Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
August 24-29, 1999
Grand Canyon Trip 7
Before they got under way, Crystal called them all together and went over the plan for the day, again mentioning some safety rules. "It's already pretty warm, so it's gonna be hot today," Crystal told the customers. "You'll probably want to have on swimsuits and T-shirts. Watch out for sunburn on yourself and on others. Wear sunscreen. A bad sunburn can take all the fun out of the trip. We'll probably run Soap Creek without scouting, but House Rock, we'll want to stop and get a look at. It's the first tough one we come to. If anyone wants to get out and walk, I won't blame them; it's fine with me. But, we should get through all right. All right, let's head 'em up and move 'em out."
They did just a quick boat scout of Soap Creek, a couple miles away. Once again, Scooter was running in the lead, and she glanced back over her shoulder to see Randy make a clean run of Soap Creek. Must be he has the touch, she thought.
Several miles later, they reached House Rock. Scooter pulled her raft off to one side and tied it off on a rock, and one by one, the other rafts joined them. The shores of this rapids were a talus slope, and Randy joined the rest of the party climbing up to see what was ahead. House Rock was always the first really tough one they came to, but this crew had run it several times, so the idea of the stop was really more to let the passengers have a look at what they were in for.
"Shouldn't be too bad," Crystal said. "Randy, if you were running the raft, how would you do it?"
"Pretty obvious," he said. "Start to river left, then pull to the right."
"Yeah, that's about the best choice," Crystal said. "That stopper coming in from the left is the problem. People better hang on or we might get some swimmers."
Slowly, they worked their way back to the rafts. "OK, make sure everything is tied down, and hang on," Crystal told everyone. It shouldn't be too bad."
Scooter, then Al, then Dan, then Jerry made reasonable runs, but Crystal got on the oars for this one. From below, Scooter could see that with the line Crystal was running, it was going to be rougher and wetter than the other runs, and so it proved. She got the raft washed out pretty good, and well up on its side in the stopper. Thrill ride, you cowboy, she thought as Crystal rode out the wave train. That ought to perk Randy up a bit. As their raft drifted close, Scooter could see Crystal smile as she said, "That was pretty good, but wait till we get to the big stuff."
Early in the afternoon, they pulled into a wide sand beach just before reaching North Canyon Rapids, the start of the "Roaring Twenties" -- twenty miles below Lee's Ferry. The next ten miles didn't have the most difficult white water on the river, but it had the first big concentration of more difficult water. "We're going to take it easy this afternoon," Crystal told the group. "Big day tomorrow. We're done with the shakedown, now. Tomorrow, it gets serious. Those of you who want to explore a little, we've got a nice hike up a side canyon, nice view. We'll eat lunch, and then I'll take those of you who want to go for a walk up into it."
It was hot, now; most of the group was down to swimsuits. Scooter noticed Karin, sitting and talking with Al, too far away to hear. She was wearing a dark blue two-piece -- it would be a reach to call it a bikini, but not all that big a reach. After lunch most of them started up the side canyon, Karin included, still wearing her swimsuit. Al made no secret of his bad leg, a remnant of Vietnam, and for once Scooter decided to stay back and keep him company. They found a shady spot in some tamarisks; Scooter offered him a beer from a drag bag; he took her up on it. She really wanted to talk about how he was feeling but didn't want to approach the subject directly. "Boy," she started. "That sure was wild about Crystal's mom showing up out of nowhere, isn't it?"
"I was surprised," Al grinned. It was good to see him grin again! "Crystal just about stunk up her panties, though."
"Sure looked like it to me," Scooter grinned. "You rarely see Crystal speechless, but it happened that time. I get the impression that you and Karin remember each other from that trip she was on."
"Yeah," Al said, "You'd think she remembers me better than I do her, 'cuz there have been so damn many customers go by over the years. But Karin stuck out even back in those days." He let out a sigh. "Scooter, I know you talk back and forth with Crystal a lot, but there's something that her mother should tell her, and not you. And she may not tell her, so if I tell you this you'll understand a few things, but you'll have to keep your mouth shut."
"I can do that if I need to," Scooter told him. "As good a friend as I am with Crystal there are places I try not to go with her. But you don't have to tell me."
"Maybe not," he smiled. "But I think I will, just because I want to work it out a little for myself. I was just a little pissed with Crystal when Karin stepped off that bus."
