Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Running the Middle Fork Salmon - 2 years hence

Two years ago I wrote in these pages about a great trip that we did floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon in September at low water.  When you have a great trip it's always tempting to go back to sorta re-create it, but the danger always exists that it won't live up to that first, sorta magical time (I remember after going back to ski in British Columbia a couple of times and saying "the snow is always good there!"  I eventually realized that....it's not).  But assuming that it could be just as good but it also could just as easily pour rain the whole time or somesuch is a good way to manage your expectations and ensure always having a great time.

Once again we had a small crew in small crafts:  4 Jack's Plastic packrafts - including a custom "triple nipple" - and two whitewater boats made for a nimble party that had no worries about major stickages on rocks at the low level.  It was just under 1.6 feet, for you Middle Fork gauge geeks; that's about as low as it gets, and actually with the small draft of rafts with lower air pressure in the tubes, rafts can indeed make it down the river if there aren't many passengers and people generally goes backpack-style in lieu of the typical blender, bar, innumerable cases of beer, huge kitchen boxes, etc that are normally associated with float-n-bloat river trips.

I was of course very keen again to further explore the unlimited trail running potential along the river.  The River Trail parallels the river for 80 miles and is a great, rolling, mildly-technical trail, all of the major tributaries have good trails going up them for many, many miles, and given the relatively arid nature of the area and the fact that pretty much 100% of that region has burned, virtually every one of the 100 camps along the 100 mile stretch offers the opportunity to go straight up the steep hillsides that rise 3-5000 feet above the river.  And there are so many deer and elk in that area that many of the sub-ridges have nice undulating ungulate trails on them that are quite runnable.

Brother Paul was the one who had the foresight last October 1 and called in on that day to get the post-lottery season permit, Janette was back again to face some of the demons that lurked in a couple of rapids, and we added some of our Northwest connection with Benj  - fortunately recovered from the devastating broken leg exiting out of Mill D 1.5 years ago (a broken leg less than a mile from the road in Mill D??!!?  Benj proved it can happen!) when he was in town for the Outdoor show, and he brought along Lama (or is that Llama?  The spelling sorta depends on when he had his last shower) freshly healed from a "broken face" (apparently an apt description for what he did when he made an ill-advised dive off his mountain bike in late June) and the relatively as-yet-unscathed Gib, both of whom were determined to use their fly rods to slay the hogs that undoubtedly were lurking in the deep pools between rapids.

A couple of notes about the photos below:  I realized that the final chapter of my camera's journey had occurred:  at the put in I discovered that the trigger no longer worked.  So it goes; it's been a trusty steed, and like Pheidippides, it traveled far on it's final journey, then dropped dead.  So most of the photos below are not mine, and in particular, Benj is a remarkably good, semi-pro photographer, so the pics that look quite amazing are all his.

the Cast Of Characters:

Our fearful leader, giving us the daily "Hear Ye, Hear Ye" of The Plan
Every Captain should have a huggable First Officer

River God Lama
Benj, in front of the camera for once
the ever-laughing Gib, ready for action
King Dork, on the scout at Pistol Creek rapid
I liked this sign at the put in.  Gives me fodder for when I see people tossing orange peels, validates my hatred of plastic bottles.  I wish they had one for mylar balloons!
On to the river! The first few miles are pretty busy, but it mellows out and is no harder than class 3, so everybody's happy.
Pistol Creek is the 2nd rapid of note (after Velvet, which we didn't get pictures of), and at higher water this hole can get quite mean, and even at low water it would probably be a little sticky if one just dundered over it. 
But mostly it's a lot of crystal clear flat water:

With awesome beach/ponderosa camps
that have sublime views
The fishing was good:

That is, if you're good.   I threw down for a fishing license, but once again....I failed in getting on the fishing stoke, despite the allure of seeing this:

But watching Gib do this:

Kinda made me do this:

So I therefore went and did this!  
As I remembered, the trails were amazing.  The River Trail always delivered:

 and I ran miles and miles up Marble Creek, there's a great trail climb above Camas Creek, and as I remembered, the steep climbs above the hills were great.  
Paul on a game trail high above the river. 
But you gotta be careful on that River Trail; it's got rocks in it, as brother Paul found out when he tripped on one about 12 steps into a run and dove into another:
he tried to pass it off as a bear attack, but I was the witness.  At least he had some much-needed Liquid Ego to drink (thanks Scotsman!)
I'm really convinced that this is a sleeper vacation for the trail running crowd.  The mere word "boats" typically makes runners break out in hives, but a river trip any time of year down the Middle Fork puts you into more incredible trail run opportunities in a condensed area than anywhere I have been.  

