Ranger Kathryn's Arches

November 17, 2011

Cataract Canyon 10: Final miles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:54 am
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Leaving. (Cue heart-rending departure music at end of "Lord of the Rings" trilogy... the score that makes even the most stalwart get all choked up)

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 9: Tracking games)

As we motored the final thirty miles toward our take-out at Hite — two shade-drenched hours during which I shivered in every layer I owned — I reviewed our memorable trip. By the numbers:

0 other humans encountered

1 supper mishap involving sand and brown rice

2 meteors

4 days wearing same red shirt

13 hours between sunsets and sunrises

15 bighorn sheep located

25 rapids run

29 degrees Fahrenheit average low temp

50 degrees Fahrenheit average high temp

73 hours from drop-off to pick-up

100 miles of Colorado River traveled

289,000 beats of my heart while falling crazily in love with this wilderness

"KB + CC"

The Black George cut the water, heading ever southward. I inhaled the canyon shadows, etched the sights in my memory, and gave silent thanks for the privilege of experiencing it. Stopping at one last beach for reconnaissance, my hand reached for a long stick; I scraped my solid feelings into the shifting sand. Cataract Canyon has my heart, forever.

10:30 a.m. -- Mirrored surface of Lake Powell captures sandstone reflection.

November 14, 2011

Cataract Canyon 7: Concord

Photo title: "And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day." (Sunrise at Waterhole Beach.)

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 6: Big Drops)

Leaving all the mayhem upstream, we cruise toward the backed-up waters of Lake Powell. I do not know where the river ends and the lake begins; it all looks the same. The current slows, allowing its cargo of silt to fall to the bottom, turning brown water green. The wide expanse of packed sand that is Waterhole Beach absorbs my footprints as I disembark at our third and final night’s camp.

I’m becoming enamored of this lifestyle in which existence is pared to the basics. My nails are dirty, my lips chapped, my face dry, my fingers cold. It is an honest feeling, known to cowboys and sawyers and seafarers. We work. We eat. We relax. We sleep. We think. We can feel the earth under our feet: boulder, trail, quicksand, cobble. We can feel the water beneath our boat: rapid, eddy, riffle, flat. We sense our connection to the canyon, to each other. Our movements, our choices, become simpler, more efficient.

A simple pleasure of Nov 3: cottonwood leaves

Comfort — “a state of ease and satisfaction of bodily wants” — does not describe this trip. I wouldn’t want it to. Simple pleasures are enough: steaming cup of tea before dawn, raven pair in synchronized flight, cozy driftwood fire to stave off the omnipresent chill. Deep satisfaction comes with small delights. Bodily wants? Negligible in a setting where every known adjective falls short, where every inner need I have is sated.

A metamorphosis has been happening gradually for three seasons; the outer skin that I used to call “normal life” is being stripped off, revealing underlying musculature of soul and spirit.

I’m so pleased to make the acquaintance of the real Me.

(Next episode here)


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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