"Back when I was a young stud and Louise was still married to the guy she told to go to hell, I, well, I had a few Canyon romances. That's part of the reason that I've never got down on boatmen for having one now and then so long as they keep it pretty low profile. Maybe it ain't right, but it's not easy for me to say, 'Do as I say, not like I did.'"
"Al," Scooter said, the light dawning, "Are you telling me you had a Canyon romance with Crystal's mom?"
"Yeah," he admitted, "Back before she was married. Like most Canyon romances, it blew hot and heavy for a few days, and then broke off, and I never heard from her again. Well, I can't say never; I did get a Christmas card once, and she included a note that she'd gotten married. And then nothing until yesterday." He let out a sigh. "Scooter, the reason I remember Karin so well is that she was my last Canyon romance before I took up with Louise."
"I will be damned," Scooter grinned. "You're right, Crystal doesn't need to know that and I won't tell."
"The reason I was pissed was that I figured that Crystal knew about it and had set me up," he said. "And you can take that just where you want to. But no, it looks like it was a pure accident. Karin mostly took the opportunity of having her husband in Japan to get her stuff out of the house, and she came here to try to put things back together with Crystal."
"They have been a little ouchy," Scooter reported honestly. "But I think they're trying to work it out."
"Good," Al said. "Thing is, too, Scooter, I'm glad Karin is here, even though it was an accident. She stirred up some memories."
"Not bad ones, I hope."
"No, just old ones. Good ones, mostly. What it was like to be young and full of shit. Good times with Louise, too." He let out a sigh. "I'm just having trouble remembering that the good times really were good, but Karin sort of reminded me of it a little."
"Al, good deal," Scooter said. "We've been worried about you. All of us, on this team, Jeff and Michelle, and they tell us the other teams, too. It's good to see you pulling yourself together."
"You and Crystal was right," he replied. "I needed to get back down here again. Thanks, Scoot. You're a damn good kid, and from everything I hear you're doing damn fine. I'm just damn glad that Crystal thought of you to call last spring."
The next morning they started down through the Roaring Twenties. Though there would be worse to come, it was an exciting time, even for the boatmen -- they felt that now they were getting into what the Canyon had to offer. Scooter was of the opinion that the scenery from North Canyon down through about Buck Farm Canyon was her favorite of the whole thing -- it was much more intimate than a lot of the rest of the Canyon, and in a place of spectaculars, it was particularly spectacular.
The first part of the Roaring Twenties was tough enough that Crystal rowed her raft, rather than let Randy do it. Scooter didn't pay much more attention than that since it was a busy time, and she liked to soak up the scenery in the spare moments. Some day, she promised herself, she was going to run this with another boatman at the oars so she could just relax and enjoy it.
The heart of the Roaring Twenties is the part between miles 23 and 25 -- the miles numbered from Lee's Ferry -- where five pretty serious rapids came one after another. Things went well most of the way through, but in 24 Mile Rapids a rogue wave knocked Scooter's raft a little sideways, and caught her a little off balance. A sweep stroke she attempted with an oar didn't have quite the power it needed, and they went through a big stopper wave cornerwise. One of the passengers, a quiet, late-thirtyish guy named Dallas, had either not been holding on too well or was caught by surprise, for when the boat lurched and the wave came over the bow, he went with it. He swept sideways past Scooter's feet, made a wild grab for the lifeline that ran around the edge of the boat, and caught it with one hand. Scooter made a strong stroke to straighten the raft out, let go of one oar, reached out and grabbed his life jacket, and by some combination of pure strength and adrenaline, helped by the boat's movement, the way the waves were working, and the customer's effort, her big heave brought him back onto the floor of the raft. She grabbed the free oar, stabilized the boat, ran out the wave train, and pulled into the eddy below before heaving a big sigh of relief.
"Thanks, Scooter," Dallas puffed from excitement. "I should have been holding on better."
Scooter realized that she'd been getting a little complacent and should have been more ready. It was the first serious incident she'd had in the Canyon, the first washout, and just sheer damn luck had kept the customer from becoming a swimmer. "No big deal," she replied with a calm she didn't feel, "Just goes to show you how quick the devil can come to lunch down here."
Since Scooter had been on point again, everyone in the party saw the incident. In a few seconds, Crystal came floating up. "Everything OK?" she asked.
"Yeah, no problem," she shrugged.
"Want us to take point for a while?" Crystal asked.
"Yeah, why not?" Scooter grinned. "It'll take us a minute to wring this guy out, anyway. We'll take sweep."
