Grand Canyon Rapids, Part Two
Phantom Ranch to Lake Mead
Horn Creek Rapid is at mile 90. It's really easy at high water, and the scout is easy too. You go left. I've never seen Horn at low water, but it's much more difficult. Then, it includes The Green Guillotine, or The Great Wave. Horn is quite steep.
Horn Creek Rapid
Granite Rapid is almost at mile 94. I thought it best to get out toward the wave train and just keep pulling left. At first, I was tempted to sneak across the rock bar somewhere, but I thought better of it. Maybe it was the voice of Rudi! You want to make sure you stay out of the eddy below on the right.
Motor boat running Granite Rapid
Hermit looks easy, but it was my worst run of the trip. I planned to pull off the tongue at a wave that's half tongue and half foam and keep pulling left. But entering, I got too close to a sleeper on the left, had to straighten out, and lost my momentum. Darn! We went across the target wave, but in the wrong direction. Then it was hard to stay out of the waves. Even the edges of the waves were too big to maintain a ninety degree ferry angle, and they pull you in. Both the fifth and sixth waves were breaking, and the fifth broke right beside the cataraft! Knocked my seat a few inches out from under me, but the craft was very stable and we went on by. Not a clean run, but it got the job done.
The error? Trying to get left too soon. The answer? Make sure momentum is working for you. Best to be reminded of this above Crystal, instead in Crystal, three miles ahead!
Beginning and end of Hermit Rapid
Crystal Rapid! My sloppy Hermit run made me wonder if I could move the boat as needed? Gonna find out. In Crystal, you've got to pull off the tongue to the right, and you must not fail. So what's the problem? Doesn't look that hard. If you don't get the job done, though, Crystal will take you right back out to the middle of the river and give you a genuine thrashing. You either get it done, or you'll be sorry.
An error is to pull off the tongue too early. Do that, and slower water will retard your stern, the boat will turn, you'll lose your angle, and Crystal will take you where you don't want to go. Straight to The Awful Thing, which waits somewhere down where much the water goes.
We scouted the rapid, saw what had to happen and where, and went back to do it. Nobody else around. It was up to us. I entered the rapid on the right side of the tongue where even if I did nothing, I'd only hit a fifteen foot wave. With a downstream ferry angle established (stern downstream, angled to the river's right), I looked over my shoulder once to see that I was in the right place, and then rowed according to the motivation I felt!
When I felt the boat turn a little, I knew I'd reached the slower water right of the tongue. The plan was working. There were some big waves, and Crystal still wants to pull you out into the river. Didn't make the eddy, where we wanted to camp, but we barely got right of the midstream gravel bar and all was well.
Maybe it really isn't that hard to get to the right in Crystal, in the same way that it shouldn't be hard to walk a plank across an abyss. Crystal is a very poor place to miss an oarstroke, not see the keys that lead you in, or not be clear on what you need to do. But in honesty, I like challenges of this sort.
We camped just around the corner below on the left. Soon, a group of oar boats came by and one guide, overjoyed, yelled "Alive below Crystal!" My thoughts exactly.
But Rudi is reported to have said, darkly: "You're never below Crystal!" Maybe he was thinking about life in general. I don't know. Crystal Rapid is a Grand Canyon milestone. Being alive below Crystal, even just that once, was good. Our "ABC" party consisted of a particularly good dinner. I don't remember what is was, but it was good.
Crystal Rapid, where you need to pull off the tongue to the right. Look easy? Heh, heh!
The Jewels follow for about ten miles. These are a series of rapids named after gems. They aren't hard to read at this water level, provided you don't let down after Crystal.
Nixon Rock is "right of center and tricky" according to my friend Joe, but I didn't see any tricks about it.
Ruby was the most noteworthy of the Jewels. John, the AZRA guide, said lots of boaters go too far left there. It's where the water slides across a bar toward a train of big waves. A friend of mine had flipped there. Again, we didn't try to get fancy, but got over near the tongue and ran left of the waves. No problem.
Waltenburg Rapid, though quite rocky at low water according to Rudi, is large and straightforward at high flows. Rocks stick out of the water above. We lined up with them, hit one huge, wide wave and lots of smaller ones, but there's no problem here.
"Rancid Tuna Rapid" is where there's a large rock mass in the river. Rated a 6 in the Stevens guide, I didn't see a problem at this water level. I went right because the other side looked like a big eddy.
Forster Rapid runs against the right wall. Fossil is shaped like a big letter "S."