We got into a bit more whitewater.  These are a few photos from Tappen Falls, one of the more dramatic drops on the run.  Close up:
Janette laughing at the demons

Gib preparing to throw his paddle

Lama cool under pressure

Goin' a little deeper without the floation of Jack's Plastics.  
And from a bit farther away, for perspective:

A cool side attraction is Veil falls/cave:
why do they call it Veil?
and of course the nightly camps were just a huge party around the fire:
The poison ivy was in full bloom:
it was easy to spot this time of year!
And the trees - that were left after the fires - were super colorful as well:
I think that a lot of folks call in for those permits almost a year in advance, and then they bail on them, because we hardly saw anyone on the river, despite there being an allocation of something like 6 launches per day.  It's a pretty special time to be down there.  

thanks again to brother Paul for the foresight to get the permit and for being a good leader

And to the rest of the crew for many laughs and a great trip!  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The mighty Grand Canyon

In about nineteen hundred and ninety two or so Michele Martin (now Gray) and I both put in for Grand Canyon permits, fully knowing that it was a many-year process to work one's way down the long waiting list.  It took ten years, but I finally was able to use my permit for a trip down the canyon in 2002.  Michele, however, took patience to a new level, and - after persevering through the GC National Park's many management gyrations and rule changes to the river permit system - was finally able to use her permit this summer.....almost 25 years after her application!   To be fair to the GCNP, this unusually-long period was due to Michele's own decision to postpone in order for her family to get old enough be able to join in and appreciate the canyon, and as such she was pretty much numero uno on the list and was able to choose practically whatever date she wanted.

Last year Michele put together a potential trip member list that consisted of 8 kids and 8 adults, including Ash and me.  As non-parents ourselves this lineup sounded a bit daunting, and eventually some of the other adults realized that a trip like the GC was not appropriate for this kind of ratio and pulled out, leaving Michele and Ryan in an odd position:  possessing one of the most coveted and rare opportunities known in the outdoor/adventure world, but possibly without the crew and experience to take advantage of it.  But Michele - well known for her resourcefulness and quiet determination - was not to be denied, and quickly pivoted.  She called me over the winter and said "Bryan Tooley wants to go!"  Huh? Bryan Tooley?  The former Dagger kayak and Patagonia sales rep whom I knew from my Patagonia days?  How did this connection get made?  But of course the world is small:  Michele's daughter knew Bryan's son, and very quickly the trip was back on!

But the challenges were not over.  Another reason that the Grays were a bit worried about the trip is that about 7 years ago Michele had what I would call a "weird" heart attack and was mostly dead on the tennis court, but was revived by a nearby defibrillator and was on a surgeon's table within 30 minutes.   Since then she has been mostly "fine", albeit with many stents being inserted around her heart.  But defibrillators, cardiologists, and surgery units aren't very common on the beaches of the Grand Canyon, thus going into a relatively remote, difficult to access zone for over two weeks was a bit of a risk that Team Gray was willing to take.

But that impediment paled to what transpired last spring.  As I discussed in a previous post, the Grays had a tragic loss:  their vivacious daughter Ruby inexplicably died in her sleep.  This event crushed an entire community, and was obviously devastating for the Grays.   Going on a fun adventure after that happened seemed unlikely, but two weeks after we returned home from the memorial we received a message from them saying that despite their fragile emotional state and their trepidation about rowing bigger whitewater than they ever had done, Team Gray was yet again showing their quiet determination and were still on for the Grand Canyon, and were we still keen?  Of course we were.

