Monday, October 13, 2008

Day One

Hedgehog Cactus

[Author's Note: During the first segment of this trip, the only worthwhile pictures besides the picture of the boat's at Lee's Ferry that has already been seen, were of flowers. So while my words in this post don't reflect the pictures, enjoy anyway.]

Day one began at Lee's Ferry with the temperatures in the high nineties though it was still late morning, only April 6th and much cooler back home. My oarsperson for the day was a woman by the name of Elena who had been running the rapids of the Grand Canyon for eighteen years. Since she didn't look a day older than me, I would say the occupation had been very kind of her. Her boat was named the Hidden Canyon which is now buried under the stagnate waters of Lake Powell Sewage Lagoon. I shared the stern of the boat with Don, a retired roofer from California and in the bow were brother's-in-law Don and Larry both also retired and living in Boulder.

Prickly Pear Cactus & Snag

Elena oared us through some small ripples and large pools as we talked and got to know one another. Soon we passed under Navajo Bridge, which would be the last road we would see for several hundred miles. As per custom, lunch was lowered down to the boats from the deck of the bridge via a long rope. I'm sure we could have packed it on the boats with us but it certainly wouldn't have had the show factor lowering it from the bridge did. We pulled in at a sandbar just downstream and dug into a lunch of deli sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, fresh tomato, sprouts, all the condiments, fresh fruit, crackers, potato chips and cookies. I was surprised with all the food, they hadn't used a steel cable to insure the line wouldn't snap when lowered.

Already my body is trying to adapt to the hard desert climate. I downed two quarts of water with my lunch and still felt thirsty but held back to prevent foundering when we started back down the river. The harshness of the sun and dry air that drove us to eat in our lunch in the cool shade of a cliff, robbed my body of moisture at an unbelievable rate. Because the literature said that a water filter would be available all during the trip, I had only brought one quart Nalgene bottle with me, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Fortunately Bronco loaned me one of his spare ones that I used for the rest of the trip. One quart would have been okay along the river but for the hikes, two quarts was never enough. Replacing fluids was only one side effect of transplanting myself from lush green Iowa to the arid canyon floor. During the coarse of the trip I shed several layers of skin, was constantly pampering my lips, which cracked and chapped and even had bleeding gums a few times early on until my body adapted. I always had a few open wounds from barking my bare shins on rocks or other pointing objects and those would never heal until I had gotten back to Iowa and then after a few weeks of being in a more moderate climate. Yes, my body rebelled during my trip but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Agave & Barrel Cactus

After lunch we hit 6-Mile Rapids and then shortly afterwards, Badger Creek Rapids which was running a 7 on the Grand Canyon scale. The Grand Canyon scale is different than the conventional rating system of western rivers where they are ranked from Class I to VI. On the Grand Canyon, the rapids are scaled 1 to 10 with 1 being flat water and 10 being the most difficult rapids that is actually runnable. Badger Creek Rapids in an area termed Marble Canyon is narrow at the top, a feature that gives it some of its difficulty and full of standing waves over ten feet high. But they paled when I saw Soap Creek Rapids a couple miles further. In John Wesley Powell's day, this rapids was unrunnable but subsequent floodings have reduced it to the runnable status but as I stood there looking at it from shore, only barely. It sounded like a freight train screaming by only feet away and as we sat in our tiny dory at the edge of the brink, it was all consuming. But as the boat tipped slightly and slid down towards the first wave, I became unaware of any sound at all. The dory climbed up and rode over, through and around the huge waves slapping me with water for the first time. The water minutes old from the bottom of the Glen Canyon Dam was an icy 46 degrees and took my breath away. Without breath nor sound and now with a few hundred gallons of extra water on board, it took me what felt like an eternity to grab my bailing bucket and getting my brief boating experience back to some resemblance of order. It all happened in about a dozen seconds. Before our adrenaline could return to only semi-elevated levels, Shear Wall Rapids loomed on the horizon and doused us again with big waves. Somewhere around mile 15 for the day, we pulled into a sand beach and home never looked so good… or solid.

Cliffrose Tree

The clients all grabbed their bags and raced off into the sand to set up tents with the exception of myself who stayed down with the crew and help get the boats unloaded completely. I was planning to sleep under the stars so didn't need to set up a tent anyway. Later as I snacked on some crabmeat dip and crackers, I tallied up the living creatures calling the canyon home that I had seen during the day. I came up with four American Condors, three Mountain Sheep, numerous herons and one Peregrine Falcon, the first one I had ever seen in my life. The floral species were pretty diverse but at this point in the trip, all I recognized by name were the Century Plant and the Tamarisk or pissweed as it is called by the crew for its distinctive aroma when tossed on a campfire. Due to the lack of floods now controlled by concrete dams, the tamarisk grows unchecked along the riverbanks and is very invasive on what would have been beautiful campsites.

We had a fire and everyone was still new to each other and full of stories so it was a pretty jolly affair until the two cooks served supper. Everyone got dead serious as they attacked the chicken cordon blue, Spanish rice, steamed asparagus with some sort of sauce and a dessert of strawberry shortcake made with fresh strawberries. It was just past eight when the last dishes were done but due to the age and plentitude of excitement earlier in the day, pretty much everyone went to bed. It was a warm night and the steep canyon walls focused light so that even the stars seemed like neon lights. I stayed up a bit enjoying the fire and the stars before finally heading out away from the crowd. I found a small clearing between some rocks, spread a tarp out and let the waters whisper me to sleep.

Redbud Tree


sage said...

They do feed you well on those trips! Great stories and I enjoyed the photos.

Murf said...


You should read The Secret Knowledge of Water. Normally I wouldn't tout this book because I didn't like it but it seems right up your alley.

sage said...

Murf, maybe you should give Ed your copy! Then you won't have it around to remind you to remind me how much you didn't like it!

Ed Abbey said...

Sage - At the time, I wrote down what we ate every meal though I felt that I didn't need to record it in my journal. Now I'm glad I did because it does give a sense at how well we ate in the middle of nowhere with no way to get more food if we had wanted it.

Murf - I'm guessing it was a Sage book review. I missed it or forgot what it is about. The title sounds nice.

Sage - I second your idea.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Beautiful Ed, both the writing and the pictures. I really enjoy reading it.

Does eating well out in the trip mean creating tons of trash? If yes, I would probably get very angry.

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - You brought up an excellent point. Almost all the food was prepared and packaged in large quantities versus individualized packaging. This cut down on the amount of waste generated. What waste was generated and that found as we cleaned up the campsites last thing before getting in the boats, was packed out and recycled by the outfitters. We even packed out the solid body wastes that were created. It was a very environmentally friendly trip.

Murf said...

I'll hand deliver the book to you, Ed. :-)

With all that good eatin', I was wondering about "solid body waste". I'd hate to be the person rowing the waste boat at the end of this trip.

Ed Abbey said...

Carrying the sealed ammo boxes that contained the body wastes probably wasn't a bad job. I hand carried them back down to the beach several mornings and their is no odor to them. However, I sure wouldn't want the job of emptying or cleaning them before the next run!

The Real Mother Hen said...

Good to know that. I actually don't eat well when I'm out & about because I'm concerned about creating trash and doing all the washing that pollutes the environment. Usually I have an old t-shirt for the entire trip, which I recycle when it gets too dirty to clean at the end of the trip.