Looking Back At Group at the Saddle
Wednesday, April 12, 2000 - The sky was clear when I got down to the beach except for a few clouds off above the north rim. It was a chilly night last night even in my sleeping bag and no tent and I had to put on another layer during the night. The sun just started peeking over the rim and taking the chill out of the air when a breakfast of melon slices and good old-fashioned oatmeal was served. Today was a big day as we were stopping at the first spot of civilization since we began the trip seven days ago, Phantom Ranch. We were dropping off Mike, Betsy and John and picking up four more passengers so we packed sack lunches so that we could do our own thing there.
We pushed off and soon ran Unkar Creek Rapids that had a monster hole along the rock wall that we fortunately avoided. At Hance Rapids, we got out and scouted it first but had a clean run. The next rapid was Sockdolager Rapids and had huge waves. I decided to take a series of shots as we boated the rapids using my waterproof camera and succeeded in taking a few in the upper part. That all came to an end when a fifteen foot wave hit us and swept clear over the boat filling it to the brim with icy cold water. Between throwing myself to the high side to prevent capsizing and bailing, I didn't have time for any more photos. Grapevine Rapids also had huge waves but we ran them cleanly as well. Finally after a few more good rapids, we pulled into Phantom Ranch. That is a story in itself and I will post it in my next post of this trip.
We went through Horn Creek Rapids that had the biggest waves we've seen so far when the river dropped 30 feet in about 100 feet. As a kayaker and canoer, almost every rapid had what I considered runnable via cheat routes usually near the inside of bends where shallower smaller water existed. Even serious rapids like Crystal and Lava Falls could be run without portaging by a weekend whitewater paddler like myself. Horn Creek Rapids was a different story. It was pinched off on both sides of the river into a narrow slot opening. The waves were horrendously big and gnarly looking. If someday I do paddle the Colorado on my own, I will definitely portage this one on the boulder fields on either side. Duffy, the son of Ote, was paddling my boat today and he did a masterful job of running the rapids, so much so, we hardly even got wet.
Above Unkar Rapids
After Hance Rapids, the rocks changed to pink granite and black schist and narrowed the canyon down considerably. The walls were pretty much sheer right down to the water's edge with no place to land. Powell would have to be scared to death entering this part of the river sign unseen. After pushing off with the four new strangers, we went only about four miles before pulling in for the night at Mile 91-1/2. The adrenaline rush from Horn Creek Rapids was still in full swing when we landed at our fairly small camp, which made it seem even smaller as we unloaded the boats and marked off our turf in the cramped quarters.
There was no organized hike due to geology constraints so I took off up ninety-one mile creek behind camp and took the left fork. I climbed up about 1500 feet to the base of the Tapeats layer where I finally was rim-rocked. The hike was extremely steep and the top third was all loose rocks. I fell a couple of times and banged up my legs pretty good so that I was bleeding in a couple places. In hind site, it was probably very stupid and very unsafe but I had to get away from the cramped quarters of camp and this was my only option. I sat up there tending my wounds and saw my first American Condor flying plus two more around over camp way below me.
Back in camp I dabbed Neosporin into my wounds and ate a spaghetti dinner complete with garlic bread and a green salad. After dinner everyone turned in right away. I stayed up with Nick, Bronco and one of the new guys a retired dentist named Bob. Soon however it was just myself and Bronco and I learned that he actually did a recreation of Powell's journey for a PBS special (which I later saw after the trip) in costume and special made boats. We talked about that until late into the night.
For the first time, we have crickets in camp, which seem obnoxiously loud in the confines of camp and a couple of loudly croaking frogs. The stars are very bright as is the moon and they make for really neat shadows on the cliffs of black schist. That and the close confines lend a real air of spookiness to our camp. It is supposed to be a big water day tomorrow and I feel a sense of dread that the boat with the unseasoned passengers might get upset in a rapids. I hope I'm not in that boat.
Above 91 Mile Camp