This is the tenth year of my blog at Semi-Rad.com. Since I started, I've been lucky enough to experience some wonderful adventures. During this year, I'm going to write about 12 favorite adventures I've had since I started writing about nature, one a month. This is the sixth in the series.
If you do research on Hermit Rapids before a river cruise in the Grand Canyon, it may be referred to as a "roller coaster" or "wave train", or you may find that it "may have the strongest" hydraulics and largest waves in the canyon. “You may find that it is rated Class 8 on the Grand Canyon 1-10 rapids scale (ten of which are the largest).
I didn't know about it. My friend Forest had invited me to fill an empty spot on a Grand Canyon river cruise, and I had the time and the brains to say yes. But before the trip, I didn't do any research on the river itself – I assumed that without rowing experience, I would only be a passenger on a boat without the responsibility to do anything of importance. If I had known anything about Hermit, I would still have assumed that I would never row a raft in my life, let alone on my first trip there.
When I released our boat a few hundred feet upstream from Hermit on the tenth day, Ray Pitman, a third generation Montanan and owner of a tiling company, said, "You could probably row it if you wanted." When the boat slid off the shore, it had I have a few seconds to choose.
(Photo: Brendan Leonard)
That morning I had been playing around the camp for the last half hour before we were back on the river, waiting for everyone to finish pooing on our trip. I volunteered for the Groover service during our entire 28-day trip, which is a somewhat brave and quite disgusting move. Every evening when we got the boats out of our beach camp, I grabbed the groover from a boat and looked for a place for it: private (not visible from our group), hopefully scenic (ideally a nice view of the river or at least the Walls of the canyon) and finally photogenic, because I had also decided to photograph the Groover spot every day and possibly transform it into a piece of art after our trip.
From a technical point of view, the Groover is a misused M548-20 mm ammunition box with army surplus, 19 inches high, 14.5 inches long and 8 inches wide, on which sits a toilet seat. When sealed, the ammunition cans are airtight and watertight, making them an ideal way of transporting human excrement over one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. If they are not sealed, they are of course simply a box full of poop. Every day I found what I thought was the best place, sometimes it took a few minutes, sometimes most of half an hour, and every morning I waited for everyone to finish. Then I put on latex gloves, quickly cleaned the toilet seat, sealed the ammunition can, and carried the poop to our designated Groover boat. I noticed that "airtight" does not mean "odorless" means "When a little odeur de poop oozed out with every step I took towards the boats.
There are two approaches to the idea of volunteering for a whole river cruise for the Groover service: one group of people think it's a disgusting job (hard to argue with) and the other group of People think it's a smart move – usually if you have a Groover duty, you're freed from cooking and washing dishes throughout the trip, which is a good compromise. You come to the camp, spend a few minutes building the box with the shit, and then you can't do anything for several hours. I hadn't thought of it before the trip – I just assumed that since I had almost no whitewater experience, I would be the most useless member of the group, so I thought I would have made myself useful in other ways since I wouldn't have row boats be. And then, on the first morning of the trip, after settling into my Groover position, someone said, "Oh, you're going to row. It's 280 miles."
(Photo: Brendan Leonard)
I forget who first made me aware of the fact that ordinary people go on Grand Canyon river trips more than once in their lives. Whoever it blew me away. Apparently people made two, three, sometimes more than ten trips down the Colorado River through the most famous canyon in the world. Why?
I love the Grand Canyon. Before I went on a river trip, I had seen enough to fall in love with a couple of backpacking and rim-to-rim trips. River trips, however, took at least a week – and at least two weeks if you wanted to see the whole thing. I was sure it was great, but with two weeks you could visit many places on earth. Why keep going back to the same place?
Kevin Fedarko, former Grand Canyon river guide and author of The Emerald Mile: The epic story of the fastest ride in history through the heart of the Grand Canyon, talked about the two rivers you experience on a river cruise in the Canyon: Colorado A River that is a constant when you drive it down every day and camp next to it every night, and the “river of stars” between the walls of the canyon that you look up from your sleeping bag at night.
Add to that the luxury of camping on river trips: you have the loneliness of a backpacking trip, but you have the option of packing almost anything you want to bring with you, as the raft carries your things. Some items we brought:
- 25 gallons of propane
- Six boxes of charcoal
- A six burner
- A two-gallon steel coffee machine
- 18 five-gallon buckets
- 1,600 cans of beer
- Several solar panels
- 15 tents
- 15 camping chairs
- Dining for 27 dinners, 28 breakfasts and 28 lunches for 15 people
- A guitar
While packing and upgrading the boats on the first day, we decided to leave behind a mannequin (female, undressed) that someone had brought at the last minute. By that time, most of my camping had been backpacking and auto-camping without a cooler, and I was amazed that I could fill in half of my coffee every day of the trip, even on the 28th day we hadn't since I haven't seen a business or even a car for four weeks.
