Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Moe Betta Floatin’
by Ram

— Day 5 —

Many of us were in for a 3–5 day overnight. I love meeting new folks and getting diverse groups of folks together. This trip perhaps took that to new extremes. It was my first time meeting Jeff Dredge and Doc Rosen. The latter came up with a novel idea, later in the week, that helped make this trip particularly memorable

The Escalante River was flowing high and hard! The crossings, to Neon, had been a bit tricky. We also noted that water was higher in the evenings so coming back at day’s end was even more challenging. We were back at camp and every available branch had wet gear hanging on it as we attempted to dry the stuff before the next day’s Choprock/Kaleidoscope foray.

Later on, the gear is gathered, now dry, and dinner and conversation partaken of. Just near bedtime, Rick Green arrives and he has that look in his eye and vodka in his pack. Some stay up very late—too late. Others try to sleep with the noise. I encourage the revelers to move a bit further away. Laughter and lots of it is heard. I join Mark and Jeff and head off to bed. I know how long the next day is.

The crew was up and out before 6 AM and we had the crossing of the Escalante River first thing in the AM. Pretty easy and we head cross country toward our canyon. The skies were cloudy and, in places, looking threatening. The forecast was for nice and sunny. They couldn’t be wrong, now, could they? It was nice and cool anyway, for the exposed 3½–hour march to the entry to our canyon.

An hour before reaching our goal, a cold rain started. Not hard, but, with a bit of wind and on the exposed divide of Chop and Neon, we shy away from the stinging rain. I saw the group hesitate and the wheels turning in folks mind. I pull up at a promontory behind a tree and give folks the opportunity to express their concerns and, for some, to decide to call it a day. The canyon will be there next time, right?

Two members of our group decide that this is not their day. Randi vacillates back and forth. Now I am getting cold. One doesn’t want to prod anyone on, in marginal conditions, but I express the belief that she can make her way back, further on, if the weather worsens. She signs on for more. Soon we are down into the canyon and at the suit up spot. It starts to rain harder. Still, it is a mild rain, not the sort that causes flow let alone floods—not yet anyway. It is peculiar that when it is sprinkling, one becomes quite tentative. It invades ones mind, this little rain. The rain stops, even if only for a few minutes, and you relax—not rational but real nevertheless.

We suit up and start downcanyon and the rain comes down a bit harder. We will keep our options open till the first rappel. We use a spotter to help capture folks at each drop for the first part of the canyon—a section that can go slowly if everyone bogs down at the 4–5 downclimbing problems. We move through quickly right to the Riparian Ballroom rappel. This awkward starting 35–footer is best done off of people with only the last person using the chockstone anchor. An anchor that requires one to downclimb exposed before weighting the rope. And we have two ropes so the group heads down as the sky shows blue patches and the rain is a memory. Looks like we guessed right on the weather

We are now in the Riparian section. It is long and thickly vegetated, with deep water in the central channel and full of poison ivy. Some are careful, some push aggressively through. All use the water often and no one gets the itch—not this time anyway. What strikes one in the section is how lush the vegetation is. The canyon is 50 yards wide and a jungle. Contrast this green with the orange Wingate walls and the green pools and your eyes are assaulted by vivid color. I love watching people as this canyon transitions from jungle to hauntingly beautiful hallways with a flowing stream. With mouths open, in awe, folks make eye contact with each other and smile as they stroll quietly and slowly down through the chambers.

We soon are at the water pumping spot that announces the start of the happy section. We eat and water ourselves, getting a tad chilly in the process. Then we are off. Swimmers and waders abound. Around a corner, the canyon drops and the sound of the flowing water becomes loud from the little waterfalls and the echoes they make. The quiet reverence of awhile ago gives way to happy calls as people compete with the noise of the falls in an attempt to express their delight with the deep crystal clear pools they lower themselves into, one after another. The drops become larger and we start to spot each other then finally rappel along side ancient moki steps and ask the question, “What were they doing in here and how did they get here?”

The harnesses come off and Mark fixes my broken strap on my pack. Then we continue down through wondrous slots surrounded by streaked and orange walls. Soon the flowing water stops and the pools become less frequent. Log piles appear and soon after the water is gone, buried in accumulated sand. Finally the canyon narrows. The mood turns ominous as the lighting turns gray. Soon one comes to jams of logs blocking the canyon. The Grim Section is at hand. Most look high over the jams. They stop as the jams end and contemplate hard stemming. There is something daunting about going down into the darkness under these jams. “NO!” your mind screams. It’s primal. It is wrong to go down there. But here it is the right way to go. Slow and tight, the packs are shuttled. Squeeze through there? Can I get through? Down there further? Yes to all these questions. The sound of struggle and trepidation dominate. And it keeps going ... Logs suspended overhead block most of the light as you twist and turn down further. Then you are in water. Swim. The slot barely wider than your body and the water keeps going, turn after turn. Eventually, it opens a bit and you swim out the bottom, relieved to be back in brighter orange lighting again.

