Sunday, December 20, 2015

Rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon - November 14 - December 5, 2015

Our Grand Canyon Voyage 2015 was a success

Our crew of eight
The eight of us have much to be thankful for and many folks to thank for helping us along the way. We followed our hearts and intuition through thick and thin water and disengaged from everything else for many, many moments. Friends and family cheered us on for 22 days as we snaked across the map before their eyes through our Delorme In Reach device:

(filter the map for the dates November 14, 2015 - December 5, 2015) 

With this technology, our "followers" could zoom in so close they could see an overview of the beaches we slept on each night. We were a strong, courageous, loving and loved team throughout the extreme 280 miles. We rode with style in our three rafts and one cataraft that remained upright throughout the voyage. The crew was cohesive and appreciated the strengths and talents of each member. The theme of the trip was as long as we're together we will succeed. Nate and I outfitted and led the trip of six John Wesley Powell-fresh sets of eyes.

Nate and I relax on "Hox"
There is endless joy pursuing our passion for whitewater and in sharing Grand Canyon with friends. Also, to promote and utilize such important places ensures these places will exist for future generations to experience. As Michelle Baldwin, Lady Ganga,, desires to inspire as do we "to be fearless and wise; to do our own dreams, reach further than we thought possible, and help more than we imagine we are able".

Nate in his natural habit
Nate hauled all the gear to outfit this trip across the country from North Creek and back. He was trip organizer and leader, and rowed our 18 ft State-Of-The-Art-Raft (SOTAR) named "Hox" (see picture below). "Hox", a combination of hog and ox, was named for it's reliable and steady heavy-duty carrying capacity. Nate arranged and rearranged food in coolers and dry boxes throughout the trip. He consolidated and found new spaces to stow trash. He also took the pictures featured in this blog post. 
"Hox", our 18 ft SOTAR, fully loaded
Nate  began guiding rivers the week after graduating from college in 1997. What started as a summer job turned into a favorite hobby, then a career and a way of life. When not running the rivers of the Adirondacks, Nate enjoys exploring other great rivers across the country.
Pumping the raft up before the sun warms Tanner Camp
Holding "Hox" while briefly stopped at Mile 209 Camp
I was the lone female, trip organizer and historian, creator of the 22-day menu, shopping coordinator, chef, skipper/riffle rower on "Hox". I started guiding rivers at the AuSable Chasm in 1998 and have been on the Hudson River every season since. On land, I'm a Speech & Language Pathologist (SLP) for my private practice around the Adirondack Park. My "superpower" is assisting individuals across the lifespan with eating and communicating. What's yours? I'm also the SLP at Long Lake Central School (LLCS), the smallest school district in New York State. I share my expedition experience with students through lessons about National Parks, geology in Grand Canyon, drought in western states, guiding as a profession, and multi-day rafting and camping. 2016 is the centennial year of National Parks and I'm collaborating with LLCS faculty and staff to showcase our public treasures.
Brothers Jason (top) and Evan (bottom) swimming in Matkatamiba Canyon, Mile 148
The crew as seen by Nate with the purple cataraft and it's captains Jason and Evan in the foreground
Jason was a chef and copilot of our eggplant-purple 18 ft Maravia cataraft. When Jason realized what this craft without a floor was capable of gliding through, we began hearing him say to Evan "shoot for the moon". He often tested the limits of the two beefy rocket-shaped raft tubes. I saw the bottom of the tubes more than once while watching him "shoot" through a rapid. Jason is an experienced woodsman which made it odd to see him in the desert, a landscape without trees. 2015 was his third year guiding with North Creek Rafting. A native Adirondacker, avid outdoorsman, and self-employed logger, Jason is sure to teach you things you did not know about the Adirondacks.
Nick D or "Dabs"
Nick D, or "Dabs", trip permit holder and horseshoe champion, tore up his baby-soft hands doing dishes. I have read "clean dishes equal clean lines". As copilot of our 16 ft bright red Maravia raft named "Aragorn", Nick managed to stay in the raft despite taking some spicy lines through major rapids. He took thousands of photos (many featured in this post) and gathered armfuls of firewood on this trip. Nick fell in love with whitewater on a rafting trip on the Housatonic river in CT. After organizing several trips for friends, he became licensed in Maine and then New York. Nick works full time as a Physical Therapist on Long Island. For nearly a decade he's been guiding a few weekends a year with North Creek Rafting. 
Evan glowing in the sun
This was Evan's first experience rowing rapids. He was copilot of our 18-ft purple cataraft and is now determined to row rafts without floors forever. Evan has been guiding the Hudson for two years and works with North Creek Rafting. He completed hiking the 272-mile Long Trail through the state of Vermont a week before this expedition. Evan is useful, enthusiastic and optimistic when approaching any outdoor activity including back country food preparation and wilderness first aid.
Dave tests his new drysuit by diving in near Redwall Cavern
Dave, manager of tiki torches, firepan and ashes, co-piloted "Aragorn". He did dishes daily which probably helped him successfully row the rocky and hole-infested right side of Hance Rapid backwards. Dave has been on rivers in the northeast for decades. He's always up for an adventure. His first time on a western river was this river, this trip. 
Nick C at the oars of "Windwalker" with "Aragorn" in the background
Nick C was copilot of "Windwalker", our 16 ft bright red Maravia raft. He was so kind to deal with our crap, literally. He located and set up a scenic spot for the "groover" or toilet at each and every camp. Due to his great strength, he often carried fully loaded kitchen boxes or moved slightly beached rafts. He also did many dishes which may be how he remained upright in Grand Canyon during his first-ever experience rowing a raft. Nick guides on the Hudson River with North Creek Rafting. He is plainly passionate about mountaineering. He travels the world to climb mountains and lit up around the firepan telling stories of his adventures. 
Chris gives "Windwalker" some wind while Dave happily empties a bucket
Chris, copilot of "Windwalker", was also very good-natured about dealing with our crap. He helped set up our "groover" or toilet at every camp. He was often found in side canyons filtering water for drinking or cooking or by the firepan managing the Dutch Ovens. He was our time keeper in the kitchen. Chris's experience on wild water includes engineering large crafts on the open seas for months on end. He knows about high-siding (diving to the side of a boat that's not going under water) in the swells of the seas and did well navigating the rapids considering this was his first time whitewater rafting. 

The Voyage

11/6/2015  All the equipment to outfit 8 rafters began it's journey across the country in our silver van and sleek black trailer. The New York license plates read "River" as I bubbled it with love and a swirling of my hand around it in the air. A cool breeze blew the leaves from the tree that Nate got down on one knee under down the road. The next time we saw each other was in Flagstaff, AZ.

11/11/2015 Today I flew across the country. On the way I finished reading "Broken Waters Sing" by Gaylord Stavely. "Broken waters don't sing for everyone ...."

"Running rivers is one of the few remaining ways to compete against nature rather than society or others. It is a wonderful challenge and struggle because the river lets you know immediately whether you've won or lost. In the battles of day to day life, one can't always recognize wins and losses. But the successful run of each rapid is a clear cut victory all in itself, and the run of a whole river reiterates all of the victories along the way"  - Gaylord Stavely

11/12/2015 I woke up at the Hotel Monte Vista in Gary Cooper's "haunted" room. I slipped out the door to peacefully drink chai at the Fire Creek Coffee Company. As I sat alone comfortably sipping, I reviewed the menu I created for the next 22 days. I was so happy to be there I could have cried.
Built in 1926, the Monte Vista sign can be seen for blocks
By noon we began our epic 8-hour five-person shop for nourishment for more than three weeks. It was our first of many challenges to overcome together with grace.

