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.