In the years after our trip, the most I say about it is that it's the best camping trip you'll ever do. A new campsite rolls every night, the Fedarkos River of Stars above you, the Colorado River right next to your campsite.
(Photo: Brendan Leonard)
The first day I found a place on one of our fully loaded 18-foot rafts with Ray, whose father gave him his white water baptism at the age of two. Ray knew what he was doing and let me shower him with questions as he rowed the quiet sections for the first few days. He had steered boats in a lot of white water, but this was his first time on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. On the other hand, I didn't know anything, including where to sit on the boat, how to read any part of the white water, what a vortex looks like, what to do if the boat tips over, how deep the river is, as everyone knew where the rocks were were what the difference between a wave and a hole was, what a hole was, why you wanted to keep the boat out of holes, that it was fine and sometimes even preferred to go sideways or even backwards, and that the Grand Canyon had its own rapids rating system, 1 to 10 instead of I to VI, and that there were more than 40 rapids of class 3 or higher.
On the second day, Ray let me take the oar and give him a break from rowing during the quiet sections, and I immediately realized that a) turning a fully loaded 18-foot raft on a large river was more like turning a pickup truck a truck without power steering, such as turning a bicycle, and b) safely steering the boat down the river, was more about reading and responding to hydrodynamics than having big muscles to push and pull the oars. I sucked on everything, could not read white water and was awkward with the oars. But I was slowly figuring out how to move the oars, and Ray was very patient with me.
A few days later, he let me row through some baby rapids, told me where to go with the boat, and gave me calm instructions to adjust the trajectory a little to the left or a little to the right. I started to understand a little and, in my estimation, only had to do 200 to 300 river hours behind the wheel before I was ready to row one of the big rapids in the canyon.
Until then, I was sitting at the front of the boat while Ray rowed the big stuff and got soaked in my drysuit as we plunged through the waves of clear water. The water in the Grand Canyon comes from the bottom of the Glen Canyon Dam, so it's a constant 42 degrees Fahrenheit, and our trip from November 11th to December 8th was cold. We put on drysuits every day if they were accidentally or not accidentally submerged. David, our tour guide, called them "more like wet suits" and they didn't feel comfortable, but the downside to a cold trip in the late season was that we saw almost no one on the river all the time.
(Photo: Brendan Leonard)
When Ray and I came over to explore Hermit Rapids on the tenth day, he must have rowed us through all the major rapids – House Rock, Hance, Sockdolager, Grapevine, Horn Creek, and Granite – not to mention dozens of rapids minor rapids. He had let me drive the oars through gradually larger rapids and trained me with a few instructive words and hand signals from the front of the boat. I felt like I was learning a little. I tied the boat over Hermit and let Ray go over to check it upstream. I thought I still didn't know much about reading white water.
When Ray came back to the boat, he said, "You could probably row it if you wanted to." I said it was up to him.
He laughed and said, "I know, but I really want to row it." I said, sure, whatever, totally your call.
Ray sat there for a second, looking at me and saying, "You should do it." We changed positions and I scrambled to take the helm. Ray had at least twice as much confidence in my ability to keep the boat going as I did.
It's worth noting that I hadn't seen a raft change at that point, so I didn't know what happened when people fell out, where the cargo went, if it wasn't strapped, how long it took to get people out of the water, how involved it might be to turn a raft back, what happened when a raft of tens of thousands of cubic feet of water per second was pressed against a rock that was pushing against it. I hadn't read anything about the speed on the river map attached to the cooler at my feet.
We drifted out into the current and when she caught the boat I grabbed the oars. Ray leaned into the front pipe of the boat and gave me instructions. "Point your nose in that direction." I pushed the left rudder forward, then the right. "Aim for this big wave." I leaned into both oars and pushed them at the same time. Ray pointed to the left. I pushed the left rudder a little.
In a few seconds, all we could hear was water cracking in on itself, where the walls were squeezed and thousands of gallons poured into the narrowing of Hermit Rapids, and Ray only showed one hand and the other around straps on the front wrapped the boat.