Eventually that evening I met up with Katie, a girlfriend from Flagstaff, who has spent many days in Grand Canyon. She encouraged me to say to myself while scouting threatening rapids, "I did not have this opportunity yesterday. I will not have it tomorrow so I'd best grab it now". Katie and I also talked of taking time for myself throughout the voyage.

11/13/2015 (Day 0) Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff to Grand Canyon National Park

As we drove to Lee's Ferry, I began to wonder what animal would speak to me first. It was 3 horses corralled in an expansive barren habitat. According to psychologist Carl Jung, horses symbolize natural forces mastered by human beings. Just like we harness a horse to ride it or use its power, we can harness our own energy or nature’s to serve us and bring us further. We were about to harness the Colorado River's power for 280 miles. It reminded me of a small wooden Ganesh I carry in my lifejacket. Ganesh, in Hinduism, symbolizes one's ability to overcome obstacles in life and pursue one's goals no matter what may stand in one's way.

On our way to Lee's Ferry
We cruised into Lee's Ferry four by four. With four in our van towing a trailer, and four in Evan's Subaru sedan, all eight of us were surrounded by mounds of supplies.
As I organized the food into water-proof Pelican cases, Evan uttered "we're going to eat like kings and a queen"
The Richards putting the cataraft frame together
The rigging of the crafts was smooth, between Nate's organized custom-built shelves and our eager crew on Friday the 13th. We spent about five hours packing and putting the rafts together. We headed up to dinner at the recently rebuilt Marble Canyon Lodge restaurant. There were new photos on the wall of rafting the Colorado River. The photos were donated after a fire destroyed the place in 2013. Our meal was hearty and delicious. The boys went back down to finish rigging the rafts as much as they could for departure tomorrow. Nate told me to relax in our warm, cozy room at the lodge as the boys worked in the dark down by the river.

11/14/2015 ( Day 1) Lee's Ferry Mile 1 to Badger Rapid Camp Mile 8.5

I slept like a baby last night. When I stepped outside this morning into the crisp desert air, the orange walls of my new house were glowing (see below). I visited the native's shop and purchased some local handmade gifts for friends and family. I also got a few children's books about animals who live in Grand Canyon. Eventually I ordered a breakfast sandwich for Nate and picked up a fire blanket. I conversed with a native who's worked at the lodge for more than 20 years. She was here when the fire began and was out of work for almost two years. She asked me about the fire blanket I held tucked under my arm. I explained that it's one of several required pieces of equipment by the National Park and how we adhere to "minimum impact" living to reduce the damaging effects of human travel in the park. I described how we'll use the fire blanket, a kitchen floor and a groover to keep the beaches pristine. She asked if I'm the only woman on the river trip. Affirmative. She said she served the guys breakfast earlier and noticed and told me I'd need to lead the men. They needed me. I agreed. As I walked a way she said, "giddy up", the sounds used to get a horse moving or going faster. I felt blessed to have this female interaction. 

The glowing red walls outside the Marble Canyon Lodge
A sunflower still in bloom outside the Marble Canyon Lodge
Soon we made our way, with all our belongings not yet stowed in rafts or stashed away in the trailer, to the put-in for our ranger orientation with Peggy. The boys saw a rabbit out the van windows on the ride. Peggy seemed to recognize Nate and I from 2013 and again provided the details of canyon living. As she spoke, a heron watched from dozens of yards away across the river. The sun glistened through the metamorphosizing leaves of a Quaking Aspen tree. There were flowers in bloom around the put in - yellow, orange and purple. We orchestrated a group picture. 
Nick, aka Dabs, gave his first daily sermon, consisting of, "Okay crew, Day  _____ , let's have fun and be safe" before we got on the water. We launched. It was a calm, warm float with nearly a hundred ducks flying over head as well as a heron following. The heron took flight as we approached and then waited for us to catch up. We cruised under the Navajo Bridges and on to scout Badger Rapid. 6/8 crew members got their first taste of river running in Grand Canyon. We camped at Badger Camp at the foot of the rapid on river-right. Driftwood was in abundance. We worked like ants to create our first home together. 

Heron takes flight
Jason, Evan and I made Greg's Stir Fry for dinner, a medley of 9 fresh vegetables in teriyaki sauce and sesame oil. We had the perfect amount of food and lounged satisfied around the firepan. I presented the crew with the ingredients to make Adirondack Life's Strawberry Nilla S'mores. Folks joked about the ingredients but were surprisingly pleased by the mix of flavors. I turned in rather early to a nest created by Nate and an array of new Thermarest sleepware. It felt spectacular to be back on Paco Pads on the beach. The nest was so toasty that despite two trips to the river in the night, my body temperature never lowered.

11/15/2015 ( Day 2) Badger Camp (Mile 8.1) to Upper North Canyon Camp (Mile 20.7)

It was a mild morning. I saw a tiny bird by my drysuit, it may have been a Say's Phoebe. We packed up camp and moved down river with a heron or two. We stopped in an hour or so to scout Soap Creek Rapid. Ranger Peggy warned us yesterday that the rapid had changed so we decided to take a peak before running it. Soap Creek Camp was a sunny scout and a friendly camp and rapid.  We made our way to House Rock Rapid next and scouted on river left. 6/8 crew members got their first view of how tumultuous the rapids can be here. The rapid looked difficult to navigate with the need to punch across it stern first to avoid a huge gaping hydraulic at the foot of the rapid on river left. Nate rowed us backwards smoothly through. It seemed like a divine force pivoted our raft away from the enormous raft-eating hydraulic. Jason and Evan had the spiciest line. I saw the bottom of their cat tube. We hooted and hollered as Dave rowed the last raft through smoothly. Three miles to camp and we celebrated our "victory" over House Rock.
The rigs parked at Upper North Canyon

We got to our camp at Upper North Canyon Camp with plenty of direct sunlight to warm us as we made a tasty dinner of falafel with roasted and fresh rainbow-colored veggies. As I sat down to eat, the winds howled through my partially-staked tent and sent it flying through the air into some "Tammies". Tammy is the nickname for the invasive Tamarisk shrub-tree. Ranger Peggy actually told us a bug that destroys this annoying bush has arrived here and will eventually eliminate them. Tammies suck. They suck up tons of water from the ground, destroying the native plants around them. After the tent took flight, we had to batten down the hatches. As the sun set we sat around the firepan listening to righteous tunes and river tales. I'd been wearing the contacts that I planned to wear for the entire trip non-stop, not because I didn't have back-up pairs but because I didn't want to have to put my sandy fingers in my eyes to change them. The contacts I wore were a type that can be worn for more than three weeks without taking them out. As the wind picked up ashes and sand into my eyes, I sought the shelter of our nest. As I slept, Nate's cackle echoed adjacent to the firepan and my cozy bed.

