Thursday, June 11, 2020

Big Mossy

Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River is one of those whitewater experiences that can be extremely different from year to year depending on the water level. Changes in the character of a rapid is one of the things that draws us back to the same river many times over.

Cataract Canyon has some of the most extreme differences in volume of all the western big water rivers because the dams that regulate the flow come from both the Green River and the Colorado River many miles upstream before they reach the confluence of the Green and Colorado, just a few miles above the start of Cataract Canyon. This combination of two large rivers often means a lot of water during the spring runoff. 

For those of us who prefer an oar-powered experience instead of using an outboard motor, a high water run through Cataract Canyon (Cat for short) borders on insanity!

Oar-powered automatically means much smaller rafts compared to most motor rigs.

Add to that some “old school” equipment like bucket boats instead of self-bailers, and the running the ‘big stuff’ in high water is best described as an almost “out of control” experience.

The reason it becomes extremely difficult is a bucket boat will fill with water in the first wave in a big rapid and then the raft is just too heavy to maneuver by one person at the oars. In a bucket boat, the passengers man 5 gallon buckets to scoop out the water, usually after running the rapid is done.
This becomes an exceptional challenge in Cat because the most challenging rapids, Big Drop One, Two, and Three come in quick succession without much time to bail out a bucket boat before the next Big Drop. 

A raft that is too heavy with water to maneuver is most likely going to be drawn into a massive hole in Big Drop Three, affectionately called Satan’s Gut, where the likelihood of a flip is almost guaranteed in a high water run.

In contrast, in a low water run when scouting Big Drop Three it becomes very easy to see what creates Satan’s Gut. There is a huge rock that becomes exposed in low water called Big Mossy.
At medium river flows Big Mossy is just a section of the rapid to be avoided by a nice route just right of center at the top of the rapid. 

In low water, the right of center route is too rocky to make right of center an option and the only viable route is a small gap in the rocky sections that cover most of the river and to get uncomfortably close to Big Mossy as it looms large out of the water.

As I studied Big Drop Three to figure out a low water route it occurred to me that Big Mossy has been around for a long, long time. And that it will be there for a long time after I make my exit from Planet Earth.

My next thought was even though Big Mossy will be around for a long time, the river will win this battle of resistance, and Big Mossy will eventually disappear. Even though Big Mossy will continue to block the river and appear to be unmoved and winning this war of resistance to the river for a long time.

But the river is persistent. And that continued persistence will wear down Big Mossy, slowly from our point of view, but every minute the process of wearing down Big Mossy continues.

Frequently when we set really challenging and optimistic goals, we only recognize the resistance to the process and wonder if we will ever succeed with big goals.

In some cases, we may discover the time needed to accomplish the large ambitious goal is a price we are no longer willing to pay. That’s not the same as giving up because it’s hard and we are just not exercising enough persistence.

I like Seth Godin’s perspective that sometimes we find we are proverbially in a cul-de-sac and there isn’t any way through to completion. Compared to a dip in the road that just requires more effort on the uphill side of the dip.

When we find ourselves in the “dip” we simply need to recognize more time and effort is needed to maintain our progress and break down the goal into smaller incremental steps to be able to see, like the river, we just need to persist for the amount of time required to achieve the big goal. 

Most of life’s best rewards come from slowly and systematically (think persistence) making small amounts of progress towards the completion of our goals. We just don’t get to dynamite every big obstacle in our “river of life” as a quick fix. 

Bonus Idea: Who we become in the process of achieving challenging goals is often of more value and longer lasting than the actual completion and reward received from the goal.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

