Part 7: The Lower Canyon, Days 10-11
“You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil. . .through its labyrinths.” – John Wesley Powell
Day 10 was slated to kick off with a lazy morning, so the coffee call hour began with a 6 (barely) versus with the typical 5. Talk about a lazy morning! In any event, I was already up and packed by breakfast, with the exception of my tent that needed a chance to dry out in the morning sun. I have some OCD tendencies and I thrive off neat and orderly situations, so the efficient and early morning packing regimen was more for my sanity really than anything else. I’m sure others just thought I was some weirdo who liked packing things! Also true. This behavioral quality also explains my fascination with observing the boats getting the gear loaded on them and packed up every morning – every guide has his or her own system, every place on the raft has a purpose, every item has a place, and the process is matched every morning. It is glorious and this graph paper loving, organized, neat freak was completely appreciative of this entire process! But I digress. As usual.
So in the last post I had mentioned the two dry-lines that the guides had set up for us to dry out their gear, sleeping bags, liners, etc. A seemingly benign thing really in any normal situation. Well, this was most definitely not a normal environment that we found ourselves in! And the lines became an easy target! Although I believe they made their official appearance on the previous evening at camp, this morning there was a stunning pair of pink, floral, sizable granny panties catching the light breeze on one of the lines, naturally close to my dads gear (and you know that was done on purpose). Hilarious. There was only one legitimate explanation to the pink granny panties – COLIN!!! After getting in a good laugh, my dad even joined in (poor Henry/Hank), I returned the ‘delicates’ to their owner via a long tent pole. Colin, Colin, Colin…so damn funny!
After a geology talk and our morning readings from our trip leader, we got our life jackets on and loaded up for the day. I found myself on the advertised “all-female paddle boat” today, with three guys and four of the ladies. So not so much “all-female” but a fun group nonetheless! I perched myself in my favorite back row spot (the bags are back there and make for a nice leaning spot in the flat water), grabbed my paddle, and we were off for a fun day on the river. My dad rode with Kim, since I was in the paddle boat, and I think he even hopped on the oars at one point. We saw some big horn sheep in the morning as we made our way down the river. The first rapids of the day were Doris, Fishtail, and Kanab rapids, and shortly after we made a stop for lunch at Olo Canyon around mile 146, a neat little spot with a beautiful waterfall up and behind the bank of the river.
After lunch, we were back on the river and made our way down to mile 148.5 at Matkatamiba Canyon – we’ll call it Matkat for short. This canyon was way cool and ended up being the spot of my favorite “hike” of the trip. And I use the term “hike” loosely. This was another one of those wet-shoe hikes (given we’d be hiking up the canyon by way of the creek) that ultimately required life jackets, some creative climbing and other hiking related terms that I cant quite remember. Literally at one point our feet and hands were on opposite walls, shuffling sideways. This activity has a technical name, which is the one I can’t remember. But you get the jist (and there’s a picture). It was a blast and there was only limited ‘exposure’ on this hike to narrow ledges and scary drop-offs. ‘Exposure’ was my new favorite trip-term. On every hike since the Patio hike, my dad was always given a run-down on the level of ‘exposure’ on the hike. I found it entertaining!
Now if you just looked through that series of pictures and thought anything other than, “that looks freakin’ awesome”, we need to talk!
Matkat is a pretty surreal place. I’ve said it before, but I continued to be amazed by the beauty that was quietly and unassumingly tucked back and away from the rolling sound of the river. The pictures really do not do it justice at all. It was peaceful and unexpected, and quickly jumped its way up towards the top of my growing list of Grand Canyon favorites. We hung out for a bit around the small waterfall in the back of this little side canyon (I’m fairly certain I shared the story of my dad sleeping through an entire Dave Matthews Band concert that he was forced to take my sister and I to back in 1996 – so many great stories about my dad and I just know he loves it when these get shared…ha), and slowly made our way back down the ‘trail’ to the boats after conducting a semi-successful human butt damn practical joke on Lynn.
We paddled away from Matkat (bummer) and made our way down the river to scout Upset rapid around mile 150. I hung out with the paddleboat, Rosie, Dean, and Eva while the group scouted the rapid. Lynn was going to shoot pictures of us on Upset (the perks of having a guide + photographer on the river with you), so he stayed behind with Tyler out on the rocks by Upset while the rest of us took off. Upset was a blast – super fun rapid and we got soaked! I paddled through it in order to keep my balance (I may have been the only paddler other than Alan that was actually paddling because at one point someone said “Hold on!”) – it was cloudy, so I wasn’t into taking a swim today! Can’t wait to see the pictures that Lynn took of everyone running Upset!