11/16/2015 (Day 3) Upper North Canyon Camp Layover Day (Mile 20.7) and Evan's Birthday
Evan and Jason
Making Vegetable Skillet Hash
I woke up this morning and practically dove out of my nest to begin cooking. I stopped myself in order to fulfill my promise to care for my body, mind and spirit while I'm here. I followed the series in Sleeping Bag Yoga thinking by the end of the trip I'll know it by heart again. I emerged from the cocoon of our tent to begin breakfast with Jason. We made Vegetable Skillet Hash with Eggs Scrambled. After I ate, I noticed the sun was beaming in North Canyon and I was drawn that way like a lizard. Looking downstream greenish water glistened in the sun by lower North Canyon camp. I walked that way and to the river's edge. I stretched and imagined powerful women in my life as I enjoyed my solitude and peace. Enlightened, I walked back to camp and watched another crew (of six rafts) cruise by and down North Canyon Rapid. I wrote postcards, this blog post and read " We Swam the Grand Canyon" by Bill Beers. The wind kicked up again this afternoon while I was there manning (or womanning) camp alone. I dashed around securing items that the wind would blow away. The temperature dropped too. After I secured camp I crawled into my nest, curled up and read. The rest of the crew emerged from their hikes up North Canyon or naps in sleeping bags and began barricading their tents with shovels full of sand and strategically placed rocks. One tent was moved to a solid surface so less sand would blow in during the night.
Flowers and cactus by North Canyon
At dusk we made a plan to make a birthday dinner and dessert for Evan. As the winds picked up again, we simplified dinner to be canned soup and grilled cheese. For me, this meant toast with earth balance and nutritional yeast. I devoured Patagonia's Garden Veggie Tsampa Soup and then gave up on being outside. The wind was blowing sand sideways into my eyes. Some folks waited for the firepan to die and followed suit to bed. They secured the campsite and it's contents from wind. I felt comfortable in our hearty four-season tent but thought of the rest of the crew in tents with mesh walls covered by rumbling tent flies and what guide Kate Thompson said about wind in Grand Canyon, "... when the wind blows here, it blows hard."

11/17/2015 (Day 4) Upper North Canyon Camp (Mile 20.7) to Lower Buck Farm (Mile 41.2)

We rafted the "Roaring 20s" today. The consecutive, significant rapids were a blur EXCEPT Georgie's Rapid (Mile 24). Georgie's whopping lateral wave rocked us. It was like running into a wall that was moving towards us. The back of the raft where I was sitting, hanging on tight, got catapulted into the air. I got launched into Nate who was rowing and then landed on my left ear. It shook me up and my ear burned for a while. The river smoothed out and we floated by Vasey's Paradise and on to Redwall Cavern. We stopped at Redwall Cavern and had lunch on the beach where the sun could just reach us outside the mammoth cave. We decided to bank some miles and pushed past Nautoloid Camp all the way to Lower Buck Farm Camp. 
Posing outside Redwall Cavern
Captain takes a rest
Lower Buck Farm was a great camp. We spread out our tents among the vast beach with numerous tent sites carved into brush. Nate and I set up our nest behind the kitchen. Jason and I made Sesame Noodle Salad (from the Middle Fork Magic cookbook compiled by Gayle Selisch) and Jason grilled steaks over the firepan. As the stars filled the sky, we laughed hysterically making up details of Evan wearing a buckskin, living in a canyon cave, surviving off rafter's food and supplies. I hit the hay and the boys who were still awake took a moonlit walk up Buck Farm Canyon.

11/18/2015 (Day 5) Lower Buck Farm Camp (Mile 41.2) to Main Nankoweep Camp (Mile  53.4)
Hiking in Buck Farm Canyon
Nate and I walked up Buck Canyon before we got on the newly brownish-red colored river today. Evan and Jason bathed in the river before we launched. Somehow we missed checking out Burt Loper's old boat this morning right by Buck Farm Camp. It was a peaceful day on the water with no rapids to splash me. I rowed a bunch and wore my two-piece drysuit for ease relieving myself. You see, whenever I relieved myself in river garb thus far, Nate had to unzip the drop bottom on my new drysuit. The spiffy new one-piece drysuit made the threat of swimming and cold weather along the way less intimidating. It also made relieving myself an intimate experience for Nate and I as he has to unzip the super durable drop-zipper each time. This was the only day I did not wear the drysuit and that I did not need Nate to unzip my relief zipper. A couple of Monarch Butterflies fluttered around our raft as we floated today. We made it to the Main Nankoweep Camp early. Most folks hiked to the granaries and beyond while I gladly created two Vegetable Shepard's Pies in two Dutch ovens. The boys fired up coals in the charcoal chimney to surround the heavy cast iron pots and lids. For dessert we baked German Chocolate Brownies in a Dutch oven. Our nest was tucked away, it may have been considered Upper Nankoweep Camp.
Our kitchen at Main Nankoweep Camp
The Dutch ovens double stacked in front of me contain two Ultimate Vegetable Shepard's Pies
Shepard's Pies divided into quarters for consumption
Single Dutch oven contains German Chocolate Brownies
Spacious and private tent site, Nankoweep
11/20/2015 (Day 6) Main Nankoweep Camp (Mile  53.4) to Tanner Camp (Mile 68.7)
Walking along the Little Colorado River

We got on the water early today. It was about 9:30. By now the crew was adept at breaking down camp and stowing it on our four crafts. We ran through a few small rapids and a riffle with a hole that surfed "Hox" briefly. Nate decided after that, no more testing Hox's limits. 
We stopped at the Little Colorado (picture above). It was chocolate milk-colored. We met three friendly hikers from three different places around the US. While staring at the canyon walls surrounding the confluence, I could see what a tragedy it'd be if the confluence was exploited by a tram cable and cars. It doesn't make sense to develop a land so dry, delicate, and sacred.  

The following are links to websites with more information about current threats to Grand Canyon and how we can help protect it: 
Back on the Colorado River, shortly after the Little Colorado River poured in on river left, we noticed the sacred Hopi salt mines on river left. Salt coated the steep canyon wall of Tapeats Sandstone. I thought of how the Havasupai made the trek from Havasu Canyon to the Little Colorado River to trade for it. The Desert View Watchtower on the south rim hovered above us for a while. I wondered if anyone was watching us and thought about the pre-dam days when friends and family watched from the tower, such as Norm Nevills' "followers" in the 1930s and 1940s. 

We got to camp early and busted out solar panels and lunch in the sun. We grilled up veggie burgers over the firepan and made Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Garlic with Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Tanner Camp gets direct sunlight from about 9 am to 3 pm this time of year. We soaked up every bit of the sun before it disappeared behind the canyon walls. Nate was busy mapping out the next few days as small tan lizards scurried around the firepan. 

11/20/2015 (Day 7) Tanner Camp Layover Day (Mile 68.7)

We woke up to a frosty Tanner Camp. Our gear was cold and moistened with crystallized dew. We knew from looking at our sun chart that this camp gets direct sun light for many hours. Anticipating the dark days ahead in the depths of the Upper Granite Gorge, we decided to stay for the day. We made a hearty breakfast of steak grilled over the firepan, eggs, and Spicy Sweet Potato Hash. We hovered to keep warm around the steaks sizzling on the firepan. 
Our tent site at Tanner Camp
As soon as the sun touched camp, everything warmed. I put on shorts and bathed in the river. I washed my face inspired by Nate's extended bath in knee-deep 40 degree water. Nick C washed red sand off his rig with buckets of water. Dave and Jason tossed horseshoes. Evan tried to open the breakfast box and broke the latches. Nate had the tools to fix it, of course. Nate and I did a food inventory and consolidated boxes of food and coolers. We revised the menu based on what we've eaten thus far and have left to eat. I wanted to prep a cake to bake but had a feeling bees would swarm me if I did.  

