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  • Writer's pictureKatja

Rafting the Grand Canyon: Upset, Havasu, and Eyes that Glow in the Night

Day 10 (July 24th)

We rowed long and hard today, completing 24 miles before collapsing gratefully into the welcoming arms of Fern Glen Camp at mile 168. We meant to stop earlier but every camp we passed was inaccessible from the flashflood mud deposits or had been literally washed away a day or so ahead of us. John says he has never seen the river like this and Max cannot remember the conditions ever being so stormy, even in monsoon season.

When we get back to civilization, we will read news reports of catastrophic flooding in Arizona and how the monsoons were producing more water in the time we were there than had fallen in the entirety of the previous season. While this news was startling, it was not surprising; we were living through every moment of it on the Colorado River.

We ran Upset Rapid early in the day (a healthy 6-8 rapid with a 15-foot drop). After the events of the trip so far, Upset went a lot differently. We all stopped to scout and rather than listen to the first part and then wander off to look at the scenery, I was glued to the others and paid close attention. I had no plans to end up in the oars again, but now I understood how quickly plans can change. I studied every wave and hazard carefully, both to help Steve navigate and to build a mental map to follow should I have to face them myself. Even though we were both nervous, the fear of the previous day lingering on us thick like campfire smoke, The Swan had a fantastic run with Steve in the oars and, dare I say it, we both managed to have fun.

We stopped at Havasu Creek for a hike and tied up in the pitons in the mouth of the canyon. Steve and John opted to stay with the boats, and Max, Logan and I swam in and hiked up a short way to find the allegedly breathtaking drop pools and waterfalls of Havasu. Oh, we found them alright. The canyon did not disappoint us.

I may have been suffering from exhaustion by this point, or maybe slipped into some complacency after coming down from the adrenaline rush of Bedrock Rapids. Whatever the case, I set off by myself for an additional 20-30 minutes while Max and Logan stayed in a gorgeous pool to swim. I was rewarded with some lovely alone time and a beautiful pool all to myself and swan and played with the timed photo feature on my phone having a blast, but on the way back down, I had a frightening near-miss.

I was swimming downstream towards Max and Logan, carefully navigating the boulders and small waterfall drops with ease. At least, it was easy for a moment. Things turned scary when in the last pool above them, the force of the current grabbed hold of my legs and pulled me down a rocky waterslide with so much pressure that my knees folded up under me and my legs and feet were dragged so forcefully over the granite boulders beneath the waterfall that for a moment, I thought my feet would snap off at the ankles. My guardian angels must have been working overtime because at the last minute, my sandal popped off of one foot and two chunks of skin departed from my other foot, and the sacrifices of both freed me from the killer friction that was close to snapping my bones in half and shot me down into the pool below.

The hike out was humbling and painful and I tried to hide the blood from Logan so he wouldn't worry about me. Back on the boats, Steve did a quick assessment and reassured me that nothing was broken, but mentally I was beat up. First my shins and the hypothermia, then Bedrock, and now my feet; it finally sunk in that though wonderful and beautiful and exciting, this journey was far beyond the levels of anything I had ever done before. They say that the majority of injuries in the Grand Canyon occur off the water (getting on and off the boat, in camp, on hikes, etc.) and I now felt like living proof to this fact. It was time to reevaluate my risk-threshold and adjust for the remaining week on the river. Getting seriously injured was not an option; we were a skeleton crew and every single one of us was needed, as the events of the river had already proven over and over again.

We set up camp in the late afternoon and Max made us a fantastic dinner of fried-chicken. I made my rounds to help ease the shoulder pain of the men (my most valuable contribution to the trip: a bottle of massage oil laden with arnica and strong hands to work on the enormous knots John, Max, and Steve managed to amass every day as they rowed nonstop for hours at a time), went scorpion hunting with Logan (we found another one!) and then froze as a pair of glowing green eyes stared down at us from the cliffs. It was a legendary ring-tailed cat, a much cuter member of the raccoon family and infamous camp-burglar we had been warned about by the rangers. Our bright lights scared it off and we did not see any evidence of intrusion into our kitchen area in the morning which was good, but we did not get a picture of it, either.

It was neat to see this Grand Canyon local, even from a distance, but those glowing green eyes kept me looking over my shoulder as I lay down on my sleeping pad that night.

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