyon:

"If you flip in Grand Canyon, you don't lose your pride, you don't lose anything, you gain experience."

Our overweight 15-passenger van with 8 passengers and an 18-foot trailer headed to the put-in. The winds were strong and Nate struggled to keep the big rig on the road. Tumble weed blew by, occasionally getting stuck under the rig. We got to Lee's Ferry around noon and started rigging our rafts. The river was at a beefy ~ 42,000 cfs as part of a high flow experiment. High flow experiments are rare and consist of releasing the maximum flow from Glen Canyon Dam. The huge bubble of water is released in an effort to rebuild the beautiful beaches in Grand Canyon. We had fresh, smooth beaches the entire journey.

We had a temporary set back after rigging the raft. We thought the floor had a leak. We de-rigged and examined the floor. We found it was a leaky valve - a quick fix. Our raft was pretty empty when we left the take out for the last time tonight, around 10 pm.

Tomorrow we launch on our 22-day 277 mile adventure down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon

November 16, 2013 (Day 1) Mile 0 - Mile 8 - Lee's Ferry to Badger Creek Camp
 The crafts include:  
Nate and I in a 18-foot SOTAR raft
Greg in a 14-foot SOTAR cataraft
Patrick and Marko in a 16-foot NRS raft
Marissa and Casey in a 16-foot NRS raft
Katie, Julia and Kayla in a 16-foot Maravia raft named "Aragorn"
Judy and Jon in a 16-foot Maravia raft named "Windwalker"
Mark, Brian, Craig in kayaks and Buzzsaw in a ducky

On our launch date, we woke up before the sun was on the red rock walls surrounding the Marble Canyon Lodge. Our long motorized rig was conveniently located next to our room, Room 301. We mailed the last of our bills and then headed a few miles to the put-in for our orientation with the ranger. At the put-in we noticed the water had dropped significantly. Our oar-powered rafts were beached. It took the 16 person crew working together to move each raft to the water. Except for our raft, which was pretty much empty because we had to examine the floor for a leak last evening.

The ranger orientating us was named Peggy. She told several stories and talked a lot about karma in Grand Canyon. She said in many words that the river water and the activities of daily living involved with it are risky. This includes activities such as rafting, cooking and maintaining personal health and hygiene. As she talked for two hours, Ravens began dive-bombing our supplies on the beach by the river. Peggy hung around while we prepared to launch. Several crew members had Peggy autograph their helmets.The water was dropping as we finished packing the rafts. We got on the river around 2 pm.
Buzzsaw (see above) tumbled out of the ducky in a cold wave with the put-in practically in sight. Before the Navajo Bridges, I used binoculars to search for a Condor nest on the right side of the river. Peggy said the nest contained eggs that would hatch at any moment. The Condor nest escaped my view. It was windy today on the water. Boatmen had to keep their oars in the water at all times in order to prevent their boats from blowing backwards. We scouted Badger Rapid from the left side of the river (see below) and everyone had a clean run. 

Our group (Katie, Craig, Mark, Greg, Nate and I) cooked tonight. We made broccoli and cauliflower in a spicy peanut sauce for appetizers and Indian Spiced Red Lentil Soup for dinner. Katie was my cooking assistant and made cooking easy. Nate and I slept close to the raft on the beach in our tent.

November 17, 2013 (Day 2) Mile 8 - 20 - Badger Creek Camp to North Canyon Camp

We left Badger Rapid and Camp behind today. Tonight was the Badger Full Moon, according to Katie. I predicted that the Badger would be my spirit animal down here this time around. Badgers hold their own and are fearless, bold, brave critters. Last trip, exactly a year ago, my spirit animal was the Heron.

Of course, I brought along the book "Medicine Cards", by Jamie Sams and David Carson, in order to ponder the deeper significance of the animals I encounter. According to the book, the power of Badger's medicine is aggressiveness and the willingness to fight for what it wants." I wanted a safe, healthy, cooperative team. Badger medicine people are quick to act in crisis and they do not panic. That exactly described our fearless trip leader, Nate. Badger is often the leader and the one everyone fears. The same leader that'll keep any team afloat. Badger gets the job done. I used Badger's aggression to seek new levels of expression. Badger helped me tell this story of the trip in hopes of helping you "feel your own power, love for yourself, and wholeness". 

We made Spicy Jasmine Rice with Carrots and Cashews for dinner (see below) and sat around the campfire admiring the full moon and the Pleiades. Katie, a massage therapist, rubbed my feet with her feet by the heat of the fire. My body felt in tune with the moon as I slept, without shelter, under it's light. 
November 18, 2013 (Day 3) Mile 20-41 -North Canyon Camp to Buck Farm Camp 
A shot out to Long Lake Central School District for letting me go!
Feeling exuberant in front of the rigs before the Roaring 20s
We ran the Roaring 20s today. What a ride. Of course, there was a big hit in Georgie's Rapid. Cave Spring Rapid provided the most adventure for us today. Craig swam, Mark lost his ear plugs and Nate lost an oar out of his hand. Later Craig drank a beverage of his choice out of his river bootie, as his personal punishment for swimming in a rapid.
Mark and Greg
We stopped at Redwall Cavern (see below) to stretch our legs and check out the scene. Strangely, we noticed dog prints. The girls had a stretching circle. Before we left, we made a human pyramid of most members of the crew. Marissa and I were on top. By the time we left the cavern I was so relaxed I forgot my life vest on the beach. Another crew member grabbed it and tossed it to me as our raft was a few feet from shore.  
Approaching Redwall Cavern
Girls stretching circle in Redwall Cavern
Pyramid of 11 giddy river runners. Note spotters peaking through

Relaxed and glowing in Redwall Cavern
Back to the rafts - a little under 10 miles to camp

We rowed up to Buck Farm Camp at dusk. A smaller group was camped at the upper beach. We began calling this group the Steven Spielberg group because there were some super wealthy folks among them. We pulled into the lower beach. Katie and I pulled together the vegan meal designed by Greg. It was a stir-fry with snow peas, red and green peppers, onions, eggplant, carrots, and bok choy and toasted sesame oil over Jasmine rice. It came out quite scrumptious, surely a staple for future trips. Around the campfire, Katie rubbed my hands. 