If You Didn't Bring It, You Don't Have It

If you have never had the experience of putting together a multi-day whitewater rafting trip, you would probably be shocked at the amount of effort and preparations that go into a trip, well before the day you launch.
For decades I had the luxury of simply showing up at the launch site and rigging my boat and rowing. Then in 2012 I obtained a 6 day permit for the San Juan River in southern Utah. 
When I talked to my dad in February of that year he said he’d be in the Grand Canyon with a friend of his and that I would be on my own for equipping my San Juan trip.
Because most of the multi-day equipment would be in Grand Canyon during my San Juan trip, I spent all of my free time over the next almost 6 months preparing for and improvising my single day equipment for the San Juan trip.
Preparation also included creating menus, getting the passenger list established, logistics for shuttling vehicles, determining the daily mileage and camps, in addition to getting equipment acquired and/or modified, and much more.
Most multi-day river trips demand excellent preparation because there isn’t a resolution to an equipment or food problem once you are on the river, without great expense and extreme arrangements like helicopters or long hiking distances out of side canyons.
A good friend of mine who served with me in our volunteer work in the Boy Scouts of America would often remind the scouts that, “If you didn’t bring it, you don’t have it.”
As simple as that sounds, it really is a great reminder of the value of preparation. Especially when you don’t have the opportunity to go back for something you forgot.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Rig to Flip!

One of the more physically challenging things for a river guide to do is taking the time to load and unload the raft every day on a multi-day trip. Especially during the summer in desert southwest as the temperatures rise dramatically as soon as the sun peaks over the rim in the morning.

Securing all the equipment can take an hour or more each morning. At times I would wonder to myself if it was worth it every day to be so meticulous and “rig to flip” as we would often say. 

And after over 40 years of rafting without a flip you would think I would be questioning the effort it takes even more. On the more challenging white water runs it seems obvious that it is worth the effort. 

Even on the smaller rivers and streams the commitment to “rig to flip” is a wise rule to keep. 

Muddy Creek in the San Rafael Swell area of central Utah is no exception.

“Muddy” is a small stream that usually doesn’t have enough water to float unless there was a better than normal snowpack in the nearby mountains and runoff is strong. Most people hike this section of Muddy Creek as it is not usually a floatable stream.

Compared to other streams in the desert southwest, Muddy can almost be considered a beginner run in many ways with just a few challenging sections that I would consider intermediate. 

During a float down Muddy this last season, I “broke” the Rig to Flip rule and took my phone out of my waterproof ammo can and was taking some pictures while floating down the narrowest section of Muddy called “The Chute.” 

 Not paying attention to what was coming I hit a slightly submerged rock and came to an abrupt halt. 

Fortunately, I didn’t fall out of my kayak and was able to quickly recover without losing my phone or anything else in my kayak. It was a very close call. 

In a section not much further down that had a sharp bend in the creek and a large boulder splitting the rapid after the turn, I pulled over to watch others in my group come through. 

It was a busy day on the creek with a lot of people floating the stream and a stand-up paddler came crashing down just after I pulled over and wrapped on the boulder, blocking the preferred left-side run.

Five others came through after the SUP and three out of five kayakers flipped after hitting the trapped SUP board against the boulder. 

Most of them lost personal items that they hadn’t tied in, not expecting to have any issues like flipping.

I view rigging to flip like I view insurance and the importance of creating legal entities in business and investing. 

You can’t go back and change things once a negative situation happens. You can only prepare for the worst, and then go about your activities with an expectation that everything will go well, with the peace of mind that you are prepared and you’re ready if something bad does happen.

In Grand Canyon, Badger Creek Rapid is the first rapid which is approximately eight miles from the starting point at Lees Ferry.

I have great respect for Badger Rapid, as an excellent reminder of the potential for both and exhilarating ride and challenge in Grand Canyon. 

In 1982, our first non-commercial trip as a family, one of my brothers flipped in Badger. This rapid has a nasty hole at the top that can be a bit deceptive if you’re not looking for it in advance. 

One of my cousins hit his knee on a submerged rock when he fell out of the boat and spent the rest of the trip with a very sore knee that made it difficult to hike.

On my fifth Grand Canyon trip in 2010 we had one boat flip and another boat almost flip and throw everyone out. It was like 1982 all over again only there were a lot more people in the water this time.

On the 2010 trip, Badger didn't cause any injuries luckily. We just had a lot of people cold and shaken up. But it did claim a few hats, shoes, and some other personal items because the two boats that had trouble had not “rigged to flip” when it came to their personal gear. 

Just like a good insurance policy, we hope we never have to use it. But if we do, we are so glad we are prepared.

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