So we pushed off. It was late: nearly 6:00 PM. It was busy boating from the “get go”.
A few miles downstream the canyon opened up a little ---and showed signs of braiding. The Spruce was spotted broached sideways across the main stem of the river, entirely obstructing it ---fortunately there was a secondary stem with just barely enough water and we caught it, circumnavigating the strainer. Hopefully folks running in the subsequent days would be equally attentive and fortunate.
We were underway for less than an hour. No eddies. No place to get off for a breather. I was hoping we’d be able to pull in to Beaver Creek for a respite (we had not scouted that access due to the late hour). It proved to be but a twelve foot wide opening in the willows and river birch, and it was gone as quickly as it appeared. So now we were alone. Nobody was coming down behind us ---and likely, there was nobody below us.
The very stern continence of The First Mate was quite evident. I asked, “ Are you enjoying this at all?”
“No, I’m not! I’m terrified! I can see you are very good at this. But I can also see that the slightest mishap means serious trouble.”
I checked in with myself. She was absolutely right. I wasn’t having a lot of fun myself ---truth be told. What was the point? When I was a young man, on the river most all the time, adrenaline was my favorite intoxicant. What a rush of bountiful energy to harness and focus! Now, a large dose of adrenaline, especially if sustained, just makes me want to puke.
Finally I was able to auger into a gravel bar and stop the boat. Full sun, and hot. But we were able to rest a bit, snack, and drink water.
I estimated that within less than an hour we would be in Norwood Canyon proper and that hopefully we would find some ideal camp wherein to plant a stake and relax for a few days ---the whole objective of this venture to begin with. God knows, we were provisioned.
Beyond the end of the paved road we came upon a luxurious resort on river right. Several Jackson Hole style lodges. It was well kept, but we saw no human activity, no cars or trucks. We passed under a low hanging cable, and I noted a medium sized track hoe with a long extension arm and shovel parked on a flat above.
A little further the river turned right. I observed an area that looked inviting on the right bank, and pulled off the main stem of the current to take a look. A place to camp? Then I saw the apex of the roof of yet another cabin. This was still private land and part of the resort. After only eight seconds of diverted attention, I turned my focus back to the river. There was a large boulder that I had already observed. Most of the river was running left of it. That’s where we wanted to be. I started pulling toward the objective. No way. I was not going to make it. Buts “Its OK”, there was ample water running right of the boulder (volume-wise at least 40% of the river. It was about twenty five feet from the boulder to the bank.). It had a steep tongue. So I started pushing, warning The First Mate that we would certainly bump the rock ---but with the nose in the tongue we should slip through. Not the prettiest run ---but do-able. 12 feet from the boulder I suddenly observe there is a log wedged invisibly under the pillow, the end of which was protruding, now quite visibly, directly into the tongue 4 or 5 feet (its broken end was at least 10” in diameter). In the tongue, it was just barely below the surface right were the water was approaching full acceleration, and right where I intended to go. I knew instantly that we were seconds away from a catastrophic situation.
I hollered to prepare to highside. I hollered to prepare to exit onto the boulder. The rig hit the rock and then the log in quick sequence, turned on its side, seemingly slowly, and commenced to perform a perfect wrap. We were onto the left tube, and then immediately onto the boulder. I’d taken both free, working oars with me. I stood there, oars in hand, watching the 1000 lb. raft at my feet sink half way into the current and suck up tightly against these obstacles. With it, my heart sank. And my heart wrapped itself, half-submerged, around some invisible rock and timber in a lower story of my soul.
To be continued….