Well, the narrative for the morning of Day Two will be slim on personal observations. I missed about half the day to a wrestling match with sand. To squelch the urge to overindulge on the topic of having sand in one’s eye, I’ll attempt to fill the void with some post-trip discoveries and stolen photos from Clark’s morning shoot. Yes, I hear you, “Big deal, I’ve had sand in my eyes!” and indeed I will have sand in my eyes plenty of times on this trip, but this Day Two Experience was like having had a disgruntled Brownie spend the night firmly packing sand into my eye socket. That is, I woke up half-blind. As a person who deals with hay and dust and animal hair/dander and agricultural dust regularly, I have rather a lot of tricks to deal with grit in my eyes, so it is difficult to express just how embarrassing and frustrating it was to have to seek help.
This is our first de-camping morning, and here I’m a useless cussing chump clumsily using a full-size water bottle to squirt water into one eye while both eyes fill with helpful, blinding tears, and Clark packs two people’s gear into bags and takes down the tent pretty much by himself. Meanwhile, someone loaded plates with breakfast for Clark and me, so we’d not miss out on blueberry pancakes and bacon. Despite my frustration and handicap, it turns out to be possible to swiftly consume a large quantity of this bacon. Pancakes not being finger food make them problematical, though tasty. Clark doubles up on bacon, not being a fan of pancakes contaminated with healthy antioxidant-bearing fruit.
So anyways, off we launch, all attired in our waterproof gear, for our run through Soap Creek Rapid. I wish I had the chameleon’s skill of moving one eye while keeping the other still, so I could watch with one eye and not worry about damaging the cornea on the other. Oh well, I can deal with missing the visual portion of the rapids we ride—first the thrashing-wet Soap Creek, then a couple of what would be mere riffles but are actually more exciting in the uncertain dark, then the lightweight Sheer Wall Rapid.
It’s not a big drop—though my readings indicate it used to be much more problematic. For the early explorers like Powell, who were not really equipped to run rapids, Sheer Wall was one of those that required extra effort to scout routes for portaging the boats . Due to the “sheer” walls of rock rising from the river at that point, Powell’s crew were forced to scramble up tricky gaps in the rock and cling to uncertain ledges.
As Clark’s photo shows, the rapid at Sheer Wall is very short, and for us is more like a 2-foot weir over the debris-flow from Tanner Wash. (Though, of course, with higher or lower water flow, it will be different—facts of life on the Colorado.) Hikers coming down from the Rim can enjoy some fabulous experiences upstream in Tanner Wash. While at river level, it’s an bland-looking open canyon, if one can climb up or around the dryfalls or pour-offs that form a barrier to up-creek hikers, there is a slot-canyon experience to be found, plus beautiful delicately-layered staircases as the creekbed cuts through the Coconino sandstone. Follow the link to John Crossley’s photos—these thumbnails are just a screenshot of a single page on his site.
And keep in mind that the hiking guides I’ve found share the opinion that these views of Tanner Wash are out-of-reach for anyone other than a technical climber or an experienced traveller on the only-slightly-marked go-arounds, if approaching from river level. So we’re not heartbroken by missing that side-trip.
While there’s a certain novelty in surfing blind, my mood is in the dumps, so I’ll admit to wasting too many available conversation opportunities by whining. It is suggested I wash out my eye by dunking my head in the river. The river full of sandy water. Yep, that would certainly work. Well, it would shut me up for a bit, I suppose.
Well, it does beat drowning, which is a recurring theme in the history lectures we hear on the trip. Surprisingly, the first to make it through, John Wesley Powell, didn’t lose any men to the river. (However, of the four who decided to hike out partway, three fell prey to old-fashioned death-by-human.) The brilliantly tight-fisted Frank Brown, who considered it sensible to sink his cash into Robert Stanton’s project of surveying the Grand Canyon at river level for the purpose of building a railroad (in order to profit from the transport of coal from Colorado) also considered it a waste of money to invest in life preservers on a treacherous river. He drowned just downstream of Soap Creek when his boat flipped over. Two more of the men on that expedition drowned a couple of days later and the rest of the team hiked out South Canyon. Stanton came back a year later—with life preservers, this time.
We pull ashore for a short break and then—cue trumpets and cymbals—Florence appears at my side and in short order she produces—from her accessible drybag, no less—a perfect, traditional blue glass eyecup, exactly like the one my family always had in our medicine cabinet. “I always carry an eyecup,” she says. And my trip is saved! It’s going to take some time and more patience, but there is nothing like having the right tool for the job.
Now that I can see a bit, I learn that this “short break” is in part a chance to scout House Rock.
It’s the first rapid on our trip with any potential trickiness to it, and this will be the first time that the crew will see it this year. Every year, things change as floodwaters shift material, rockfalls contribute to rapids, and flowrates change. The Grand Canyon River Guides even keep a record of the changes over time, under their “Adopt a Beach” program. For instance, here you can see how one of the beaches I didn’t see this morning has changed.
There’s a little scramble to get a sightline to House Rock. The guides are all together discussing the best route through the obstacles they see. I take a peek at the view and snap a few photos of my own before I need to stumble back to more-level ground to give Florence’s eyecup another workout before it’s time to re-board and run this rapid. It is definitely more fun with eyes open to see the waves coming.
Lunch is a stop at 20 Mile Camp—we are really Making Time today—for a lesson in creative use of groceries. For those of us who love cream cheese, there are bagels and cream cheese, while salmon fans can choose cream cheese blended with grilled salmon from last night. And there is the always-available peanut-butter & jelly option for the non-cheese-consumers, like Clark and Barry-the-vegan, or anyone who just doesn’t care for bagels. And fruit, of course. Did I mention our caretakers make sure we have plenty of fruit and veg in our river trip diet?
But here we are at the entrance to the “Roaring Twenties”. No more flat water for a while. Did you know that you can explore the canyon via Google Earth? You can take the do-it-yourself route and just install the software and do your own scans (which should be even cooler and in more 3-D soon, according to announcements made at Google’s I/O event this spring!) Or you can hook up with experienced Earthers like Riverbrain, who have put together stats on the river, rapids, and camps with zoomable satellite views from DigitalGlobe and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency, no less.