November 19, 2013 (Day 4) Mile 41-55 - Buck Farm Camp to Kwagunt Camp

I slept under the stars and woke up this morning on the ground in between Mark and Greg. The whole crew slept within an arm's length of each other, on a beach sprinkled with vegetation. Where we slept was definitely covered by water from the high flow experiment shortly before we were here. Nate slept on the raft to escape Buzzsaw's sleeping buzz. His snore seemed to vibrate the ground around it. In the early morning hours, before the sun was up, I located Buzz's tent, tapped it and asked him to roll over. He stopped snoring. I relished the silence for the remaining hours until the sun came up. Mark and I did a bit of Sleeping Bag Yoga together. Katie joined in and we practiced my daily stand-up stretch routine (see above). Katie realized the author of Sleeping Bag Yoga is her yoga teacher in Flagstaff. The group next to us, the Spielbergs, brought a Yellow Lab on the trip with them. Apparently, it crapped all over the fresh beaches where we were sleeping. Despicable.

I rowed Aragorn, our red 16-foot Maravia raft, with the girls (Katie, Julia, Kayla) for a bit today. It felt like a toy compared to the heavy blue 18-foot Sotar barge. It was a warm sunny day and as we approached Nankoweap Rapid, I felt up for rowing it. Katie coached me from behind. I felt like I had tremendous control over the oars and raft. It was a blast. I graduated from riffle rowing to rapid rowing in Nankoweap Rapid, one of the longest, gentlest rapids on the river. The river twists and turns like a snake. 

We made it to Kwagunt Camp as planned. Kwagunt was an enormous beach surrounded all around by red walls (see below). Nate and I set up our sweet floor-less teepee on the beach (see below). Katie was our neighbor on her cot. A large cat definitely visited this beach recently as we saw large cat prints in many places. The large cat reminded us to "constantly be aware of keeping peace. However, we can never make everyone happy unless we lie to ourselves or others. Therefore, the first responsibility of leadership is to tell the truth. Responsibility is no more than the ability to respond to every situation. Panic is not part of this sacred medicine." Greg, Mark, Katie, Nate and I hiked up a wash into the dark. We sat around a small pool by the light of the moon roaring with laughter and looking at rocks.
November 20, 2013(Day 5) Mile 55- 75 - Kwagunt Camp to Upper Rattlesnake Camp

Greg and I rigging our rafts
It was a quiet day on the river with few rapids. We passed the sacred and beautiful turquoise Little Colorado River and stopped to admire rocks while scouting Unkar Rapid (see below). 

We eventually camped at Upper Rattlesnake, a large camp surrounded by purple ledges (see below). The stubborn crack on my thumb was healing. Katie fell on a ledge where she was camped and hurt above her left eye. In the morning her eye looked fine. I reminded Katie of snake's message according to my Medicine Card book. "Snake knows that all things are equal in creation, and those things that might be experienced as poison can be eaten, ingested, integrated, and transmuted if one has the proper state of mind."

"The mass of people never know

 The fullest meaning of this life,

 They jog along the even way,

 Always avoiding thought and strife.

So placid and content they seem,

Existing even on and on,

I'd rather have my blackest night,

That I may see the bright red dawn."

                                        - Bessie Haley
Rattlesnake Camp from a ledge up above

The clouds rolled in (see above) and the rains came tonight as we slept in our teepee on the path to the groover. Mark slept way out on a purple rock ledge overlooking the river. 
November 21, 2013 (Day 6) Mile 75 - 87.5 - Upper Rattlesnake Camp to Upper Cremation Camp

In a riffle below Nevill's Rapid, we hit a rock today. It was scary with all this weight beneath us. The 18-foot raft was fully loaded throughout the trip. We were carrying more than a ton of community gear. We were consuming the food stored in our ammo cans. However, as we ate the food, the empty ammo cans were filled with firmly-compacted garbage. Hance was an intimidating scout, but everyone had a smooth run through (see below). 
Brian probed Hance Rapid while we scouted.
Julia rocked Hance Rapid.
Sockdalager had a hole that was our biggest hit in the river thus far. A knockout punch for sure. The entire raft was swamped. Nate yelled back to me, "Are you still there?" Craig was in an eddy next to the swamping hole. He saw me swirling around the back of the raft holding onto our "luggage".

The wind picked up today and the rains began again. We had just about made it to the Cremation Camps when we could see Cynthia and Peter from half a mile away. They were at the Upper Camp waiting to join the trip in exchange for Katie and Buzzsaw. We pulled around the corner and camped at the Lower Camp. All 18 of us were together in one place for one night. What a gnarly night to be cooking. Everything got wet. The scientists did their work catching fish into the night. It was another windy, wet, wild night in the teepee. I made one last attempt to finish my postcards in the tent by the light of my headlamp. I knew I'd have to write a few at Phantom Ranch the next day. Phantom Ranch was across the river. 

November 22, 2013 (Day 7)Mile 87.5-94 - Cremation Camp to Granite Camp

We woke up to a dreary cold wind and rain. Most of this campsite was not protected from the elements. So despite the fact that group morale was low, we pressed on. Once I put on my river gear, I felt ready to face the storm. Nate and I had a solid walk with as few belongings as possible back to our raft.

