We rose at seven, hoping to make the climb before it was
drenched in sweat inspiring sunlight. Out of camp we were fortunate to
be on game trails, and although they branched off in many directions
Ben and Rocky were able to maintain a steady course due to their
previous scouting mission. Initially the climbing wasn't bad, we were
in the shade and it was just thick forest, but as we ascended the
vegetation transitioned to high desert. The Agave plant, well known as
the source of tequila; normally feared for it's morning after damage.
The locals called it the centurion plant, and I'm not sure if it was
wild agave or a close relative. Either way the menace was up front,
these five foot high plants had thorns as big as six inches and
required much caution to traverse around as they lined the trail. The
climb up was much like the infamous South Branch hike out, but replace
all California vegetation with thorny plants.
minutes of steep climbing
and were in the sun and on a bench
above the canyon, done with "stage one" and huddling under thorn trees
Coombs making the most of our
Stage two: the traverse. The traverse would not be too
distance, but we were now off trail of any sort and would be
bushwhacking through thorn bushes across steep scree fields.
in the joys of
It would appear that things open up here, but really it's just steep
enough to offer a glimpse of what we are about to drop into. The large
rock on the right marks the end of stage two, and the beginning of
It took us just over an hour and a half to make the
our heavy boats through the brush while not sliding down a scree field
was tough, but we were just a little behind schedule for the optimistic
three hour portage. Four hours wouldn't be too bad. In the shade of the
large rock we took a long break, finishing off our water reserves and
getting a snack before stage three.
The descent plan was simple. Drop while traversing to the
the gully pictured above. Our map showed a steep but continuous
gradient in the gully. We should be able to keep dragging our boats
through the underbrush in the gully and be at the river in an hour or
Cresting the ridge next to the gully we got a stellar view of the
canyon. If the ridge looked good we'd take it to the river, but the
ridge was full of cliffs; into the ravine we go.
Getting into the ravine was a bit tougher than expected.
The slope was
too steep to manage with our hundred pound kayaks, so for the first
time on this portage we got out the rope and lowered the boats through
two pitches to the bottom of the ravine. At the bottom of the ravine
things looked good. Well relatively good. It was like we expected,
filled with bush and steep but we could just drag our boats behind us
and as we ducked through the branches.
Thirty yards into the ravine we came upon what a dry
waterfall, aka a
cliff. Peering over the edge it looked like we could get away with a
quick rappel and continue dragging. Of course a quick rappel is a
relative term with five people and one harness, as it eats up a massive
amount of time when you add in the time spent lowering boats too.
Finished with the rappel we pulled our rope and entered
again for all of twenty yards before we were on another cliff. A little
larger than the last. In fact too large for one climbing rope, so we
tied our two together and set it up so we could still pull them after
Rinse and repeat again, and once again. We were trying to
go as fast as
possible, the heat was taking its toll. Our one hour planned descent
had already eaten up four hours. By the end of our fourth or fifth
rappel we were severely dehydrated, to the point of poor physical
performance and getting close to impaired judgment.
good news was that we could
finally see the river. The bad news is
that it was almost directly under us, and we wouldn't be getting there
any time soon.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. There was a pool of water
full of dead bugs and had been there quite a
while. Acknowledging the reality of our situation we filtered out the
largest chunks of debris through the mesh part of a elbow pad and added
liberal amounts of iodine. Still having a little bit of Tang mix to
cover the bug and iodine flavor - priceless.
While we filtered water Rocky and Ben did some scouting
options. There was really only one, another double rope rappel to a
ledge where we could traverse right. The problem was that after the
right traverse the cliff was massive, and they were unable to ascertain
if we'd be able to drop to one more ledge, or if we'd have to single
strand our climbing ropes and abandon them, hoping we'd be close enough
to the river at that point not to need them. Of course we still had
several river miles downstream that dropped four hundred feet, and
there was a good chance we'd need those ropes again.
more ledge down as evening clouds
roll up the canyon. James
We setup the ropes tied together but as a double strand,
over the rolling edge of the cliff. A big whoop followed by verbal
communication eased our worries, a small ledge would allow us to
extricate ourselves and the climbing ropes. Extra time was spent in
this section because we had to pass boats across the traverse, and then
lower then to the small shelf where the lower team scavenged enough
room for the kayaks to rest.
By the time our whole team was on the narrow ledge dusk
was setting in.
We'd been portaging for nearly twelve hours. Below us was another
double rope rappel, and to complicate things the kayaks were hanging up
on a tree halfway down the cliff, so we took turns helping the kayaks
down during our rappel. Full night set in and a beautiful moon came out
as we finished the rappel. We still couldn't hear the river but knew it
must be close. Thankfully the gradient appeared to taper off, and we
drug our boats through the dry creek bed knowing the river couldn't be
A few hundred yards of progress was made by headlamp
before a ten foot
ledge. One team member sent a boat off the ledge assuming it would stop
at the bottom. We listened in horror as the boat kept going, cringing
as the impacts reverberated off the canyon walls. It was steep again,
and totally dark. We could hear the river though, and intense desire
for hydration fueled our desire to reach river level.
Okay, get the rope out again and set up for one more
rappel in the
dark. Thankfully this one only ended up being about thirty feet.
Helping set up the rappel I set my camera bag in my boat, and in
exhaustion totally forgot about it. At the bottom of the cliff I
un-clipped the kayaks as they were lowered and was dismayed to find my
camera bag on the ground. In the darkness it must have been lowered
with my boat, falling out somewhere on the way down.
Hoping the damage wasn't too extensive I made the final
push to river
level with the team. 10:00pm: completion of a fourteen hour portage
with one liter of water. We quickly bathed in the river, drank lots of
water and ate a quick dinner, too tired to cook after a day far more
exhausting than anticipated. Gratifyingly we were too tired to worry
about the ominous clouds and potential rain coming in, and slept well.