After surviving Upset, we meandered our way to Upper Ledges camp at mile 152. Another ledge camp – I could tell that some folks who experienced the ledge camp of day 1 were having flashbacks! Amused, I hopped off the paddleboat, helped unload the boats with the rest of the group, and established my personal campsite on the first flat spot I could find. My dad and I went ahead and set up tents since some fluffy rain clouds were quietly hovering overhead. Once in dry clothes, I went over to see how I could assist in the kitchen, while several others from the trip shared their foot rot stories and tended to their feet. It was onion-dicing day in the kitchen (I’m sure my dad was thrilled to hear that – but really, he consumed more onions on this trip than he probably has in his lifetime – we told him they wouldn’t kill him!) with Alan and Tyler, who whipped up a delicious dinner (have no clue what it was called, but it was very good). Sorry – foot rot and dinner in concurrent sentences is poor form. River challenges…you’ll work past it (or you will just be grossed out and will keep on reading). Clare talked us through the next day since we’d be stopping at Havasu while we were all gathered around eating dinner. She made the mistake of closing out her discussion by asking if we had any questions (while not specifying that they needed to be related to what she had just gone over) and effectively “lost the room.” It was hilarious, and we were all clearly very comfortable with each other at this point, as evidence by the question, “Does Dean have anything on under that sarong?” Dean, always a good sport, supplied us with the answer and the rest of the conversation spiraled downhill from there! Hysterical.
I hung out for a bit chatting with Alan, Clare, Tyler, and Colin…giving Colin a hard time about the appearance of his tent on his raft (he was using a hiking pole to hold it up in the center and it just looked a little sad compared to the others). This suddenly transitioned into a conversation about how Colin would just hop in my dad’s tent if it started raining. As my dad emerged from his tent (his ears must have been burning), I offered to pay Colin to do it for our entertainment because that would have been absolutely hilarious. I think Colin was tempted. Upon learning about a potential tent buddy, my dad opted to hire out Tyler for personal security if necessary. I asked Clare if she had locks for the tent zippers that I could borrow; since there were no locks, she made the funny suggestion of duct taping an arm to one of the zippers, so that you’d be alerted to the fact someone was breaking into your tent when your arms starting moving in a waving motion. We closed out the conversation (it was getting pretty late…7:45pm) at the suggestion of a puppy cuddle in which I‘d be placed in the center for snake protection. I’ve never heard of a puppy cuddle. Interesting term. I think I snickered to myself all night from this entire conversation. This was perfection in river camping humor.
Day 11 started as normal and I was packed and ready to get on the river. My dad was going in the paddleboat today, so I hopped in Clare’s boat along with Tyler for another fun day down the river. We were going to Havasu today, which I was excited about regardless of whether the water was its famous turquoise blue or not. First item on the agenda in Clare’s boat was to patch and inflate the stingray float. Tyler, like any savvy engineer, took this to heart and went to work on identifying the puncture and patching the tail of the stingray as if he were performing life-saving surgery on a tiny human. There was a lot of duct tape sacrificed in the procedure. And the stingray was saved, inflated, and put in the back of the boat only creating slightly adverse conditions for Clare in the upstream wind on a few occasions. Thank you, Tyler!
We made our way into the ‘parking lot’ at Havasu after a crafty maneuvering of the raft (this is a popular spot on the river, so there are generally multiple trips here at any given time) and after finding a way to tie off, we packed our day packs (brown bag lunch included), and hopped into the chest deep water with our lifejackets still on, and waded over to the canyon ledges, bags above our heads, where the rest of the group was waiting and dropping off their jackets and other dry bags. We hiked up Havasu creek a ways, crossing the creek (hello current) and arriving at the first stop where some folks would stay and hang out for the morning. I continued on up the trail following our fleet and sure-footed guides to the next stopping point where a few folks decided to hang out in the shade of some cotton wood trees, and nearby a prime waterfall jumping point. Next stop was to hike to the ‘amphitheater’, which is where my dad headed, and I stayed on the trail with Dave, Pete, Mike, Ben, and Jay following our trip leader up the creek to nowhere in particular. The plan was just to hike until it was time to turn back around to meet up with the rest of the group down by the bigger swimming hole.