I pawed through my personal gear and was impressed by how minimally I packed. The mint green merino wool Patagonia hoody that I wore for the first week was the bomb. I basked in the sun, staring across the river where somewhere the Beamer Trail joins the Tanner Trail. I bet the Havasupai traveled those paths to the Little Colorado River. Not far behind where I lay lizard-style in the sun are petroglyphs. I imagined this sand bar was used to grow crops as it's so wide with maximum sun exposure. I turned my back on the sun because I could feel my face burning. 
Purple wash behind Tanner Camp
Purple wash behind Tanner Camp
Petroglyphs behind Tanner Camp
Desert Poppy

As the sun began to exit camp, Nate and I hiked to the petroglyphs. They were strewn on tan boulders in the purple-colored Dox Formation. There were men in warrior poses and swirls covering curved parts of the boulders. A little further climb and we reached a plateau that we followed to ancient rock walls sprinkled with pottery shards. One shard was only visible through an opening between the rocks in the wall. The walls were only a few feet high. We sat perched on the edge of the plateau with our feet dangling over the Colorado River. On the hike back to camp, we crossed paths with a group who guide in Switzerland together. They were camped upstream from us.
Nate and I hiking behind Tanner Camp
We couldn't find our baking soda for the cake so I sent Nick C and Chris to the camp next to us to see if they had any. They didn't and as it turned out it didn't matter. I used the Dutch ovens to make Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Chips and Cinnamon Icing that blew folks away and to cook "the best turkey" Nate had ever eaten. Nate seasoned the bird with onion and herbs. Tanner Camp was heaven. We had such a peaceful stay.
Writing this blog post

11/20/2015 (Day 8) Tanner Camp (Mile 68.7 ) to Lower Cremation Camp (Mile 87.7)
Minutes before take-off I look timid up front
It was a big day on the water. Beyond Tanner (Mile 68.7), I rode the bull or way up front. After the thumping I took in Georgie's Rapid, I decided I needed to lead the trip, literally, with my face. I got slapped hard all day with waves to my chin. One wave made it's way into the neck gasket of my drysuit and dripped down the front of my shirt. 
Scouting Hance Rapid
We ran Hance Rapid (77.1), a class 8 today. Dave and Dabs ran the spiciest line. They went river right backwards through some huge holes but somehow avoided jagged boulders. There were enormous waves and holes in Sockdolager Rapid (79.1) and Grapevine Rapid (82.1). Nate was so smooth on the oars, I was astounded. The folks running directly behind him were fortunate to follow his lines.   
Scouting again

By the time we got to Cremation, I was chilly. I quickly walked around the camp site to warm myself, laboriously peeled off my clothes and happily situated my scene at Lower Cremation Camp. I fired up the stove and concocted Indian-Spiced Lentil Soup over Basmati Rice. We topped it off with Adirondack Life's Peanut Butter Cup S'mores toasted over the firepan. We all turned in early, tired from the nearly 20 miles sprinkled with heavy whitewater. Our nest was cozy but Nate had nightmares. 

Making Indian-Spiced Lentil Soup
Relaxing around the firepan
Our groover site for the night was worth noting
11/21/2015 (Day 9) Lower Cremation Camp (Mile 87.7) to Upper Crystal Camp (Mile 98.7)
Mules crossing
After a hearty breakfast of blueberry pancakes, we got on the water at about 10 am. We ferried across the river and down a bit to Phantom Ranch. As we approached the boat beach, mules were coaxed into crossing the river on a bridge above us. 

The usual trail to the lodge was under construction so we took a detour close by the campsites for hikers and a wall that read, "No stopping, rocks falling". At the canteen, I stamped my pre-written postcards "delivered by mule" and quickly wrote a few on the fly. We slurped lemonades and bought souvenirs. I went to the ladies room awkwardly in my hooded drysuit. A knock on the door startled me while I changed my contacts for the first time in 8 days. I dropped my hand mirror on the floor and it cracked. The contacts weren't in right at first. I hoped they were by the time I exited the room. We took a group photo in front of the canteen. It was sunny, warm and friendly around Phantom Ranch.We checked the weather forecast - clear until the last day shown on the forecast. A cold front with precipitation was predicted. We made our way back to the river and shoved off. Soon to be in the shade and in the deepest, darkest portion of the trip. Hikers ran after us to capture us with their cameras as we drifted into the depths.  
Scouting Hermit Rapid
Horn Rapid came quickly and we pulled over prematurely to scout. We had to get back in our rafts and move closer to the deep roar of Horn in order to scout it. We all got tousled around, some more than others. On to Granite Rapid which while scouting we saw a monstrous scat pile. It might have been the excrement of a mountain lion. Granite was a fast, rocket ride. While stopped to scout Hermit Rapid, we saw two girls out for a multi-day hike from the South Rim. I saw them first and was thrilled to converse with females, hardcore females, females excited to see me and hear my story. They asked the name of our rafting company. As I led the way breathlessly through the first wave, the girls watched and cheered from a boulder on shore. They snapped photos. We hopped off the wave train as to not lead the crew where we've been before. Turns out we could have blasted the fifth + waves. Nate was disappointed to miss them. By the time we made it to Crystal Rapid, it was beyond 3:30 and the water was at peak level. We decided to make camp at Upper Crystal Camp though we felt the rapid may be easier at higher water with more rocks covered. With a thump, I fell on the ground trying to strip out of my drysuit.
The throne at Upper Crystal Camp
Crystal's thunderous roar powered our camp through the night. At Mile 98.7, just like at the human temperature 98.6, we felt alive. The groover spot was quite scenic after one ascends the built-in stone steps and winds around the cacti. It was sure to be a dangerous trek in the dark. We baked scrumptious Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas in the Dutch ovens. There were many mice around camp. One ran over Nate's feet as he sat by the firepan. Across the river in the moonlight, a few rocks glistened on the canyon wall like lights.

11/23/2015 (Day 10) Crystal Rapid (Mile 98.7) to Lower Bass Camp (Mile 109)

We awoke to the chocolate milk river flowing by camp. Some folks scouted the rapid immediately upon arousal. Those who saw it, reported the run looked easier with the water level down. At the top of the rapid there weren't too many rocks to avoid in order to keep the raft on the right side of the river. On the left side of the river, rough holes spit up crowns of water and were sure to send us into uncharted waters. We ate a quick breakfast and shoved ourselves into Crystal Rapid, our first class 9 rapid. Nate led the crew smoothly through as he did every day thus far. Rocks were avoided, waves slapped my chin and my eyes slammed shut to contain my contacts. Now and again butterflies flitted by as we rowed through the rapids named after gems (Agate, Sapphire, Turquoise, Emerald, and Ruby) and rock walls glowing in the sun. The weather was spectacular. We gulped fruit cups and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before pulling into Bass Camp. After setting up my scene and relaxing a bit, I made Chickpea Vindaloo for lunch and eventually Greg's Stir Fry for dinner as the nearly full moon appeared over the canyon wall. It was so bright and open, I didn't need a headlamp. The boys threw horseshoes. Dabs and Nate ruled the games. I practiced throwing a bit but never joined a game. As usual I was in bed before Nate. I got up in the night to use the river and I heard him and the Richards cackling on our raft.
Horseshoe champs
11/24/2015 (Day 11) Lower Bass Camp Layover Day (Mile 109)
View of Vishnu Schist from our tent
Chris reading in his hammock

We woke up leisurely and made Maple Pecan French Toast to begin the day's feasting. We decided today would be our Thanksgiving as we anticipated poor weather from the report we read at Phantom Ranch. Nate erected "The House", our floor-less group shelter. A dragonfly flew by as "The House" took shape. 
"The House"
Nate helped wash my hair for the first and only time of the trip. I made Waldorf Wraps for lunch. I realized I'd seen more Monarchs down here already than I saw all summer long in North Creek.
We have a foot-operated hand wash station on the groover path with reflectors to find your way at night, shown above, as well as a sink station outside the kitchen
At our tent site, it looked like a small creek washed through leaving a variety of small stones and gravel. I stretched on my Paco Pad in the sun next to the mini-wash. It was the perfect layover day with warm temperatures and peace. I stewed Gingery Butternut Squash Soup and prepped the Dutch ovens for a feast by filling one with a Shepard's Pie and one with a turkey and fixings. 
Evan and Nate hiking behind Lower Bass Camp
Our campsite as seen from above
Nate and Evan walked up behind camp and eventually walked down river to wrangle firewood. My tent called my name after all the cooking but the bright, warm night kept me up. Tomorrow the moon would be full. The moon light reflecting off the swirling current by camp looked fake, like some other world where rivers flow chocolate milk and it's bright enough to see outside all night. It was so mild. The clouds acted like a giant blanket covering camp, keeping the warmth in. I can't say enough about my affinity for this place.

