Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Day Thirteen: Finding My Inner Little Boy

Ledges Camp
Last night I had pitched my sleeping bag on the fine white sand underneath the overhanging rock next to the cliff face. I decided to camp there for the novelty of sleeping under several hundred feet of rock and not because of the passing clouds that I had seen during sunset of the previous evening. All the crew were sleeping on their boats and the clients were scattered out among the pissweed behind camp in their tents so I had the place all to myself. At least for a while. In the early morning hours, a rainsquall must have hit. I found this out when I opened my eyes and looked right into Elaina's sleeping face right next to me. Surprised, I sat up only to find Nick on the other side of me and most of the other crew and Jorge the German sardined into what had been a roomy place for one but now quite cozy for the eight of us now sharing it. The other hint that a squall had hit was the dusting of sand that was now on and inside my sleeping bag.

It was overcast and windy when I woke up with my new bed companions beside me but today was a leisure start day so I was in no hurry to get out of the bag. One of the cooks brought up some coffee and cocoa and Elaina, Jorge and I sat under the overhang sipping our drinks and watching camp life unfold for quite awhile. It was only the lure of pancakes and bacon that lured us out from our sandy cocoons. We loaded up the boats and held a geology lecture but in the end, despite our leisure, we all stood around and waited for over an hour on Roy and Joanna to get their stuff packed.

We picked up Roy and Joanna at Phantom Ranch and they are certainly the most disorganized pair of people I have ever seen in my life. Their brains are apparently unable to multitask or think more than a single step in advance as they spend most of their time walking to and fro with glazed looks in their eyes. They will get down to the boats and then remember that they forgot to bring their bags so they will go back and get them only to realize they forgot their shoes so they will go back and get those only to remember they forgot their sunglasses…. so on and so forth. It takes them ten trips what takes the rest of us one. They also missed out on the common sense whenever it was handed out. At one of our previous campsites, I had found a nice secluded site for my sleeping bag on a sandy ledge across a little rivulet of water flowing over some mossy rocks. With my long legs, I could easily hop over but Joanna, who has trouble walking on flat pavement, came up and was eying it with her tent bag in her arms. I really didn't want the company on the small ledge but told her that it was very slick and that if she wanted to come over, she should not attempt to step on the sloped and very slippery mossy rock but to go down below and cross where it was sandy and she had some grip. She instead chose to step right in the middle and promptly fall down on her back in the middle of the rivulet thoroughly wetting herself and her tent. I helped her get up and after drying her hands she said that I had been right and wandered off in another direction with that glazed look in her eyes.

When Roy and Johanna finally got all their gear down and in the boats, we pushed off into a now very stout upstream wind and the coldest weather we have seen so far. We paddled through Fishtail and Kanab Rapids, both of which got us soaking wet. I was very cold and shivering by the time we pulled over for lunch. We all hunkered on the lee side of some clumps of pissweed and soaked up a brief appearance by the sun. When we finally got warmed up again, we pushed off and by the time we got to Upset Rapid, the wind had died off and it had warmed up a bit.

We paddled around the bend to a camp at mile 151-3/4 named Ledges Camp. There was no sand at this camp only a series of ledges hewn into the rock by centuries of river water. As I was hiking up a ways behind camp to find my secluded camping spot, I came across a family of bighorn sheep not twenty feet away. Counting tents, at least 4 groups of clients had walked right by this spot and were so engrossed in getting their camp set up, never noticed the sheep. By the time I got my camera and telephoto lens out, they were already well up the ledges behind camp. It is amazing how well they blend into their surroundings and if it weren't for their movement, they would be impossible to spot.

After camp was set up, Bronco, Jorge and I set out on a little walk across the ledges upstream from camp. We were joined by others and idly began tossing rocks into the river. This soon degenerated into a contest to see who could throw a rock clear across the river in which only Jorge and I were successful. Ote started tossing big rocks into the river and soon we were trundling boulders off the edge into the river the size of small beanbags. Nick, Lee, and Duffy, hearing the noise from camp, joined us and then we found it, the perfectly shaped Volkswagen Beetle sized rock perched near the edge of the cliff and chocked in place by a few small basketball sized rocks. We cleared those out and with some sweat and leverage, we heaved the behemoth over the edge and to the river 50 feet below. In made a cannonball splash shooting a plume of water 30 feet over our heads. We stood their lost in our childhood when a hooting and hollering roar greeted us from the direction of camp. Jubilantly, we decided that was probably enough and we scampered back to camp like little boys who had just pulled a great prank.

Lee was reading the book "Grand Canyon: A Century of Change" by Robert Webb and occasionally read some excerpts out loud to me and the assistant cook Mary who was nearby. It is an interesting book and one that I will have to read sometime. I am developing pretty good friendships with the crew mainly because I think a lot like them on many subjects. I find myself hanging around and hiking with them more than I do the other passengers. I don't want to wear out my welcome as I know they need time away from the clients but every indication has shown that they think of me as one of the crew. I often help out with the crew duties not to garner their favor but because that was the way my parents raised me on our backpacking trips. Everyone helps out with general camp duties.

Supper was broccoli cheese soup, scalloped potatoes, coleslaw and pork chops. Everyone but the usual crowd went to bed right after the dishes had been done. It was still cool but a bottle of Lee's Wild Turkey and a bottle of Jurgen's Cognac were being passed around so I was plenty warm inside. There is a full moon tonight and it is lighting up both the upstream and downstream side of camp but due to the cliffs directly across the river that tower over us, not camp itself. I feel like I am sitting on the dark side of the moon with bright light on all sides. Finally Mary and I were the last two standing. With a belly full of warm spirits, I made my way towards bed and a sleep sure to come quickly.


Kelly said...

I'm always amazed by creatures like the big horn sheep and how they can balance and maneuver on such sheer surfaces!

Ed said...

Kelly - I was fascinated too. They have no fear!