When we hit it, the boat bucked and I was jostled in my seat as if I had unexpectedly driven a car onto a curb. Ray disappeared under a gush of water for a second, and I pushed with the right oar, then hard with the left oar that completely missed the water, and I almost fell off my seat in surprise. I dug my left oar in and watched, how the river pushed the rudder into the side of the boat. Then we hit the big wave, the bow of the boat jumped until it felt like the raft was standing up, Ray suddenly over my head for half a second. The boat rolled back the wave and shockingly we were still upright, pointing straight ahead and moving downstream. Ray let out a small WHOOP, so I did it too, and before it came out of my mouth, he screamed, "One more thing!" and I was hanging from the oars by the last big wave. The boat rolled over the wave and then over a series of smaller waves into the calm water, where we turned a little in the water. Everything in the boat, including Ray and I, was soaked, but I hadn't blown it, so we made it.
(Photo: Brendan Leonard)
I was able to maneuver the rafts better and better, but read water very slowly. I screwed up swirling, sometimes saved only by someone in our group who ran downstream from a beach to snap a line that we had thrown out of the boat just in time before we passed the point of no return .
It doesn't take long to understand why a Grand Canyon river trip is a bucket list item for so many people and a repeated bucket list item for others. The water is huge, the location – at the foot of the 4,000-foot walls of the canyon – is impressive and the loneliness in the lower 48 is almost unprecedented. After leaving the entrance, there is no cell phone signal and the only two ways to communicate with the outside world are satellite and payphone at Phantom Ranch when you stop there on mile 88. Once you've signed up, say goodbye to your email, text, phone calls, and social media, your commuting, and sitting in traffic. The bottom of the Grand Canyon has been stunning from the start, but the need to pause your whole life to experience it makes it unforgettable.
We settled into a rhythm and understood each other well for 15 people who spent 28 consecutive days at a distance of 30 meters from each other and had no way of really escaping except for a very expensive helicopter rescue. Everyone helped with something when the boats had to be unloaded in the evening and reloaded the next morning, collecting driftwood for an evening fire, cleaning up the campsite, cooking, washing dishes, tying boats, loosening boats and filtering drinking water. We didn't flip a boat in any of the rapids, but we helped rescue lost equipment from a group that flipped two boats in Upset Rapid. We had no major arguments, but we talked to someone from another party whose trip seemed to be in chaos because there was no set plan as to who would cook each night and who actually led the trip.
Sand ended up in everything. My toothbrush felt good until I started noticing a little bit of grit on day 14 when I brushed my teeth. I successfully shaved my face twice, but the third time, around the 20th day, I realized that the one disposable razor I had brought with me was so blunted by sand that it no longer cut my facial hair . Which was fine, except that I shaved about a third of my face when it stopped working. Around the 18th day, fine sand had somehow contaminated my contact lens case or the lenses themselves or the solution I was using or just my eyeballs because every morning when I sat up to put the lenses in my eyes, I had to sit for about 60 seconds and wait for my eye to stop burning.
But every night I slept on a thick paco pad on soft sand, almost never in a tent, the river of stars above me.
(Photo: Brendan Leonard)
On our penultimate day, we had 29 river miles to go to the takeout at Pearce Ferry, and instead of dividing it into three days of similar length, we decided to row as much as possible, hoping to avoid high altitudes Winds sweep upriver. Many parties choose to bring an outboard motor for the last flat section of the river, where the water from Lake Mead has been pushed upstream, buried former rapids, and slowed the river's flow. We didn't bring an engine with us and rowed the shallow water, which covered 26 miles in one day and ruddered back and forth in teams of two. We entered the "Helicopter Alley", where the Hualapai Reserve begins and the sightseeing tours by helicopter begin. After 26 days in the calm of the canyon walls, without the noise of cars or almost any unnatural noise, helicopters appeared above them and landed on a block directly over the river where tourists were sitting at tables with umbrellas to take the announced sightseeing tour on the Vegas Strip. They moved in and out all day as we pulled the oars of our slow little rafts along the river. None of us had showered for almost a month and loved it.
The walls of the canyon gradually lowered and opened to the view of the high desert, which brought us out of the deep chasm and realized that we would have to return to society in a few hours and finally back to our bills, emails , Work and the real world. But also loved ones, pizza, ice cream, ice cream, espresso, running water, showers and toilets. These are some of the things you will miss if you are away for several weeks.
But I found that once you're back in the real world for a few weeks, you had the pleasure of not having sand in your toothbrush and contact lenses and not having to go to the bathroom quickly every morning 19-inch deep box, you start to miss being in the gorge. And you start thinking about walking maybe a second time, a third time, or a tenth time, and you understand how people can always come back to the same place.
Brendan Leonard & # 39; s new book "Bears don't care about your problems: More funny shit in the forest" from Semi-Rad.com has been published.
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Main photo: Brendan Leonard
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