11/25/2015 (Day 12 and Full Moon) Lower Bass Camp (Mile 109) to Galloway Camp (Mile 132.2)

We wistfully waved goodbye to Lower Bass Camp at about 10 am. A heron followed along. We ran a few rapids and the wind picked up somewhere along the way. It was an ominous morning with dark clouds, light clouds and sun mixed in between. Nate spotted the pull-in for Elves Chasm and the crew followed us in. The wind was whipping so hard Nate and I were wearing sunglasses to keep it and sand out of our eyes. We hiked up Elves Chasm until we hit the calm pool and trickling waterfall. In the chasm the wind ceased to blow. We saw a few hikers making their way to the river from the rim. When we got back on the river, the wind blew at our faces and backs for miles. At one point the wind stopped us dead in the river's current. We were whipped from the wind.
Elves Chasm
We began scouting for camps and wood. We stopped at Mile 120 Camp for wood. The camp was a nice one with a variety of levels for activities including horseshoes. We floated by Blacktail Canyon and contemplated stopping for a quick hike but pressed on to make miles and camp. We were tentatively headed for Fossil Camp but when it came into view, we noted the crew we met behind Tanner Camp was camped there. 

The wind eased up a bit and we stopped to gather more wood. The crew caught up and we let those within an earshot know our new plan. Our next camp with shelter from elements was Randy's Rock Camp. We hoped to score this camp for the night under threatening skies as up ahead the sky was dark and sinister-looking. The crew and their rafts caught the current ahead of us. We thought it was dicey to take the lead without knowing the river and the crew cruised by the camp at Randy's Rock. It was a large flat beach with the shelter of a Tapeats Sandstone overhang. Nate and I pulled over but the crew was gone. We shoved into the current, passed everyone as they were eddied out downstream and insisted they let us lead. 

It was another five miles to another camp that was hopefully empty. The next camp was at least an hour away without the time needed to scout Spector Rapid and Bedrock Rapid. We hoped the camp above Dubendorff Rapid, Galloway Camp, would be free so we wouldn't have to run Dubie near dark. We rowed our way to Spector Rapid and quickly scouted. We rowed our way to Bedrock Rapid and pulled over to scout. Nate walked through the Doll's House and I stayed with the raft. Thankfully, we all ran right past Bedrock rock. Ranger Peggy did tell us the move one needs to make to go right is easier now but the consequences if you go left are greater.
A view from Galloway Canyon, scouting Dubendorff Rapid
As Galloway Camp became apparent and known to be empty, it began to sprinkle. We hit shore onto a short awkward beach and tied to a Tammy. I bet so many rafters have tied to that Tammy. The current was cruising hastily under the raft tied to the Tammy. We scouted the camp for living purposes and then the rapid. We decided to stay and each set up our tent for an early night. It was a long night in the tent, first up by the map and itinerary modifying it and then sleeping. I worried about the raft most the night. Eventually I walked to the river by the full moon light and found four mice in the dirty water of our kitchen sink station. I began to ponder why there were so many mice here and Upper Crystal Camp and thought maybe it's for "scrutinizing" the rapids. The message of mouse "is to see what is right before our eyes and take action accordingly". While I was up in the full moon light, I checked on Hox and noted Nate had tied the raft to a second, back-up Tammy. I slept better after I saw the reinforcement. I placed a piece of paper on a boulder by our tent to gather the full moon light all night.
Our tent site at Galloway Camp
11/26/2015 (Day 13 and Thanksgiving Day) Galloway Camp (Mile 132.2) to Olo Camp (146.1)
I woke up and warmed myself for the 13th day with Spicy Hot Chocolate. I reminded the crew to stay behind Nate as we travel on the river. Safety was our priority and we made it safely through Dubie. We bypassed Race Track Camp and a much diminished camp at Lower Tapeats. We let the crew know and together decided to forego the killer hike to Thunder River. I saw five Desert Bighorn sheep sparring on a beach near Owls Eyes Camp.
Owl Eyes Camp (Mile 135.1) was named for these two depressions in Coconino Sandstone
We spotted Christmas Tree Cave and scurried up the canyon wall into the giant cavity with stalactites and stalagmites. It smelled like bat guano. We shimmied back down to the rafts and eventually floated by Deer Creek Falls
Deer Creek Falls
Stalactites and stalagmites in Christmas Tree cave on Thanksgiving Day
Looking out Christmas Tree Cave
When we floated by Football Field Camp, I flashed back to December 2002 when I slept in a tight crevice all night under the soaring canyon wall, tent-less, and alone. Fishtail Rapid contained a large wave/hole worth avoiding. Keyhole Camp shone with a splinter of sunlight. Kanab Rapid had such a long wave train, it was laughable.
Olo Canyon
Olo Canyon
We found Olo Camp beside a huge eddy on river left. With my bag and box, I ventured to find a spot to change and made my way up
Olo Canyon. Within a short distance, I was upon a crystal clear pool of water with a cascading 20 foot waterfall landing in it. I led Nate to the waterfall and pool and we decided to set up our tent on the a knoll next to it. I wanted to live in this paradise forever. There were birds flitting around and chirping. The sound of the waterfall hitting the pool was tranquilizing. Nate set up the water filtering system on a ledge under the waterfall. The filtered water from this waterfall tasted superior to the sandy Colorado River water settled with alum. I sat by the pool on my Paco Pad writing and reflecting. I chased the last rays of sunlight under the ledge below the waterfall. We tried to call out from the sat phone to wish family a happy thanksgiving but could not get a signal. I imagined folks understood. Nick C stumbled upon paradise and joked that if we hadn't missed Randy's Rock Camp, we would not be here. I realized that myself and agreed with him. Eventually dusk set in and I made my way back through the "suburbs" (the four other tents) and to the "city" (kitchen, firepan and basically groover - it was a tight site) to make falafel with rainbow-colored roasted and fresh veggies. The crew was jolly as heck, buzzing on the surroundings.
Nate playing around with our camera and the moonlight
The moon seen through Olo Canyon
The moon shone through Olo Canyon first. Eventually we all gathered by the calm pool in Olo Canyon to marvel in it's clarity. Our tent site was protected from wind. The water sounds through the night were disorientating. The river raged in the riffle below and the waterfall poured just above. The river ate away several feet of the "city" when the water reached it's peak. It receded a couple feet from where I chopped a mountain of veggies for dinner. The river also covered the mouth of where Olo Creek gently flows into it. We used the buddy system to visit the river in the night.

11/27/2015 (Day 14) Olo Camp (Mile 146.1) to Upper Ledges Camp (151.9)
I emerged from stretches and the comfort of my cocoon to wander the wash, admire the falls and whisper my daily intentions. I stretched as I stood there speaking to the falls. A beaver gnawed the trunk of the one lone Quaking Aspen tree in this wash. Beaver reminded me that "trusting is okay but caution is necessary". We did have to leave Olo Canyon today so I made my way to the "city" to begin making "Spotted Rooster" for breakfast. The Spotted Rooster got it's multi-colored or speckled appearance from cooking rice together with black beans and red peppers. I concocted Mango Salsa to go with it.

