I awaken to the smell of coffee and weigh the merits of climbing out of my sleeping bag before the sun is fully up. As I lay still I hear a peregrine falcon screech echoing down the canyon. I glance over at Glen and ask, “Did you hear that?” As dawn creeps down the side of the red canyon walls I sit up and shake the night’s sand from my hair. Glen and I reeled at the thought of one more week in a tent. But this time it is for love of the great outdoors and Glen’s kids instead of avoiding a building collapse in earthquake country.
|Morning Sun Creeps Up the Canyon Walls|
|Setting Up Camp|
Glen and I just returned from a month of Red Cross disaster volunteer work in Nepal. We arrived in Nepal days after the first 7.8 earthquake that killed over 8,000 people, and were still there during the next, slightly smaller 7.4 earthquake. Daily aftershocks, strong tremors and the occasional landslide or building collapse kept us frayed and edgy; sleeping in tents ensured a wake-up and gave peace of mind. But here we were, back safely, but sleeping in a tent. Back from Nepal with only 4 days to prepare for this trip of a lifetime; a rafting trip on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon.
Sleeping in a tent was the only thing this raft trip had in common with disaster response work. But it was surreal to come from the destroyed villages and dehydrated food of Nepal to this serene, luxury camping under towering red canyon walls. Under the circumstances, OARS, our raft company, might have rescheduled us, but this was ‘snow melt’ period – when the rapids raged with the flush of melting mountain snowpack. The best time for rafting. Months earlier, before the Nepal earthquake, we invited Glen’s kids and a grandson and they were counting on this vacation. So here we were, the stress of Nepal fading as we blended and socialized with the group of 14 other adventure travelers seeking the thrill of famous Cataract Canyon rapids at high water.
Our five massively laden oar rafts and dories are hauling massive amounts of gear and food; much of which has to be unloaded at a new camp each night and reloaded each morning. Getting downriver is like moving your daughter out of her dorm room twice a day for five days . . . with the help of 19 new friends. It was just what we needed. Despite being bone tired from our month of hard living in Nepal, gliding through canyon geology like this and careening through Class IV rapids is a better way to decompress than just about anything I can think of.
|Groover Feng Shui|
“Why do they call the toilet a groover?” asks Brandon, Glen’s grandson. Good question. A guide told us the term ‘groover’ came from the days before they included the seat; you sat directly on the hard rims of a Vietnam era 60 caliber ammo can, which left two deep grooves in your — well, you get the picture. And nothing is more important to camp morale than ‘groover feng shui’ or the placement of the two portable toilets in sparse natural seclusion. But pretty soon all 25 us (20 rafters and five guides) are enjoying the spectacular views from the ‘groover’ – totally at home on the toilet as rafts and dories pass by on the river. .
|Looks Like Gaping Jaws|
The first two days are mellow with mostly flat water. Days three and four are full of excitement. Life jacket as tight as I can stand, helmet; it’s a glorious, sunny day on the Colorado River and I feel like I’m suited up for combat. I swelter in the heat and get goosebumps from the snow melt river water at the same time. After two days of anticipation, the group’s mood soars as we get nearer the rapids, some of North America’s biggest. We are all pumped. The melting snow has created perfect conditions; exciting but not death defying. Our rafts get lively at the rapids and we get soaked as the water comes crashing down on us. Our guides thread the thrashing rapids, pulling hard to avoid the swirls and eddies between the boulders and falls. Then we pull over and as we talk through our excitement, the guides proceed to assemble a gourmet lunch on the riverbank. As a fellow rafter put it; it’s as if our airline pilot just walked back to serve us a meal. Our life is in their hands and then they wait on us hand and foot.
|Other Rafter In Action|
Our last day is all about our pickup rendezvous at the Lake Powell ramp. We grab our gear with a last bucket brigade and head up to an airstrip where small planes take our group high above the canyon tracing our rafting route from a different vantage point. It was the perfect way to end the trip. As I looked down from the small plane to the Colorado River below I saw another group of rafters traversing rapids that had been exciting and scary up close. Now, like the rapids on the river below us, my hard times in Nepal were far behind me.