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Day 8: Chuar Canyon to Above Hance Rapid


March 12, 2014

When we leave a camp, it means that everything we have taken off the boat to use has to go back on the boat and has to fit in the space it is allotted. This is done, in part, by having things come out of boxes that are made to fit on the rowing frame each raft is fitted with.  We also have small crates that a lot of the fresh vegetables were originally stored in and they have been moved from my forward hatch into the now first week cooler, which is empty.  We originally had 5 twenty-pound bags of charcoal in the forward hatch, plus the 2 crates and it was full.  I asked several dory boatmen how they loaded their dories to make them both efficient and balanced.   According to them, they wanted some more weight forward to start and then balanced later in the trip.  Brad Dimock, boat builder extraordinaire, historian and writer stated – and I am paraphrasing – that the dories started out over-loaded at Lee’s Ferry, were about right by the time you got to Phantom Ranch, and were downright sport by the time you got to Lava Falls.

We have used 40 pounds of charcoal so far, so I now have room to take a couple of my smaller bags and put them into the forward hatch so that Tony Wrigley does not have to row them down the river anymore.  As we use more charcoal, I can take more of my own stuff back.  My personal camp setup (tent, sleeping bag, extra fleece sleeping bag liner, pillow and sleeping pad), takes one large dry bag with shoulder straps – so, like a backpack – I can carry it to the place I want to camp from the boats in one load.  It won’t fit into any hatch, however, so that will remain on Tony’s boat for the duration of the trip.  He also has my 2 large York Packs (plastic waterproof boxes) in which I have a lot of the dry food for the special dishes, or whole meals I am doing, and for the deserts with the Dutch ovens – the cobbler cake mixes and the cans of fruit to make the cobblers.  My Dutch oven lifter, the liners, and aluminum foil I use to keep the Dutches a bit cleaner than if I used them without those (you can use coffee grounds or wet sand to clean out a Dutch, never soap; but if you are using river water and wet sand that water is really cold – in the 40’s and it physically hurts to spend the time with your hands in the water to get them clean).  And then you have to oil the Dutch so it won’t rust and to keep the non-stick surface, so there is a bottle of cooking oil in the box as well.  You get the picture.

Most of the rafts have rowing frames with drop bags that go down into the inside of the raft and oddly sized things go there: the 5 propane tanks, the dish washing pails (stack of 4), the groover boxes, and the daily dry food boxes.  We also have 3 tables that are 18 inches by 6 feet, 4 feet tall with folding legs, and then a few Roll-A-Tables for putting lunch together on a beach.  We have 3 major first aid kits and at least 5 minor first aid kits with all the things specified by the NPS and then some.  We have several bags with ropes and pulleys and other things to turn over a flipped boat or raft.  We have chairs.  We have a fire pan and a large fire blanket to put under the fire pan all in a 24 by 24 by 14-inch packing box.  We have a heavy duty tarp that forms the floor of the kitchen we set up every night.  Craig Wolfson’s boat, the Flavell II, has 4 large metal boxes on it that holds all of our cooking utensils, all of our plates, bowls, cups, serving and prep pieces, a lot of food, silverware and everything else we need to take care of feeding 16 people.

When we left Chuar Canyon yesterday, we continued to follow the Palisades of the Desert cliff until we got to Desert Watch Tower in the far distance on the rim, and then even that fell behind.  This section is very open and the tall cliffs are far away from the river.  There are 2 major rapids in this section and several minor ones.  The first major one is the Unkar Rapid.  At higher water this is a more difficult rapid (for some of us, we would consider that a more fun rapid).  Susie likes it and dances down the long length of it beautifully and I have film to prove it.  Today at the lower water level we are running, this looks a lot easier.  Unkar Rapid is also an important one in that the original Flavell II  boat met her demise at Unkar in the early 1970’s when the boatman and wonderful photographer, John Blaustine, got hit in the face with a wave, which washed his contact lenses out.  He could not see to row and rowed into the rocks at the bottom and, in hitting them, essentially broke the boat in two.   Martin Litton was supposed to have said that the boat had had that much damage before but not all at the same time.  After that trip, the boat was destroyed in a fire, but Dave Mortenson was able to locate 2 of the original boxes in the Old Grand Canyon Dories yard in Hurricane, Utah and, with permission, collected them and still has them.  This boat was built from a 14-inch scale model of the boat that had been built after the original Flavell II was built.  After drawing plans from the model and getting the measurements from Dave for the boxes, Craig Wolfson went to work building the boat from the inside out (the opposite of how boats are normally built).  When the replica boxes were brought down by Dave and Pam, they fit with about ¼ inch of clearance.  We have to be careful not to bend them so they will continue to fit every time we take them off and put them back on the boat.

Craig Wolfson is our head boatman and is responsible for setting the order of running each day and telling us the best ways to run the various rapids we encounter each day.  He is very happy that the Flavell does so well and suffers no damage in this rapid.

The second major rapid for the day is Neville Rapid, named for Norm and Doris Neville who started running the San Juan, the Green and the Colorado Rivers through Glen Canyon, Cataract Canyon, and Grand Canyon (respectively) in the 1930’s and 1940’s and whom several of the people who built the original ones of our small boats got their start rowing for which gave them the experience and the love of these canyons and started them on their quest to build ever better boats for their Grand Canyon trips. This is a long one with a pour-over in 3 places in the middle of the run that you can’t see until you are almost upon it.  A pour-over is where the water pours over a large, mostly hidden large rock that would do serious damage to our wooden boats and might flip a rubber raft if run the wrong way.  CeCe Mortenson is rowing the Susie Too today.  I spend the day in Craig Wolfson’s Flavell II to get some photographs of the Susie Too dancing on the waves and it is so beautiful to watch her.  Today is sunny and life is good.

~Helen Howard


One Response to “Day 8: Chuar Canyon to Above Hance Rapid”

  1. Hi Helen,

    Wonderful journal. Thanks for keeping us up to date on your trip.

    Martin Litton did indeed give me the Flavell II (then called the Hetch Hetchy) to row on the second of two trips he ran in 1970. And, yes, I ran it into the rocks at the bottom of Unkar. When we got the boat to shore on the right just below the rapid and inspected the damage, Martin did indeed say the boat had been banged up like that before, but just not all at once.

    Wally Rist rowed the Hetch Hetchy the rest of that trip. When Martin got the boat back to his California house, he cut it up and burned it in his fireplace.

    In 1971, Martin gave me the Susie Two (then called Music Temple) to row on the four trips he ran that summer. The boat was retired after those trips and now lives in the Park Service museum on the South Rim.

    John Blaustein


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