Day 8 – Cardenas (71.6) to Zoroaster (85.0)
River Miles: 8.4
Hiking Miles: 1
March 25, 2013
Dawn at Cardenas Beach was beautiful, but not without a degree of nervous tension in the air. Today we’d be descending into the narrow confines of the Inner Gorge and running its big water.
After a half-day of rest at this idyllic camp, everyone was on top of things and ready to go a little earlier than usual this morning. Boats were methodically “rigged to flip” and drysuits and helmets were seen all around the group.
Before embarking on the River, Dave Nally stood on the beach amid the morning stillness of the Canyon and recited another eloquent poem, peacefully setting a mood of gratitude, appreciation, and wonder.
It was a smooth float of only about a mile to the Unkar Delta, where we stopped to check out the popular ruins. The flat plain of the delta is home to the largest excavated archaeological site below the rim of the Grand Canyon. I had backpacked to this location before. All that’s to be found here is a series of low, knee-high walls.
Jackie and I bailed early from the requisite tour of the site. We opted instead for an early-morning Tecate on board the rafts to soothe our nerves about what lay ahead.
Eventually the rest of the group returned to the boats, and it was time to get underway. Dave gave instructions on running Unkar Rapid and Neville Rapid (At 75-Mile Canyon), both rated a 6. Then we’d be stopping to scout the ominous Hance Rapid (An 8).
The brown waters of Unkar Creek Rapid were long and twisted, with simple but numerous obstacles. The extended nature of the run was a little more exciting than usual – still burning off the tension of the prior flip – but it went well for everyone.
Afterward we had about three miles of calm water before Neville Rapid. I had my eye on the right shore for much of the time, trying to pick out the hiking route that I once took from Unkar to Rattlesnake Beach. On that hike I remember rounding a corner to be greeted with the sight of Coronado Butte in the distance between the immediate walls of the Canyon, and awaited a similar view from the water.
Neville’s was good fun, as several waves washed over our position in the front of the raft. Beyond here it was interesting to view the Papago wall and rockslide from the water (Part of the Escalante hiking route).
Then it was time to pull in and take a look at Hance.
I’d seen this rapid from the beach at Red Canyon as a hiker. I’d even stood and watched as boaters ran it, but now it was much different and daunting to look at it from this perspective. “Rocks everywhere!” was my report to Jackie upon returning to the rafts after scouting it. “Full of rocks!”
It was scary, with gnarly obstacles all over the place. The old sneak run to the left had been closed by a flash flood, so some maneuvering would be necessary to start the rapid on the right side of the infamously large rock at the top and to pull hard behind it to the left.
Dave went first, followed by Stephanie. Our boat was next, per the usual running order.
Doug threaded it perfectly! In fact everyone was unscathed except for Bo, whose cataraft was practically steamrolled by the greater mass and speed of the boat behind him. From now on he declared that he’d be at the end of the running order!
It was such a relief to be through Hance. “Whooooo!” Exclamations, high-fives, and smiles washed over everyone!
The rough water was just beginning as we approached Sockdolager Rapid(7). The Upper Granite Gorge began to envelope us, but the pressure was off as we charged straight into the big waves through Sockdolager.
We’re rafting the Grand Canyon! Here we come! The bow of the raft rose into the air and slammed down multiple times as we were sprayed time and time again by the waters of the Colorado. Sockdolager just seemed to be a matter of keeping it straight and enjoying the ride!
Here’s Josh’s video montage of some of these rapids.
The River grew eerily quiet as we descended into the Mordor-esque confines of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite. Ah yes. Spirits remained high, enhanced within its mid-day depths.
Bo Beck and The Gorge – Some of the girls often commented about how “cute” Bo looked alone on his raft, as a sort of “Old Man River.” He was admittedly picturesque with consistency, as a man with a lifetime of adventures under his belt, now fulfilling a dream of rowing the Grand.
He’d down a beer while on the oars with the gritty demeanor of a George Hayduke, and his cataraft would get tossed all about the rapids as the Porshe of our armada. Everyone was comforted by his presence, as we all grew to notice that whenever there was even the slightest hint of trouble, Bo was on already on top of it.
