And the rowing/hiking/adventuring continued. We hit up Deer Creek, the Throne Room, and had a rousing game of both Ultimate Frisbee (or as Greg calls it "Mediocre"; according to him, "Ultimate" is a bit presumptuous, and there are a lot of things that are more ultimate than "Ultimate") and a new favorite, nighttime Bocci. I don't have any pics of them, but Jonny brought along these killer lit up bocci balls, and it was awesome to roam around the beach in the dark with these glowing red, green, yellow, and blue orbs flying around the dark shadowy camps.
One morning a handful of us got up early and pushed off camp at first light to head down to
, which is another of the GC classics. However, we had more ambitious plans than the standard wander up the Matkat gorge; Panametta Canyon was listed in the canyoneering book as a stellar slot that was the pinnacle of a 4-day trip from the south rim combining it with nearby Olo Canyon, but Greg felt like starting from the river might enable a one-day blast. By 9:30 we had floated 11 miles and were marching up Matkat, and after 3 hours of hiking (that included a couple of funny encounters with the wild burros in that area) we found ourselves staring into the Panametta abyss. Once in the head of the canyon, we suited up and dropped in, and for the next 3 hours were in an incredibly smooth and beautiful limestone slot that had 8 rappels with plenty of water to navigate. We found that running water in the GC is pretty warm, but the pools cool down at night and then never warm, so they are quite cold. Greg and I were a little reluctant to take our drysuits/tops/pants into the slot due to our experience with Matkatamiba Canyon ’s abrasive sandstone, but the polished limestone makes that more or less a non-issue, so Jeannie was feeling pretty snug – and smug - in her drysuit and was amused to watch us do jumping jacks to keep warm. Utah
We were able to make it back out of Matkat just before dark, and were able to meet the rest of the crew at the nearby Matkat Hotel camp just downstream, much to our relief, because Upset rapid loomed a mile below.
Upset doesn’t rate highly on the rapid list, but it’s provided plenty of excitement for river runners over the years due to the large wave/hole near the bottom. I inexplicably forgot the lesson I had learned earlier in the week at Horn Creek, and figured I’d just “move right” from center and miss the hole. But within seconds of entering the rapid it was clear that we were going to vector straight into the heart of it, so I squared up and in a very calm shriek told the guys to pretty much hurl themselves forward into the wave so it wouldn’t flip us; which they obliged. We got slammed hard - the bowsprits got a nice nasal douche - and for a split second I felt the raft almost stop – which generally portends considerable excitement in a fast moving river – but the river gods (whom I’d met in Italy last month!) decided to let us go free. Apparently our 18’ raft and its occupants completely but briefly disappeared in the maw….
Not far downstream is
, which was first referred to me before our 2002 trip as a bit of a sleeper side canyon, and it’s one of the best places in the Canyon. Once again, Greg had cooked up an awesome loop combining a couple of canyons that we had done as out and backs on previous trips. We marched up Tuckup to an enormous subway-like section then climbed out of that to the mostly-flat Esplanade layer that allows for quick overland travel (though it’s a land mine of stickery bushes/cactuses) and then dropped into the upper part of the East fork of Tuckup, which in 2002 I had declared as The Coolest Place Ever. Which may not necessarily be the case, but it’s still way cool. A few short rappels, some more wading, a nice hike back to camp, and another layover day adventure was done. Tuckup Canyon
And then came The Flood. We had found out earlier this fall that the various agencies with jurisdiction in the GC had decided that it was time for another sediment-flushing flood – the last time was when we were on the river in March 2008 – and it was going to happen while we were on the river. It took a while to reach us since we were – at this point – pretty far down in the canyon, but when it came, it came quick. The water almost immediately turned brown with the massive (??? That was the idea, at least….) amount of sediment in the water and it went from a relatively placid, steady flow to a huge roiling mess. The temperature in the canyon actually dropped a fair bit due to the dramatically-increased surface area of the cold water, and the water gobbled up camps and beaches (hopefully to be rebuilt later as the water dropped) and snatched all sorts of debris from the banks and swirled it around in massive boils. It was pretty exciting to see.