We rigged the raft in the wind and rain and ferried across the river to Phantom Ranch. At Phantom Ranch we got the weather, the river levels, wrote postcards with shaky cold hands, mailed postcards to be delivered by mule, drank lemonade, used a flush toilet and a real sink, and got a group photo (see below). We filled our water jugs - large and small. I met one of the scientists, Jason, who had a burly red beard. We said goodbye to Buzz and Katie. They hiked out on the Bright Angel Trail.
The entire group.
We ran Horn Creek Rapid with the scientists watching from above the rapid in their motor-powered boats. They motored down from Phantom for the performance. Our blue barge did not get far enough left because Nate could not see the second, internal horn and did not want to pull toward it. We ran through two enormous holes on the right side of the rapid. For the second hole we were sideways. The barge busted through the holes and felt like a bathtub filled with ice water. We made it to our first layover day above Granite Rapid. Yahoo!
Our rig, parked for our first layover day.
  November 23, 2013 (Day 8) Granite Camp Layover Day

I woke up this morning to crisp air. I laid comfortably in the tent for hours, alternating between stretching, reading and writing. We had tunes in the tent going and I kept thinking after this tune,  I'll emerge from the warmth of this tent. I snuggled with Nate to Cat Steven's "Maybe You're Right" and thanked the Universe we have built our lives together on the river as we listened to Joni Mitchell's "River". "He put me at ease. Lord, he loved me so naughty, made me weak in the knees". I rubbed Dr. Schulze's Deep Tissue Oil on Nate's sore lower back.

We went for a walk up Granite Wash (see below). The rocks were multi-colored (see below). We raced down the wash when Nate realized he had to relieve himself. We hung by the roar of Granite Rapid checking out rocks. Due to the rain we'd experienced on the river thus far, we decided we didn't need to water the plants the USGS has introduced to this beach. When we returned to camp, lunch was ready. Today it paid to be vegan. We got delightful southwest pitas. I ate more for lunch than any other meal this trip. I went in the tent and began reading "Sunk Without a Sound", a book about Bessie and Glen Hyde's voyage down here in the fall of 1928. They were last seen in an unwieldy wooden scow near Hermit Rapid. I fell asleep for a bit. I woke up at dusk and didn't want to leave the warmth of the tent. 

Check out the dot on the rock next to my legs
 A beaver swam by the shore and waddled on the beach downriver. Although I could have seen him up close like most the rest of the group, I chose not to. 
Beaver up close by Brian
November 24, 2013 (Day 9) Mile 94-109 - Granite Camp to Bass Camp

Due to run-off from rain, the water looked like thick chocolate milk for the rest of the trip (see above). I must have hit the groover four times this morning. I thought it had to be my nerves and not the meat juices I was sure had snuck their way into my body. Both Granite and Hermit were friendlier than I remember - especially Hermit Rapid where we flipped last year. Hermit was Nate's favorite rapid so far on the trip. Most of us ran clean lines through Crystal Rapid. Marko hit an enormous hole on the bottom river-right. Cynthia was riding up front and buried with brown water. Sapphire Rapid had huge holes we ran flawlessly, backwards. I went face first into the holes and was slapped silly with waves of water. 

"There's no greater thrill
 Than the chance of a spill
 In a rapid that's angrily white (or brown)
 But the one that you feel
 When leveling the keel
 Proclaims that your boat's still upright."
                                               - Dr Russell Frazier

The Penetrators - Marko, Cynthia and Patrick
The mighty walls of the Granite Gorge and Greg
It was a long day and we felt as if we had made it to heaven when we made it to an empty Bass Camp (see below). For river runners, Bass is one of the most popular campsites. I set up in my favorite spot upstream, overlooking the chocolate milk (see below). It was the most fun night yet. Highlights were laughing at Greg and winning a night Bocce match. There were 4 teams competing with 2 players on each team. We were green.The balls bounced all over in the dark. We watched every move as they were Casey's glow-in-the-dark balls. Craig's tent was ambushed by Bocce Balls toward the end of the match. He was in it. Nate saw a ring-tailed cat lingering around the rafts tonight. These nocturnal creatures are part of the raccoon family and share the look of a bandit. The ring-tailed cat reminded me of Nate's "uncanny ability to assist others without letting them become dependents".
Moving in to Bass Camp
November 25, 2013(Day 10)Bass Layover Day
This morning we rolled out of the tent and the sun was already on it (see above). Cynthia made me my very own vegan pancakes. The folks who weren't cooking hiked upward to Shinumo Creek and the spot where the mining tools lay (see below). A hiker, named Joe, lingered around us and the creek. Vin and I dined on delicious sandwiches Cynthia made. On the way back down the creek, I noticed a medium-sized fish chilling in the creek. I wondered if it was a Humpback Chub, an endemic, endangered species in Grand Canyon .... The fish, who has always been my spirit animal, told me to "trust my gut feeling and inner knowing and to avoid the influence of those who have hidden agendas or manipulate events for their personal gain. To reclaim my inner knowing, I was being guided to see the opportunity in all situations, and know that wisdom is earned through both life's easy and challenging experiences. The fish enlightens one to see every bend in the river as a new adventure, with a lesson needed to grow." The fish drives me to look for the underlying meaning in life.
Seriously posed by the old mining tools
Hiking along Shinumo Creek

Nate and I hiked back up the ridge toward camp. High on the ridge, we sat on the same boulder as last year that overlooks the river (see above). A brave lizard crept around us (see above) as we felt we were living out our dreams. We headed back down and bathed in the river as the sun disappeared behind the canyon wall. I washed first. When it was Nate's turn, the smooth verbena-scented shea butter soap slipped from his hand, never to be seen again. From then on if we noticed a large cluster of bubbles on the river, we wondered if it was our soap ... We began cooking for another four-day stretch this evening. Tonight we had a barbeque with marinated meats from Oscar's back in New York and pasta salad with balsamic vinegar, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. The meat was a hit and there was plenty left over for future meals. The instruments were out tonight. Almost a dozen of them jamming together - from the guitar and mandolin to a triangle and a variety of shakers. 

