A COLORADO RIVER RUN
By Tom Pamperin
Sunday April 1
Day 12: Bedrock
Today's run takes us nine miles from our camp at the foot of Forster Canyon at river mile 123 to Galloway, a long thin sandy beach stretched out along the right side of the river at mile 132.
It's past time to record some hellos and goodbyes: Crystal Elliot and Randy Dersham left us after Day 10, hiking out to the rim on the morning of Day 11 to go back to the world of gainful employment and hot showers. Today will be our second day without them. Ian McCluskey and Yoshie Kobayashi will be rowing Crystal's raft, hoping to maintain her perfect record: no flips, no swims. Crystal will also be missed--by everyone in camp--at dinner, because her departure leaves Dave Mortenson and me as the final members of our cook team. Crystal has been the brains of the operation.
Meanwhile we've been joined by Richard Carrier, a French raft guide who has been living and working in Chile.
He'll be rowing Randy's Susie Too replica for the rest of the trip. And Randy has left one more thing with us:
his hat, with its crazily spiked gray hair. It has spent too much time in the river (ten-year-old Natalie has gotten used to fishing it out) to feel comfortable leaving now, apparently.
Still uncertain. We should be able to manage some recharging--that's the latest word--but again, if the blog suddenly disappears, it's a battery problem and not a disaster. We're hoping to keep it up but you never know.
Here We Go Again
Morning starts with WIND, and there's sand in everything before breakfast is over and the boats are loaded. But it's a tailwind today and we make good time past a series of small rapids: Fossil, Hundred and Twenty-Seven Mile, Hundred and Twenty-Eight Mile, and Specter. Along the way Tom Martin stops Gem at river right, where he's spotted the setting from a 1958 photo from Moulty Fulmer and Pat Reilly's dory trip.
It doesn't take much searching before we find the exact spot where the 1958 photographer stood to snap a photo of the original Gem, Flavell, and Susie R tied up beside the rocks. A distant corner in the Tapeats Sandstone lines up in the background on river left, the sharp profile of a black schist boulder in the foreground, and Tom has the exact location to place the boats for the rematch. The water level on our trip is about six feet lower than in the
1958 photo, but the replica rowers decline to drag their boats up the rocks for a precise re-enactment. A few photos and we're off.
Today is the first day we've had clouds; there's a front moving in on us, pushing us along. The river, which had been flowing generally westward for the last few miles before Forster Camp, turns northward, or a little east of north. We're headed toward Bedrock Rapid a few miles downstream.
This one we stop to scout, pulling in to a small eddy on river right. Another three-camera set-up.
Bedrock Rapid, done properly, is a one-move run. Slide down the right side of the rapid and, where a huge outcropping of rock forms an island in the middle of the rapid, pull hard to catch the right-hand channel past the island. You're done.
Go left and it's not always that simple. Most of the river channel, maybe two-thirds of the flow, sweeps left past the rocky island. There's a narrow rock passage with big holes and pourovers along the narrow run close along the island's left side, with a big eddy to pinball you off the walls on the left. You have to stick close to the island if you run left, which brings its own hazards. The last time Norm Takasugawa ran left, on an earlier trip, he came out without a right oar.
"I never felt anything," he says. "But when I lifted my right oar, there was no blade on it. I was holding a toothpick."
The same thing happened to three boats ahead of him.
The camera set-up is probably the most difficult part of the run for us, though. Ian McCluskey, our videographer, wants Norm to land him ON the rocky island so he can shoot a head-on view. Meanwhile David Perez is filming from shore at the top of the rapid, and Dave Mortenson is taking still shots at the point of no return, where boaters have to pull hard right to enter the right-hand channel.
Norm takes the first run, proving that there's no drama here if you do it right. After he lands Ian on the island, Hazel clark follows to be the stand-by safety boat for the rest of us. When the cameras are ready, Leif Mortenson is next, rowing the replica Flavell. The hard boats like Leif's Flavell have a trickier run; where the rafts were able to bump along the shallows at the far right side of the rapid, making the pull into the right channel shorter and easier, the hard boats have to go a little further into the rapid so they don't bang into the rocks.
But Leif goes too far left into the rapid, and drama ensues.
I'm up at my raft getting ready to launch when word comes upstream that Leif has gone left, down the wrong side of the island, and has disappeared. Looking at one of Dave Mortenson's still photos in camp later that night, I can see it must have been ugly. There's a fantastic shot of Leif's boat headed directly toward the granite prow of the island, stern in the water, and the bow launched skyward at a forty-five degree angle.
Somehow, though, Leif comes through unscathed, although his boat takes a few hits on the rock. I ask him later what happened.
"What do you mean 'What happened?'" he says. "I fucked up."
What he means is that he misjudged his entrance and came in too far left. Then, as he neared the point of no return where he had to decide which channel to take, it became obvious that he wasn't going to make the hard right pull into the safer channel. And worse, if he TRIED the hard right pull and didn't make it, he'd smash directly onto the rocky cliffs of the island, into some ugly boulders and big waves. Instead, he did the smart thing and went to Plan B: head down the left side of the island and hope to make the best of it.
He came out at the bottom after threading the needle between some vicious rock ledges, with his boat intact and with all of his gear--including his oars--still with him. And with one more thing: a lifetime membership in the "Left At Bedrock" Club. Later in camp Norm and Craig Wolfson, who has also run left at Bedrock, show him the secret handshake.
I get to follow Leif's dramatic run--not a confidence builder--but again, in a raft it proves easy. Yoshie Kobayashi follows in her raft; she comes a little closer to getting swept into the rocky island, but makes it in the end with some hard rowing, never giving up until she's safe in the right-hand channel.
Greg Hatten runs the Portola through after her, and thanks to a missed oar stroke at a critical moment, comes closer than he likes to getting hurled into the island's granite prow. But then he goes back upstream to run the Susie Too through--Richard Carrier, our new rower, doesn't want to risk smashing up an unfamiliar and very-much-not-his-own boat--and this time Greg hits it perfectly, with plenty of room to spare as he sails into the rightward channel, demonstrating how a wooden boat should handle Bedrock Rapid.
Two miles later and we're in camp at Galloway on river right, hauling heavy kitchen gear, food boxes, and dry bags up a steep sandbank. No matter how the rapids are run, in the end it all comes down to hauling heavy stuff up the beach at night, and packing it up and hauling it back down in the morning.
We get our first rain as the dinner crew is cooking--they rig a tarp over the kitchen, propping it up with eight oars--but the rain dies down quickly. It's a little chilly compared to the weather we've been having--I spent most of the day in a fleece pull-over instead of shirtless as usual, and in camp I pull out my long underwear, top and bottom, but one look around at the sunlit buttes and cliffs far overhead, the chocolate brown river sliding by, the immense space of the desert, and there's hardly reason to complain.
We're halfway through the twenty-four-day trip to Pearce Ferry.