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

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