Canyon Tales
Like Water Falling
through the Air

by Lori Curry

— Deer Creek, Grand Canyon National Park —
Spring conditions, Class C.

Can I do it? Will I?

Rich Rudow shows us exactly where the fall line of the rap is, next to the long, white, roaring, graceful fall that has seared my imagination for more than a year. He points out the narrow vertical crack that will keep the skilled from being pummeled by the gravity–weighted flow. He calmly adds that the turbulent white pool at the base throws you out of itself like it doesn’t want you. I hadn’t thought beyond the falls to the hydraulics yet. We watch a rafter trying to force his way to the falls head on. The young turk is body surfing against the force and doesn’t overcome it. I think I will, I say in a small voice. The sound and power of the falls reverberate in that space between my ears as I hike alone with myself to the patio at the top of the falls.

We gather at the top; talk strategy. There are clouds, forecast for possible showers later, Rich is comfortable with the water conditions, and we may only get one run through, who’s going? “What are you here for, girl?” I say to myself. With more bravado than I feel, I jump at the chance to go in the first group.

The first drop is right into the slot and we’re rapping and downclimbing this incredible canyon right away. The roar of the falls that is in my head is soon replaced by the echoing of multiple–staged falls, pouring into chambers and pools, over boulders and around bowls, louder and louder the roar and the gathering power becomes until, in the final chambers, we can only communicate verbally mouth to ear or by whistle. I trust these men with my life — so much is said by glance, gesture, and smile. Setting or cleaning the rappels requires almost no language or sign as our teamwork is well–established. In these conditions, the canyon is not reversible. We are all on task.

At the last sequence, Rich goes first to check the anchor, changes out webbing, sets the contingency: time enough for the chill and the thought of what lies around the corner out of sight to set in deep. The roar of the water is continuous and unrelenting — it will not let you begin to forget for a moment. I alternate between hanging out over the edge, clipped into the anchor where I can see Rich working below, the watching rafters, and our safety, Kent Ebersole, at the bottom; to standing with the others in a small thin patch of sunlight that barely reaches us at the bottom of hundred–foot curvaceous walls above our heads. The deafening roar precludes even Ram from much tension–reducing, gut–splitting commentary.

The first stage is into a deep pool where the water gathers its energy and prepares itself for its final headlong dash to the canyon floor and its union with the Colorado River. I watch Ram go first. He lands the rappel on a shelf and gathers his composure, reaches his hand to Rich, and crosses the deceptively calmly moving water at the lip of the 180’ drop the water — and each of us alone — are about to make. Ram goes.

The whistle blows twice.

Nat has been going last. Kris points to me and I don’t argue. I’m excited and thrilled to get moving and jump onto the rap and am quickly down onto the ledge. I gather my balance and composure, glance trustingly at Rich with his competent bearing and warm smile that always says, “You can do it.” I do it. I step and reach across the maw, safety anchor, release one rope and get on the other. One more encouraging word from Rich and I’m off over the fall! “Woo hoo!” I go to shout, but a nanosecond later my voice is drowned in a gulp of air. The raucous clamor of the water ratchets up higher and higher!!! The sound and power are pounding through my body, booming, I cannot feel my heart beat but I’m sure it is not needed as the booming of the water is surging with my blood.

Unbeknownst to all but the rappeller and the wild birds, the water makes a last careening spin through a deep dark circular tube, like the last fast spin at the bottom of a water slide gathering speed and turning frosty white, roaring and echoing louder than ever, one last intense effort to completely intimidate those who would dare.

I’m standing at the lip of a little cave, my last full contact with earth until the pool below, staring at the crazy water chamber and feeling small and vulnerable and crazy too. 160 feet to go. I look straight down and focus only on the vertical crack that is my next destination. With effort, I push the sound and fear away and drop over the edge, smoothly rapping through thin air a couple dozen feet. All my concentration is on rappelling when I realize my world has suddenly gone mad! My constant companion — the deafening roar — has become background sound, subsumed into something I’ve never heard before; there’s an uplift in the breeze.

Never stop on rappel I was taught. I seldom do this, but I must this time. I float down the rappel through a surreal sensory dimension until I reach tenuous footing at the crack. What is it? With sketchy balance, I look to the left at the flow line. The water is falling through the air, released at last from its bounds of earth, arching gracefully, fluidly, snow white in the sun, hanging there prettily, just for a moment, then the sound of water falling through air rises like organ chords in a cathedral enveloping me in heavenly peace.

I watch, listen and absorb, fascinated in this cone of visual and audio bliss as the white froth falls in lacy veils, the drops hitting each other and forcing up the air they replace in such volume and velocity that this sound is made and gradually realize that THIS sound, THIS place, THIS ‘now’ is a part of me that I own, that is mine for all time, that I can access this holy peace any time, that I have conquered my fear and am also set free.

Distantly, I hear and feel the power of my own heart–pumped blood returning, growing and building in every fiber of my being, until finally exuberant life spills out and over entirely and MY voice roars in exultant triumphant accompaniment as I continue down with the water shouting out loud to the walls, the falls and the onlookers still far below.

The rumble at the bottom slowly becomes again a roar as I drop lightly into the pool and walk out beaming to thank Ram for the belay.

Many, many thanks to Rich, Ram, Nat, Kent, & Kris.

Lori C

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© 2009 Lori Curry