Jul 12 2012

Upset

A tale from our kayak adventure this spring in the Grand Canyon. 

At mile 150, we encountered Upset Rapid.  We stopped to scout it because the oarsmen were concerned about a large hydraulic in the middle of the rapid that is known to upset rafts.  Jeff and I enjoyed these moments to scout so that we could pick what would be the funnest line rather than reading and running and wishing that we had taken another line. 

As we scouted, sure enough the middle of the rapid contained some good sized waves that fed into a large wave hole with recirculating water behind it.   To the right was a sneaker route.  One could hug the right bank and miss out on the surging wave hole in the middle.  The left line along the river wall looked like a fun wave train with lots of lateral wave action and a chance to skirt the large wave hole in the middle.

Jeff had selected the left route, but I was jonezing for some action.  Like everyone, I had Lava Falls (mile 179) on my mind and wanted to test my skills before hitting it.  So “Hey-Diddle-Diddle-Down the Middle” was my line selection.  Our rafts had mostly decided to skirt down the right side to avoid an upset but hung out to watch our run.

As usual, Jeff went first and carved among the waves and launched off the tops of them.  He had quite a fun line and a clean run as he skirted the big hole in the middle.  I was determined though to blast down the middle and see what the hole had in store for me.

Cate in Upset Rapid in the Grand Canyon.  Photo by Tricia Melosh

Photo by Tricia Melosh.

Hey diddle – I put myself on course to run down the middle.  I glided down the middle of the rapid.  As I got ½ way to the hole, I saw a small seam in the hole and drove for it.  As the current surged the seam disappeared and the wave hole reared up and curled back on itself.

I powered in to hit the seam and drive through the whitewater but the wave hole reared up and threw me backwards literally flipping me end over end in what play boaters call a loop.  The wave barrel-rolled me and imploded my spray skirt. 

My boat was flooded with water, but I went on autopilot and rolled up.  I still had some waves and squirrelly current to negotiate in my flooded boat but didn’t mind it as the excitement of the loop and barrel roll surged through my system.  I  worked my way to an eddy at the end of the rapid to got out and drain my boat.  My spirits were soaring high as Jeff and the rafters congratulated me on a gutsy and entertaining run.  One of the boatmen on our trip was inspired to take my line.  Here are the photos of The Great Sandeeno’s run -
The Great Sandeeno takes the middle route on Upset Rapid.

The Great Sandeeno hits the first wave hole of Upset.
Sandeen's 18 foot raft and passengers disappear into the meat of Upset.
Yes, Sandeen’s whole 18 foot raft disappeared into the wave hole (all you see is him in this photo).  Yes, he and his crew came through wet but upright.

This was great training for Lava I thought, but was it?  I had an equipment failure (the spray deck imploding).  I dealt with it in the moment but a little nagging thought crept into my mind – “What if it implodes in Lava?”

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