Chris Forsyth, Chris Atwood, and Steve Nelson – Forsyth’s drysuit would often puff up with air in the top half, leaving him with an amusing appearance like The Incredible Hulk.
Our eyes just couldn’t help but be pulled upward.
The walls are now more than a mile in height – a vertical distance difficult to appreciate … Down in these grand, gloomy depths we glide, ever listening, for the mad waters keep up their roar; ever watching, ever peering ahead, for the narrow canyon is winding and the river is closed in so we can see but a few hundred yards, and what there may be below we know not; so we listen for falls and watch for rocks, stopping now and then in a bay of a recess to admire the gigantic scenery; and ever as we go there is some new pinnacle or tower, some crag or peak, some distant view of the upper plateau, some strangely shaped rock, or some deep, narrow side canyon.
The Gorge doesn’t show much in the way of landmarks, so I was proud to point out the location of Cottonwood Creek and the foot of the Old Grandview Trail among such experienced company.
Soon we pulled into Vishnu Creek for the day’s hike.
Everyone was excited when we stepped off the boats, as this is an uncommon and relatively difficult-to-access location. The pull-in was on the east side of the mouth of creek, and we had to hike up and over a rough slope to reach the canyon.
Descending into Vishnu.
Chris Atwood takes his first steps upstream.
Jeremy McCumber in action… once again! There were some fun, small obstacles to negotiate, but nothing that gave us much pause.
Chris Forsyth and Bo Beck walk among the Granite and Schist.
Team McCumber! Adventure! Which way to the Center of the Earth?
Soon we were faced with a slick, vertical climb that came up a little short on handholds. Atwood, Forsyth, and the McCumbers were the only ones to explore above it, only to be faced with another, more difficult obstacle. It was about time to turn around anyway.
As I turned to go back down the canyon, I looked back at Mr. Atwood, left alone to man his line of webbing. It struck me as a poignant moment because upon my departure, he’d find himself with a rare moment of solitude on this, his last full day with us before departing from Phantom Ranch tomorrow.
Dave Nally and Dorothy Kyees arrive on the scene.
Onward and upward, Mike Burkley!
Stephanie and Brooke live in the moment.
Leaving Vishnu, we pushed offshore to immediately be faced with the frothy waters of Grapevine Rapid. For an omniscient take on this rapid, take a look at the photo at the top of the Table of Contents page for this journal – that is Grapevine.
As the others approached it before us, I took a moment to take in and be conscious of the scene before me. The sound of the rapids is especially foreboding in the Gorge, echoed and amplified off its high, gloomy walls. The sense of our party of tiny rafts tackling this expedition as a united team was palpable, as we were humbled within the primordial bowels of rock and stone.
Grapevine was a fun, rolling, wet rapid that fortunately lacked much tension. It just seemed to just be a matter of lining it up and hitting them straight, as they say.
The afternoon grew chilly as the depths fell into shadow.
83-Mile Rapid was just two miles downstream of Grapevine, but introduced a much different mood. A gloom had fallen upon the Canyon, and the approach was slow and tentatively still. Everything was muted, but the roar of waves.
The raft in front of us sat at the top of the rapid for an eternity, stalling and hesitating. We floated up right behind it – it’s a dangerous thing to enter a rapid so close together. There’s an eddy near the top that helped slow us down as we waited, but then more boats caught up with us.
This wasn’t cool at all, as several boats clustered at the top of the rapid. Dave Nally had already gone through and eddied out at the bottom, looking back and wondering what the heck was going on.
Finally Chris Forsyth broke the tension and said “This isn’t good! Somebody needs to go! Somebody needs to go now!”
Somehow we all made it through the rapid with room to spare between the rafts.
We pulled in at Zoroaster Camp for the night, fulfilled to reach this point of the journey. It was in a great location, tucked amid the towering walls of Granite and Schist.
In addition to the animated discussion of the day’s rapids, there was a celebratory feeling in the air as it was Chris Atwood’s final night with us. Dinner was Chicken Enchiladas served up by the Nally girls with Bo Beck and Steve Nelson.
Mr. Atwood in camp
We were treated to the beauty of a full moon rising over the rim of the canyon, illuminating the dramatic setting.
… a few clouds, but no rain in the Inner Gorge.