River Journal - Page Four

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Monday, July 23, 1956—I wake up about 4:30 AM—beautiful alpenglüen on the cliff tops. At 5:15 I get up and take a few pictures.

After breakfast Frank takes a lot of Brunton readings while I seal the mast well of the Jeff Davis, and try to make things as river worthy as possible.

Looie is anxious to get moving and shoves off at 9 AM. Hank and Russ shove off at 9:45, and Frank and I at 10:00.

From now on our trip will be covered by the U.S.G.S. river maps of 1921, printed in 1922: "Plan and Profile of Colorado River, Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, to mouth of Green River, Utah; San Juan River, mouth to Chinle Creek, Utah, and certain tributaries." Mile markers are printed on the maps starting with "0" at Lee’s Ferry. As there were few named reference points in the canyons until recently, it has become customary to refer to rapids and other things by their location in regard to the mile markers.

We assemble on a shady beach across from Spanish Bottom (Mile 213) to look at some supposed outcrops of Paradox.

Looie is still eager to get moving and reach the mouth of Cross Canyon. I would sooner see the party together from now on. He goes on with Dick after I warn him to look over the 5th rapid.

Frank finished his work and we weigh anchor in company of the Dixie Belle.

This morning we all donned life jackets. They henceforth will be the uniform of the day. Earlier this year on two one-day trips on the Dolores River near Slick Rock all of the jackets were tested and found to function properly.

Otis Marston, Dean of the Colorado River, has devised a system of classifying rapids. In essence, the system rates a rapid from 1 to 10 according to its severity—the higher the number the more difficult the rapid.

In my 6-man boat, Nicholas Needlefoot, I usually run class 1 to 3 rapids without looking them over. Class 4 rapids I check if I’ve not run them before. Last summer on the Western Speleological Institute Marble-Grand Canyon Expedition we used a 10-man boat like the ones on our current trip and found we could step up a class with the larger boat.

We view the first rapid at Mile 212¼ [now called Brown Betty] from mid-channel. Expectation is high as we start down the tongue. The tongue plays out and we get a nice ride on some 3- to 4-foot waves; (Class 3). We quickly encounter Mile 212 Rapid. It has a steeper gradient and more waves than the first rapid. Another good ride and it looks like this Class 4 rapid has confirmed 3 more river rats.

At Mile 211½ we run a Class 2 rapid. At Mile 211 is another Class 2 rapid with an "S" curve and a small rock island at its upper end. We pick the right channel, which is carrying the most water.

The 5th rapid looks easy from above, but so do lots of others, and we stop for a look. No sign of Looie and Dick.

The left side has some rocks, holes, and rough stuff. The extreme right bank has too many near-surface rocks, and we decide on a course slightly to right of center.

Frank takes over the helm and I ride while Russ and Hank take pictures from the bank. Frank holds a good course and pulls us out in the eddy below on the right bank. We hurry back to get pictures of Russ and Hank.

The Dixie Belle is too far left and misses my signals to pull right. She slips off the right side of the first big wave, but plunges into the hole behind. The second wave explodes under the port quarter, and over she flips. Hard to believe if I hadn’t seen it myself. I am tripping through the boulders, now racing down the beach. I hear Frank close behind. I knock off my hat and goggles as I run. The boys popped up in less than five seconds and the water is calm for a stretch below so there is no physical danger other than the loss of some of our closely calculated grub supply. But the outlook of the dunked is important so we waste no time. I grab the mooring line while Frank jumps in the boat and mans the oars. We reach the Dixie Belle in a minute. Frank grabs her and I take over the oars. I have trouble getting ashore so Hank climbs in and bears a hand while Russ tows from his aqueous position.

The boys didn’t seem to mind the rain and are in good spirits, so I hasten upstream to retrieve the hurriedly left cameras, etc. after helping to upright the Dixie Belle.

When I return Looie and Dick have rowed up from a point 200 yards downstream and across the river. After a little chitchat they set out for Cross Canyon. We eat lunch. The 5th rapid is at Mile 210½ and I call it a Class 5.

While trying to catch a catnap after lunch a yellow racer gives me quite a start by brushing unexpectedly against my leg. He had a brown lizard in his mouth and continues into the rock pile where he was headed, unperturbed by my shouts.

A Class 3 rapid is at Mile 209½. Big boulders make the right side impossible. There is a cluster of boulders in the center. The best route is just to the right of the center boulders. However, as Frank and I pulled out close to the bank on the left side, we chose to run the thin tongue on that side. The tongue is closely guarded on either side by a hole, but we slip through without difficulty. The Dixie Belle takes the other route.

The Class 2 rapid at Mile 209 is a very pretty one. It has a well developed "V" tongue, Frank takes us straight down the center—we ride smoothly on the gentle swells—the sides of the "V" draw tighter and tighter till we reach the vortex—then choppy water all around us as we pitch on the waves in the main channel.

No sight of the Robert E. Lee above the small canyon upstream from Cross Canyon so we run the broad, shallow Class 1 rapid between the two canyons. We spot the Robert E. Lee, and pull into camp at the mouth of Cross Canyon.

We have a big time joking about the upset at suppertime. It seems that several thousand dollars worth of equipment will be written off to the upset. The actual losses are: Hank’s Brunton compass, 1 cooking kit, 1 first aid kit, 1 200' length of manila line, 1 small tarp, also some of Russ’s air photos got a little damp.

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Last updated: February 24, 2015

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