We shoved off just in front of the guides from Switzerland. A couple miles downriver, we located Makatamiba Canyon and made the tight eddy raft by raft. The other group poured themselves into the small eddy behind us. It took some time to secure our four rafts that were all strapped together. We had to use a metal tool to fasten them between a crack in the limestone above and pound our over-sized sand stake as far down in mouth of Matkatamiba Canyon as we could. The eight of us hiked into the side canyon together, shimmying our way through the narrow and wet slot. The water was clear and cold and at times I was swimming in it. The drysuit provided extra buoyancy and it felt ridiculous to float/walk through water. We hiked for about an hour total and then gingerly unleashed the rafts from the side canyon and one another. We waved goodbye to the non-hikers, part the crew from Switzerland, still eddied out there.
Surrounded by Muav Limestone in Matkatamiba
In two miles we were scouting Upset Rapid. It was a doozey. After a thorough look over we headed back to our rafts as the crew from Switzerland floated through the "lake" before the rapid without scouting. We saw them run the spicy left line we intended to run. One of their rafts was surfed in the large hole at the bottom, near the center but closer to the right side of the rapid. We hit the meaty wave at the top on river left as planned. It was a big hit but set us up to sail through the rest of the rapid, avoiding the crashing crater in the river. Chris was knocked from his rowing seat in Windwalker. He fell in the river for a few seconds but pulled himself back into rowing position as they passed the crater. In our crew, two out of four rafts hit the crashing crater. Evan fell from his seat, high-siding in it. Dabs and Dave whisked through it nearly sideways. 
This picture makes Upset Rapid look tame
Looking down on our campsite at Upper Ledge Camp
We spied Upper Ledges Camp and the crew from Switzerland camped at Ledges. We pronounced Upper Ledges camp for the night and set up the kitchen, firepan, groover and most of the tents on the ledge of Muav Limestone. It was dusk and began to rain. The boys turned the left-over Spotted Rooster into dinner. It was a dank night on the ledge in our tent. I tried to get comfortable as I worked on this blog post. It didn't feel nest-like without the warm, soft sand below us. The rain didn't last long, maybe an hour. As I attempted to cozy up to the limestone ledge, the river whipped by me less than ten feet away. The river was about three feet lower than where I was laying. I heard the boys smashing cans really late. Apparently they were crammed in "the house" knee to knee playing Rummy until the last cat was hung. Nate won several games in a row, stumping the crew.

11/28/2015 (Day 15) Upper Ledges Camp (151.9) to Below Tuck Up Camp (165.3)

Today we woke up on the edge of a ledge. We could see the crew from Switzerland downriver at Ledges. They looked like a colony of bees working together. We leisurely packed up camp as I informed the crew of the options for the day/days. The folks at Ledges were going to definitely hike up Havasu Canyon. If we were to hike Havasu too, we were most likely going to miss our intended layover day spot at Tuck Up. Since layover days were such a luxury, we opted to bee-line to Tuck Up Canyon. I pre-made maple, peanut butter granola wraps for a quick breakfast and lunch on the raft. The crew from Switzerland pulled out just ahead of us, still dressing and eating and strapping down gear. We followed them to Havasu Canyon and when they stopped, we freely floated ahead.

It was about 15 miles to Tuck Up Canyon. I rowed a few riffles in Hox. The only way to get better was to work through my frustration with the effort involved in rowing eddies, waves and whirlpools. Nate said rowing here is a challenge for him too. He was so suave, it looked easy.

We saw a Desert Bighorn Sheep on river left. 
Desert Bighorn Sheep
We had seen Herons everyday. I imagined it was my Aunt Lorraine saying, "what would life be like be if we didn't have the courage to try anything" ?
Floating to Tuck Up Canyon
Approaching Tuck-Up Canyon, we could see a tent and smoke. I thought, "oh schist, hopefully there's room for us too". We knew it wasn't hikers because whoever was there would need a firepan to have a fire. A hiker wouldn't carry a firepan. Nate hopped off the raft and ran to the established camp. He spoke with a kind crew of sixteen. Not all were present, some were hiking. They keyed us in to a huge, sweet beach just beyond where they were camped.
View downstream from Below Tuck up Camp
We hit the lower beach with Hox and made the place our home. We were like a well-oiled machine at assembling camp each day. Everyone contributed their strength. Jason and I had been a team in the kitchen for all but two meals. Jason was out like a light this afternoon. He was tired from playing cards all night. 
Our not-so-private yet scenic groover site at  Below Tuck Up Camp
Evan and I walked over and met the neighbors. They were playing croquet. The six we met were experiencing their first trip through Grand Canyon

Back at camp, I made Indian-Spiced Lentil Soup. Evan served Jason his dinner in their tent. Together they sipped soup in their beds. We sat around the firepan soaking up heat under a sliver of stars. We were all in our tents by 10 pm.

11/29/2015 (Day 16) Below Tuck Up Layover Day (Mile 165.3)

I had a strange dream about cats last night. I was convinced to move to a house where multiple cats lived. I brought my hermit-like cat Rondeau to live with me. I suddenly realized cats were allowed outside and panicked when I realized Rondeau may have escaped. I went looking for him and was relieved when I thought I found him laying in a bed. However, it was an impostor tuxedo cat. I was devastated.

I got up to drink Spicy Hot Chocolate and start clicking around the kitchen to make two Pumpkin Cakes with Chocolate Chips and Cinnamon Icing. Everything baked in the Dutch ovens tasted scrumptious. We waved goodbye to our neighbors as they drifted by early. I heard someone at their camp banging pans to wake them up at dawn. Since we arrived at camp yesterday, ravens have swirled about. One cawed to me this morning and I thought of Grandma's cackle. Four boys competed at cards in The House and three milled around the campsite or hiked. I kept the home-fires burning until the master of fire, Dave, returned from a hike up Tuck Up Canyon. 
Jason prepping breakfast and I'm prepping cakes
The boys move swiftly toward the kitchen when we call out, "Food's ready!" 
It was noon and camp had not reached 50 degrees. From my tent, I watched how far away from camp or how close the sun was hitting the river. We were all anticipating when mother nature would shine her heat source on us. The shadow from the canyon wall moved closer and closer to me. I asked our neighbors yesterday how much sun this camp got. As we stood there glowing in the sun, they said, "this is it". We all knew the warmth was for a real limited time. 
Jason fly-fishing

What could feel better after rowing than downward dog?
The sun came out and we placed ourselves in it's rays like the solar panels we used to power our cameras. I melted into stretches and recited my daily intentions on my Paco Pad. Evan and Jason hiked up Tuck Up Canyon to get clear water to shower with. A butterfly floated by as I made my way to the river to use a bit of their clear, warm water sprinkling from a solar shower bag. It was refreshing. We ate appetizers and a big late lunch as the sun disappeared behind the canyon wall. 