And thus we found ourselves at the boat ramp at Lee's Ferry under a blazing August sun for the gratuitous huge gear cluster (made much easier by paying for PRO's "Painless Private" full boat/gear/food setup).
Ash declaring "I'm in charge".....but no one is really paying attention.....
Ranger Peggy - toting gun, taser, a bulletproof vest, and some weird green tail - is most definitely in charge, and made sure that everyone paid attention.  
But soon enough we were on our way and got to the first camp:

That had a nice crack to practice climbing and rappelling:
All of us stoked Camilla fired up the 5.8ish crack. 

 in anticipating of further adventures downstream.  The first of which was Tatahoyasa canyon, which is the bottom of the Eminence Break fault (that is a classic steep hike out to the rim from President Harding rapid).  I asked Ash how she was going to be with a 150' free rappel:
She wasn't so sure about that.  
And the hike up reflected a recurring theme of August in the Canyon:
Soon enough we were at the rappels:
watch those fingers!
And sent Carson down on his first rappel ever
The brothers Tooley.  Peach (Peter) the younger was our willing rappel probe, despite never rapped before! 
With Jean happy to follow
The view from the last anchor was sublime, and it was fun to basically drop right into camp (the bushy beach below).
the rap looked pretty big from the bottom

and you felt pretty small while on it.
On downstream we did some more-traditional hikes up side canyons:

that were hot and dry enough that water....any water, was of high value!
But water had clearly flowed in these streambeds recently:
Rocks piled up a coupla feet from flash floods. 
and Ash and I got to experience that firsthand.   The Nankoweap area is famous for its iconic view downstream (not even worth posting a picture of it; it's The Picture from the Grand Canyon) and Anasazi granary, and as such it's popular; we counted over 100 people there with a couple of commercial trips and a couple of private groups.  Given the crowds we decided to hike the nearby Little Nankoweap creek, which starts out as a broad wash and narrows considerably.  As we ascended the narrows I started to hear water and thought "oh that's nice; there must be a little side drainage coming in with a waterfall" but I popped my head over a boulder and saw that about an 8-inch high "wall" (well, maybe a curb) of churning red water tumbling down over the dry rocks in our canyon!  It had rained an hour or two prior, and the "flood" was finally reaching us.  We decided not to wait around to see if said curb actually did become a wall and scrambled back down the canyon to a safe zone, listening to the rocks tumble underwater as we went.

Back on the water, the skies cleared and floating commenced:
The Little Colorado is a long drainage, and it flashes often during the monsoon season.  When we were there is was liquified mud, and puts a lot of debris and - unfortunately - a lot of litter into the Colorado, since apparently the Native Americans upstream use it as a depository for their tires, basketballs, and bottles.

Papa G layin' it down for Georgia

Scrabble is such a frenzied game! 

The Queen holding forth

The King holding forth!

Patti sporting a good shiner after rafting without a raft in the LCR

Patti with her young bachelor chef cook pardners....who at this point consider "making a meal" pouring a bowl of cereal!
Peach going big for a disc in Redwall Cavern
Coupla Great Ladies!
Some incredible sunrises and sunsets
The Grapevine camp is a great spot for a slip n slide:
Michele is a teacher, and I wonder if she'll mention this on her first day back at school: "Hey Mrs Gray, what did you do on your summer vacation?"  
about to go boom
We did get a bit of whitewater, or is that brownwater?
Team Tooley going so fast through Granite rapid that it blew Bryan's hat right off his head!
At lower water Bedrock can be dicey since that big rock becomes a boat-magnet wanting to catch and pin boats badly.  At medium-high water there's a runway to the right to avoid it.
Jean doing his best Kelly Slater

Matakamiba is a classic side hike with cool rock and nice narrows
Most of team Coleman enjoying a cool pool
Before the trip as self-appointed Righteous Shoe Guy I sent out an email to tell the crew that despite being "born on the river" sandals such as Chacos or Tevas were inappropriate for the Grand Canyon due to too much toe exposure to sharp rocks, prickly plants, and raft frames, and to encourage everyone to bring non-leather, quick drying shoes with good traction.  Everyone ignored me!  
Carson skitching with his Tevas
Finn with his leather court shoes; at least they were never tied!  
But despite my dire warnings, there were no broken toes and only a few scrapes/cuts (one on my big toe by walking around the beach barefoot....I deserved it!)