"Thanks again, Scooter," Dallas sighed as he pulled himself together. "You have to be even stronger than you look to yank me back into the boat one handed."
"This raft weighs about what a midsized car does," Scooter grinned at him. "You row one of these things all day, every day, for months on end and see if you don't build up a muscle or two."
"Back up at the introductions I got the impression you hadn't been running this river all that long."
"No," she smiled as he got settled in again, "This is my first year here. But I've been running rafts for nine years now. To be honest, there were a couple summers in there when I didn't do a lot of rafting, and one of those I hiked the Appalachian Trail."
"Jeez, I envy you," Dallas told her as she started working the oars to get back out into the current again. "That's the kind of stuff I would have liked to have done, the kind of life I would have liked to have led, but things didn't work out that way."
Scooter could detect that there was some pain in that statement, but right now was not the time or the place to dig into it. Maybe some time she'd have to get him off to the side and find out a little about it -- he seemed like a nice enough person, other than being a little on the quiet side. She knew that Dallas was on the trip by himself, and he seemed like the kind of guy who would be fun to know a little better.
The night before, Crystal had told Scooter that she planned on only running to South Canyon, at mile 32, close to Vasey's Paradise and Stanton's Cave. It was a particularly interesting stop in a very pretty place, and it was a frequent stop, well located in the early part of the trip. However, when they got there they found a private party camped there, so they had no choice but to press on. They made a brief stop at Redwall Cavern so people could check it out, then got back on the river.
It was a hot afternoon, and this was a section of river where things were pretty placid. Scooter noted that Randy was rowing again, and noted with amusement that the small, slight Karin, of all people, was rowing Al's raft and with a big grin on her face, too. Why not? "Anyone like to get on the sticks for a bit?" she asked. There wasn't a lot of interest, but she smiled and continued, "Dallas, you sounded earlier like you wished you were a boatman. Come on and try it out."
Dallas proved to be as rank a beginner as a beginner could be, and Scooter sat on the gear pile stripped down to one of her briefer bikinis and coached him through the very basics. "I see what you meant about building up some muscle," he said at one point.
"The trick is learning how to let the river do the work," Scooter explained.
After an hour or so, she decided that this guy probably wasn't going to make a boatman, but he seemed to enjoy playing at being one for a while. He seemed just as happy to have Scooter suggest someone else might like to have a try, and when she said she'd let him do it some more down river, he grinned, "I'd really like that. Thanks, Scooter."
Below Redwall Cavern is an area where there aren't many potential places to camp, and in the next several miles every place that they found had someone on it. It was a hot day, and the first empty place they came to was a west-facing sand bar with a cliff right behind it to reflect the heat, and although the afternoon was getting on, Scooter didn't question why Crystal had the party drift right by it. However, a couple miles further on, they pulled into a shadier campsite, at Buck Farm Canyon, close to a day's run farther than they normally went on this section of river.
The long run that day threw them a little off schedule in days to come, and after this they wound up stopping at some places they normally didn't stop, and spent some more time at places they always stopped at, like Nankoweap and the Little Colorado.
As the days passed, Scooter noticed that Crystal and Karin were trying to avoid each other just a little. They had several discussions, and a couple of times in the evening Crystal hinted that things had gotten a little frosty, so apparently they hadn't worked out their differences yet. But it wasn't anything particularly noticeable, except that she'd been tipped off to the underlying tensions. Scooter also noticed that Karin seemed to spend some time with Al, and some with Randy, so suspected that she was trying to use them to smooth out dealings with Crystal.
By the time they got into Upper Granite Gorge, they were close to back to the schedule they'd need to best make a call to the office while Michelle would most likely be there, and a camp somewhere in the gorge above Phantom would do it. There was a campsite just above Grapevine that they often used when they were on about this schedule, but this time it was occupied by a motor rig party when they got there, so again, there was no choice but to press on. Camping isn't allowed at Phantom, and there weren't a lot of possibilities below the Grapevine campground, but a few miles farther on Crystal pulled into a smallish beach opposite Lonetree Canyon. It wasn't the most ideal place, but since they weren't far above Phantom they had to take it. To everyone's surprise, Al commented that there weren't many beaches in the Canyon that he hadn't stopped at one time or another, but he couldn't remember stopping at this one.