A quick snack and we get into the ‘work section’ of the canyon. Problems of all kind abound. None are too difficult, but the sheer number of them—work indeed and a labor of love in a beautiful setting. Then comes the bombay with its tunnel below, the canyon narrowing, and logs jammed in, above. You consider a pair of hypothermic young men fighting for their lives to get over these logs as you imagine water being just 2 feet higher and how much harder that would make it. Down in the tunnel you go. Soon your helmet is scrapping the walls and it must come off. With your chin in the water, you are pulling or pushing your pack as you see sets of bobbing heads ahead and behind you.

Out of the water, it is time to eat again. You seek the sun and play lizard, soaking up warm rock and hot sun. I want to stay but more canyon lies ahead. A hidden pothole gives access to a long narrow swimmer. A tunnel through an old log jam and some potholes and one comes upon a chamber, the light of the outside world glowing. The grand finale rap is reached. Sixty–five feet and a tad overhanging and we are back into the ‘land of the living.’ Normally, we de–suit here and hike out, but our eye is on another prize—the float down the river to camp. So we endure the warmth and hike the 2 plus miles in our wet suits to the river and consider our future.

Helmets on, packs on the back, we review the rules we have just made up. We discuss how to avoid snags and strainers and give verbal lessons on proper body position and how to steer. It’s a buddy system so no one is alone. The hike to camp is normally a mile by trail. Normal pace is 3 MPH. The river winds and we guess it takes 2 miles to cover the same distance. We estimate that it’s moving at about 6 MPH!! Yeehaw!! Everyone gets the knack of it and we are cruising! Twenty minutes later we roll into camp. High fives make the rounds. Skunkman, Gary, Randi, Rick, Paula, Doug, and Steve are planning to hike out this PM or the next AM. Mark, Jeff, Dave and I are headed down river the next AM to the Bakers. I de–robe, hang the wet gear from the trees, and lay out my foam pads for a relaxing evening.

Now I had heard that this Mark Rosen fellow can get a sparkle in the eye. He has led his groups effectively for years, but he often finds inspiration. Now we have just had the time of our lives floating 2 miles down to camp so he proposes ...

“Why not pack up and float down to our next site that evening while water is high?”

Why not, indeed! How about that it will be with full packs this time? How about that we are talking over eight river miles and we have less than three hours of daylight left? How about we do it!! The decision is made, the madness is committed to, and we scramble to pack. I note the wet gear, sigh, and put it back on. Dinner? Later. We pack our gear with careful consideration, wishing I had brought dry bags. The bivy sack and large trash liners will have to do. My foam pads become pontoons for the pack. We are ready to go at 6:30 PM, with two hours of light left. We say our good byes to the others, as they express concern about our sanity and wish us luck. We are off.

On my back, I am wearing my daypack with my feet pointing downriver. The full pack is floating on its own and I am holding a long bunny strap that is attached to the pack. The raft idea is an utter failure. The pack flips and stays on the opposite side but it is staying up. Not sinking yet. Everyone’s system appears to be functioning and we a–cruising!! Maybe 6+ miles an hour. Laughing our way down, we steer clear of overhanging Russian Olive thorns lying in wait at river level. Other snags are dodged. We spend 20 minutes at a time in the water before the cold starts to effect us too much. Out of the water for a few minutes, we regroup and the packs drain water but are still heavy and still ride high. Our necks and belly muscles are sore and are being worked hard as we fight to stay above the water and in safe positions. When the current takes us near a wall, I find that the water pulls me down lower and my face barely stays above water. We are having the time of our lives!! Jeff and I get to know each other better as we converse while riding the wave. Occasionally, we encounter low water and our butts slam into boulders, often a whole series of them, as we arch our back and voice the discomfort. “OW, OW, OW,” in unison to our impacts with the boulders. But on we go. My pack snags on a branch. Jeff releases it for me. Thanks Jeff.

We have been at it for over an hour. I note landmarks passing. Getting closer. That is good since my pack is riding lower in the water now. Concerned, for sure, but what to do? I come around a corner and I suspect ... yes it is. The campsite. We haul our packs out—heavy. It has taken us 1 hour and 20 minutes. We have floated about 8 miles of river. Our butts are banged up. A surface cold permeates all of us. We are hungry. I note that I received kudos the year before for leading that section of river, as a hike in 2 hours. Others take 3 hours. Record time this time and no walking. And our gear? The moment of truth has arrived ...

We have varied success. Dave has made out like a champ. Jeff has some dry stuff. Mark and I have been hammered. We each have one major piece that is still dry. Our sleeping bags. Thank goodness for small favors. We set stuff out to dry as best we can. Still galvanized by our adventure, we chatter about our ride down the river, eat dinner, and set up for the night. I am comfortable until 2:20 AM when I awake chilled. After that I slept nary at all, a bit cold but not horribly so. Alas Jeff has a fever. Did it come from the hours in the water? We shall never know for sure. The next AM, we dry gear in the AM sun before doing our canyon for the day.

The discomfort? Was it worth it?

Everyone agreed ... YES! One of the best days of our canyon lives.


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