Monday, October 27, 2014

The Rapids

The rapids……What can I say? This was the one part of this rafting trip that I was the most nervous about. Some people raft the Colorado river just for the awesome rapids. But that is not me…….I was on this trip in spite of the rapids, not because of them.
Our first day on the river began pleasantly enough……with the first bit of “white water”…..well, really only a bit of faster water at Paria Riffle.
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Then we progressed to a couple of major rapids – Badger Creek (mile 8) and Soap creek (mile 11.5). These were  pretty good rapids, big enough to be exciting, but still tame enough for us to ease ourselves into this whole experience.
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The ‘Roaring 20’s ‘ were a stretch of 6 or so rapids along miles 20 – 30 that we encountered on the 2nd day .
We got really wet! We quickly learned that the front seat people usually caught the brunt of the waves on all but the smallest of rapids. With the medium sized rapids or large rapids, sometimes a wave would wash right over the top of our heads, drenching us. Other times, it might slap us straight in the face. At the very least, the waves would soak our seat and legs. Getting wet was just a part of the fun. We learned to shout “WOO-HOO” and enjoy.   : )
I also learned to HANG ON! This was my ‘brace position’ for rapids…….I was determined NOT to fall out of the raft! With each succeeding set of rapids, a new thought began to work its way into my mind……”This is exciting….and kind-of fun!”
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On the 6th day, and the final day on the river for the group that was only doing the Upper Canyon, we rafted Hance Rapid  (mile 77) with a  class 9-10 difficulty (the Grand Canyon uses a 1-10 difficulty scale) and Sockdolanger (mile 79) class 9. These were the biggest rapids of the trip so far.
Before the trip we had watched U-Tube video of some people rafting some of the larger rapids of the Grand Canyon. Hance Rapid was one of those that we had watched. As it turned out, it was not nearly as scary in person as it was on video. I tried to keep my eyes open through most of the rapids, though I will have to admit that when a wave was coming right over us, I closed my eyes and ducked!
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The afternoon of the 7th day, with the new group who would be joining us for the Lower half of the canyon, we would run Horn Creek Rapid (mile 91) Class 9,  Granite Rapid (mile 94) class 9+, and Hermit Rapid (mile 95.5) class 9+.These were 3 of the largest rapids that we would be running.
I was really worried that Sarah and Jason would be a bit overwhelmed at hitting these large rapids on their first afternoon on the river. I shouldn’t have worried……they handled the rapids like old pros.
On day 8,  we ran Crystal rapid (mile 99) and a class 10+ difficulty. This was one of the more infamous of the rapids, and the guides were noticeably nervous as they scouted the rapid from above. 
The reason for their concern became clear as we successfully completed our run……A private rafting group that was just ahead of us, had flipped a raft and the overturned raft was stuck on a rock in the middle of the rapid! We stopped at the river bank to determine that no one was hurt. The private group was advised to use their satellite phone to call the park rangers, who could best help them.
This was a sobering moment for our group. It served to remind us that accidents can happen, and that what we were doing had some inherent danger. One needed to be cautious, but things still could go wrong.
Each rapid was different. A medium sized rapid may be very technically difficult (an issue for our guides, not us, who just blindly trusted the guides to get us safely through) and we might sail right through a larger rapid. On some rapids, we might hit a ‘hole’ at the bottom where there might be a bit of a ‘kick’ or jolt.
This is what happened on the 2nd half of Crystal Rapid. When the back end of the raft where we were seated kicked up, I lost my grip with my left hand, and my seat lifted 2 feet off the raft!  I held on with my right hand and my seat hit the raft tubing with a thump! I had done it….I had managed to stay in the raft! After that, my confidence soared……
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Continuing on day 8….. Miles 101 – 106  we ran  ‘The Jewels – 6 pretty major rapids in a row. At mile 113  was Waltenburg rapid, a class 8 rapid that had the guides concerned. As we later learned, they had had a raft flip at Waltenburg one year.
The oared rafts are a stable, heavier raft that seemed to  handle the bigger rapids pretty well. A lot depended on the ‘line of approach’ that each guide might take. We enjoyed riding with Allison, who made the biggest rapids seem like a ‘piece of cake’.
The paddle rafters had a different, more up close and personal experience of the rapids. The raft was smaller and more maneuverable, but more likely to flip if the raft hit the rapid just right (or wrong). Those who were in the paddle rafts needed to paddle to provide the thrust for the guide to steer the raft through the rapids. They need to stay strong and focused (no closing their eyes!) and had to listen to the guides instructions. I was glad that we had chosen the oared rafts, though, I think that the paddle rafts would be fun for a while and through the smaller rapids.
On day 12, at mile 179.5  was Lava Falls Rapid – The ‘big one’ that everyone looks forward to or dreads.The guides scouted this one from above to determine which line of approach to use.
We ran this rapid with Allison with no problem. She made it look easy…….    : )  

This video was shot by Patrick Grelier from his position overlooking the rapid. He was riding with Matt and they were spotting our rafts to ensure our safety, then rafting the rapid last. With his permission, I am including it in this blog.

 That evening, we celebrated the group’s successful run through Lava.
On day 14 –the last day on the river in rafts –between miles 231- 237 we ran an awesome stretch of rapids. They were similar in size to the ‘Jewels”  that we had run on day 8.
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The paddle raft crew had gotten a bit cocky and relaxed (by their own admission), and, going through a rapid, they hit a hole and the entire group of 6 got thrown out. …..everyone but Tom, who was guiding from the back position. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, only a few bumps and bruises. All 6 were quickly picked up and hauled back into the raft and they rafted on….with a new chapter to add to their story.
As for me,  though I am not seeking out bigger and more difficult rapids to run……and I know that this whole experience might be quite different in the smaller paddle rafts……and much more involved if we were to be responsible for negotiating the rapids on our own…….I really enjoyed the excitement and exhilaration of the rapids.
I emerged from this experience with a discovery that I was no longer afraid of the big rapids… fact, I rather liked them!     : )

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