At Tuckup we shared the beach with a few scientist types who were going to be parked there for a week to monitor the flood; specifically, they were going to be measuring the amount of silt in the water (via sonar; the more silt in the water the less-effective sonar pulses are), since that's the primary reason for the flood. It seemd pretty dang silty to us, but apparently the river "cleaned up" surprisingly quickly after the gates were closed and there's some speculation that the lack of silt provided by the bigger tribs upstream made this flood not as effective as the 2008 release. One of the guys is apparently a bit of a GC legend - who, according to Joe Hazel, floated on an overturned raft 60 miles after flipping in the huge '83 flood - and when Greg told him about our agenda he was quite impressed; a nice testament to Greg's creativity and the team's efficient daylight-useage.
After hiking up the recently-"blown out" (from a big monsoon flash flood this summer) National canyon we had another layover day at Mohawk canyon, which proved to be a well-deserved "rest day" since we got stopped by an unanticipated, unclimbable dryfall/chockstone. And this shorter day enabled the preparation of an Adler family tradition: the riverside sauna. With tarps and tables there was plenty of room for 7-8 folks to be quite cozy, and after heating nice softball-sized rocks in the fire to get them glowing hot they were brought into the sauna to create an impressive amount of heat and steam. I'm not sure if twelve year old Sawyer fully appreciated the value of the story of sitting next to a bunch of cute naked girls in a sauna would represent to his friends!
And, of course, downstream loomed……
. Lava Falls
When I first floated Lava in 1990 the scene the night before was positively funereal; I honestly think that some people weren’t sure they were going to make it. Our 2012 crew had a little more experience and the added bonus of the confidence/exuberance of youth, but as always the talk about Lava fairly well dominated the fireside conversations. After a nice layover day at Mohawk canyon an hour of floating got us to the object of our dread. We pulled over nice and high to enable both scouting and those who wanted to walk around the rapid (requiring back and forth shuttles across the fast-moving current above the drop) but a quick scout from on high on the left side showed that the left run - normally a bit of a chunderfest at low flows -was pretty much a chocolate highway at 40k, and the fearsome ledge hole at center-top was deeply buried. The oarsmen were confident, and we were all-in.
Our “safety” strategy changed a bit on this rapid; instead of running it with two rafts at a time as we’d done on the upper rapids, we decided to fire it straightaway with all four rafts one right after the other, with the thinking that it was unlikely that more than 1 would have any problems and the remainder would be available to help in the long, fast tailwaters if there was an issue. There was a decent-sized lateral wave at the top that enabled a nice half-spin to meet the meat below, and it worked out just fine for all the rafts. I actually think that running the right side at normal flows is more challenging and bigger-feeling.
Post-Lava (and it very much felt that way) we had one more good hike that Greg had cooked up:
has two “difficult” (according to the guidebook) hikes that Greg identified as possibly being connectable. However, this enabled getting past the “impassable” chockstone at the top of the canyon. However, our rope gun Jeannie fired the 5.9ish move 20 feet off the deck (no pic; I was too busy spotting and wringing my hands) and enabled us to leave the canyon, go across, and then down a 2000’ scree pile back to camp. And from there on down it was riding the brown train (at 7mph!) another day or so to the takeout. Indian Canyon
As ever, the short days and cool temps kept the crowds down; in the first week the crew saw only one party of hikers and no other raft parties, and eventually we started leapfrogging with two other raft parties, but we felt like we had the canyon to ourselves, which is such a treat, since I think it can be a bit of a zoo in high summer.
All in all a great adventure, but what really made it great was a stellar crew who worked and played hard, got along really well, was hilarious, was patient with the likes of Greg, Jeannie and I who had to get our daily adrenaline/endorphin fix, and was game for most anything.
Many thanks again to Andy for flawless off-the-river logistical organization and to Greg for great captaining on the river.
Here's a link to more photos: