I do not have a river story for you this week, but I had a visit from a good friend from Bellingham and our reunion reminded me of one of the other reasons I have persevered with this little cottage industry.
I wrote a story a few years back titled "Why I (Continue to) Raft" and the gist of that column was that I realized how much I enjoyed getting people out on the water and watching the transformation. It ended with the brief tale of my very young nephew from Dallas who floated the Skagit and - at first - was terrified of the moving, darn-cold-if-you're-from-Texas water. And, despite being on a trip surrounded by a large Y group of boisterous Northwesterners who could not get enough of swimming, it appeared he would endure the trip and be ecstatic to see the takeout and a warm, dry car.
When we were halfway down the river, his entire attitude did an about face. And by the time we hit the takeout he WAS ecstatic, but not about being finished and back to dry land. He was ecstatic about his experience.
I love experiencing that joie de vivre with clients and students and new guides. I don't believe I will ever get enough of those revelatory expressions.
But the other thing I love is getting to know people.
The width and breadth of experiences of the people who I have come to know through their brief stints as river guides is phenomenal. The Orion guide pool, stretching back through the decades and all the way to the present, is a phenomenal, eclectic collection of talent and skills and attitudes and life experiences that I do not believe I would ever have come in contact with if I had chosen any other means of making a living.
And y'all are everywhere.
I was in downtown Olympia at a off-brand coffeehouse catching up with Dyana Fiediga, a few months after sharing a boat with her in Peru on the Rio Maranon, when in walks Randy Stocker whom I had not seen in ages. And though the encounter seemed almost magical, as it is with all old friends, it was as if no span of time lay between us.
We chatted amiably for five to ten minutes when we could easily have whiled away the rest of the afternoon laughing and reminiscing.
I was driving the Orion bus to the Tieton when I pulled into the rest area just north of Selah and before I could make my way to the bathroom, Therese Harrild pulled in figuring there just might be a chance she knew someone driving those white rigs. Though I had not seen Therese since the '80s she was a friendly face with a friendly smile and our banter was natural and easy.
Nowadays she occupies her time driving buses for Metro and, though I have never taken her up on the offer she made to moonlight for Orion, it was generous of her to mention it.
Last May I was hanging out in the middle of the Puget Sound in a white raft with the logo prominently splashed across the front during the Shell No protests and - the next thing I know - Danny Geiger has paddled up alongside us in his canoe to say hello. I have not seen Danny since he officiated Jeremy and Lachovia's wedding in Leavenworth but we may as well have been back on the bus headed to Costa Rica, doing orangutan imitations on the roof rack and making ceviche from scratch.
Earlier in the day, I had been maneuvering the truck and trailer into position to offload the boats at a West Seattle boat launch, when a motorcycle cop from SPD sauntered up only to give me a good-natured nudge and a big hug. I had been braced for a clash with authority and instead I was treated to the warmest smile you'll ever see from a police officer and an encounter that genuinely made my morning.
It was Carol Castellani. Hard nosed on her 'day job' escorting President Obama and keeping order where there is little, but a cupcake when you've seen her scrambling in the middle of the night to keep herself dry from an unexpected Grand Canyon thunderstorm.
Another coffeehouse - this time on Capitol Hill in Seattle - another Orionite. There I was at Victrola's whiling my time away making up stuff to write about when I look up to see Chris Pratt at the counter. I don't recall the last time I saw Chris - perhaps on the Selway trip I just recently wrote about - but I thoroughly enjoyed running into him and being brought up to speed on some consequential life changes.
I love connecting. I love reconnecting.
One of the things I have always treasured is the somewhat random occurrences of these connections and reconnections. Greg Chapman stopping by on his way to California via Pullman. Jerry Baird checking in after coming down from Bamfield on Vancouver Island. Julie Ann Porter-Scott making the effort to 'pass through' Leavenworth when she was visiting Seattle. Charley and Cindy and Linda and Ed inviting me to dinner at their rental cabin. Dyana asking me to lunch on her way to Portland.
My life is richer due to all of these interactions and intermingling stories.
And in several days, once another guide training begins in earnest, it will be richer and deeper still.
Consider this my deepest thanks to you all.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Monday, March 7, 2016
“The Selway, between Double Drop Rapids and Ladle Rapids, has averaged one drowning per year, over the past 8 years.” the veteran Selway River guide intoned. “Don’t take it lightly.”
After awkwardly clambering up a steep slope above Double Drop Rapids in an effort to get a peek at what lurked around the bend, those words lay harbored in the back of my mind. With the Selway rising, rocks were disappearing and ugly hydrologic features were emerging.
The reason those who scouted the day before were nonplussed about location was because they had noted an enormous boulder at the head of Double Drop Rapids.
An enormous boulder. With the rising tide, the telltale boulder was engulfed.
From the scout, I had no doubt of the preferred route. However, the slightest miscalculation risked an encounter with some of the explosive breaking waves toward the rapid’s tail. The more technically difficult Ladle Rapids were far enough downstream to be out-of-sight but close enough to not be out-of-mind.
In case you wondered, Robert was eddied out on the left side of the river down below the rapid and, unbeknownst to us, was desperately trying to scale the cliffs to reach us. Also, unbeknownst to us, his effort failed when he peeled off the cliff into the river and was forced to swim back to his boat.
After a brief scout, we hustled back to the rafts to tackle Double Drop before it got any bigger. I guided my attentive paddlers through the frothing mess without disaster. The remainder of the party followed without carnage but Dane reported an adventure run captured on - at least - two cameras.
One camera was mounted facing upstream and the other mounted on his helmet. The exciting part was the two contrasting perspectives when he engaged the nasty curling wave near Double Drop’s runout. As his cataraft balanced on its side, it was clear from his head camera his body was scrambling to keep his world upright as the boat tottered on the brink of capsizing.
Meanwhile, Nancy caught the powerful tail wave head on and, as her boat rounded into sight from our vantage point above Ladle, we saw her clinging to the frame like a refugee clinging to flotsam at sea. For a moment we feared she would float through Ladle’s minefield of hydraulics and, if she had, which of us would take chase, but to our everlasting relief - and hers as well - she remounted the boat and rowed to shore.
The veteran guide’s admonition made sense now that we had experienced the runaway freight train of water between the two drops. Little wonder people met their demise on this stretch. If you lost it in Double Drop, the recovery time before Ladle, at high water, was halved.
Still unnerved by the whitewater above, we hiked the trail to take a closer look at the infamous Ladle.
The next thing we knew we saw an inverted cataraft being flushed downriver and through the plethora of river features pocking the entire length and breadth of Ladle. No rafter, as far as we could ascertain, was with the craft. Another group had caught us. Two kayakers, however, were aggressively pursuing the cataraft as it was sucked downstream and out of our vision.
The ghost boat, the fierce whitewater upstream, the ever rising river and the unknown of what was right before our eyes spooked the lot of us.
River runners say “there are old boaters and bold boaters, but not a lot of old, bold boaters. . . “
Robert fell into the older, bolder boater category. A whitewater ninja if ever there was one. All of us have come to understand that the bigger his grin, the more difficult the whitewater we face.
After a scant reconnoiter, he bombed his cataraft down the middle of the rapid and, though he did not make it look enticing, he was scampering back upstream grinning from ear to ear. A couple of hours went by with considerable discussion of portaging.
Instead, Robert elected to row Jeremy and Mike’s rafts, Tom volunteered to take Nancy’s oar boat through and the rest of us continued to mull over route options.
The same guide who warned us of the fatalities had also proffered that, though it ‘looked’ like there was a ‘sneak’ route on Ladle’s left side, rafts couldn’t achieve the escape velocity to reach it. I watched Robert tenuously survive a couple of ugly sample runs and determined the paddle raft could improve on all three of them.
I wanted to sneak left but I feared jeopardizing my crew. Robert joined us in the paddle raft to help with the ‘lay of the land’. He also thought we could improve on his three hair-raising wild rides.
As we approached the top of the rapid, passing a monster reversal churning to our left, I gave a quiet forward command hoping to get just far enough out of the roaring midstream flow to slow our speed and set us up to thread the needle between the multiple sentry hydraulics that Robert had monkeyed around with all morning.
Unexpectedly, my paddlers responded like a prize steer pent up too long and released onto the rodeo grounds. We shot across the lip of the rapid several boat lengths farther left than any of us anticipated. The next thing I realized we hit the slot I yearned for all along, I straightened the bow into the oncoming waves and held on for dear life.
From shore, Dane said later it looked as if our raft was a hydrofoil. Gliding beyond the turmoil and completely dodging the fray. We eddied out as the final three boaters, elated to know they had options - one of them being as close to a dry run as you could ever hope - hastened to their crafts.
There was more. There was plenty more. Like the ‘boils of death’ at Little Niagara, and the ‘Wave that wouldn’t peak’ at Wolf Creek. And the lousy weather that never got better right on to the next dreary, wet trip on the Lochsa.
But cheating Ladle - accidentally - is the Selway story I’ll never forget.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
“The Selway, between Double Drop Rapids and Ladle Rapids, has averaged one drowning per year, over the past 8 years.” the veteran Selway River guide intoned. “Don’t take it lightly.”
As if we needed additional angst prior to boating one of the most difficult rivers to get a permit for in the country and one of the most remote rivers to navigate. Our long drive to the put-in carried us deep into the forested Idaho wilderness.
It was springtime. The weather was gorgeous. The skies were the kind of blue poets wax over and writers fawn on and on about struggling to come up with an original description. The river itself was flowing at an optimal level for a party that had never seen any of its whitewater.
It’s not that we weren’t loaded with experience, we were. Just not loaded with experience on the Selway.
Our group consisted of a paddle raft, a cataraft, two kayakers and a bevy of oar boats. What we discovered at the put-in on the morning of our launch was that we were critically shy on everyone’s favorite beverage. The beverage some people believe Seattle was founded on. The beverage that contains the ingredient that has launched a thousand ships, fueled a billion college students and so permeated the Puget Sound that its main component cannot be used to detect pollution.
Coffee. More precisely, caffeinated coffee.
The day before we drove for half a day and over a few substantial mountain passes to get to where we were. We were about as deep into wilderness as you can be in the contiguous continental United States.
In other words, a rafter of Seattleites (‘rafter’ being the formal name for a group of domestic turkeys) were about to run a river trip without their morning cups of joe. Essentially, cold turkey. Which, of course, was unacceptable. Yet resupply was impossible.
I have been on river trips where we were forced to reuse coffee grounds. I have been on a river trip where we had to cook every meal and brew coffee over an open fire. I have been on a river trip where the coffee provided was so distasteful we begged for Nescafe at the resupply.
But I had never had to raft cold turkey sans coffee. Rafting without coffee was tantamount to fly fishing without a hundred pockets.
As the realization spread through camp, good natured ribbing turned to alarm. Nancy had been tasked with the coffee requisition and she was feeling the heat of responsibility.
Fortune - thankfully - intervened. The wilderness ranger, who came to check us out, had a sufficient stash of Middle America’s finest blend - Folger’s - to see us through. And he was willing to part with it.
Disaster narrowly averted. Everyone’s good nature returned. Nancy would not be ostracized or left behind. Elated, we returned to our rigging.
A Selway permit was like a unicorn. I believed I would never score a Selway permit, or be invited on someone else’s permit, just as I would never see a unicorn.
But here we were on the legendary river in the heart of the Idaho backcountry with perfect weather, a manageable river level and an All-Star cast of boaters. As we delighted in the challenging whitewater above the innermost canyon where the notorious rapids lay in wait, we also marveled at our exquisite timing. Like the mercurial Illinois River, the Selway is renowned for ‘blowing up on you’ in no time.
We floated up to the final camp above the inner gorge and opted to spend an extra day. A layover day on any river trip is prized. But doubly so with a good group. It means more time in one another’s company.
From our layover camp, it was a short walk down canyon to scout Double Drop, the opening whitewater salvo of the inner gorge rapids. A portion of the group scouted while the rest of us lazed about camp reading or playing dice games.
Around midday a quiet rain commenced. The scouting group hiked back to report on what they observed at Double Drop but no one seemed impressed. Despite the inclement weather and the big day of rafting before us, we recreated until late in the evening. Some significantly more than others.
Mike Krausser and Hans Slette giggled late into the night by a dying campfire over whether or not ‘sedges had edges’ and whether or not it was snowing.
We awoke at dawn to a river seriously changed in character. The clarity was gone, replaced by murkiness. The rafts bobbed restlessly in the slack water near shore like horses unnerved by unseen predators. Once we launched, I felt through my paddle how the nature of the river had switched gears from playfully bold to monstrously powerful, and perhaps, unpredictable.
The river’s current had noticeably quickened.
Due to the blasé scout of Double Drop, the paddle-rafters, myself included, opted to appoint Kook as guide. But as we shot by a swollen tributary, while those who had scouted bantered back and forth about where we were on the river, I realized, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we were definitely ‘no longer in Kansas’.
The Selway of legend, the Selway we heard stories about, was, literally and figuratively, rising from it’s long winter nap.
I had not gone on the scout but I sensed us barreling toward a major drop which had to be Double Drop. I distinctly recollect there being some back and forth amongst those in the raft about whether it was possible we could have already reached Double Drop. In the stern, Kook was equivocating and the remainder of the crew looked askance to me. The doubt in everybody’s faces was all I needed.
I superseded Kook’s command and called for an immediate eddy out on the left side of the river.
We watched as Robert, rowing feverishly, trying to slow his downstream progress, disappeared into the exploding chaos hidden by the river’s bend.
(To Be Continued.)
Sunday, February 21, 2016
(A little over halfway around the circuit trail of Torres del Paine, running short on food, running short on patience, our intrepid adventurers, having moved on to a camp safe from falling timber, discover ‘el sendero’ - the trail - might just get worse. . . )
The night following the lunch communication fiasco we camped away from the forest of quaking, due-to-topple-at-any-moment behemoths, enjoyed a final cookie and began dreaming of being anywhere but on that godforsaken trail. The winds off the glacier were sporadic, but always prevalent. As we tromped the western portion of the trail most exposed to the glacial torrents, we started encountering ravines with lively, splashy streams.
A few posed no challenge to cross but one was especially treacherous. Other than the slippery footing due to algae on the surface of the stones, gusts of wind with enough power to fling you backwards were palpable against our bulky backpacks. At one ravine, the winds were so strong we were forced to time our jumps to keep from being sent tumbling and cartwheeling downhill through a scree field of angular rocks the size of basketballs.
When we were all safely on the other side of the hazardous crossing, we paused to acknowledge our good fortune and recover our composure. It was then we saw him coming around the corner going in the opposite direction. I swear about two things in regards to this encounter.
First of all, the hiker was on all fours with every indication that he had been on all fours for quite some time.
Secondly, he was the spitting image of Steve Laboff. If he had not spoken anything other than Spanish, we might have assumed it was Steve Laboff.
He was miserable. Jeans torn at the knees. Face grimy, thinning hair matted to his balding pate.
And we imagined we were miserable.
This guy, alone, groveling on hands and knees with a heavy frame pack, muttering “El sendero es malo”, over and over, cheapened our misery.
Our spirits sank. Even lower than they already were.
He was groaning about how awful the trail was behind him, just as we were beginning to think the worst lay behind us. Our next thought was, “If he thinks the trail behind him is bad. . . . wait until he encounters what we just survived!”
We gave him swigs of water, attempted a few more clumsy and futile efforts to communicate about the trail ahead and behind, and then bid him adieu. It would not have surprised any of us if we had heard later that he had required rescuing. Or worse.
Our trudge south continued expecting the worse. It was not very long before we encountered the bad part of the trail that had shellshocked our crawling Argentinian friend. We were now walking through the remains of a significant forest fire which, though ugly, would not have been much to write home about except that the glacial winds blew relentlessly.
We were fortunate because the winds blew in the direction which we walked. Steve Laboff’s doppelganger did not have that luxury. He hiked and crawled into the winds. Fine ash and small cinders were airborne. Being a contact lens wearer, I was in my own special earthbound hell. The winds blew too steadily to remove my contacts, while the ash particulates were too ubiquitous to keep wearing them.
Misery doubled down for me.
Robert loves to tell about the times I break into, what he loves to call, my ‘fuck dances’. Though I have no recollection doing that at this time, this would - undoubtedly - be the ideal setting for a ‘fuck dance’.
I stumbled down the trail trying to maintain focus through watery, throbbing eyes. As per usual, when having as much fun as I was, time staggered on. But, then, quite suddenly, we emerged from the blackened ashscape into another inviting meadow like the one we hiked on our first day, the hurricane breezes tapered off and a shimmering, blue lake appeared as if conjured.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so we set up our tents near the lake and inhaled the last of our dwindled rations, figuring tomorrow we should easily reach park headquarters and the promise of additional foodstuffs. There beside a pacific lake in a verdant field of ankle-high grass under a panoply of stars I might never witness again, I felt confident I would sleep like the dead.
I could not have been more wrong.
The glacial winds behaved as if they were an out-of-control firehose left to writhe about untended. Where we had nestled down for the night was an enormous bowl-shaped valley. The terminus of the glacier was just to the north of us where it emptied into the lake.
The winds thrashed about all night, but they weren’t always tormenting our camp. As I said, they reminded me of a firehose unleashed with the water pressure on full bore. You could hear the winds whipping about the valley, sometimes very far off into the distance. At our camp, it would be as still and as calm as a becalmed sea.
But then, as I lay awake in my tent, doing a prone version of the ‘fuck dance’, I could hear the ferocious winds making their way down-valley until - of a sudden - camp was being beaten down by hurricane force gales. Our tents flattened to conform to the shape of our bodies as we hunkered tight. The winds pounded us for half an hour and then move away only to return after making their rounds.
I slept nary a wink.
Dawn broke. Winds died. Bleary-eyed and ravenous, we packed up. We hiked a good distance along the north end of the lake to a ferry we trusted to deliver us to the park entrance. It wound up returning us back from whence we came.
Which - in the grand scheme of our epic hike of the Torres del Paine - was par for the course.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
We utilized a half dozen modes of transportation to wend our way to the end of the South American continent - train, plane, taxi, rental car, ‘chicken bus’ and foot. When we reached Puerto Montt, we mulled over taking a ferry to the ‘earth’s end’ but airfare was so enticingly inexpensive and, as an added bonus, it included complimentary cocktails on a spacious jumbo jet.
We felt like dirtbag jet setters.
The ‘end of the earth’ was gorgeous and windswept. The glaciated mountains to the north were stark beckoning sentinels on the horizon. We were in the land of Patagonia and the Argentinian Fitzroys - famous climbing destinations and mountain ranges. Tricia, Robert, Kent and I came to Chile for river adventures, but we journeyed to the southernmost end to exercise our legs.
The jagged peaks we could see from the hostel were called the Torres del Paine, part of the region’s most noted national park. “Towers of the Pain,” I thought, “Great.” Actually the origins of the name Paine were lost to the sands of time, but, in the end, when all was said and done, and often while it was being said and being done, it was a fitting descriptive term.
We had two objectives on our two month tour of Chile - visit Patagonia and raft the soon-to-be-dammed Bio Bio River. We weren’t sure what we would do when we reached the wind whipped terminus of South America. However, having seen the majesty of the iconic Patagonia peaks that inspired the logo of the well-known outdoor clothing and gear company, and learning there was a trail that circumnavigated those peaks, it appeared to be kismet to set out on that trail.
Robert, Kent and I were quite familiar with backpacking, though, as we were soon to discover, it was not our strongest outdoor suit. Tricia was a backpacking newbie, but when our plan was being hatched, she didn’t bother to emphasize that fact to the rest of us. We set out knowing very little about the circuitous trail other than there were supposed to be some European-like warming huts, and possibly, food options at said huts.
This false hope was the reason we hoisted our heavily loaded packs and headed down the trail with three days of rations on a trek supposed to take seven days we planned to do in five days. As I mentioned previously, backpacking was not the outdoor skill we were noted for.
The day was lovely with brilliant blue skies. The four of us excitedly walked the trail through a meadow sprinkled with wildflowers. Even though we knew we needed to make haste, the meadow enticed us to lie down and bask in the warming sun. Our first day on the trail ended far short of our intended destination, but, at that stage, we were neither alarmed or concerned.
We were having too much fun at Tricia’s expense. At camp, we discovered her backpack contained two pairs of heavy jeans and the novel, Sacajawea, which was essentially a cinder block disguised as a paperback. She had been struggling with her pack throughout the course of the first day and now we realized part of the reason. If she was carrying those items, what else might she have packed?
On the second day the trail abruptly took a turn for the worse. A wind storm had knocked over dozens and dozens of trees with ample girths and we spent a good portion of the day clambering over the fallen forest. And then the trail veered into a bog with exposed, criss-crossing roots interspersed with mud holes of indeterminate depths.
Indeterminate until I landed in one and found it to be nearly up to my armpits. By that time, Kent and Robert were well up the trail. Tricia was struggling with both her backpack and her hiking boots and I was trying to be chivalrous and helpful and not fall into any more pits.
When we finally emerged from the bog, we found Kent and Robert at Campomento Los Perros, or The Dogs Camp. It was on this grim evening, exhausted from the challenging terrain and the physical impediments strewn in our path, we came to the realization we were seriously shy on foodstuffs. Backpacking innocence lost…
What we had not yet lost however, was a sense of humor.
It was ‘gallows’ humor, but humor nevertheless.
For dessert, Kent carefully carved one of the few cookies into four tiny segments. Stomachs rumbled throughout the night.
The following day the trail began to climb up and over a pass. For some unknown reason, the masochists who created the circuit decided not to bother with switchbacks. Their preference was - virtually - straight up. As we approached the saddle of the ridge, we walked on bare stone littered with rocks and pebbles. Winds gusting off the glacier that snaked down the valley on the other side of the ridge were so stiff the rocks and pebbles skittered across the stone, practically airborne.
Once more, Kent and Robert jogged ahead. I walked sweep with Tricia. Her overstuffed backpack and nagging blisters had her hobbled.
For some reason, we believed lunch was with our comrades who had disappeared. Consequently, despite hunger, we pressed on. The trail on the opposite side of the ridge plummeted straight down into a spindly forest of alder-like trees. We literally were forced to grab trees alongside the trail like monkeys. My hands quickly became raw and even my gallows humor succumbed to misery.
We caught Kent and Robert blithely cat-napping in a forest grove where we had hoped to camp. We slung our packs to the ground and plopped down exhausted and ‘hangry’ - part hungry, part angry. While discussing our options, the giant trees swayed in the glacial wind. Creaking and groaning. Fallen trees surrounded the open forest floor designated as a camp. We opted to move on.
As it turned out, Robert had packed our lunches in our packs.
(To Be Continued.)
Sunday, February 7, 2016
We called him Heavy D. Because his gait was reminiscent of Bigfoot and carabiners were a part of his stock and trade.
We called him Dilly Dally. Because his concept of time was warped. Skewed more toward the Latin American version than the northern European version.
I called him Big D, little A, double L, A, S. Because that was how the radio station I listened to growing up spelled Dallas, and I liked repeating it.
He was noted for absolutely not wearing a dirndl despite our most determined efforts. He was also noted for - begrudgingly - donning pink bunny rabbit ears to emcee Dinner Theatre on guide training despite feeling under the weather.
On that night, we called him ‘Angster Bunny’. It has taken him more than a decade to laugh about that.
A story Dallas loves telling about me occurred during his weekend training. He accompanied me in the company van from the greasiest of greasy spoon cafes in the slumbering lumber town of Darrington to a county park located twelve miles out of town on the lower Sauk River. We knew very little of each other beyond the pleasantries we exchanged over the course of the training and the twenty minute ride from restaurant to campsite.
Basically, he knew me as the boss. I knew him as the eager trainee.
Winnie, my Australian shepherd/sheltie mix, had also accompanied us in the van. At the restaurant before we left, I let her out to stretch her legs. She was a smart, well-behaved dog and I rarely needed to look out for her.
As Dallas and I pulled into the county park I came to the sudden sickening realization I had driven off without Winnie due to having been distracted - no doubt - by the need to do some cat-herding. I exploded with a torrent of choice expletives and Dallas thought we had either thrown a rod in the dilapidated Orion rig or were about to drive off the bridge into the river.
I am sure he was terrified and impressed at how quickly I transmogrified from mild-mannered James to ranting-and-raving James.
No phone booths required.
Dallas was a young, good-looking buck who took to guiding like sows take to mud wallows. Being young and egotistical, I anticipated he might, like many self-absorbed males before him, become a hazard to himself and clients. But he surprised me.
His wake-up call happened early on. He said everything changed about his attitude toward guiding the day he fished one of his customers out of the frigid waters of some Washington river and got a look at what terror looks like up close and personal.
From then on, he never checked being empathetic at the door. He never forgot commercial trips were not about the egos of the guides, but about the experience of the guests. That guiding meant you had to know what it was like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
And the vast majority of guests have zero desire to find themselves without a boat in whitewater.
Two of his more memorable remarks were:
“If I had to, I could get infants down this river.”
And. . .
“That turd’s gonna shoot on through. . .”
The former came during a media interview when, in his inimitable way, he was explaining the confidence required to succeed in guiding a commercial raft. Enough to declare that you could take infants if needed.
The latter comment was uttered as he and I watched a raft dive over a falls on an impressively high water trip in May. I had my reservations and fears as I watched the boat lock in to the slipstream above the cascade, but Dallas was as confident as a blackjack dealer who knows exactly how the odds are stacked.
Dallas and I have always had a complicated and competitive relationship whether it be drinking games, horseshoes or esoteric topics. He was never one to blindly kowtow to my authority, and I have often listened to, if not harkened, his sage, and ample, advice.
We’ve watched one another’s backs on many occasions on river banks around the western United States.
We’ve howled at the moon and rebel yelled loud enough to disturb the dead.
But the story I like to tell about him happened on the Grand Canyon.
It had been a long day on the water and - for once - I was not the group leader. But, the downside was, I was not in charge of determining the itinerary. It turned in to a day where we pushed further downstream than I was comfortable and, as the afternoon acquiesced to twilight, I was not in any humor for shenanigans when we reached camp.
It was my group’s cook day. As it so happens, Dallas and I were partners, along with Ally, in a three member chore group. We were midway through the Canyon and, so far, Dallas’ primary contribution to our crew on the days we cooked was to bar tend. Which - ordinarily - was wonderful.
He was noted for never skimping when it came to the quality of alcohol. Nor the quantity for that matter.
(Another one of his favorite expressions: “Twenty four beers in a case. Twenty four hours in a day. It can’t be a coincidence.”)
I hit the beach that evening exclaiming to anyone in earshot, “I’m going to be useless!” Meaning I was prepared to do some drinking.
But, as the cooking commenced, some god-awful barley concoction, it became clear that if I wanted to be ‘useless’, Dallas needed, for Ally’s sake, to be somewhat useful.
He had already begun his bartending routine.
That’s when I pulled him aside and told him in no uncertain terms, “Heavy D, I love you like a brother. But if you don’t chop some onions, I’m going to heave you into the river.”
Incredibly enough, he took it to heart. The meal still sucked. But we had a swell time creating it.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
The majority of my memories of Lava revolve around the aftermath.
The blowing off steam on one of the beaches within easy rowing distance. Or the first beach you wash up on. Or a midstream boulder, a stone’s throw from the maelstrom, imbibing a post-Lava beer with my boat crew gayly snapping selfies. Ecstatic having the whitewater turmoil harmlessly upstream of us.
I prefer to camp far enough away Lava is not audible or visible but close enough to have plenty of time to clean up and still allow a large, lazy portion of the day for a party. By ‘clean up’ I mean retrieving items and rafts and swimmers and other detritus following any potential mishap.
Not a shave and shower.
It was on the beach at the bottom of Lava I learned of Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky”. When I first heard it recited I was too much in the party mood to focus but I distinctly recall being enraptured by the gibberish which sounded grammatically correct and certainly teased the imagination. I vowed to memorize it - and I have.
“Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe, all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome’s wrath outgrabe. . . “
On the same occasion we shared the beach with another party - a party of twelve men and one woman. They were short on coffee. We were flush with coffee. Their female was exasperated at dealing with the twelve males lack of decorum and sophomoric humor.
Such as setting up the groover, aka ‘the toilet’, right on the boat exposed for all the world to witness everyone’s scatological habits. The female hinted she would consider swapping teams and finishing her trip with us.
A short time later, both groups met on a wide spot of the beach, like teams arranged for a raucous game of Red Rover. Spontaneously one of us galumphed between the opposing parties on all knuckles as a great silverback ape might, set down a sacred can of Folger’s, soaked the sand with lighter fluid and set it afire. The instigator bounded back to his tribe as everyone, on cue and without forethought, began to reenact the apocryphal scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where the apes come upon a cold, black, completely out-of-place obelisk.
A ring of fire engulfed the red tin can while a herd of homo sapiens did their finest impressions of excited hominids. By hand gestures and grunts, we tried to make it clear we were trading the coffee for the female member of their party. We were not all stone, cold sober, but we weren’t intoxicated at this stage either. It was improvisation at its finest.
Whether or not anyone was clothed, I can’t recall.
In the end, they commandeered the Folger’s and I believe we settled for some other insignificant processed product and not the damsel in psychological distress.
On my most recent foray through the Canyon and past Lava Falls, we pulled in at Tequila Beach just as a research group being escorted by a commercial outfitting group was finishing their lunch. It didn’t take long for us to strike up some meaningful, impromptu conversations, empathize with their loss of a valued team member - one of the ten humpback chubs being ferried by helicopter into the gorge - and realize they were considerably more lax than your typical commercial crew. Meaning they had a decadent sense of humor and were likely not easily offended.
Due to that knowledge, a couple of us, who will remain unnamed, serenaded the last two of their oarsmen, as they pulled away from the beach, with a rousing imitation of orangutans on drugs who had somehow learned the words to an enthusiastic Maori war chant.
In hindsight, I’m sure they were bemused, envious and concerned they might be reading about us later in the news. Our celebratory party continued into the early evening aboard my raft beneath a multi-colored beach umbrella and bottomless shot glasses of Banderas - three separate shots with Spicy V-8, lime juice and Don Patron tequila. Red, green and white. The colors of the Mexican flag. ‘Bandera’ being Spanish for ‘flag’.
A few nights later we caught up to the commercial crew and their merry band of fish biologists and partied like it was 1999 and Lava Falls all over again.
My final Lava Falls recollection was in Chile on the Rio Bio Bio at an ominous rapid named in honor of Lava Falls - Lava Falls South. On our treacherous, bone-jarring shuttle to the launch for the upper canyons of the Rio Bio Bio, I remember staring into the canyon from an extremely long perspective and seeing the part of the river including Lost Yak and Lava Falls South and thinking, “If it looks this fearsome from a quarter mile, what’s it going to look like when we reach river level?”
It was scary enough knowing that an oarsman on a first descent was impaled by an oar rammed through his thigh. Between that uplifting anecdote and this intimidating preview, we started down the soon-to-be-dammed river.
Lost Yak Rapid and Lava Falls South practically blended together. After completing Lost Yak, Jerry Baird gave the guide paddle to me for the big one. Of course, I wanted to scout.
Kent, Robert, Tricia and Jerry were my paddlers as we wended our way downstream, dodging sleepers and rocks. Jerry was a veteran of the Bio Bio and I depended on his knowledge. But he was also fearless, undaunted by the nastiest hydrologic features.
Every dozen yards or so, I’d ask, “Is this the scout?”
Jerry would respond with a laconic “No” and dismissive wave.
After a couple more nervous exchanges, we were bordering on the point of no return. Kent, paddling in the bow like a good soldier, growled over his shoulder at me:
“Does the word ‘sandbag’ mean anything to you?”
Indeed it did. I pulled over posthaste.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
My relationship with Lava Falls on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon is relatively lengthy. For an erstwhile Canyon boater, I have stood at the brink of this geologically cataclysmic, gnarly stretch of water quite a bit. More than your average Grand Canyon duffer.
And, in spite of its surly reputation, Lava Falls has only spanked me and my crew mates the very first time I encountered it. Of course, I abide the hoary old adage, “There are those who have, there are those who will and there are those who will again.” Consequently, I take nothing for granted when I reach River Mile 179.
In my original encounter, I couldn’t find the fucking bubbles. But that is not the hoary river tale I am writing about on this go around.
(As an aside, according to the author of The Emerald Mile, the route known as the “Bubble Run” no longer exists. It’s magical period of existence, when those who found the bubbles slipped through Lava like greased pigs through the clutches of contestants at a county fair, ended some time in the early ‘90s.)
What I want to write about are my recollections relative to Lava. Though no other encounter, other than the first, included flipped rafts - like the converted, monstrous Idaho sweep boat decked from bow to stern in a diamond plated frame with metal drop floors which required the teamwork of two entire parties to flip up right - I have numerous associated Lava Falls memories worth sharing.
If for no other reason, Lava Falls deserves reverence because it sits alone toward the tail end of a Canyon river trip. The last rapid of unusual size after all the harrowing, significant whitewater upstream. After all of the other garden variety boat eating holes. After all of the other boat enveloping, asymmetrical breaking waves. After all of the Colorado River’s deceptive currents lurking in some of the more insignificant drops, eddy lines and unexpected boils.
It’s an old business teasing those who are first time Canyon boaters about the significance of Lava. My mentor on trip number one teased me mercilessly. And, I will admit, it is a tradition I enjoy passing along.
The teasing goes something like this - after surviving any number of drops between river mile x and river mile y, you catch up to one of the greenhorn boaters in the downstream slack water, who are still wide-eyed from their most recent success, congratulate them, and then say, “Nicely done. But it’s nothing like Lava. . . “
Or. . .
“Do you hear that?” Ideally, the teasing commences in Marble Canyon, days and hundreds of miles from Lava.
“That rumble,” you respond.
“What is it?”
“If I am not mistaken, Lava Falls.”
Depending on how much fun you are having with this, it can go on for days. All the way to Lava Falls Eve where it is customary to compose and sing Lava Falls carols to the tune of Christmas songs. As in John Cole and Linda Hedlund’s scintillating performance filmed and saved for posterity by Dane Doerflinger. A Lava Falls carol to the tune of Jingle Bells. They wrote the lyrics down so the group could follow and sing along.
“Lava Falls, Lava Falls, La-a-a-va Falls,
Lava Falls, Lava Falls, La-a-a-va Falls. . . hey!”
Etcetera. Ad infinitum. As long as you can stand it.
Weather conditions on the day of a Lava scout are rarely notable and often pleasant enough in the fall and spring. But, on one trip, as we rounded the last bend prior to Vulcan’s Anvil - a massive black volcanic plug squatting a quarter mile above Lava like the imposing obelisk it is - the cloudless skies at our backs came face-to-face with the blackest, most ominous skies I have ever seen.
The diametrically opposed fronts collided on a line where lava flows surged across the river creating the Canyon’s most notorious whitewater. Angry, roiling clouds and stiff upstream winds, followed by a torrential downpour halted our downstream approach and caused everyone to seek whatever shelter they could find amongst the skimpy tamarisk along the banks.
We hunkered down for an hour as the storm buffeted the Canyon.
Until recently, those clouds that swept over us, blackened the day and dumped buckets of chilling rain were my most ominous memories of arriving at the precipice of Lava. However, on the latest trip, though the weather was blue skies from horizon to horizon, activity overhead once again gave us pause. A Park Service rescue chopper buzzed our party making a bee-line to the bottom of Lava Falls just as our party was pulling into the eddy to scout.
On the beach below the tumultuous rapid we could see a group gathered. The helicopter landed nearby. Through binoculars, it was obvious grief or anguish was one of the emotions coursing through the gathered party. From the cliff above Lava, our group tried to stay focused on the task at hand - each of us seeking our own clear route past towering waves and hydraulics that may have only recently visited disaster on the crew below us.
Needless to say, it was a very sobering scout.
At the conclusion of our uneventful runs, we reached the beach known as Tequila Beach, or Recovery Beach, named for obvious reasons, and learned the reason for the ‘rescue’ helicopter and the glum body language we noted through our spy glasses.
It was a research group who had contracted a commercial rafting company to run the length of the Canyon so that they could remove non-native trout and restore the threatened and native humpback chub. What we witnessed, spying on them from afar, was their reaction upon learning one of their prized chubs had not survived the helicopter ride from rim to canyon floor.
In other words, our morning of anxiety-laden thoughts had been triggered by the death of a single fish.
Perhaps river karma for my teasing was to blame.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
(The original working title for this story was 'California Dreamy'. But I came across an ammo box sticker years ago at Bumbershoot that I couldn't pass up. And it has long been my favorite sticker - along with Porkins Lives, of course. Due to the walking on water reference, I thought it just as fitting.
Two things - when you become a river guide, bumper stickers are no longer bumper stickers but ammo box stickers, and because of the protagonist of this tale, Orion began using oarlocks versus whatever archaic contrivance we had been using previously. Hallelujah!)
In the end, he wasn’t known as Randy “MacBackRub” for nothing.
But, in the beginning, a few of us swear we saw him walk on water.
It started on the Skykomish River on a dreary western Washington day early in the spring. Temperatures hovered around nut-clenching and penis-shriveling
The good news was - it wasn’t raining. At least not yet.
Our guests were a UW fraternity and, though the river was high and the weather was less than ideal, Scott, Mark and I figured the show must go on. But, first, we needed to rendezvous with a Californian guide who called me out of the blue to see if he could tag along.
The three of us - all veteran guides - loitered in the company van at the launch site shooting the breeze in anticipation of meeting this guy from the ‘other’ sunshine state. We heard a knock on the sliding door of the van and, upon opening it, we eyed a guy wearing a cowboy hat, plaid flannel shirt, canvas shorts and flip flops. Of course, he also sported a mountain man beard.
Scott and Mark immediately suspected we were dealing with a yahoo.
If not a yahoo, a Californian too vain for his own good.
They refused to cut him slack. While the three of us were dressed to make a run at the South Pole, Randy McChristian was dressed for warmer climes. Luckily, he brought neoprene but it was a shorty wetsuit suitable for not-particularly-foul-weather conditions.
Needless to say, his lack of understanding of the appropriate gear both baffled us and made us dubious of his supposed skills and ballyhooed experience.
After he and I chatted one another up, he boldly asked if he could row the safety boat. The Skykomish was running somewhere within the vicinity of burly and unpleasant. Even under the best of circumstances, I rarely allow anyone to be in charge of my fate on - what I consider - serious white water.
But, for some inexplicable reason, I capitulated. No doubt begrudgingly.
We launched on the South Fork of the Skykomish and after an uneventful, predominantly dry, definitely smooth ride, the four of us were standing on boulders on the right bank of an angry-looking section of river appropriately enough called Boulder Drop.
Three hundred yards or so of mesmerizing currents, exploding waves and intimidating hydraulics. Three hundred yards requiring several decisions, a few maneuvers and poor odds that nothing will go awry. Especially for non-self-bailing paddle rafts.
Especially at what, in the industry, we like to call “pushy” water levels.
Randy seemed undaunted. He was eager to dip his oars in Boulder Drop’s waters and experience the chaos firsthand.
I don’t remember his exact demeanor as we looked down upon what was - at the time - the nastiest bit of white water any of us ever wanted to voluntarily boat, but I am guessing it fell within the range of giddy to sublime. He reminded me of a determined rodeo cowboy preparing himself to take on the wildest stallion, or an ancient yoga master reciting the Bhagavad Gita while doing a headstand. In other words, even though this was his first gander at Boulder Drop, his pulse rate was rock steady.
Meanwhile, Scott and Mark put on a their best swagger. Beneath the bravado? I could only hazard a guess.
I queried Randy about his markers and route, found his response to be reassuring and steeled myself for what was surely one of the first times I ever dropped into this stretch of hellish white water without being in control.
Long story short - he made it look effortless.
In two shakes of a lamb’s tail (okay - how about. . . faster than I could tie a double fisherman's knot?) he was tucking the raft into a bit of calm water on the left bank downstream of the cascade. I couldn’t have been more impressed. We bobbed in the river’s intermittent pulse awaiting two paddle rafts brimming with youthful college students’ vim and vigor.
Mark led. We watched his raft plunge over a steep chute, get swallowed, recycled, flipped and then all we saw were seven bobbing hockey helmets.
Scott’s plunge produced the same result.
And - suddenly - we had, what we call in the industry, a “yard sale”. Boats, paddles, water bottles, bobbing hockey helmets attached to flailing bodies - all choosing varying courses through the remainder of the rapid. Needless to say, my adrenalin spiked. I grabbed every throw bag available.
Randy, on the other hand, could have been standing in line at the bank. He patiently waited as if he were at a stoplight.
As the first two swimmers approached, he rowed out, rescued them, then returned to the eddy. He darted back out to grab the next several. I threw throw bags to expedite the process. On the next pass we scooped up a few of the stragglers, ferried to the opposite bank and collected the rest.
With fourteen of us in the safety boat, Randy rowed into the main current and we began retrieving the detritus of a double flip - paddles and boats in particular - en route to our scheduled lunch stop a quarter mile downstream. Scott and Mark, like the good guides they were, swam to save themselves.
Somewhere, somehow in that quarter mile journey everyone was reunited with their crews and gear.
When we landed for lunch, it was clear a few of our guests were a tad shell-shocked. Most verged on hypothermia.
Once more, the white water cowboy from SoCal came to the rescue. He built a campfire, acted like everyone had just won a huge payout at Vegas and made sure no one was left to brood about their circumstances. It wasn’t genuine, but it was an Oscar performance, and it was precisely the response the frat boys required.
As time went by, Randy wore out his welcome, especially with the back rubs and all; however, on that day, he walked on water.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
(In my last post, myself and fifteen intrepid adventurers found ourselves up to our armpits in darkest Peru lashing down gear on six rafts at the put-in for a 24-day expedition down the Grand Canyon of South America - the Rio Maranon.)
So there we were. In a working gravel pit. Sweltering under the relentless onslaught of the equatorial sun while lashing gear for the next three weeks, and then some, onto our Chinese-manufactured, inflatable aircraft carriers.
We were as excited and giddy as a bunch of pigs wallowing in a mud hole. We were prepping to run a river in Peru!
Unfortunately, a slight hiccup in our river time bliss arose - nasty, ubiquitous, biting gnats. Easy - at first - to ignore, but only at your peril. Before long, we noticed our calves, ankles and hands were swollen, or in the process of swelling, from bites. On the fortunate side, the learning curve was steep. It did not take long for us to learn you had to wear protective clothing from dawn to dusk in combination with repellent.
Long sleeves, long pants. Check.
Pants tucked into socks. Check.
Socks whether you were wearing shoes or sandals. Check.
Neck gaiter. Check.
We further learned, when journeying to the latrine, you had to coat your backside with repellent, or pay the price in blood and bites.
“Some camps MAY have biting insects.” the website read. As the trip wore on (and never has ‘wore on’ been more apt), we decided that phrase should be amended to read, “Biting insects are ubiquitous, rapacious and incessant, especially in September and October. Prepare accordingly.”
I itched so badly at night I was forced to pop Benadryl every evening before bed for two weeks straight.
The website also forewarned about intestinal issues being likely to occur and sanitation was not to be taken lightly. On a river trip, I have never taken sanitation issues lightly but - apparently - I had never encountered a river more likely to give you diarrhea.
Bleach was mandatory in every dish washing basin. In our hand washing station. In our filtered water. Vegetables needed a light bleach bath. Ideally, a light bleach sauté nightly may have proved prophylactically beneficial.
Even so, most of our team members fell ill. Some of us more than once over the course of three weeks. It was not necessarily a debilitating illness, just local ‘bugs’ that caused many of us to stagger stoically to the bathroom a half dozen times in the morning only to emit stools the consistency of milkshakes. Stools in vivid colors, ranging from your run-of-the-mill brown to exotic tinctures of orange and yellow.
I don’t know with certainty about everyone else, but I had what is known in impolite company as “Hershey squirts” for the entire journey. And twice I felt nauseous for a substantial portion of a day. One evening my nausea was so caustic I felt I was going to fart, shit and vomit simultaneously. Acid reflux was thrown into the mix as well.
But in the end, the coup de grace was the towns and never feeling as if I was “getting away from it all.”
The trip’s midsection included a half dozen villages or towns. With the towns - though seemingly necessary for resupply - you were capable of accessing the world wide web. In fact, phone service, at least within the country’s limits, was available up and down the river corridor. Though wonderful in many regards and circumstances, in my view it was anathema if you wanted to realize the full therapeutic benefit of river travel.
An antiquated sentiment in a brave new world.
The illness, the bugs and the sneaking suspicion that no matter how much hand sanitizer, bleach water and caution you used you were going to ingest some type of water borne contaminant, made it impossible for me to ‘be in the moment’. Made it impossible to forget the outside world.
My Peruvian adventure trip of a lifetime unraveled due to insatiable insects, rumbling bowels and a lack of a sense of being Out There.
The whitewater in the vernacular of our guide was ‘fun’ and ‘good’. In rudimentary translation, ‘challenging’ and ‘recommended scout’.
The scenic beauty was not epic, but it had its moments. The cacti, flocks of parrots, the miniature Redwall Cavern, the mango and coconut trees all deserve a mention.
The Peruvian people were the most welcoming people I have ever encountered. Their friendliness, openness and kindness can not be overstated.
The outfitter’s services - food, shuttles, accommodations, the gear and the guide were all top notch. The fact everything came together was a testament of tenacity.
Of course, my fellow travelers made all the difference. Even in my darkest hours in darkest Peru, I loved the fact I was with THIS group of people. Their spirit was indefatigable. Their spirit never broke.
No braying donkeys. . . no crowing roosters. . .no swarm of niggling gnats could destroy their spirit or dampen their enthusiasm to find the humor in episodic, nocturnal shit fits.
Or canyon hikes stifled by the equatorial sun and ending boxed in with nothing but a trickle of orangish, mining contaminated water. Or weak coffee, tasteless beer or tepid water.
As a rafting group, we set the time record for lining, portaging and running the notoriously dangerous Wasson’s Slide. The cherry we placed on top was we also negotiated the fearsome boulder-choked gorge without losing anything of significance. Apparently an uncommon occurrence for groups of clumsy rafters.
Even though the most pollyannaish were acting like gloomy Guses, every once in a great while, we reveled in the occasional refreshingly clear stream, sometimes accompanied by a series of waterfalls or cleansing pools.
A couple of end-of-the-day parties rivaled any blow out on any Grand Canyon trip.
Sunday, January 3, 2016
Two winters ago an article I read in American WhiteWater magazine struck a chord with my sense of adventure. Resonated with my alter ego.
The alter ego not married to the couch. The alter ego which still has a hankering for a dosage of adrenaline. (Though the dosage is - admittedly - getting smaller.) The alter ego who imagines himself as one of the most interesting men in the world. (“Whose passport requires no photograph.” “Who won a staring contest with his own reflection - Dos Equis.” You need to know the commercial to appreciate the reference.)
The article was written about one of the major tributaries of the Amazon. Possibly even the actual source tributary for the Amazon, according to the article’s author. It was the Rio Marañon. The Grand Canyon of South America was how the article touted it.
And it was - in the immortal words of Paddington Bear - “in darkest Peru.”
How dark? I couldn’t have guessed or imagined by reading the article. But the story fired my imagination because it was a river that could be rafted for 24 days. Even longer if you went into the jungle regions. Even longer than that if you wanted to head down the Amazon. However, for 500 kilometers, it was a river that meandered and dashed through canyons comparable to the grandest of all canyons.
And - better still - it was a river that would not require a herculean effort because the author of the story about the Rio Marañon was also an outfitter who outfitted Marañon trips. All I would need to do would be to rally enough boaters to fill out our exclusive ‘trip of a lifetime’. The outfitter would provide the rest, including a Spanish-speaking, English-comprehending guide. All for a price similar to a private Grand Canyon-outfitted river trip.
The rallying began in earnest and, before I learned too much to turn back, I found myself on an international flight to Lima, Peru, with three packed duffles of river gear and 15 party members to follow with their own small hills of gear in tow.
I get stoked about rafting and wilderness and the outdoors for all kinds of reasons.
Floating a river is the closest I ever get to being spiritual. I get high from the ‘flow experience’, and I am not referring to the river’s flow. Flow is being so in tune with your surroundings that you lose yourself in the moment. It is as if the molecules in your universe are in exquisite agreement, and you are dancing with those molecules in perfection. You become the molecular equivalent of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Seamless. Synchronized. Flawless.
The world you left behind is completely tuned out. It’s just you, the river, the boat, the oars and the elements. Everything that means anything is in your mind’s eye or, actually, in sight. It is the ‘flow experience’ and every athlete knows of which I speak. In fact, it happens with any activity with which you have become intimate. Writing, pottery, oratory, horseshoes. . .
Rhapsodic ‘flow experiences’ only happen periodically. In my case, predominantly with whitewater, when my concentration is naturally at its peak.
A lesser version of it, but still transcendental in nature, far broader in scope and the main reason I set off down rivers, is my overall experience of being detached from all the cares, responsibilities and worries that plague us all during our daily existence.
To put it succinctly, I leave all the mental baggage - eventually - behind. And this is every bit as magical as it sounds.
No rocket science degrees are required. Take portrait pictures of all the participants of a 24 day river trip on every fourth day, and I guarantee you will see the weight of the world disappearing with each photographic session. I live, breathe and sermonize about the wonders of a river trip for that particular reason, as well as the incredible feeling you get when you realize the group you are living with day in and day out has begun to coalesce.
Esprit de corps is an equally potent elixir that doesn’t follow automatically with every raft trip, yet when it does, coupled with those other two experiences, feelings, transcendental planes of existence, however you want to refer to them, you have - as far as I am concerned - the closest thing to nirvana on earth.
Which brings me back to Peru. And the Rio Marañon.
When dawn broke on the morning of our put-in, we awoke to another seductive river in another seductive canyon, but this time, we were in Peru!
The sinuous river tumbled down from points unknown to us in the Andes hemmed in by imposing canyon walls. What we heard was that, unlike our “mandatory portage” at Wasson’s Slide on Day 8, upstream there were dozens of mandatory portages. Rio Maranon was, to date, a river untamed.
Though sadly destined to be impounded and much of the adjoining countryside inundated with a series of hydroelectric dams. Which was one reason we chose to come to one of the darkest corners of Peru. We were to witness it first hand and then help spread the word back home.
Our launch site was near the confluence of two rivers. On our journey from the town of Huaraz, a jump off point for international mountaineering expeditions, we stopped to tour the ruins of Chavin de Huantar. Our passionate tour guide, Esteban, was also a shaman and was not unfamiliar with the medicinal and ceremonial values of San Pedro cactus. He told of us times he was transformed into a jaguar and wandered the grounds of the temple late at night.
But even more interesting was the significance of the Orion constellation to the Chavin culture. On the temple’s grounds there were reflecting huacas, indentions scooped out of huge, stone slab, that mirrored the Orion constellation. Our shaman guide, Esteban, blessed our trip.
All in all it felt like an auspicious beginning to our trip.
(To be continued.)