Monday, February 13, 2017

Day Fifteen: Lava Falls

Getting ahead of myself, below Lava Falls looking back upstream
Today was a beautiful day with lots of sun, by far the hottest day of the trip so far. I wondered what it was like on the outside of the canyon walls in that "other world" I once knew. Despite the long hike to Mooney Falls yesterday, I woke up early even by my standards and couldn't fall back asleep. I "inch wormed" my way over to a nearby rock in my sleeping bag and watched the sky transform itself into all shades of red, pink and yellow. I would have taken a picture if I could have reached my camera from the comfort of my sleeping bag but I couldn't and so I didn't. Eventually the cooks awoke and began rustling down in the kitchen area so I packed up my gear and moseyed on down to talk with them as a breakfast of cherry French toast with strawberry yogurt was prepared.

Perhaps it was the campsite, the air, or the knowledge of what was in store for the day but everyone seemed to get an early start today, even the wandering couple we picked up at Phantom Ranch and we were on the water in record time. For twenty-one miles, we mostly floated on the calm water with the occasional small riffle broken only by a lunch stop at National Canyon. We ate some pasta salad and other munchies and also did a short hike. Too quickly we passed the Devil's Anvil, a chunk of black lava rock notorious for what it represents and heard an almost white noise in the distance that too quickly turned into a pulsing roar. We eddied out on river left and hiked downstream to finally behold the monstrosity blocking our downstream progress.

Every single one of my internal organs ran down into the vicinity of my small toe, including my stomach which was the size and consistency of a peach pit. Twenty-foot waves churned, crashed, sucked, boiled and ground past me from one drop to another as I stood on shore watching. The roar was deafening. This was the biggest rapid on the Colorado River. This was the famous Lava Falls, site of this video where a raft twice the size of my boat is tossed around like a child's toy.

My oars person for the day was Ote, the very petite wife of the company owner in her 60's, and the muscle of the sixteen-foot fragile wooden dory that myself and three others were about to cast off into Lava's fury. She was probably one hundred pounds fully dressed and dripping wet and try as I might, I couldn't imagine her maneuvering a half-ton of boat, passengers and gear through that maelstrom of water. There just wasn't any way. So here I was looking at the white froth they were calling a rapid, thinking it looked more like a killer, and silently contemplating how quick death would come to me and whether it would come by drowning or being smashed into the rocks. The only thing that I was certain about was that my death was imminent.

When I couldn't stand it anymore and decided to walk back to where the boats were tied up river where I wouldn't have to contemplate my death. On the way I met trip leader Bronco heading back the way I had come and he asked if I was ready to go down. I put on a big smile and lied, "I can't wait!" Bronco replied, "Great, because your boat is going down first." I think my stomach squirted out from my toenail at that point.


Kelly said...

Oh, lawdy.... this is all in the past (and you're here writing about it now), but I'm still nervous for you!

Did you have to sign any kind of waiver before you began the trip, acknowledging that it was dangerous and you wouldn't hold the company responsible in the event of, know?

Ed said...

Kelly - I don't recall if I did but I'm pretty sure I did, probably at the pre-trip meeting or perhaps when I sent in my application. It would make sense. I went in the spring at the start of the season so there hadn't been any deaths but I know they talked about a death a few years earlier due to drowning while under the influence of alcohol. In other words, guy was drunk in camp and staggered/fell into the river and drowned.

From what I have read, most people who die are hikers. The boating industry in the canyon is remarkably safe compared to many other industries. I don't think I knew this though at the time I wrote this post!

sage said...

You set the stage for us to wait and wonder... did you make it (Of course, you did, but). Nice writing.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Well, we know you survived! But that sounds frightening! I bet your little old lady guiding the boat did a GREAT job! :)

Ed said...

Sage and Pumpkin Delight - I did survive long enough to write about it anyway! Stayed tuned tomorrow morning.