Reflections on Summer River Trips
Wow, fall and Halloween, the gateway drug of holidays is only 3 weeks away.
The summer was long but short. Teachers understand that dichotomy. It was a summer full of amazing adventure. We took a wilderness trip down the Idaho Salmon in June. We ran the un-permitted section that splits Idaho and Oregon. Take out is in Washington.
I kept thinking that Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea had come down that section. They must have done it in the spring or early summer, but how? How did they negotiate Slide Rapid with the boats they had, during that time of year? It can’t be portaged or scouted and in high water it will eat you up!
The river was running around 17,000 CFS. It was supposed to drop but the sky kept adding volume. Huge cells blasted up and down that canyon all week and we were wet. I guess that is the point of a river trip. The canyon was amazing. There were miles, days of columnar basalt, incredible mosaics, beautiful, breathtaking. Storms blew up and we held on to the tarpaulins that covered the kitchen area. We paddled in driving rain. We had good laughs.
The high point of the trip was the big, (starts with an F and is a 4 letter word) yes, flip.It was a lateral curling hydrolic type wave that crossed the river just around a bend. It was known as “China Rapid”.
Just after lunch I traded places with Nina. Nina is my son Ben’s girlfriend and she had never been on a river trip before. She is however a brave and adventuresome soul who had an unusual wardrobe for the river. That day it was a mid length India print cotton skirt. We switched boats. I rode with Ben and she got on Glenn’s boat with Kim and Doug, 2 seasoned river oldsters. Glenn’s boat lagged behind, a common occurrence. The oldsters were laughing, reminiscing about the days of yore. Nina was learning the history of her boyfriends parents. How utterly entertaining for her! Just at that moment it wasn’t raining.
Meanwhile in the front, Zander’s boat hit the wave first. All the teenagers (including my 2) were on that boat. Will says he just held on. For some reason only known to the River Gods, they got through it. Zander, a powerful young man with river instincts that are part of his souls fabric, was able to use all he had and made a deal with the River Gods. However he is still learning the fine art of “rigging”.
Mark, Zander’s dad, saw Zander’s amazing escape and rowed like a superhero to the far left side where the river was passable. Ben saw Mark’s heroic move and made one himself commenting about the rapid as we went by, saying that it was “shit and would eat a boat”. Knowing the state of mind of the oldsters I became suddenly “clairvoyant”.
Mark fished my lantern and a tarp out of the eddy. Ben and I tried frantically to get Glenn’s attention. The worst part was watching it happen. They casually drifted into the center of the curl, then the bottom of the boat was visible as a vertical oval, then over it went! Glenn scrambled on top of the bottom of the “Fd” boat and hollered and pointed for everyone to swim around 2 large boulders in the middle of the current. Ben rowed like crazy to get to the swimmers. I knew he was most worried about Nina. He gave me the throw rope which became instant spaghetti in my hands. Yes all those years of river time and my rope was now everywhere including wrapped around the oar. Ben was swearing at me! I am a looser..OKAY I know!
We got to Kim and pulled her in. The other boats caught the other swimmers. Glenn swam with 1 arm, pulling a capsized thousand pound gear boat across the river with the other to a very steep beach. We stopped. We breathed. We regrouped. It was good. Everyone was safe and un-injured.
The guitar! It was in the river, completely submerged. When we got the boat back over, only losing 1 extra oar, a table nobody liked anyway and some beer, (Glenn always loses beer), I had to un-rig the guitar. Glenn is a master rigger. He always rigs for a flip. And those knots he learned as a boyscout all those years ago, they saved the day! As for guitars in rivers, those suckers are heavy when they are full of water. When I finally untied it and took it off the boat it was in one miraculous piece, and though the strings were all flat they were still in tune relative to each other. That night it sounded better than it ever had, ahh the resonance of damp wood! Nina you adventuresome river goddess, my advice to you…. it is wise to stay on Ben’s boat!