Nate and I hiked up Tuck Up Canyon to gather water to filter and see the falls. The walk was surreal. Piles of humongous boulders were strewn on the floor. It felt creepy to walk between such huge rocks that fell from above. An intact, deceased dragonfly lay on a rock shelf. "Follow dragonfly to the place inside your body where magic is still alive, and drink deeply of it's power. This strength belongs to you. It is the power of becoming the illusion. The ability is ever-changing and contains within it the knowledge that you are creating it all" was the message. An opening on the side of the canyon was moist and slippery with a trickle of water spreading down it. We stopped to admire it.
The mouth of Tuck Up Canyon
The creek in Tuck Up Canyon
The view through Tuck Up Canyon, looking toward the Colorado River
There I was, back in my sleeping bag in my tent with the door open to the canyon. I read about Dragonfly (quote above) and Raven in Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson and was looking forward to a magical Lava Day tomorrow. The contacts I was wearing that were multi-day use were stupendous. It was a blessing being able to see so clearly day and night without touching my eyes with sand. I flushed them out a few times each day with drops, especially when I got up in the night. I used my "walking sleeping bag", a toasty, long red-wine-colored coat made of recycled bottles, as padding inside my pillow case and as a bathrobe of sorts for visits to the river in the night. The warmth of the nest held me captive as I wrote this blog post. The firepan was the only other place to be in these low temperatures but the wind was blowing ashes and smoke around our circle of friends.

I reflected about the menu I'd worked on for months as well as the epic shopping mission in Flagstaff. The menu and shopping list were spot-on. We had indeed been eating like kings and a queen. Jason made past tense what Evan predicted at the put-in. "We ate like kings and a queen". From my nest I could see the kitchen for a few more moments and at the same time dark over took camp, my pencil ran out of lead. I felt like a hawk watching the kitchen. I wanted to cook and clean with minimal impact on the beaches so those who visit behind us experience the same tranquility. And for more than two weeks, I was searching for perfect sanitation, for a kitchen as sterile as could be. I realized I paid more attention to these details, such as scouring the four metal dish buckets we used multiple times a day, than anyone else. I was determined to wipe down work surfaces before use morning and night and about picking up every single item from the kitchen at night. But I decided I was done giving orders. We had remained healthy for more than two weeks. There were a couple folks complaining of allergies/colds/sniffles. No one talked too much about life outside of here and I appreciated that. Everyone was always eager to talk about each days' plan including rapids to navigate. And of course each evening we sat around the firepan laughing about our experience in the rapids.  
 Gathered around the firepan at Below Tuck Up Camp
The House with tents sprinkled in the background toward Tuck Up Canyon
I wasn't sure what was in store for dinner tonight. I didn't feel like cooking in the cold air. We had many options including Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchiladas. I wondered if the Richards would take on dinner. I didn't care either way if we ate or not as I snugly hid in my tent. I wasn't sure what would pry me out of it, perhaps steaming delicious food. We all opted out of dinner. No one wanted to cook or clean dishes.

11/30/2015 (Day 17) Below Tuck Up Canyon (Mile 165.3) to Lower Whitmore Wash (Mile 188.4)  

We got on the river early today. We had fourteen miles to go until Lava Falls Rapid, our second Class 9 rapid of the trip. It was frigid on the river before we got in the sun. Inside my black box was 41 degrees. With the wind chill, it was definitely in the 30s. Everyone was cold so we stopped in a sun patch on a beach about a mile above Lava Falls. We basked in the sun for about twenty minutes. Once the river was lit up with sun, we shoved off. We saw the Vulcan's Anvil and soon began to hear Lava's roar.
Vulcan's Anvil and I

Vulcan's Anvil (Mile 178.3) lets river runners know Lava Falls is a little over a mile away
We scouted the monstrous rapid in the sun. Most of the crew took a peek at the drop and walked back to the rafts. Nate and I were in no hurry as it was early and the sun was only getting warmer, warming more of the river. We were also looking for signs of the water level dropping. It really wasn't. On the rocks I gauged my opinion, the water was surging. We decided to walk to the bottom of the rapid to get a closer look and were glad we did. The violent brown water looked friendlier at river level. The crashing wave next to Cheese Grater Rock did not look like such a pulsating superpower from here. 
Looking down at Lava Falls, the sun light almost covers where we intend to run through the rapid. We ascend a bit river left of where the line is between the shade and sunlight.
We hiked back to the rafts where the crew was waiting to roll. We got our go- pro in place and rolling and off from shore we shoved. As a rifle rower, it seemed we were awfully far right headed for the hole on the far right shore (see picture above). I didn't say a word, I trusted my captain. Next thing I knew we were headed for the V wave as planned. It splashed over and around me. Nate kept the raft straight and we headed into the pulsating wave by Cheese Grater rock (see picture above, Cheese Grater Rock is the pointy rock with water coming up on to it at the bottom of the rapid on river right). We slide through the wave with a dousing. Soaked, I stood up like I scored touchdown. The boys following behind saw me and knew one of us had already made it through. Others had spicier though clean lines. We laughed, hooted, and hollered back and forth across the river and through Lower Lava Rapid, feeling more connected to the river and each other than before. At Tequilla Beach we were ready to celebrate our victory over Lava Falls Rapid.

Post Lava glow
Our welcoming neighbor
We decided to keep going and bank more miles. We were at Mile 179.7 headed for Whitmore Wash, mile 188.4. We all had that post-Lava glow when we reached the beach by Lower Whitmore Wash.  We could see our neighbors from Tuck Up Canyon were here. In fact, as we embarked from our crafts, they were dressed from head to toe in clowns suits complete with face paint. They gathered firewood nearby and invited us over to their campsite later. We dined on Spicy Jasmine Rice with Carrots and Cashews topped with Salmon. The Wild Sockeye Salmon, a Patagonia Provision, came from Nate's folks as a gift. Some found it the best meal thus far. Was it because it was the first meal post-Lava or was it really that good? I was not sure. It did taste extra special even without Salmon. 

After we cleaned up from dinner, and sat by the firepan, we trekked to the clown camp. We found six rafters lounging around a larger firepan. Only dude one was still dressed like a clown in a sleek fuscia-infused suit. Their common thread was the Gauley River in West Virginia. We excitedly chatted with them around the fire for an hour or so. Not only did they lack baking soda, but they had NO SPICE KIT at all!  The outfitter who organized their trip forgot to send them with a spice kit. It felt invigorating to find fellow friendly, enthusiastic river runners. We headed back to camp to soak up a little more starlight and eventually moved toward our respective tent sites. 

12/1/2015 (Day 18) Lower Whitmore Wash Camp (165.3) to Mile 202 Camp (Mile 202)

Our boats were frozen this morning. Jason and I cooked blueberry pancakes and Spicy Sweet Potato Hash. I rowed a bunch of squirrely riffles today. We were the sweep raft or last raft in the line up for the first time today. It was quiet not having to set the pace. 

I'm working to remain in the current and out of the eddies
We made good time to Mile 202 Camp. There was a couple more hours of direct sun when we got there. I bathed in the river around rocks along side a riffle. So did Nate.
As Jason says, "You don't need a floor"
Middle Earth's rafts Aragorn and Windwalker provide forgiveness to folks new at rowing. Their tube size, taper and rocker help keep them upright in rapids.
I made Sweet and Spicy Chili with Double Cornbread for dinner. 
Dutch oven with Double Cornbread inside
Charcoal chimney
Nick starts a fire
Dutch oven with Double Cornbread baking inside

Piping-hot Double Cornbread
Nate and I seemed to gravitate to some of the same tent sites this trip, like this one pictured below, tucked next to the wash. Outside the tent it was a cold night. Inside it was nothing but fluffy warmth among new Thermarest sleepware.  

