Monday, June 11, 2012

A Near Disaster in Disaster Falls

Most people do not realize that Major Powell and his crew started their first exploration of Grand Canyon way up in Wyoming on the Green River, which is a major tributary of the Colorado River.

An excellent section of the Green River that Major Powell explored on his way to Grand Canyon is a section called Ladore Canyon. Ladore is a beautiful canyon of deep red rock walls and a couple of challenging rapids.

One of those rapids is called Disaster Falls. The rapid received its name because the Powell Expedition lost a boat in that rapid. Another little known fact is that the Powell Expedition lined most of the rapids throughout their trip as well. Lining a rapid means they take lots of rope and lots of muscle power to lower the boats down the side of a rapid with ropes to avoid having the navigate the rapid by oar power only. Lining is a very difficult and time-consuming way to go, but a lower risk way to go in Major Powell’s day as well.

Since lining a rapid is considered a last option in modern rafting times, an important skill in rafting when the water level is extremely low is the ability to keep your oars from jamming in rocks while negotiating the rapid. Sometimes the water may only be inches deep at the top (beginning) of a rapid.

In a shallow rapid, if your boat is sideways in the current, which is very common and necessary, you have to be very careful about the oar that is on the downstream side of the boat. If you take a stroke that is too deep, your oar can jam in the rocks below and break. Or worse, it can get pushed up right into the face of the one rowing. I met someone early in my rafting days that was missing his two front teeth because he jammed an oar and the handle end launched right into his mouth.

So back to Disaster Falls on the Green River. The most difficult thing about Disaster Falls in my opinion is all the current constricts down into a smaller channel and heads right for a huge rock which blocks the middle of that channel. And the biggest concern about that kind of situation, even bigger than jamming an oar, is that it’s easy to wrap the boat.

Wrapping a boat is worse that flipping the boat upside down because it can be virtually impossible to free a boat that wraps on a mid-stream rock. Personally, I’d rather flip than wrap. A wrap usually occurs when the boat hits the rock sideways and the current upstream of the boat flows inside the boat and pulls it down and then around the rock and then the current pins the boat against the rock.

To compound matters in Disaster Falls, there are two sections called Upper and Lower Disaster Falls. Upper Disaster Falls has the big boulder that can be difficult to avoid. Lower Disaster is not as challenging but still requires good navigation skills.

In a low water run through Disaster Falls I made the mistake of digging my downstream oar in too deep as I entered the rapid. I remember very well being so focused on that big rock and avoiding it that I took my attention off the fact that the water was getting very shallow.

I remember just as I was digging in deep to make my move to avoid the big rock I realized too late that I had just made a huge mistake. The oar jammed and snapped just above the blade. Now I only had my right hand (upstream) oar remaining to maneuver the boat and I’m heading sideways towards that big midstream rock. Anyone who has rowed a boat knows that one oar makes navigation almost useless. I was now at the mercy of the rapid.

Knowing the difficulty that a wrap could bring I quickly decided that giving up and waiting for the inevitable would not be good. I decided I needed to do everything I could think of to avoid a wrap.

With my one oar I turned the boat with the front headed towards the rock instead of being sideways when we hit it. Once we hit the rock I pulled as hard as I could with my one good oar and we were able to pivot around the rock instead of wrapping around it.

Had I given up when the oar jammed and broke assuming the situation was hopeless, Upper Disaster Falls could have turned out to be much, much worse than it did.

In life, we sometimes feel like there is no hope and that we should just give up. But if we choose to keep on trying while we still have an opportunity to do something, we may find a more favorable result. I didn’t know if hitting the rock front end first and trying to pivot would work. But I learned early in my rafting experience that if I kept working the oars even when it wasn’t looking good that many times I was able to get just enough movement to avoid a bad situation in the rapid.

Winston Churchill is famous for one of his last speeches repeating the phase, “Never give up.” I believe he was expressing the same thought I learned rafting Disaster Falls that as long as there is something you can try then don’t stop trying and don’t give up.

Winston Churchill learned to never give up in a world war. Fortunately I was able to learn it in a rapid. In both cases, disaster (excuse the pun) was avoided because the choice was made to never give up.

© DTE Consulting 2012 “Helping you to Do The Extraordinary!”