River Journal - Page Eight

photo: Scouting Dark Canyon Rapid. One of the fiercest rapids Cataract had to offer is now buried by Lake Powell sediment.
Scouting Dark Canyon Rapid: One of the fiercest rapids Cataract had to offer is now buried by Lake Powell sediment.

Photo courtesy black george simmons


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Saturday, July 28, 1956—Gypsum Rapids (Class 5½), we all go down for a look. Frank and I run the Jeff Davis left of center—lots of kick and a good ride—an old foe is vanquished. We keep running ahead of the others making good time through center of Class 1 rapid at Mile 196¼, center of Class 1 rapid at Mile 195¾, Palmer Rapids (Mile 195½) has two channels divided by an island. We run the right side (Class 3).

Mile 195 Rapid also has an island at its upper end, but at this stage there is very little water in the left channel. It is Class 4 and has a concealed boulder at its end in the center.

The canyon becomes very narrow at Mile 195, and would afford excellent picture opportunities were the day not so overcast.

On we go through the center of Class 2 rapids at Mile 194½, Mile 194, and a Class 1 at Mile 193½. The others are catching up, and we all dock above Clearwater Rapids at about the same time.

The scenery is magnificent though it will have to go some to beat the sunset on Gypsum Canyon cliffs last night.

Dick makes a fossil collection and Looie ignites a big log pile.

The burning of piles of logs on the riverbanks in 1956 was not the crime it is considered in 1997. In fact, the Bureau of Reclamation encouraged such pyrotechnics, as every piece of wood burned in the canyons would be one less which could clog the mouth of Grand Canyon or the weirs at Hoover (Boulder) Dam on Lake Mead.

Clearwater is Class 4, but is rougher in lower water when the undercut left bank is exposed. We shoot the center.

Clearwater presented an unusual hazard. The alluvial fan at the mouth of Clearwater Creek forced the main current of the river against the opposite (left) wall of the canyon where undercut ledges were present. It was possible for boats to pass under those protrusions and for boatmen and passengers to bang the tops of their heads while riding the waves. In high water the rapid is a piece of cake.

Bowdie Rapid (Mile 190½), we stop to see what’s making all the noise. A good Class 5 with trouble on the right side. All come through in fine shape and keep going: a Class 2 at Mile 190, a Class 1 at Mile 189¼.

Dick and Looie go ahead in the Robert E. Lee. We lash the other two boats together for lunch—even light a Coleman burner for hot tea.

We drift through a Class 1 rapid at Mile 188½, and Class 2 rapids at 187½ and 186¾. We catch the other boat and unlash the lunch barge.

The rapid mapped at Mile 185½ isn’t.

A good Class 5 rapid booms away at Mile 184. Lots of rocks on the right side so we run down the left. The boats gather in an eddy below the rapid, then run the Class 2 rapid at Mile 183¾ together.

We spot a big landslide scar on the cliff up Dark Canyon and try some photos from the boats. [This is an incorrect observation. The landslide was in what is now called Rockfall Canyon, and in the excitement of subsequently running Dark Canyon Rapids the mistake was overlooked. Looie and Russ reported that the slide was not present during their mapping in the vicinity during 1955. Thus, the occurrence of the rock fall is dated between August 1955 and July 1956].

We decide to run Dark Canyon Rapid and camp below. Dark Canyon Rapid (Class 6) will be the last big one to run, and I think all are a bit disappointed to see the trip drawing to a close as am I. The rapid has a cluster of boulders in the middle and routes exist on both sides, but the left side looks easier. Looie unloads the Robert E. Lee and comes through. Frank and I follow in the Jeff Davis, and I do a sloppy, drunken waltz from rock to rock. Russ and Hank do best of all in the Dixie Belle.

Second to Big Drop III, we considered Dark Canyon Rapid the most formidable in Cataract Canyon. From a personal point of view, it was my worst run of the trip.

Dark Canyon Rapid was also unusual in that all of the detritus causing it was upstream from the mouth of Dark Canyon. We believed this was because a bend in the canyon which caused the current to drive into and erode a former alluvial fan at the mouth of Dark Canyon.

We set up camp, which means we unload the boats and put the needed eating materials in a good spot. After taking a few pictures I inspect the inscriptions left by previous expeditions: Kolb’s, Nevills, Pathe-Bray, Holmstrom, Hatch, Harris-Brennan, etc.

Looie and I caught some catfish last night. Some = 3, and I cut up the small one for bait, but have no luck.

It has been cloudy all day, and finally after supper it rains. Lightning bolts seem to strike the upper rim, and thunder reverberates in the canyon. After an hour we come out from our cover and try for pictures of the canyon, lit by lightning.

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Last updated: February 24, 2015

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