November 26 2013(Day 11)Mile 109-121 - Bass Camp to Blacktail Canyon Camp
Mark and I making quinoa for breakfast
We were tempted to do a double layover here at Bass. However, we packed up and moved on. There were a few rapids worth noting today. The one that was etched in my mind forever is Waltenberg Rapid. We scouted it on river right. Greg ran the rapid first with a spicy line on the left side of the river. I asked Nate where we would run and he said, "Where Greg went." Huh? We went slightly right of where Greg was tossed around. I was holding onto the handles of our luggage, with my feet below and behind me. An irregular wave catapulted the back of the raft and launched my bottom half straight up in the air. I landed face first on my glasses and the metal box where Nate sits. My nose felt like it was broken and my lip felt fat. I was back on top of our luggage watching the raft ride the tail waves in no time. A rumor that I flipped out of the raft spread back through the line of rafts descending on the rapid. Everyone adjusted their lines. We hiked up Elve's Chasm today. 

Video of Waltenberg Rapid to be inserted

As we pulled into Blacktail Canyon Upper Camp today, I told some of my stalwart companions about the slow-moving tarantula I saw here 11 years ago. We had a late lunch - soup and grilled cheese. Most of the crew hiked together into Blacktail Canyon after dark. Some folks brought instruments. When we got to the end of the canyon, by a pool of clear water, we sat in complete darkness while those inclined jammed on instruments. In between notes, one could hear the trickle of water coming from above through this tweaky "haunted" side canyon and silence. I quietly imagined, with resistance, what would happen if a flash flood occurred with my back to the trickle. Mark played some Donna the Buffalo ("Everything Seems to Want to Hurt This Time") and Lucinda Williams. I stretched by the trickle that landed in the pool behind me. I moved away from the trickle, slightly toward the mouth of the canyon and used the canyon wall to get even deeper in my poses. Nate and I quietly snuck away to go make dinner - Sweet and Spicy Chili and Cornbread (see below). We crept through Blacktail Canyon beneath a strip of dark night filled with bright stars. 

Cooking up the cornbread dutch oven-style.

November 27, 2013(Day 12) Mile 121-134.5 - Blacktail Canyon to Below Tapeats Creek Camp

Last night Nate had a dream that I woke up with two black eyes. I did wake up with a lump in my lower lip and a nose that was sensitive to touch. Remember, I got launched onto my face in Waltenburg Rapid yesterday?

I started walking up Blacktail Canyon shortly after the sun came up. At the mouth of Blacktail Canyon, I bumped into a guide with more than 100 Grand Canyon trips on his river log. He had mostly been in motor rigs on his 100 trips. This time he was in a oar rig. He flipped in Horn Creek Rapid. We walked and chatted in Blacktail Canyon for a while. Back at camp I spotted a slow-moving tarantula (see below). This tarantula told me to "get moving, find joy and new ideas in the accomplishments of others. To use others to propel me into a new phase of creative spinning on my own web of delight".
We scouted Bedrock Rapid and at the same time explored the Doll's House, small sand-filled chambers and smooth polished rock (see above). Greg got hung up on some rocks when he ran too far right at the top of Bedrock Rapid today (see below). 5/6 rafts headed to the right of Bedrock Rock in Bedrock Rapid. The last raft in the fleet, the "Penetrators" (Marko, Patrick and Cynthia), took the dreaded left route. We didn't see it happen as we were below the rapid on the other side of Bedrock. After we had made it through the rapid, we heard someone yell out, "There's been a left run." We swiftly rowed around to the backside of Bedrock and saw Marko swim through the hazards on the squirrely left side. Marko took a nasty swim through a pillow of brown water protecting a rock. Cynthia poked her head out from some rocks upriver on shore. She swam instantly for the left side of the river. She safely walked downriver and was picked up by another raft. Meanwhile, Patrick was swirling around in their raft in the "room of doom" around Bedrock Rock. There were three places he could have flipped but somehow we watched him make his way down with the raft upright. 
Brian was on Bedrock Rock to help rescue the "Penetrators". After the fleet had floated away, Brian found a large wooden exuberant-looking Buddha and a blue dry bag in the crack in the rock. The Buddha was nearly the size of my upper body. He rescued the cumbersome Buddha and the dry bag and paddled downriver with them on his kayak. Greg strapped Buddha to his cataraft before Dubendorf Rapid. At the "Dubie" scout we saw Buddha strapped to the front of Greg's cat. Every craft had smooth runs through Dubie. Greg went first and waited for us at the bottom. He was so enthralled with looking at rocks that he didn't secure his cataraft properly and Buddha ended up piloting it downriver alone. I blew my whistle and a raft charged over to save Buddha.

"FOCUS: One must be the perfect Buddhist when going down a rapid, in the moment, one with raft, one with brown water, one with gear, one with body, unthinking". Patti Rutka wrote this in a recent issue of American Whitewater and I know this: "If you don't focus, the result is a four-letter word: SWIM."

We pulled into Tapeats Creek, the lower camp. I saw the most exquisite piece of Serpentine. We made a shrine for Buddha complete with glowing tea lights. There he sat on the beach with his exuberant smile for two days.

November 28, 2013 (Day 13) Below Tapeats Creek Camp Layover Day
We had a great tent site for this layover day (see below), located among large boulders. We used a large flat dark brown-colored boulder encased in our vestibule as a table.

