Day 9: Hance Rapid to Clear Creek
March 13, 2014
Today was the day we all demonstrated that we understood the importance of working as a team. We were able to do so and do so well when Greg Hatten and the Portola, with Dave Mortenson as a passenger, got into serious trouble in Grapevine Rapid. We had to rescue both of them from the water, as well as an upside-down Portola. As I write this at 9 p.m., everyone is fine and the Portola is a little the worse for wear, but serviceable.
But let’s start with the first part of the day. Hance Rapid at low water since September of 2012, is one nasty rapid. The left run has been totally covered up with rock, debris, and mud. At low water there are a lot of rocks, a lot of strong currents that keep you from going where you want to, and only a few ways to get from the top to the bottom, now all on the right side. We set up to photograph and CeCe Mortenson, who is again rowing the Susie Too with me as a passenger, wants to watch the first 4 people make the run. She watches from the rock flow at the edge of the water; I watch from the beach we are parked on. It looks to me like every one of the first 4 make a different entry and she confirms that. Tony rows the whole rapid backward, using his more powerful strokes to make it through with no damage, but getting very wet. Craig Wolfson with Pam Mortenson runs almost every hole and his boat is soon filled with water to the gunwales, and Pam spends a lot of time bailing the boat out with a bleach bottle with the bottom cut out. Robb starts out where he wants to be, but does not make it to the pathway and hits a few rocks. Then it is our turn and CeCe starts out too far right and never manages to make it left of some big visible rocks that she was going to do, so we make a right run in very tight quarters, mostly run backwards, mostly run full of water with our wonderful pump trying to empty her out, and the next wave filling her up again and with me moving from one side to the other (called “high-siding” to balance the boat and keep it from flipping). We go sideways, fully loaded with water, into a large rock and tear away 6 inches of outer chine and 8 feet of metal strip protecting the chine from the left side. We also crack the inner chine. A few minutes later we come down hard on a rock with a big <thunk> which cracks the floor in the sump pump compartment. Neither of these is causing leaking, but do cause concern. I spend time at the bottom of the rapid bailing her out with a bucket and smaller quart milk plastic bottle with 2 sides cut away, and then sponge to get the last of the water out and check for damage. The last 2 rafts with the photographers come down with very wet rides for their passengers and rowers. Nate, one of the photographers, has captured our run well including hitting both rocks and that we were indeed backwards for the entire upper part.
Most of us are wearing drysuits today with closed feet under water boots and gaskets at wrist and neck to keep us from getting wet and cold. The canyon is deep and it is cloudy so it feels a lot colder today.
We do a read-and-run of Sockdologer Rapid next and enjoy the bouncing through the waves and haystacks where water comes together from both sides in lateral waves, causing lots of high waves in the center. As we finish Sockdologer, the group of kayakers doing the same trip in 13 days pass us. They are trying to go 30 miles today and we exchange a few words as they have to pay strict attention to all the swirling eddy currents that can so easily flip a kayak, but not our larger boats. We had seen them first at Unkar where they went down the rapid first and then camped at rattlesnake camp to hike in the ruins and above.
We get to Grapevine, which Tom Martin’s guide says to avoid the left side and go right but avoid the pour-overs in the center. The rafts head left and the wooden boats head right with Craig Wolfson in the lead and getting a wet ride. Greg and Dave head through next and disappear beyond a pour-over. We see Greg’s head above the water and it is not moving away as we expect. CeCe does very strong pulls so we do not take the same line and we flash past them with a few feet to spare on their left, with no way to get to them. They have water from the pour-over filling their boat and washing out over the downstream edge and it looks like they are trapped in the current and the boat appears to be shaking but stuck. Greg is yelling at Dave to high-side, a move to shift the balance to the upstream side in hopes that the boat will move and break free. I use my whistle strongly downstream to stop everyone and alert them that we now have a water emergency and everyone pulls to the side. Cece and I bail our boat because it too is full of water and we know we may have to take a passenger on board. CeCe also pulls at the oars upstream to stay as close as possible to render any assistance we might be able to. One of Greg’s oars blushes out first and we see that the Portola is now upside-down and see one swimmer and then the other after about 4 minutes of the beating water. We move into position to intercept the first swimmer, who is Dave Mortenson on his back, coming down head first and not moving much. Leif gets a throw rope to him first; he hits a couple of rocks while holding onto the rope. We reach him and Cece and I pull him on board and put him in the rescue position and hold onto the throw rope as Izzy’s passengers pull our boat to shore and tie both of our boats off. The Portola finally breaks free just about the time we get Dave on board and we yell among ourselves as to who is going to intercept Greg and who is going after the Portola and make sure they have the gear at hand to take the still-upside-down boat under tow. Greg is pulled on board and the Portola is grabbed and tied off and both of those boats head to shore just downstream from us. We get Dave into dry clothes and get hot water into him and then untie and drift down to the next cove where the Portola is now upright. We see two other oars on shore, and Tony and John are going over the boat looking for damage. Greg is wrapped up in dry clothes and we pass the hot water to shore for him, and CeCe sends over the last of her morning coffee which is still hot. We still have rapids to run, but it is clear that we will need to make camp sooner and Craig Wolfson suggests Clear Creek, which we head for. We talk to both Dave and Greg and do a medical assessment: Except for bumps and bruises, and the possibility of a cracked rib for Greg, we are all worse for wear.
Tony and John go over both the Portola and Susie Too and discuss if repairs are needed and it appears that nothing is leaking yet so we dry everything out and do a wait-and-see to see if there is any leaking we need to address. Izzy spends the afternoon cleaning out Greg’s boat and laying out his supplies to dry in the dry air. We set out the solar panels even though it is cloudy and they start to charge. Izzy and John take on the kitchen duties and make a vegetable and meat pasta that is really good after a salad and chicken noodle soup. We do our evening briefing of tomorrow’s run and all head to bed and are soon snoring quietly as I come down from the excitement of the day and the pleasant knowledge that we were ready, willing, and able to work as a very effective team when needed to.