It was still fairly early in the afternoon, but they were tired. Some of the party had a little energy, and Jerry led a small hiking party up an unpromising little side canyon, while the rest of the party lolled around on the beach. Scooter and Crystal were just thinking about getting set up to get started on dinner when they heard cries for help. They looked up, to see Randy scrambling madly up the side canyon, and heard another, more distant cry for help farther up it. Crystal grabbed the first aid kit, and at a near run the two of them took off after Randy, with several others from the party following.
It was several minutes before they made it up to where they could see Jerry crumpled at the base of a cliff, with Randy squatting over him. "What happened?" Crystal yelled as they got closer.
"He tried free-climbing and fell," Sam, the seventyish guy from Al's boat replied.
Seconds later, Crystal made it up to Randy and Jerry. "I'll handle this, Randy," she said. "I'm a Wilderness First Responder, remember."
"Crystal, I'm an EMT," he said. "We got fair vitals, an open airway, but difficulty breathing. Broken ribs, and I think he punctured a lung."
"When did you become an EMT?" she asked, breaking open the kit.
"You come around Spearfish Lake once in a while, you might learn something. Get started on the extremities, and get thinking about how we're going to get him down to the boats. There ain't no way we can do a chair carry."
"What are we going to do about the lung?" she asked.
"If I was back in Spearfish Lake, I'd be calling the Medevac chopper from Camden," he said. "There ain't much we can do here."
"No place for a chopper to get in here, even if we can raise an overflight," she said. She turned to Scooter. "Go back down," she said in a flat order, "Send Al up with a table, try to raise an overflight on the VHF radio, then start getting loaded up. We're going to have to run for Phantom."
Just then Sandy Loveberry, an elderly woman from Al's raft, came up, out of breath. She'd seemed a little frail and hapless to Scooter, but now she proved her stuff. "I was an ER nurse," she said. "What have we got?"
"Punctured lung is the worst thing, I think," Randy replied. "Concussion, broken extremities, some blood loss."
She put her head down and listened to Jerry's chest. "That's what I read on the punctured lung," she said. "There's not much we can do about that here."
Whatever else was said, Scooter didn't hear; she was already racing back down the side canyon. "Jerry's hurt," she reported. "Al, take a couple of the guys, grab a table and get it up there. Everyone else, let's get started loading up."
As Al and the men started up the side canyon with the serving table -- it was designed to double as a stretcher -- Scooter and the rest of the party started frantically loading boats. Fortunately a lot of stuff had been left in a pile from the duffle line earlier, so that much was easy, but some personal gear had been moved to potential sleeping spots -- but the small size of the beach made everything easier to find.
It was the sloppiest job of loading that Scooter had ever seen on the river, but there weren't hands or time to be picky. Somewhere in there she got into the boatman's box on Crystal's raft, pulled out the small hand-held aviation VHF radio, turned it to the emergency channel, hoping that there would be an airliner overhead that would be listening and could relay the call for help. She called several times, with no response, then tried the Grand Canyon tower frequency written on the side of the radio; Louise had explained many trips ago that the sightseeing flights out of there usually stayed on that frequency. She made several calls there, and didn't get a response, either. There were other things to do, so she set the radio down and tried to help the party with the packing. She tried the radio another couple times during the next few frantic minutes, but still there was no response.
In what seemed like forever, they could see the others working down the side canyon, with Jerry strapped to the table. Things were pretty well under control at the boats, so she sent several people from the beach up to help, since there were going to be a couple spots where it would be difficult to carry him, and he would have to be handed down. The sun was getting lower when they got him down to the beach and laid him on the gear stacked on Al's raft -- Scooter had thought ahead enough to not load it as heavily as always, so there would be a flat spot big enough for him strapped to the table.
"Everything's loaded, but I can't get a whisper on VHF," Scooter told Crystal.
"No time to piss around with it anymore," Crystal replied immediately. "Randy, you're the best spare boatman. Take Jerry's raft, stay in the middle of the party. There's nothing ahead that you can't handle. Try to stay close to Al and Sandy if they need help. Bob, Sam, Mom, get in my raft, give Sandy and Al some room. OK, people, let's get moving."
Though it was still daylight, the shadows were deep, and it was hard to read the water. They weren't drifting, either, but working the oars hard as they hurried through the flats and some minor rapids racing the setting sun. It still took a while before the first of the rafts pulled onto the beach near the Bright Angel Bridge at Phantom Ranch; it was Crystal's, and it had barely touched bottom before she was out of it and running as hard as she could go for the ranger station and the only telephone at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.