Our free time was limited today as we were on for cooking an early Thanksgiving Day dinner. Nate and I hiked upriver to Tapeats Creek. I got enough elevation to get a spectacular view of Tapeats Creek traveling upstream and downstream to enter the Colorado River (see below). From this vantage point, I realized that all I wanted to do was be by the creek. I gingerly hiked back down, as Nate and a few others ascended the super steep, multicolored-trail. The trail was dominated by purple stone. I found a small vegetative nook along the creek and perched myself on a flat rock in the creek. The rock was just big enough for my feet. I recited my daily intentions and stretched what body parts needed to be stretched. It was here I realized the crystal clear streams flowing into the brown Colorado, such as Tapeats Creek, are a great place to clear out underneath my nails. My nails were constantly caked with red sand. Without soap, (no soap is allowed in side streams) I rinsed all over with the clear water. Nate eventually joined me. On the walk back to the camp, I stopped to stretch along the river. I busted out the king of all asanas (see below) and the scorpion. The crew from Australia floated by at some point today. 

Craig orchestrated Thanksgiving dinner (see below) and what a spread we had including duck, turkey, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, and apple crisp. The dutch oven master, Nate, made the apple crisp totally divine. In the evening, as I sat in the tent for a moment, I saw a shadow of a small critter moving around nearby. It was a mouse. His message was to "see what is right before my eyes and take action accordingly".
We're thankful for each other.

November 29, 2013 (Day 14) Mile 134.5 - 152 - Tapeats Creek to Upper Ledges

Today was a long day on the river. We spent an hour hiking in Matkatamiba Canyon (see above). This canyon is so narrow at places, the bottom is as wide as a human foot is wide. I wore my helmet camera for the Matkat hike. The only major rapid today was Upset Rapid, which we arrived at very late, almost dusk. With darkness settling in, some folks were upset we scouted Upset Rapid as long as we did. Others were upset by the look of the rapid and caused the long scout. It was after this long, agonizing scout that some folks began saying something like, "long scouts and big lines". At the foot of Upset Rapid was a hydraulic about half the width of the river. There was not enough water moving to the right of the huge hydraulic to get to the right of the hydraulic as we originally planned when descending into the rapid. We started our line on the right side of the river and then moved left, at the bottom, thankfully we were to the left of the huge hole. During the scout I hit my knee on a sharp boulder. At the moment I knew I was being careless walking among sharp boulders with my hands in my pockets. I was cold. Oops.

Our destination was one of the Ledges Camps. When we got there, it was about dark and we met an excited group of eight looking for Buddha. Like us, this crew had had some carnage in Bedrock Rapid, where Buddha went overboard and disappeared. The crew from Australia had given them word of the Buddha shrine we erected upstream. Thankfully, this group of eight from Colorado, who know our friends David and Heidi, welcomed us to share the camp with them. It was a small camp and a rowdy night that ended early. Between our two groups at Upper Ledges and the Spielberg group at Lower Ledges, there were quite a few people making noise. Nate and I eventually set up the teepee on the raft and spent the night bobbing with the river in our sleeping bags. It was cozy and adventurous.
November 30, 2013(Day 15) Mile 152 - 167 - Upper Ledges to Upper National Canyon
I woke up this morning and emerged from my sleeping bag and tent located on the raft. We packed up and hit the river at our usual time around 11. Today we hiked up along Havasu Creek (see above). I spent most of the hour stretching along the chalky turquoise water. I imagined I was healing my knee at the sacred Native American site on the south side of the Colorado River. We passed by Tuck Up Canyon and made a Buddha in the sand for the folks from Colorado who were headed there with Buddha (see below). I noticed ravens swirling around Tuck Up beach. I recalled the dream I had when I slept here last year. The dream I had of my Grandma, who is the raven (and newt). As it got late and we brought up the rear, the raven swirled around us until National Canyon. "Raven links the light and dark sides of existence. Raven teaches us that life as it is - with both positive and negative circumstances - is essential. Raven's message is that mankind is not simply made to live as beings of light and happiness, but also darkness and suffering. We are not to reject our dark, unconscious, instinctual sides, but accept them for part of who we are".  
Nate, Greg, Mark, Craig and I stopped to collect firewood. We lagged behind the rest of the crew, who were still floating. From a mile or so away, with our binoculars, we could see the rafts had pulled over and were stopped at what appeared to be our camp. I thought of what I had read in "Riverman: The Story Bus Hatch" by Roy Webb. Bus was a famous western riverman who ran the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for the first time in 1934. He used to say something like, "Don't just stand there like you're getting milked, do something". The crew was standing there as if "getting milked". When we pulled up, some were dancing around with their hands tucked in their life vests trying to warm up. We asked them how the camp sight was. They said all the camp was in view and the site was not worthy of camping. Nate and I shoved off and moved a 100 feet down to the mouth of National Canyon. To our pleasure, we found a gigantic camp-worthy beach. We signaled to the crew to pull over. 
Nate, Greg, Mark and I set up our camps and then headed into the canyon as the sun set (see above). We saw a butterfly at the mouth of National Canyon. It was orange, black, white and smaller than a Monarch Butterfly. We were about to "experience a change in consciousness". We hiked less than a mile on flat ground as wide as a highway at times. We ascended to a perch to take in the night's sights and sounds and talked of being stalwart companions. 

December 1, 2013 (Day 16) Mile 167 - 180 National Canyon to Tequilla Beach
Many mornings, such as this one, we woke up rolling in dew. It rolled in at night and dried up when the sun hit the beach. At National Camp this time of year, the sun hits the beach for about an hour per day. We carried a sun chart to check the amount of sunlight each camp got before planning the length of our stay at a spot or if we'd stop there at all. I changed my clothes less often this trip. Heck, I still had three clean shirts (a thin synthetic hoody and two tee shirts) and leggings that hadn't been worn. It was too cold for tee shirts.

