Day 10: Clear Creek Camp to Above Salt Creek Camp
March 14, 2014
We wake to a clear and already warmer day. We rush to get breakfast done and the gear loaded and leave to make for a slightly earlier start. We have Zoroaster Rapid and 85-mile Rapid, which are bigger ones, and numerous ones that are substantial riffles that some we suppose might not even be there at higher water. There are rocks exposed in lots of areas that those of us who have done this only at higher waters have not seen. The guide books we have list all rapids as a 3 or higher on a rating scale of 1 to 10. With Lava being the 10, House Rock Rapid being a 7, Hance and Granite being 8’s, and some of them having a double rating with a higher water rating and a lower water rating. Most of us are running with the guide book open next to us on our seat or tucked into a map case or just under a strap. All are printed on waterproof paper, so we hang them to drain overnight on a convenient bush or tree.
We are also lucky that we have Craig Wolfson with us, who has run the river professionally and privately for over 30 years, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of both what the entrances are and the must-make moves in each, and which we can read-and-run, which involves getting close enough to the top so that you can stand up in your boat and look at the whole rapid and determine your moves. In all cases, you position your boat facing one way or the other, depending on which way you think you might have to pull on your oars to move backwards since you have much more power in a pull stroke than a push stroke, and hitting a rock or a wall or getting your boat wrapped on a rock are things we want to avoid at all costs.
Today we get through the morning and head up to Phantom Ranch, only a day later than planned. John Schroeder and I head up to the ranch fast on a sentimental journey. Friend Linda McClure was the manager here in the late 1980’s, and her husband Dennis McClure also worked at the ranch in a variety of capacities. For their 3-year tenure, I kept a sleeping bag and pad in their cabin; even if I could not get a permit to hike in the corridor, I frequently called up to see if they needed anything purchased in Phoenix that I could bring to them and would drive up, pick up a pass at the transportation desk, and head down at first light for one or two days at Phantom Ranch. One of the projects I was involved in over the course of one Fall in ’86 or ’87, was to plant trees here to replace the cottonwoods which were aging and dropping limbs in high winds. Several friends and I planted about 17 trees in various locations; somewhere I have a photograph of a couple of us hugging one of those trees that is barely as tall as I am just after we got it into the ground and watered it. There is a wheelbarrow in the background with soil enhancements and shovels in it and we are wearing work gloves. When last I was here in 2002, it was a tall sapling and I want to see how that one tree has fared. We see several that I know I planted and I give each a hug. We see the old fig tree next to the shower house that I have eaten so many figs from over all the hikes I did down here, and then head up to the mess hall and beyond to the tree which is now 30 feet tall and just leaving out. I can get my arms around it still and stand there with tears running down my face that it has survived and appears to be thriving. John records the moment for me to savor over the years with his camera and with mine. So many great memories from all the time I have spent here in my “Church of the Canyon”.
The rest of the team fills the water bottles we need refilling and heads to the ranch for postcards, stamps, lemonade, and souvenirs. Phantom Ranch has special tee shirts designed each year, one usually with a hiking theme and one with a river theme. The river theme is a Bruce Aikin design of a dory approaching Nankoweep and the dory is white with the suggestion of a green stripe on sunset-shadowed water and it is beautiful. I have one in my pack to bring home and wear proudly. It is as if he designed it just for me to find.
We round up and everyone heads back to the boats to get ready to run Horn Rapid. This is another serious rapid, rated a 9, and is the one that most of us have been dreading. It is in the shade and we climb high on a talus slope on the right side to get a look at it. We run some of the rafts through to be safety boaters and then the wooden boats go. After Greg Hatten drops over the edge, we do not see him in the rapid like we have the rafts until he pulls up in the sun on the beach at the bottom left. Doug Freeman is washed out of his raft on the way down and self-rescues, but loses his favorite hat. CeCe and I take off and she hits her line, breaks through the left lateral waves and rides the rapid down on the outside of all the big holes, dancing up and over and down and through. We come through the rapid with barely 2 inches of water in the boat and again I have the sense that we have someone else in the boat guiding our route. Craig Wolfson is last of the wooden boats and fills to the brim, so Dave Mortenson has another bailing job.
Because we have tarried so long at Phantom Ranch and Horn we stop for lunch at 3 and are passed by 2 other raft groups, which are heading for the camp we had planned on so we stop at above Salt Creek camp for the night and spread out and set up camp and really enjoy the lamb chops and scalloped potatoes for dinner. We head to bed to enjoy the almost-full moon and the incredible stars… a sleep well-earned.
I’m definitely getting a sense that running the Canyon at low water is a lot tougher than at higher water. In 2011, we ran at around 20,000 cubic feet per second, and had only 2 flips and one toss-out. One of the flips and the toss-out involved rookie rowers (the toss-out in Sockdolager was courtesy of yours truly), and the flip was the Susie R in Lava Falls. Other than that, we had no issues. You guys are having a tough time, and I commend your skill, endurance, tenacity, and courage.
(As soon as possible, please call Roberto.)