Friday, February 13, 2009

Day Fifteen: Alive Below Lava!

Ote Below Lava

Sitting in the front of the dory boat along with Jurgen the elder German, we silently drifted downstream towards the lip of Lava Falls. Beyond the lip all that I could see was leaping white froth that seemed to be waving us towards our doom like sailors to a siren. My hands were locked onto the gunnel railing and for a second, I looked at them fascinated by the how white and insignificant they looked. The boat started picking up speed as we edged over the lip and slip down the tongue towards the first wave that wickedly towered above us. The boat climbed half way up the wave before the weight of the German and myself combined drove it into the interior of the wave.

The icy cold water took my breath away and the loud roar was abruptly dampened as I hung on and waited for the boat to punch out the backside of the wave. The water continued tossing me around like I was inside a washing machine but I continued to hang on for what seemed like an eternity. I was just about to let go and swim for freedom, certain that we had flipped over when we suddenly emerged into daylight. I gasped for breath as the boat with another half ton of water added to its weight, groaned and slid down the backside of the wave into a water trough so deep that the gates of Hades had to be nearby. With all the additional weight, the boat didn't even pretend to go over the second and much bigger wave and just dove into the immense face. Again I hung on and contemplated life inside a washing but once again we punched out into daylight and slid down into the trough heading for yet a third wave. Once more into the wash cycle and once more we lurched into daylight.

The wave train ahead started getting smaller and the boat full of water, passengers and gear was now able to lurch over them like a drunk on a roadside curb. We were through! I wasn't going to die after all! I had survived the mother of all rapids! Wait. Through my euphoria-laced brain, I heard this scream piercing my mind that sounded almost primeval and not of this world. I looked around searching for the source when I realized that it was coming from the German. No wait, it was also coming from the couple in back. Wait, I was yelling too! Then it hit me, we were all yelling in euphoria at having cheated death. We were alive!

Yet another primeval scream of "Bail!" pierced my other scream already in progress and once again I started searching for a source to this new sound and saw Ote straining at the oars trying to eddy us out as the boat lurched full of water over waves still six feet tall. It still took a few seconds for my brain to process that it wasn't over yet and that we still could tip over if we didn't get some more freeboard by lightening the load and once id did register, I grabbed the bailer and started bailing the water like a man on a sinking ship who didn't know how to swim. The other passengers quickly caught on, helped with the bailing and soon our boat was riding much higher and we were pulling into shore.

Boat Running Lava

Ote told us to get out while she oared back ready to help if any of the three other dories or two rafts behind us flipped over. I grabbed my camera and scrambled upstream stumbling over the sharp lava rocks that cut my legs like razors in an attempt to get some pictures of the remaining boats coming through the rapids. After all the boats had safely made it through Lava and were pulling towards shore, I walked back downstream to the beach where everyone was gathering. The euphoric high was starting to wear off and I finally noticed blood dripping down from a half dozen wounds on my legs. I still had enough of that high not to care so I took an offered beer, popped the top and held it up as we toasted our survival in the dory boat tradition. We were ABL, Alive Below Lava.

When the celebrations died down, we floated on down the river to mile 185-1/2 where we made camp for the night on a huge sand bar. After the initial flurry of setting up camp or tossing my gear in a pile, as was my case, we all kept talking about Lava and the nine people who would be leaving us tomorrow. Because of my journal writing, I was designated group address note taker, so I walked around getting everyone's personal information so that I could send it out after everyone went back to their regular lives.

The crew mixed up some cocktails and an avocado dip to munch on while we waited for the preparation of a beef and chicken enchilada dinner complete with rice and a cake to celebrate Jorge's birthday. After supper, the traditional Lava Follies, or skit show put on by crew and clients alike, began around a roaring fire. There were poems, songs, jokes and stories told by all. Ote read a speech given by Chief Seattle that was absolutely beautiful and since everyone was curious about what I wrote in my journals, I read today's excerpt about Lava. The crew then handed out awards (chucks of lava rock), commemorating the identifiable trait of each client. I received the Harvey Butchart award for hiking every mile of every hike and then some.

After the follies, I stayed up late into the night with some of the crew swapping jokes and reveling in the day. Clouds started moving in but we were all full of sunny cheer at having cheated the river one more time and more importantly, surviving to tell about it.

Customary Beer Below Lava Falls

9 comments:

The Real Mother Hen said...

Everyone looked so dry and relax in the beer picture, I would have expected all to be wet and tired though.

R. Sherman said...

Did the dories carry extra floatation? I cannot imagine trying to oar one of those things when it's half filled with water.

Cheers.

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - I guess it was shock or coincidence that we all looked so calm.

R. Sherman - Though they didn't carry flotation, there were semi-water tight compartments fore, aft and underneath the oarsman. They kept out water for deluges from waves but would leak and wouldn't hold up for a continual submersion.

Beau said...

Cool story... I loved the comment about life inside a washing machine.

sage said...

Great story. That boat running through the falls looks small. It is lava that you can see from Toroweap. If you ever get a chance, you should go there (camp there, but only if you don't sleepwalk), you can look nearly straight down on the falls some 3000 feet lower.

TC said...

I bet that was the best beer you've ever had in your life! :)

Ed Abbey said...

Beau - Thanks. Did I mention it was most like the agitation cycle?

Sage - As far as I know I don't sleepwalk and I do have a healthy respect for heights so any camp will be some ways away from the edge.

TC - It was!

PhilippinesPhil said...

Something like that would be like sex. The first time is mind blowing, its always good after that, but still not like it was the first time. That's my theory anyway.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

The closest I ever came to that would be canoeing the South Fork of the Snake on one occasion and canoeing about ten miles through Hells Canyon before they built the dam and filled up the canyon with water. I wish I had the youth and physical energy to do that sort of thing again.
The closest I come to that sort of adventure anymore is riding a big inner tube over the rapids (with my grandchildren, they think it is exciting) in the Box Canyon of the Snake (West of Yellowstone)