Monday, September 19, 2011

Rafting through the Grand Canyon

The hot sun glared in my face as I turned to look back from the front of the small raft. There were three of us on the raft and we were all focused on the tumultuous river in front of us, scanning for the tell tale signs of the upcoming rapid, Lava Falls Rapid. Our guide was straining with the oars, trying to head us over to the left bank of the river, but our raft wouldn’t budge. We all seemed to realize at the same moment that we were too late in turning and our future was no longer in our hands.

Lava Falls Rapid is the most dangerous rapid to maneuver through the Grand Canyon, particularly a section called the Lava Ledge Hole. Few are able to go through the Lava Ledge Hole and live to tell about it. Of course, as chance would have it, I was in the raft that would hit the Ledge Hole dead center. With barely a moment to take a quick breath we were tossed to our fate like rag dolls in a washing machine. The churning water chewed us alive as we were repeatedly dunked in the water, only to be completely sucked under and shot out further down river. It was humbling, to say the least. Obviously, I survived. I was told when I was pulled out of the river I was gray. I only remember thinking, "I’m alive", and then I thought about all my camera equipment. Gratefully, my cameras were on a different raft and made it through untouched.

Rafting 279 miles on a river is an experience of a lifetime. Chores are second nature, the absence of the digital world not as glaring, and your life becomes in tune with the pulse of the river and the landscape. Mornings consist of a quick stretch of the legs on a hike, maybe a few shots of the sunrise and breakfast. Packing up is organized and efficient. Then, there is the river, all day, everyday. A few dips in the slower moving sections, and focused scanning on quicker rapid days. But, throughout it all there is the never ending conversations. You leave knowing not only yourself better, but everyone else in the group. The end of the day on the river begins with the placement of the groover, the portable toilet. I am quite proud to be awarded the most scenic toilet spot on the whole trip. Dinner was a variety of gourmet dishes. Don’t tell my wife, but I think I ate better on the river than at home. Though, near the end, the food became a soupy mess in the coolers.

Day to day life was pleasantly rhythmic, but knowing at one time John Muir, Thomas Moran, and numerous other adventurers once roamed the Grand Canyon was truly exciting. I happened upon an old campsite littered with cowboy junk that once belonged to the famous river scout, William Bass. Bass was known for guiding Muir and Moran throughout the Grand Canyon. I saw the ancient ruins of the Anasazi on the cliffs above and the amazing death defying heights where they lived. I loved looking at the many colorful layers of the sandstone and feeling as if I was rafting through time.

History was wonderful to see firsthand and there is so much I want learn of how the Colorado River effected the history of the American West. But, the landscapes of the Grand Canyon are what really occupied my mind throughout my adventure. The ever changing color of the river, the brilliant blue sky, and the sheer redrock cliffs kept me engaged in my surroundings. Sunrises and sunsets were beautiful, I was spellbound watching the redrock come alive as the sun illuminated the cliffs in the morning. I loved watching the clear water thunder out of the springs. I was entranced. Although I don't know when I will raft the Colorado River again, I look forward to my next trip through the Grand Canyon.