Havasu Creek is a bit of a paradox; the upper part of the canyon has two of the most incredibly beautiful waterfalls ever (Havasu and Mooney; check out images on the web), but the crowds and the Havasupai village are unappealing.  It's a classic hike up from the river 3 miles to the beautifully- terraced Beaver Falls, but in order to take the time to do that a river trip has to camp just upstream and just downstream of the mouth, so it's almost a layover day but without the advantages of an actual layover day.  And the mouth, while being sublime with warm aquamarine water and a beautiful short gorge, is almost guaranteed to be jammed with commercial trips, and we feared the worst after a bit of a cluster at the mouth of Matkatamiba.  But to our delight, we had Havasu to ourselves:
Sarah soaking it in

The Godfather, Chandler, doing the same
the River Queen
and the River Princess?
and The Jester!

Nearby Olo Canyon has a slightly-higher price of admission (an easy 5th class 60 foot climb) and as such doesn't get much traffic, and is also pretty sublime:

Team Olo
And National Canyon has some great narrows also
We traded Ash and Patti for Gary and Lynn, but they were worthy!  

Ledges is a classic camp that gets good afternoon shade, but these rocks had been out in the sun for a while and their embodied heat was like a pizza stone!
Peach had a very important job
some local fauna
We had a few days of monsoons, including one of the hardest rainstorms any of us had ever seen.
 Taking the temps down from >100 to near 80 was great.

One of The Big Things in the Grand Canyon is Lava Falls.  Despite the fact that it's a just a class 3-4 rapid, because it's The Biggest it gets a lot of notoriety, and has struck fear in the hearts of most who meet it for the first time.  The classic scout spot is usually where the butterflies start to go in earnest:

here's a sequence of Peach and I running it:
The "moment of truth approaches", or "the calm before the storm", or "there's no turning back now".....there are probably many more cliches to be used!

getting ready for the first big hit

me in the maw, Peach ready to brace
We did have one issue in Lava:
Rafts are a bit trickier to maneuver in this state

Getting there......


And soon enough we were on our way!  Back to floating:
and bloating.
the heat got ferocious in the bottom of the canyon, and being on the river in shade was the best option

Michele got in a kayak for the first time in many years, and of course paddled with aplomb! 

Carson got in a kayak for the first time ever.  He stayed upright longer than expected, and gave some solid attempts at a roll

Team Tooley

Patti lapping up the Little Colorado

A view of the Phantom Bridge from the trail to Clear Creek
We didn't have too many great beach camps, but we were able to bust out the badminton on the last night:

the competition was fierce!
The best dressed  -and victorious! -of the badass badmintoners.  
Ryan contemplating a Grand trip at one of the canyon's classic shitter spots.  
It turned out that our short, intense rainstorm actually fully flushed out the takeout road, and unbeknowst to us it was closed for the last week that we were on the river.  There was a bit of a cluster trying to figure out if and when we were going to get picked up, so of course we played a bit of scrabble:
And ultimately left the gear on the beach for PRO to pick up later:

A great gaggle. You can tell this was early in the trip since there's very little scruff and greasy hair!  
And thus was our trip.  Given all that Team Gray has been through, it was bittersweet; nothing can replace a loss like they had, but sharing a long adventurous journey through a pretty incredible place can be cathartic; if nothing else, there's a lot of opportunities to think of the tasks at hand ("don't flip!") and laugh pretty hard.

I didn't give any photo credits here to Sarah Tooley, but suffice to say, if the pics above were "good" they were Sarah's!  thanks very much.

At the beginning of the trip we each received our "Ruby Rock", to do with it what we will.

I placed mine next to the sketchy little rappel anchor that we used for that big free rappel at President Harding, figuring the power embodied in that little stone might add a bit of oomph to that anchor. And indeed, it held!  Thanks Rubes, and we missed you down there.