I walked back to the pool of water in National Canyon and rinsed underneath my red sand caked nails. The ravens lingered around camp all morning (see above). One was flying with the leg of another animal in it's beak. Something special was about to happen. Life is a constant surprise. "I was about to experience a little more of life's magic". My teabag this morning read, "Live for each other."

Our tent in front of National Canyon
It was a peaceful float up to Lava Falls Rapid today. For about three miles, a Bighorn Sheep chased us or ran from us. He gave us quite a show, leaping 10 feet vertically in single bounds. We followed him across at least one side canyon before he posed above Gateway Canyon and headed down in. I think he was the something special that we were about to experience. I interpreted the Bighorn as Antelope in the Medicine Card book. Antelope signifies "knowledgeable action". With antelope, one becomes "aware of mortality and the short time span we have on this planet. Action is the key and essence of living". It reminded me of Nate's ability to take "quick decisive action to get things accomplished". Antelope encouraged me to "say what needs to be said and to trust that my judgment is sound and subsequent actions successful". It said, "listen and act to overcome any obstacle in my path". 
Before Lava Falls Rapid, around the Vulcan's Anvil, I began square breathing. I figured it would be the most productive use of my time in order to center myself for quick decisive action. By the time we got to Lava to scout, I was so relaxed I was falling asleep in the warm sun in the back of the raft. We moved slowly to scout. When I looked at the turbulent 13-foot drop, I was pleased that it looked a lot less intimidating than last year. Maybe the lack of white water in the chocolate brown water masked it's power. We placed cameras on shore, on my head and one facing us on the front of the raft. Nate made the essential moves with his oars with "style and grace" and we were golden. We barely got wet. All rafts had smooth lines, except Jon and Judy in Windwalker who swirled several laps around the dreaded eddy above Cheese Grater Rock.  
Tequilla Beach
Tequilla Beach was without a footprint when we arrived.
We stopped below Lava Falls at Tequilla Beach (see above). As we stood celebrating conquering Lava Falls, one of the most difficult rapids on the trip, Peter tapped me on the arm and said "I don't mean to alarm you Becky but .... " and pointed to my feet. Beneath me was a deceased beaver (see below). After examining him, Craig estimated that the beaver couldn't have been dead for very long (see below). It didn't even smell. Well it didn't smell until Craig moved it and it's bowel evacuated for the last time. Even then it only smelled briefly.
I visualized my goal - a healthy, safe, cooperative team - and knew we had to continue working together intimately to achieve this goal. After having "survived" Lava Falls Rapid, we laughed about what cameras would reveal if left at this beach - the infamous Tequilla Beach.
Tent site with Lava Falls behind us.

December 2, 2013 (Day 17) Mile 180 -202 - Tequilla Beach to Mile 202 Camp

Basalt flows were all around (see above). Today was the New Moon and Mark's 31st birthday. I gave him a card with a picture of Nankoweap and a quote from Bessie Haley. I collected full moon light on paper at North Canyon Camp (Mile 20) and gave Mark a piece of the paper. I suggested he write his birthday wishes on the paper. 
Mark shared some birthday wishes with Greg.
By the fire, Mark played the mandolin while I ate carrots on his birthday night.
There were many riffles today that appeared just as we set up to wash our hair for the first time in 17 days or make coffee on the raft for the first time ever. Mark rode with us for a while. He asked us a question we often get asked, "Are you two going to have children?" I responded, "We do Mark, we have you and Greg." It was that time of the trip when one starts to daydream about our ....


28 days on the river

solid hand soap pumps for sink stations

soap on a rope

mini brush to sweep out zippers

zinc, bag balm, and crack cream necessary for hand health

heavy duty work gloves

bucket designated for washing bodies

bucket designated for doing laundry

wear more wool

another warm Patagonia expedition weight hoody

one piece Gortex drysuit is essential!

ammo can woodstove and bigger teepee on board

tea lights for shrines

vegan menu for ~ 7 days to triple or quadruple for 21-28 days

enamel wear  - plates and bowls

cover all coolers with padded covers

a method for keeping produce out of water in cooler needed

rubber pot holders or more pot holders
The captain's captains
Thanks to Nate, we had everything for this trip, necessities and luxuries, from tunes everyday to tiki light every night. Nate was a tried and true trip leader. He was to the point yet diplomatic, focused yet funny, forward-thinking yet laid back. How does he do it? He said he's "obsessed with trips", that's how. On this trip, Nate reminded me of what I've read about Bus Hatch: "Without equal in tough places. Without equal because his perfectionist style seems to place him above mortal being".   
December 3, 2013 (Day 18) Mile 202 Layover Day

