This past Saturday which happened to coincide with the Summer Solstice and a nearly full moon, I headed down to the Arkansas River with Matt Ewald, Lou, Andy W. , and Andy S. to celebrate the last weeks of Matt’s single days. We decided to take my raft down Brown’s Canyon as a paddle rig, never mind the fact that I had never really paddle guided before or that the water was raging at a season high 3550 cfs!
By noon, we had inflated the raft, run the shuttle, I had given my safety speech, and we were on the water. We began to feel pretty good about our paddling after the first several miles of easy water, but then we entered the Canyon Doors rapid and we found out our real abilities! I steered us right at a big, crashing wave that I thought would be fun, but that instead resulted in me getting catapulted out the back of the raft as it snapped back after we crested the wave! When my head surfaced out of the water, I found my paddle and spotted the raft starting to drift away from me and the rest of the crew didn’t even know that I had been ejected from the boat! I guess that I shouted a bunch of commands to get the boat closer to me and then I pulled myself back into the relative safety of the raft. Within a few seconds, our raft that had been unguided for half a minute found itself heading sideways right into a hole, and the awkward angle shot both Andy’s and myself out of the raft! Uh oh, this isn’t going well. Our first real rapid and we were already having major problems. The raft was left nearly uncontrollable with Matt and Lou on the same side, and the three of us castaways careening through waves and into holes. Somehow, Matt was able to pull Andy W. back into the raft, I pulled myself in again, and we headed after Andy S. to pick him up. He has definitely had better days than his swim through these rapids! Eventually, another raft offered help and to pick him up into their boat, but just as he reached for the paddle that was extended to him, the paddle was pulled away- psych! It turned out that we were as close to Andy at that point as the other raft, so we just picked him up instead, but that must have really sucked to have been that close to rescue and then get dissed like that! I was able to pull Andy in, get the boat under control, and land at the underwater beach at the top of Zoom Flume.
Wow, we were all really quite shaken up from the experience, but we all sort of kept it to ourselves which resulted in a very uncomfortable silence as we then scouted Zoom Flume and ate our sandwiches. Watching rafts go through Zoom Flume made us question being on the river that sunny afternoon, but then I bumped into John Leventhal and got enough encouragement to rally the troops for a run through the rapid. It turned out that our fears of Zoom Flume were much worse than reality. We set ourselves up on a perfect line and crashed down through the center of the rapids with all of us remaining in the boat! We stopped at the next eddy, drank a beer, and celebrated our successful run through the intimidating rapid. The rest of the rapids continued similarly in a successful fashion, although our heart rates and attention levels stayed high for fear of what would happen otherwise.
When we reached the Hecla’s Junction take-out, it seemed wise to stop and gather some information about Seidel’s Suckhole, which was just down river and the most formidable rapid of Brown’s Canyon. Everyone said that you run it left at this water level and that it is quite forgiving. Forgiving? That’s the kind of expression that is used when you go to meet your maker, but after my encounter with this rapid last year, I might have to agree that it was the correct expression. We forged on, determined to finish the run, and after two stops on river right to scout the rapid, we finally approached the beast. We ran it river left, just like everyone had indicated, and we crashed directly through the huge wave that forms in place of the hole at this high water level. Just like that, our collective stress level dropped, but around the corner we faced one last challenging rapid that nearly bent the raft in half and that got our hearts pounding once again. At around 6 pm, we floated under Stone Bridge leaning back into the raft to avoid decapitation (The bridge has to be portaged at 4000 cfs, and there was barely enough room to clear under it at this level.) and finally stepped onto dry land at the take-out! We celebrated once again with beers, packed up, and proceeded back to Buena Vista and the national forest for more beers over a big bonfire.