Ranger Kathryn's Arches

November 12, 2011

Cataract Canyon 5: Rapids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:10 am
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(Continued from Cataract Canyon 4: Side canyons)

There comes a point, a portal of sorts, at which Things Change in this canyon. Upstream the water glides smoothly, losing just one foot of elevation per mile, random eddies stirring the placid surface, an occasional rockfall creating a riffle or two, submerged sandbars here and there. By law, life jackets can be with you instead of on you. How silly. That water was 52 degrees.

Somewhere by a large left turn in the river Ranger Kyler cut the motor, allowing me to hear my first whitewater. It was while drifting there that we had the requisite Safety Talk, in which I learned — among many important things — that if for any reason I found myself in the water, I had a window of 3-5 seconds in which to swim aggressively back to the boat. That number sounded unrealistically small to me, but I nodded and pictured myself in life jacket, five layers of clothing, heavy boots, being dragged by the current, and doing the crawl for all I was worth. Not good.

I scout the upcoming rapids from the shore. The boatman must thread a few needles in Cataract Canyon's whitewater. The passenger's job is to keep her camera dry.

The water had a new sound now that our gradient was sixteen (16!) feet/mile. Rounding the bend, the channel narrowed; 9000 cubic ft/sec of silty brown water danced over and around obstacles. Kyler has navigated this canyon at many different flows; this is low water and lots of exposed rocks and logs littered the river. A J-rig, however, is designed for just this application; it is maneuverable and quick, and inflatable pontoons can lessen an impact.

And so we went. Rapids are named for various disasters that occurred in them; we have Brown Betty (where said boat was lost), Capsize Rapid, Ben Hurt, and Mile-Long Rapid (an uninterrupted succession, quite fun). Running rapids gets your pulse going and your senses sharpened. The potential for danger is always there. And it would increase downriver as we came to the Big Drops.

— Continued at this link

November 8, 2011

Cataract Canyon 1: We begin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:51 am
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The NPS "Black George" at sunrise anchor. Waterhole Beach, Cataract Canyon, Utah. The shiny band along the water's edge is quicksand.

Having just spent four astonishing days on the Colorado River, I’ve been struggling with how to write about it. I’ve a page of hastily-scribbled daily notes — strong evocative words and phrases. However, the woman who finished on Lake Powell isn’t the same one who put in 100 miles upriver, and I am at a complete loss to describe it. I’ve sat down three times to blog, and am stumped. Which isn’t a good feeling to a writer.

Try to imagine getting on a small vessel with two travel companions who are the only humans you’ll see until you’re retrieved on the last morning. Your new home is the J-rig Black George — 22 feet long by 8.5 feet wide, two tough inflatable pontoons topped by aluminum decking. We’re powered by a pair of 60 hp Mercury outboards and loaded with a radio, water and fuel containers, two coolers, mess kit and cook table, emergency medical supplies, stove and propane cylinder, tool box, portable toilet, firepan and who knows what else. All our personal effects are sealed in “dry bags,” rubber sacks that protect our belongings from spray and sand and rain and every known assault. I would become quite familiar with every inch of the boat, and with my boat people.

Ranger Bill, Ranger Kathryn, Ranger Kyler put in at the Potash boat launch. Water samples are being collected for ongoing analysis.

Kyler, a river ranger, captained us safely to each day’s assignments and each night’s campsite. I learned a lot from Kyler. He is a consummate professional who loves his job and does it with intelligence, integrity, passion, and a sense of humor undampened by circumstance.

Bill, our wildlife biologist, is studying bighorn sheep and needed to collect pellets in Cataract Canyon for DNA analysis. His tracking skills are legendary (here’s the post where he tracked me last year) and absolutely nothing in nature escapes his keen eyes. He’s wandered this wilderness for a few decades, knows it like the back of his hand, humbly shares his considerable knowledge.

And then there’s me. Passionately in love with the Colorado Plateau, but with little experience on its main artery, the Colorado River. Which is about to change, since “Want to come along?” has only one correct answer in my book. Stay tuned for serial installments of my adventures on one of the wildest stretches of this river.

— Continued at this link

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