I awoke with a bird chirping in the bushes nearby. Then it was quiet. Nate was up and out early this morning. I thought to myself, "I'm going to lay in my sleeping bag until the sun hits the tent." However, I heard horseshoes being flung and knew I had to get up. We had a horseshoe tournament planned for today, our second to last layover day. I emerged from the tent, made sweet and spicy hot chocolate and perched above the long beach chatting with Marissa. The sun eventually appeared from behind the tall red wall in front of us and warmed our bodies. 
I bathed in the river briefly for the second time of the trip. Craig, Nate and I walked up the wash to see the pictographs and escape the swift wind beginning to dominate our camp. The sand blowing became downright crippling. I had to wear sunglasses with a baseball cap brim tightly covering my eyes. We were forced to move our kitchen from the open beach into a protected bushy cove. When we hiked up the side canyon or wash, the wind subsided a bit and there was no sand to blow in our eyes. We checked out ancient pictographs of a butterfly, a long net, a creature with many legs, and other symbols. The rock walls that hold the pictographs were falling down and the story they tell was distorted. We hiked up the wash further to find a cave to protect us from the increasingly whipping wind. In a small cove of boulders, Craig, Nate and I sorted through pebbles - often discovering fossils and crystals.
Back at camp, the sandstorm continued until well after the sun left the camp. I hid in the tent for a while writing. When I reappeared outside the tent, several people were admiring the dreamy color of the sky and clouds (see above). Nate challenged a few willing ­folks to games of Backgammon. The players gathered tightly around a table tucked in the bushes next to the kitchen. Note to self - next time bring goggles and respirator to deal with the blowing fine sand. Cynthia discovered a dead mouse on the orange square floor of the kitchen. Like the mouse, Cynthia paid attention to details. Again, she created a tasty vegan meal for one.

December 4, 2013 (Day 19) Mile 202- 220 Mile 202 Camp to Mile 220 Camp

Last night's weather was intense. The wind whipped camp and sand around late into the night. At around 3 pm, a heavy rain joined in and created powerful, intimidating gusts. The gusts hitting the tent made it whistle and rumble. Also, we were camped a few feet from the wash. The thought of the stream racing through our tent raced through my mind more than once as we slept there in the loud rain and wind. Greg and company were up yelling at the wind until the last cat was hung. Finally their yells and laughs faded away and I faded into dreamland. Before Nate woke me with the sound of the zipper, I was dreaming about creating a piece of written work. Nate was in the midst of many vivid dreams when he awoke too. His dreams were actually nightmares that the trailer was missing when we got to the take-out.

I saw a hummingbird humming around a bright orange fruit cup in the kitchen as we broke down the last pieces of camp today.

"Hummingbird's mission is to spread joy or be destroyed. Hummingbird quickly dies if caged, caught, or imprisoned". 
We could see snow on the rim.
We spent the day leading the way. There were a few rapids. Nate aced the lines, as usual. Mark went back for a third surf in a hole, got pinned on a rock and swam out of his kayak. Later he drank a beverage of his choice out of his river bootie as his own personal punishment for swimming in a rapid. He joked of carrying a brand new bootie with him for this exact circumstance on future river trips.
When we got to Mile 220 Camp, I was exuberant and counting my blessings. It felt like we were just here. This camp was still strewn with my favorite boulders and plants. Nate and I camped in nearly the same spot as last year. We hiked down a wash to Lower 220 Camp in order to scavenge some firewood. While we were gone, a Western-Spotted Skunk visited the kitchen. Skunk taught us that by "walking our talk and respecting ourselves, we create a position of strength and honored reputation".  

December 5, 2013 (Day 20) Camp 220 Layover Day

I hit the hay shortly after dinner and slept like a rock last night. It was a frosty night outside the tent. I had a strange nightmare about a sketchy man following me around, tormenting dogs. Jerry Garcia Band's "Reuben and Cherise" played as I exited the tent to hang my clothes out to dry one last day in the desert air. 
Peter and Patrick had several hundred volleys in one shot before noon.
Later the sun was shining and Crow Greenspun was playing "Live on Tea" as Nate threw horseshoes. It felt amazing to sit in the sun. In the afternoon, Nate and I walked up the wash behind the camp. We laid like lizards on a rock soaking up the warmth of the sun from the rock and the sky. Mark, Greg and Brian did not notice us when they walked by. We followed behind them. I noticed many heart-shaped rocks. The wash eventually split in two. We hiked up a bit and enjoyed the view from above where the wash spilt. 
Back at camp, I wrote the last of the postcards I had with me. Life is good. Cynthia led me to a boulder with about 30 heart-shaped rocks on it. I retraced my steps and gathered a large heart-shaped rock made of the rock surrounding the area. I noticed this rock on the way to this unique spot. I placed the heart-shaped with the rest of the heart-shaped rocks. Nearby we also found a tin box with random contents, including a journal established in 2005. Eventually all 16 of us walked to the rock with heart-shaped rocks on it and then stood around the box with random contents. We made a group entry. Most words began with the letter "b" such as Buddha, brown water, beaver, etc. signed Barkeaters.

Back at camp, we had dinner topped with Pineapple Upside Down Cake. The boys played music around the campfire. Hee Haw. Brian put on a killer show including "Woman are Smarter". It was a jolly evening. 

December 6, 2013 (Day 21) Mile 220- 277 - Mile 220 Camp to Pearce Ferry 
Skipper stuffs the bow line in a bag.
Preparing our rigs to depart from our last camp.
We shoved off today by 1 pm for our last and long day on the water. Nate led the way. He rowed for miles and miles - 20 miles altogether. It was a chilly day despite that the sun was directly on us from time to time. We scouted Mile 209 Rapid and easily avoided the large hole that seemed to want to suck us in last year. Near Pumpkin Spring, with the rest of the group in the distance, I peed off the raft while the raft was in motion for the first time ever. Men did it all the time. It made me think of how empowering Katie was. With one rapid left to scout, I was feeling confident we had it made.

We stopped to scout for the last time at Mile 232 Rapid, also known as "Killer Fang Rapid". I held the raft while Nate went to scout. Kayla and I looked at each other and felt mutually frigid. I could see most the rapid from where we were standing holding the rafts. When Nate returned, I said, "How's it look?" He said, "Not too bad". I said "Is there anything at the bottom on the right?" "Yes, the Killer Fang." Nate was also cold. At the last second, he whipped out a new pair of oar poggies and started slipping them over his oars. Jon lost control of his raft and floated into the rapid first. We shoved off and I raced to the bottom of the tongue to get the rope stuffed back in the bow line bag.

