Lower Falls: Elves Chasm
I woke this morning to a sky filled with clouds but rapidly clearing out. By mid-morning, they were gone. After a breakfast of grapefruit, eggs, bacon and English muffins, we struck camp and shoved off for a day of mild whitewater, comparatively speaking of course. The hard black schist and granite are behind and we are now in the softer Topeats layer that tends to smooth out the rapids. Around mid-morning, we pulled in near the mouth of Elves Chasm and after switching into footgear, set off up the canyon. The mouth of the canyon is arid desert and has been painted in colors of gray and brown. Inside the canyon proper, much brighter colors were used and it was a lush green dotted with lots of wildflowers like yellow columbine (the yellow version of my personal favorite flower that I love in blue), globe mallow, scarlet monkey and red orchids.
Perhaps 95% of the people who visit Elves Chasm only visit the main falls and don't go any higher. Most likely that figure is even higher and that is just fine with me. A thing of such beauty should only be seen by those who can physically make it because in my experience, they are the ones who are likely to leave it the way they found it and not those who simply ride in on horse back or drive up it in their vehicle. Getting up and around the main falls requires sure-footed legs and no fear of big exposures. At times, my legs trembled at the prospect of only being six inches away from a huge drop onto rocks below but with patience, I was always able to persuade them to take another step. Further up it required a belly crawl on an overhung ledge giving one a real sense of what it is like to be a snake. I remembered Edward Abbey writing about doing this very same belly crawl at this point and I was honored to have been in the same spot, perhaps choking on the very same dust that was being kicked up during the slither.
Eventually, the few of us that made it this far, came to what appeared to be a dead end in a hollowed out section of rock with a huge boulder leaning against it. But where that boulder meets the cliff some eight feet in the air, there is a narrow opening of sorts. By standing on my tiptoes and reaching up through the opening, I was able to get a good handhold and pull myself up by brute strength alone. Only five of us, three of them crew members made it past this obsticle. Further up the canyon, I was forced to blindly reach around a boulder perched on the top of a thirty-foot drop off to find another handhold. With my arm essentially belaying the rest of my body, I leaned back to get enough pressure on my feet to friction walk the shear face around a corner and to the safety of another ledge. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Had it not been for the crew members who had been here before and could talk us through where the "holds" were, I wouldn't have made it this far.
The last obstacle, which wasn't really and obsticle, was a "doorway" formed by huge bolders obscuring everything beyond. Bronco paused briefly to say that it is tradition that no words be spoken beyond this passageway and once inside in what has been called the "green room" or "weeping wall," I could see why. There, your route is once again rimmed in by a half bowl ledge of red rock over which the water spreads out some fifty feet and seeps over the lip to fall and trickle down thirty feet of moss and wildflowers to the green pool below. Yellow columbine and red monkey flowers were everywhere. Magical is the only word to describe a place of such beauty. For twenty minutes, I sat completely entranced watching the hummingbirds flitting around sipping nectar from the scarlet monkey flowers. I sat in silence, never blinking, never moving, never enjoying myself so much as I was then. As if on cue, we sensed that our time in this sacred place had run out and we silently made our way back to where we had left the group. Only later after we found them did I realize that I hadn't taken one single photograph of the weeping wall. Its beauty had been so great, it had lulled to sleep my photographic instincts.
Back down at the mouth of the canyon, we munched some lunch of pita bread sandwhiches and assorted vegetables and cheeses in what shade we could fine and pushed on downriver to the mouth of Blacktail Canyon at mile 120. After pitching camp, the entire group hiked up the canyon a couple hundred yards to a nice waterfall and a pool where the river rim rocked us in. There, while crew member Elena gave a geology lecture, I searched for a comfortable spot on a rock shelf and laid down letting the coolness of the rock remove the day's heat from my body. The next thing I can remember is waking up an hour later as people were starting to file away from the now ended lecture. I offered a sheepish apology to Elena and she fully understood. It happens to the best now and then.
Scarlet Monkey Flower
Now fully refreshed, I hiked with a couple of the crew who were my age up to the top of the Topeats layer where we had a nice view of camp below and the river. Sitting there sipping a river cooled beer, we were kings on a throne over looking our kingdom and what a magnificent one at that. We watched another private group eddy out where our boats were evidently intent on camping right where we were. After much confusion and looking at maps, they pulled out and headed on downstream to destinations unknown. When I had finished my beer, I hiked down wanting to clean the grime from the last couple days and little did I know that I would take part in the great nude bathing incident which I will blog about next.
Cleaned (and now fully clothed), I found a big flat rock on the water's edge and watched the sun sink behind the downstream rim in brilliant oranges and pinks. After a supper of fish fajitas and pineapple upside down cake, everyone retired as usual except for the crew and myself. We remained behind to swap tales and to admire the stars and the nearly full moon. The shadows cast off the cliffs by the moonlight is absolutely stunning and later is felt like trying to sleep with a car light shining in your face. But the gurgle of the river passing by my patch of sand among some rocks out on a point in the river finally lured me to sleep. The trip is exactly half over.