I just returned from my third trip rafting through the Grand Canyon traversing 225 miles of the most powerful and magnificent river in the West. There are over 150 rapids on this section of the Colorado. There are some dramatic runs Hermit, Granite, Horn Creek but two of the rapids that stand out in the boatman’s lore Crystal Rapid and Lava Falls, are both are rated 10+. Big water big holes.
Crystal is particularly dangerous to swimmers. It is actually two rapids, if you fall out in the upper one you can get swept down through the Rock Garden, an underwater boulder field that can tear you up. There has hasn’t been a drowning on a commercial trip since the high water year 1983. But you could need a helicopter ride out. So I am in the paddle boat seven paddlers and one guide directing us. Into Crystal. We miss the first big hole but plow into a very large standing wave which pours over the boat on the right side and pulls two of us into the water. I scream swimmers! as loud as I can and then I give two piercing whistles which are heard downstream and alert the other boats. I am anxious one of those swimmers is my sweetie pie. The boat spins, we are backward and another gigantic wave hits my side of the boat and pulls me into the swirl. The same wave knocks another paddler out up to her neck but she is pulled by in by the guide who is barely in the boat. I am under the boat, I feel it with my hands and I push on it until it no longer there and I rise to the surface to breathe. Cold, swirling, confused and scared. I know that I am not going to die but the dreaded rock garden is below me. Back down I am pulled. No control, powerless in the face of that water energy. I have held onto my oar as I supposed to do. But I am heading for a rock wall. Riding roller coaster over the rapids. I hear someone yelling and turn. There is the boat I swim toward it and grab on. I cannot lift myself up, too exhausted. But I am pulled up and into the boat. I collapse unable to move, thankful to be out of the water. My sweetie is also in the raft the other swimmer way downstream safely through the rocks. It ain’t over, we finish the run through Crystal. One or two minutes?? I cannot tell but we are through it. Happy and exhilarated to be alive. Wow what a trip!
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.