Next thing I knew, we were headed straight for the fang. Nate made an unsuccessful attempt to put the back end of the raft into the river to pull away from the hungry-looking fang. It was too late. We were committed to sideswiping the sharp, jagged, white rock with our raft tube. As soon as the raft made contact with the fang, the upstream tube was buried and Nate toppled into the water. I didn't have time to be afraid, the raft began to flip instantly. I sort of pushed away from the raft as I dove in the water and didn't come up under the raft. Nate did and had a flash of fear that he may get pinned under there. 


Then Nate came up next to the raft. When I came up for air, I saw him and then Greg in his cataraft. I felt calm. Mark yelled for me to swim into the next eddy as the first one was somewhat of a "room of doom". Then Brian gave me a ride on his kayak. Eventually he unloaded me so he could help wrangle the raft. I kept swimming. I was fortunate I didn't get chewed on by fangs below the surface as I swam excitedly yelling, "Will I ever make it down this river without swimming?". I made it to shore, weaving between two rafts. Brrrrrr. Now I had swam the first notable rapid, Badger Creek (Mile 8) in 2002, and the last notable rapid, Killer Fang (Mile 232). I changed out of my brown fleece suit and awkwardly into my wool-lined wetsuit. Then struggled back into my wet two piece Gortex suit and snuggly fitted booties. In 23 minutes, we had flipped, swam, righted the raft and I had changed completely. We were back on our way. For the next 7 miles I was freezing. It was harsh. I graciously drank hot tea. 

Had I gotten further in the book "Sunk without a Sound" by Brad Dimock, I would have probably worn my wool-lined wetsuit under my dry suit today. Before, during or soon after Killer Fang Rapid was where Glen and Bessie Hyde disappeared. Bessie left behind a journal with entries up until right around this rapid.  In "Sunk without a Sound" Dimock writes that "in the 70 years since the Hyde's disappearance, dozens of boatmen have come to grief on the fangs in low water. A book could be written on the calamities and extrications that have taken place here. Rafts and dories have wrapped, ripped, flipped, and sunk." Doc Martson wrote in 1973, "If you fail to get fouled in 232 you have probably not had a wilderness experience in the Canyon. Study will probably show that this one has gotten more victims than any three other rapids in the Canyon combined."  
I could barely get my zipper down to change into dry warm clothes when we got to Separation Canyon (Mile 240). Nate set up the teepee with the blaster inside of it. It was a mini sauna for me to change in. Nate rules. Inside the teepee, it was hard to take the minimal steps needed to get warm. Outside the teepee, Cynthia set up the kitchen and cooked our last dinner - rice and beans. Mmmmmm. I couldn't eat enough food. The crew steadily prepared for the night float. 
A white duck floated by prior to our departure from Separation Canyon. Our rafts left, un-tethered, by 8 pm. After a small riffle, we strategically gathered together to make our giant floating living room. We started by attaching Greg's cat behind our raft. The "Penetrators" attached to our right side. Jon and Judy attached behind them and to Greg's cat. Then the left side attached to us, Casey and Marissa were now next to us and Julia, Kayla and Peter were behind them. We were trapped on the inside of the floating living room with no possible way to help maneuver. Nate played DJ - Cat Stevens, Bonnie Rait, Phish, Bruce Springsteen, Railroad Earth, John Lennon - were among the auditory treasures. 

Several miles into the float, some folks were already sleeping. Marko was asleep as soon as the giant living room was formed. Suddenly our raft, located in the middle of the enormous rig, slammed into a rock wall. Everyone was startled and when headlamps lit up the river, we noticed the white duck swimming nearby. Was it the same duck that passed us at Separation Canyon? Had he stuck around us for all these miles? Those awake were in hysterics over our persistent feathered friend. We gave warnings from then on about collisions with the walls. We made alert noises and warned folks with phrases like "Contact imminent!". I saw several shooting stars as I lay there floating in my sleeping bag. Eventually, Nate laid his Paco Pad next to mine and we got some shut eye. I woke up to Jon's voice saying, "we can sit here until the sun comes up or detach some of the rafts." I woke up Nate to assess the situation. He fell back asleep and so did I but apparently there was a large "strainer", or floating tree, stuck underneath our huge floatilla. Marko and Patrick sprung into action and somehow helped get the strainer out from under us. Peter and Patrick captained the floating lounge from near dawn until the rest of us opened our eyes. What a peaceful way to end our journey. Cynthia summed up our trip with a poem she wrote last night. We detached a mile before Pearce Ferry. 
Cynthia waving from her sleeping bag.

December 7, 2013 (Day 22) Mile 277 - Pearce Ferry Take-Out

We got to the take-out at 10 am. We unloaded the rafts, cooked what remaining food we could and packed the vehicles. We pulled away by 3pm. Patrick rode with us in the van. The sky became increasingly ominous a few hours from Flagstaff. The roads went from bad to worse. At the take-out, the elevation is roughly 1300 ft and Flagstaff is at 7000 ft. There were many hills to ascend and descend on our way there. What should have taken a few hours took about 6 hours. By the time we made it to our exit, the trailer connection had been lost. This was one of the hairiest parts of the entire journey yet Nate remained calm and confident. We inched our way back to the Monte Vista Hotel and our Flagstaff headquarters - Gary Cooper's haunted Room 306.  

It turned out all flights were cancelled out of Flagstaff for tomorrow - Sunday. I felt like a child who just got word of a snow day. News of the rare cloud inversion that occurred in Grand Canyon while we were down there slowly infiltrated our crew, as little by little, we made contact with the outside world. 
Cloud inversion covering Grand Canyon

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