Havasu is another beautiful place along the side of the river. And beautiful is an understatement. The hike up Havasu was fun and you really could not beat the scenery of this side canyon. Clare is a fast hiker, and at one point I said to Mike jokingly, “does it seem like we are running?!” Typical chubby girl banter. I really have no idea how she covers so much ground so quickly, but she blazed the trail and we followed her up Havasu. At one point the trail just disappeared, so we crossed over the creek (Hello, again, current) to see where it was, crossed back over the creek after not finding it (my balance was being tested at this point), and eventually found it back on the other side of the creek. It was super overgrown and barely noticeable as a trail. How she found it, I have no idea! That’s why she’s the professional! We continued up the trail a ways, through the thick grapevines, and eventually came to a stopping point, not wanting to venture off too far since it was a little cloudy and the potential for flash floods was real, and headed back to meet up with the others. When we got to the shady spot, we all stopped and ate our packed lunches. My lunch was momentarily halted by the butterfly that took residence on my hand and sandwich bag. I guess it liked PBJ. Can you blame him? Cute little fella.
After lunch, we walked back down to the bigger swimming hole, where the stingray and tube finally got some action as some of the group, guides included, floated their way down the small canyon-made water slide. I took some videos, which are quite entertaining, but they don’t work on this site (or at least i’m not smart enough to figure it out – so they are out on Google drive). After everyone got their fix, we headed back to our pile of life jackets, stingray included. Clare, Tyler, the stingray, and I waded back to the boat and waited as the others were picked up off the ledges, and we were on our way back down the river. The stingray took up permanent residence in the back, quickly becoming addicted to river life. Can you blame him? It was a lazy afternoon on the river and Tyler hopped on the oars and rowed us nearly all the way to camp at Upper National on mile 167, and the three of us enjoyed some fun conversation, an interesting Thai coffee beverage with an incredibly descriptive label, and I shared a few crazy, river worthy HR stories. It was a really great day exploring what the canyon had to offer!
Upper National was a great camp with access to National Canyon on river left. Several folks went hiking up the canyon to check it out. I got into dry clothes and went to help out in the kitchen, which was sitting in a nice spot a couple of feet lower than the rest of camp, with Mike and Dean. Steaks were on the menu for the night and Mike was taking over the grill. Dean and I worked on the potatoes and salad. Clare and Colin were on dinner duty tonight, although Colin was off hiking up the canyon. He did get back in time to effectively ‘manage the kitchen’! We had a great dinner – Mike did a nice job on the steaks – and eventually enjoyed some dessert, followed by nightly story time – the book had finally dried out! Although I set up a tent, I had originally planned to sleep outside, since rain didn’t look like even a remote possibility. It was however quite windy as we all retired to our camps, and the thought of enjoying sand being blown in my face all night while I was trying to read was not that appealing! So I took off the rain fly (which effectively turns the tent into a furnace) so at least the breeze would keep it reasonably cool.
I read my book for a good while and after shutting off my headlamp, I stared away into the stars through the open ‘door’ of my tent. I ultimately zipped up the door to avoid being sand blasted all night. Around about 2am I was staring out of my tent ‘door’ and noticed that the rafts were far closer than they were several hours earlier. Since the water would typically rise in the wee hours of the morning, I really didn’t think much of it. I heard a crashing sound at about 2:30am, which sounded like one of the metal wash buckets from the kitchen. Within seconds I heard the distinct sound of a sleeping bag being unzipped, and up popped our trip leader who was out of her boat quickly to survey the situation. Colin was already over by the kitchen as well, and eventually Kim made her way over there too. There was a flurry of activity around the kitchen, which eventually ended up being moved up on the higher part of the beach. This was by far the most entertaining evening since the tent in the water episode on night one. They re-tied their boats after moving the kitchen and seemed to be wading out in the water near the former kitchen location as well. I assumed they lost some items to the river. I think the best quote of the episode came from Kim (directed at some sleepy guides) as she and Clare made their way over to check the groover to see if it was under water, or god forbid, making its way down the river. Kim said, “How are you still asleep?! We just lost half our kitchen!” Funny. It’s hard not to find the whole episode pretty entertaining.
So what in the world happened to the kitchen?