12/2/2015 (Day 19) Mile 202 Camp (Mile 202) to Mile 220 Camp (Mile 220)

Nate was chilly this morning after he left the tent. To keep warm, he donned his drysuit. We ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal, dried fruit and nuts. There were a few rapids today including some large wave trains and hydraulics. I rowed several riffles. I actually floated over a headless duck. Yuck. We relished a couple hours of direct sunlight at camp. I made Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Garlic and Sun-dried Tomatoes for an appetizer. Before dark, Nate and I scoped out the middle camp including scouring for firewood. There was mostly kindling to be found. Once the shadow overtook camp, we made Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas in the Dutch ovens. Again, they were simply delightful. We hunkered down around the firepan as Nick C passionately oozed with mountaineering stories.
Our kitchen at Mile 220 Camp

Nick and Dave about to strain dish water into the river
Our scenic and private groover site at Mile 220 Camp
12/3/2015 (Day 20) Mile 220 Camp Layover Day (Mile 220) 

In the morning when the sun hit the beach really early, the crew knew why we loved this camp. We had sunlight from ~ 9:30 to 3. The morning was low-key especially during the virtuous Matt Eckel flute solos coming from our small speaker. I whipped up German Chocolate Brownie batter and eventually the boys sparked up coals in the charcoal chimney. We surrounded the cast iron pots and lids with charcoal and asked Chris to start the clock. Jason, Nate and I walked the shore below camp gathering kindling. The boys set up horseshoes and began playing in the warming, soft sand as I stretched on my comfy, plush Paco Pad next to my tent. Any of my clothes in need of drying hung on a clothesline nearby.
Nate working the ash can
Dave fly-fishing
As the sun left the beach, Dabs and I meandered through the vegetation behind camp and up the canyon. I admired the tall awkward Ocotillo. In the wash Dabs was determined to find heart-shaped rocks. He had already found almost 20 rocks he'd placed on a nearby boulder. As we wandered the wash looking for signs of love, the Richards were on a firewood mission back at camp. They switched out their cat oars for Hox's longer oars. They used the increased leverage to row upstream and comb the shore for firewood. They were highly successful. We gathered around the firepan and hefty stack of fire wood for brownies. The boys squirted whipped cream all over theirs. I savored the coconut, pecan and brown sugar blend on top held together with melted Earth Balance. "How do we do it?", as Wayne Failing would say. 

Conglomerate path in Mile 220 Canyon
Merry NRS-mas

Later we ate any food we could. After all, we only had one day left. Nick C disappeared from the crew wrapped around the firepan. He reappeared minutes later dressed as "Santa" with NRS straps hanging from his face for a beard. He carried a sack/dry bag filled with "goodies" for every boy and me. He gave Dabs sleeping pills to sleep rather than cough at night. He gave Dave a rope to use as a clothesline. He gave Christian hand sanitizer because was always handling the groover. He gave Evan a pocket knife for his adventures. He gave Jason grape jelly for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the river. He gave Nate earplugs so he wouldn't have to listen to his stories. I received a variety bag of tea to help me relax on NRS-mas. We were all thoroughly surprised.
Thank you Long Lake Central School for allowing me this opportunity

Nate and I prepped two Dutch ovens with Apple Crisps for tomorrow morning, our last breakfast together on the river. We enjoyed the heat from the large bundle of wood the Richards collected, putting it on the fire piece by piece until the wee hours of the morning.
12/4/2015 (Day 21) Mile 220 Camp (Mile 220) to Separation Canyon (Mile 239.8) and Pearce Ferry (Mile 280)

Jason watches in disbelief as Nate creates a lunch wrap with the remaining ingredients on hand
The Apple Crisps were divine for breakfast. Most boys ate an entire quarter of a Dutch oven-worth slathered with whipped cream. We packed up our camp for the last time at a comfortable pace, feeling giddy and excited for the long day ahead. We were about to travel 60 miles. We launched about 10:30am. Instantly Nate remarked that the water felt like cement against his oars. When we checked the graph post-trip, we learned the flow had indeed increased significantly. We passed the Diamond Creek take out. A blanket of clouds hung over us and kept us warm all morning and into the afternoon. It was rather dark and dreary in this stretch. Add to it the struggle to row "cement" and Nate found it hellish. 
Travertine Falls (Mile 230.7)
As we approached Killer Fang Rapid (Mile 232), images of flipping flashed through our heads. An encounter with a rock on river left vividly reminded us what happened when we side-wiped the fang last trip. Nate scrambled to miss the faux fang. It made my hair stand up even more than it was already from not washing it for two weeks. At Killer Fang Rapid, the increased flow of water mostly covered the fang. Anticipation was the hardest part of this rapid. After we passed the fang, we quietly rejoiced and high-fived our first trip remaining upright. We made it to Separation Canyon in great time. Everyone changed and prepped to float through the night. We set up a small kitchen for a quick, simple meal of canned soup and grilled cheese. I ate toast with Earth Balance and nutritional yeast.
A quick stop to refuel at Separation Canyon
Rigs strapped together for the night float
We were all revved up and antsy to create our floating lounge for the night float. We decided on a diamond formation which we modified so if needed five oars could power and steer the large vessel. With the set up we created, Evan was able to rudder with an oar off the back of the cataraft. Also, the two cataraft oars were moved back so both oars could work together to power the flotilla. We embarked on the float about 5:30 pm. The feeling of togetherness cannot be described, only experienced. I loved culminating the trip this way. I felt like a child wired by the thrill of sailing through the canyon in the dark. 

I slept with one eye open all night long. It was a moonless night until about 4 am. The lack of light from the moon added to the adventure for those steering the big rig. I watched shooting stars in between the shadows of the canyon wall. When the clouds dispersed, removing the sky's blanket, it did get nippy. We also became covered in dew. I really put my new sleeping bag to the test. It worked like a charm. The boys awake took turns navigating and they took it seriously.

It was well before dawn when we decided to pull over to ensure we reached the take out in the light. Nobody wanted to ride through vicious Pearce Ferry Rapid surprised in sleeping bags. We moved the rig closer to the left shore and Nate abruptly jumped off. He landed on a nearly vertical 20 + foot high crumbling bank of sand. It was sketchy finding a tree to anchor the rafts off to until light came. We slept on the floating living room, half in the eddy, half out. Dabs and Dave bobbed for the hours we slept. At about 6:30 am we disengaged from shore and each other and rowed the last few miles to the Pearce Ferry take-out. We noticed a camp about a mile up from the take-out on river left that would have been a better spot to stop and sleep. A heron sat by the camp.
Getting close to Pearce Ferry Take-Out
As we floated the remaining miles, a beaver swam in front of us and then disappeared beneath the water. It made me think of the builder of the animal kingdom and I compared myself and our present state to it. In building this dream, teamwork was necessary. With our small crew, each member did indeed honor the talents and abilities of each other. Each person knew how to complete the part of the puzzle that belonged to them. We worked well together, community was achieved and unity ensued. Nate and I spent the trip protecting the creation we put our love and energy into. The surroundings, the gear, the food, the itinerary, the safety, the relationships with co-workers and friends were all part of what we held sacred. As a crew we were are willing and determined to accomplish this challenge.

12/5/2015 (Day 22) Pearce Ferry Take-Out (Mile 280.5)

We got to the take-out at about 7:30 am. It took us until about 11:30 am to dismantle the rafts and pack the trailer. We were tired, hungry and ready for creature comforts. The toilets at the take-out were clogged and nasty. Dabs rode the bumpy rode out in the van with us. Funny, one of the first signs we saw was for Delmar Dr. A spider climbed the windshield and hung from a web in front of me. A hawk flew above the van, only for me to see. Hawk medicine is filled with responsibility because hawk people see the overall view. No detail slipped by us unnoticed for 22 days. We led six new sets of eyes through Grand Canyon and there was endless joy in sharing this important place. 
A tougher crew with more character than 22 days ago

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