Specter Rapid has a gigantic wave train along the right wall, but an easy route down the left at this level. I'd been hearing how a debris flow from the left had narrowed the entrance, making the rapid harder to sneak, so I used the nice eddy and the easy left-scout. No problem. As we were pulling out to run it, a Tour West motorboat went into the rapid, down the right. They got hammered! Twisted, buckled, and bent. The guide turned his boat into slower water afterwards, and waited for us to run it. I appreciated that, but we had an easy run down the left.
Bedrock is a difficult scout, but you can land in a good eddy on the right and see what you need to see. You MUST get to the right of the big center mass of rock. Maybe there's a way out of the left-hand trap and maybe not, but the river gets strained through a jillion rocks! How far right you can sneak would depend on the water level. We got out there, entered, and made the hard pull to the right. I didn't want to pull too hard! I did that in 1986, and got stuck in an eddy on the right. Once, but not twice!
Deubendorff Rapid has a good scout on the left. We landed too high, and walked by a nice little eddy that would have been good for scouting. Generally, left of center will get you down. But the right side of the left tongue is more elegant, and at some levels there's big, smooth wave to hit. On a 1985 Grand Canyon Dories trip, guide Marilyn McCann was ecstatic! "I love that wave!" she exclaimed, and had just scored a bull's eye on it.
Pull into the big eddy below Deubendorff on the right for a short walk to the waterfall up Stone Creek. It's truly one of the Grand Canyon's delights!
Below Tapeats Creek, near the narrowest point on the river, is a rapid called Helicopter Eddy! By it's name alone, you probably don't want in there. There were two rather severe eddies, though not much worse than many others. The route around them isn't difficult.
Doris Rapid is straightforward, though it has huge waves at higher river levels. Have fun!
Upset Rapid is not hard at high water. Here, the temptation might be to sneak across the rock bar as we did in 1986. This time, we entered the right side of the tongue with a backferry angle established, and had no problem pulling clear of the wave train. This is where a guide named Shorty Burton died after flipping and being caught in the rigging somehow. I scouted from the right.
Lava Falls! At higher water, there's a really nice left run. You scout from a good eddy on the left that's rather close to the rapid. At low water (lucky you!) scouting is from higher on the right side, the run will be right, and a successful conclusion is less likely. A debris flow down Prospect Canyon had changed the left side of Lava.
The left run at Lava is actually out toward center, and goes rather near the Ledge Hole, where you don't want to go under any circumstances. Better if you had to portage than to hit that. There's actually some leeway in your entry. You can go a little closer to the Ledge Hole if you want. I entered just right of a small hole, angled the bow left to meet a wave, than angled back the other way to meet another. Just a couple more big whoomps, and you're bobbing along in the tailwaves. What a feeling! Lava isn't very long.
I scouted Kolb Rapid at mile 205, and was glad. The entry requires a bit of precision for best results, and there's a big eddy you don't want to get caught in below. The scout is easy from the left, though there are lots of a particular bush with inch-long thorns.
Mile 209 Rapid can be tricky. I spoke with a guy who flipped there, and we weren't into that. We scouted and had lunch there. At 209, the river divides around a large island. There's a sharp curve into the righthand channel, and most water goes to a big, backcurling wave. So that's why my friend flipped! My first thought was to go left of it, but that would have been difficult. Instead, we came around the corner in very slow water, and had lots of time to get into a narrow slot right of the wave. I don't know anything about the left channel here.
Mile 209 Rapid
Mile 217 was straightforward, just left of the wave train. I would have scouted, but another boat ran it just ahead of us. No problem, but don't get caught right of the wave train! You'll end up in a tight eddy over there.
Diamond Creek Rapid (which many trips never see because they take out just above it) is wide, long, but not hard. At this level, the rapid continues swift and rough around a bend, and many riffles continue after that.
Mile 231 Rapid was a straight shot with big waves. Rough and wild, but not difficult.
Mile 232 Rapid was the same, though this one becomes "Killer Fang Falls" at lower water. I've launched at Diamond Creek several times, and gone down to Lake Mead, once at only 6000 cfs. At that level, if you don't scout but run the rapid the way it looks like you should, you'll be lined up for the fang. This rapid is said to have destroyed more boats than any other on the river.
Mile 234 Rapid was also a straight shot with big waves, though at low water you go down the right, and hook back toward center.
Bridge Canyon is the last rapid not destroyed by Lake Mead. Even at low lake levels, none of the former rapids like Separation and Lava Cliff remain. All are silted in.
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