Day 10 – Schist (96.5) to Lower Bass (109)
River Miles: 12.5
Hiking Miles: 2
March 27, 2013
This morning I had the incurable disease of having a song stuck in my head without being able to remember the lyrics. That didn’t stop me from repeatedly humming the tune to myself. This sort of thing only happens during wilderness trips nowadays, since we can just Google stuff with our smartphones.
The song that I was trying to think of was the tune repeatedly sang by Corey Feldman in the movie Stand By Me, the sort of army fight song. It must have been something about tossing the drybags around that brought it out in me, like the way he slings his duffel bag around in the movie.
The McCumbers knew exactly what I was talking about, but couldn’t remember the words either. Well thanks to this fancy thing called the internet, I can show you exactly what I was trying to recall on this fine morning along the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon:
a quiet morning below Schist Camp
Remember how I wrote that I was more scared of Hermit Rapid than any other? Yeah, forget about that. Crystal Rapid scared me more.
Not long after the first time I saw the Grand Canyon, I just had to read the morbidly fascinating Death in Grand Canyon. Nobody can resist it – it’s the best-selling book at the National Park. I was new to the Canyon at the time, and didn’t know much about its inner workings beyond the Bright Angel Trail and Phantom Ranch and such.
After reading this book, Crystal Rapid stuck in my mind.
It’s statistically the deadliest rapid in the Grand Canyon.
And we were going to run it this morning. Early this morning. Soon.
With the exception of the tame Boucher Rapid, the morning’s float was over calm, peaceful water through the enduring Inner Gorge.
As usual, we were all fully armored in gear for the big water.
I’d seen Crystal Rapid once before, during a backpacking trip from the south side of the river at Slate Creek. I was lucky to watch a group run the rapid, and saw somebody get knocked into the water that day – solidifying the gnarly reputation of Crystal in my mind.
scouting the rapid
We pulled over to the right and took a walk downstream to have a look at Crystal. There was a relatively narrow, swift channel with some big holes and waves, just like I’d seen on that hike down Slate Creek. What I now noticed (That I didn’t see on that day) was a long scattering of rocks in the middle of the river, immediately downstream of the biggest waves. It’s called the “rock garden.”
Only a handful of us were there for the scout. Some of the passengers in our party never liked to look at the rapids before running them.
I hadn’t caught Dave’s strategy for negotiating the big holes near the top of the rapid, but I gathered that we wanted to move hard toward the right side of the rock garden as soon as possible. The left side was apparently run-able, but not the most desirable option.
parked above Crystal Rapid
So off we went! As usual when entering the big water, I was on edge, alert, and ready for anything. We slammed into the top of the rapid, and the waves we hit didn’t seem nearly as bad as I feared. Near the end of the biggest waves, above the rock garden, Doug let out a shout:
“I’m going left guys!”
It was somewhat of a relief to my ears. The rapid had knocked us off toward the left, and clearing the right side of the rock garden seemed highly unlikely. It looked like some of the other boats had a hard time making it to the right, too.
Doug straightened out into the left channel, and Jackie and I kept our senses sharp at the front of the boat. I couldn’t see anything particularly horrible down this left side, but I knew that we ideally weren’t supposed to be here. A sheer wall loomed on the left, and numerous rocks and obstacles passed to the right.
I don’t think our raft grazed a single rock. We were through Crystal! Everyone stayed upright without incident.
Stephanie remarked that we were all ABC!
Alive Below Crystal.
I later learned that the infamously huge, boat-eating-hole that Crystal is known for had lost a lot of its bite since the days when all those incidents were reported in Death in Grand Canyon.
The armada passes onward!
This remaining day on the water was one of the best. To have Crystal Rapid behind us felt like a huge weight was off our shoulders. I didn’t know of anything intimidating before us until Lava Falls, which was a few days down the River.
We’d planned a layover day about 10 miles downstream at Bass Camp, and made a beeline to secure the site early in the day. But this 10 miles was through the mighty Gems, a swift stretch with about 10 named rapids. All the rapids were rated an average of 4 through 6. A 7 would be tossed in there too (Serpentine Rapid).
It’s called the Gems (or sometimes the Jewels) because the side canyons (And inherently the rapids) carry such names as Agate, Sapphire, Turquoise, and so on.
Relieved to be below Crystal, the day cut loose with exhilarating, wild rides, interspersed with quiet water where I could safely handle the camera and do some shooting.
It was the “Roaring 20s” all over again, but with a battle-hardened and more Grand of a scale.
The Powell Plateau reveals itself, far and away on the North Rim and a vertical mile above us.
Steph got knocked off the oars, momentarily swimming the whitewater of Ruby Rapid. We didn’t see it from our boat, but she was out of the water within seconds and back in the pilot’s seat.
Ruby is Steph’s birth stone. Neat.
Spirits were high when we scored Bass Camp. It’s a popular spot with ample room to spread out. Tomorrow’s layover would be the first full rest day for me, since I spent the last layover climbing Nankoweap Mesa.
We were more comfortable with each other, well into our adventure, and at home in the Canyon together. We were a tribe. Time to party.
Party time! Sort of. There was plenty of daylight to do some exploring first. Here’s the train of our group taking an “interesting” route into the nearby Shinumo Creek. The creek ends with a scenic waterfall near its mouth at the River.
Down the stream!
Chris Forsyth and Bo Beck sit atop the Shinumo Creek Waterfall. On creek left, there’s a small crack in the rocks where it’s possible for hardy souls to climb down to the base of the falls.
Chris led the route as everyone’s guinea pig.
Is he pointing at the vertical drop into swift water below him, or is Chris just showing off his rippling muscles? You decide. 🙂
Brooke and Stephanie, perched above the waterfall
Nic takes in the upstream scene.
Upon reaching the bottom, Chris and Dave questioned if anyone else should attempt the downclimb. The bottom section looked a little shy of suitable holds.
Steph made the descent with a different method, and went on to hold the webbing for others from the bottom.
The McCumbers and Jackie also did the climb.
The isn’t the waterfall, just a scenic cascade.
We eventually trickled back to camp. The day was still quite hot, so I rinsed in the creek with a good old-fashioned backpacker bathing session, sans soap.
The William Wallace Bass Country is wide, varied, and exquisite. Here Stephanie is seen taking in a Canyon moment on the path between our camp and the creek.
Brooke in camp
Some of us partied a little too hard a little too early, lending to a relaxing atmosphere of ease and amusement for the rest of us.
As the evening wore on, the sense of nowhere to go tomorrow placed my butt heavy in its camp chair, facing toward the east.
our view to the east
It didn’t rain today.