PART I: CONFLUENCE
On November 10th our group arrived at Green River State Park, where Kroka staff member Tricia Bennett joined us! We greeted her and hugged her. The state park campsite had bathrooms and everyone took a well-deserved shower. Then we went out to eat a special meal at the famous restaurant known as "Ray’s Tavern." The next day we walked to the John Wesley Powell Museum for a tour. We received letters from loved ones, and had a chance to rest before we left again on expedition.
Departing from the loud noise of the front country, we returned to the gentle river we have come to know so well. We paddled a short distance that night, camping at “The Crystal Geyser.” In the morning we painted, and as we sat, a strange noise began. We looked over to see Geyser shoot out steaming waters 20 feet into the air! From the Geyser we traveled to Three Canyon, a camp nestled at the confluence of three canyons.
We paddled from there down the river to Bowknot Bend. We had planned this moment out earlier in the day: we would arrive and have dinner before heading to the top of the Bend. Everyone knew what to do, so we got to work quickly. Stuffing our large sleeping bags and other essentials into our day bags, we made makeshift backpacks and to carry everything to the top. Then we lashed all our boats together to make one large flotilla! That night we climbed up and up until we reached a flat place to sleep. As we sat at the top, we looked over the edge and far below on the other side of the canyon wall we could see the river.
We slept under bright stars and a bright moon. In the early morning Liam, Fin, and Pele traveled back to the boats and paddled 6 miles around the bend to meet us and our gear! That day was slow and steady. We ate dinner and began a nighttime paddle under an almost full moon. In such a different light, the canyons seemed to glow as they towered above our boats, which glided through the smooth dark water.
On Sunday, we reached the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. Sitting on a sandy beach we reflected on the expedition, remembering back to the headwaters, and naming all the camps we got to call home. The ancient people of this land saw the confluence as the center of the universe, and sitting on the banks it is easy to see why. We ceremoniously swam in the mixing waters, bringing good luck for our adventures in Cataract Canyon.
After lunch at the confluence, we paddled down the Colorado River for the first time. This river would soon become a good friend. Paddling two miles downstream, we stopped at a large sign that read "DANGER," indicating our arrival at Cataract Canyon. Ahead of us was the biggest water of our expedition. It was time to put our training to work. It didn’t take long for the sound of crashing waves to overtake that of trickling water and whistling wind.
We spent the night at rapid 5 (each rapid has a number in the canyon), tired after a demanding day. The sun rose and we spent the morning working on bow drill techniques, as one of the requirements for our graduation is starting a friction fire. In the afternoon we hiked to the Doll’s House Rocks. Thousands of feet up canyon walls we ascended, watching the mighty river become but a winding green ribbon. Although the nights were still leaving us in frost, the desert suns heated the canyons quickly, and by midday we were hiking in t-shirts and shorts, sweat beading on our foreheads.
As we reached the top of the canyon, the land flattened out into a vast valley. Surprise Valley, as it is named, sits far above the river, hugged by towering boulders rounded from years of weathering. Our eyes glistened at such beauty. Desert grass bellowed in the warm breeze. It was hard to imagine this place existed. We continued on, climbing even higher. We found ourselves in a cave made of sandstone pillars overlooking Dollhouse Rock. We spent the rest of the afternoon frolicking over and through the rocks! We wedged ourselves through a deep crevasse in the rock, learning to shimmy. As the sun descended behind the canyon, golden-pink clouds illuminated the sky.
The following days were full: full of high-class rapids, full of laughter and fear, and full of loving teamwork. From the very first day of paddling it had become apparent that there was no down the river without constant consideration for every person on expedition. Cataract Canyon was, to say the least, a test of our ability to truly know one another. The importance of knowing each others strengths and weaknesses, both in whitewater and in the face of fear, was at its peak.
In four days time we emerged from Cataract Canyon onto the long awaiting waters of Lake Powell. The canyon walls still stretched high above, and the width was no different from the river, but indeed we had reached the lake. From here we split from our instructors for our second group solo. Setting camp, we hung all of our wet equipment and gathered around the fire. We acknowledged our relationship to the beautiful water and to the great distance it had carried us. We had two days to ourselves to complete remaining academics, work on our skit, paddle thirty miles to our take out, and explore a hidden paradise in Dark Canyon. Our first rain in many weeks accompanied us through much of it. We remained in laugher and immense appreciation for our surroundings. We spent our last day in the depths of Dark Canyon, where waterfalls fed winding streams and the magic of the canyons came to life in all forms. As the sun slipped into the shadows a starry night guided us, and we danced with the meteors. We sang all the way to the boat ramp.
PART II: JOURNEY'S END
We awoke to see our journey’s end. We watched the earth come to life as the sun rose and painted the lake’s ripples orange. What a surreal moment it was: thinking back on such a journey and watching it come to a close. Our bodies are accustomed to the tilt of the canoe and the grip of a paddle. Our hands are worn and callused: 55 days on the water, rain, snow, wind, desert sun and moon. We have truly come to know this adventure. But life does not stop, and neither did we. Another day always comes. It was time to load our backpacks and stand firmly on the earth. Here’s to the journey behind, and to the journey ahead.
We began this section with some technical canyoneering on the main fork of Blue John Canyon. Here a small hike split open into narrow sandstone channels. There were many obstacles: large drops, squeezes, and just plain old rocks stuck in the canyon and in our path! We rappelled, stemmed, and scrambled our way through these features, with some difficulty, but passed with only a few scraped knuckles. Back at camp we realized that we had forgotten our pots and pans back in the town of Green River, 100 miles away! We ate a cold dinner.
The next morning we worked on our assignments at an old building. Graffiti on the wall tells you, “WELCOME TO BJS MOTEL 6”, the “6” in red, just like the hotel chain. It seemed like a well-used spot. Tiny messages were inscribed on the inside walls; “Brad was here, 1976”, “Rick+Ashley, 2000”. Cool stuff to find way out there, in the middle of the desert.
A lunch, we were told that we would be splitting off into individual solos. We’d be by ourselves in a spot for 48 hours. People were nervous and exited. What would it feel like to be away from the people we’d been with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 50-some days? Lonely? Scary? Relieving? Who knows? We hiked to our solo spots and settled in: under cliffs, in caves, under dense branches of pinion. Alone. It snowed that night, a whiteout, and those tiny geometric crystals of frozen water remained for the duration of the solo. Something to observe and reflect on while the solitary mind wandered and played games with itself.
We all got back together at 4:00 PM, Nov. 27, our hearts beating, and our stomachs ready for food. Miron, with news from the front country, told us that another snowstorm was moving in and we were going to have to cut our canyoneering leg short...
We received a warm welcome at the River of Life Church in Moab, Utah, where we were to spend the next two nights sheltered from the storm. They run an amazing addiction recovery program, and were some of the kindest people we’ve met. The next day we went to volunteer at the Wabisabi community Thanksgiving dinner in downtown Moab. It was a great experience to connect with the human side of the area we travelled through. We left with a box of leftovers and many new friends.
On our return to the church, Fin was invited by the pastor to play with the worship band for the evening! The band was a mother-father-daughter trio, and they spent their time traveling around, playing mainly at Indian reservations. We jammed out for a bit and had a heck of a time. It was so fun, and an honor to be invited to join something so powerful.
After the storm passed we had one last canyoneering experience. The hike began with a beautiful walk in the dark before we got to the first rappel. By this time it had become light out and we put on our homemade harnesses and let ourselves down a 75-foot drop between two canyon walls. After everyone made it down safely we walked over rocks and bushes to our final descent at Moonshine Arch. This rappel was our biggest yet, 80 feet to the bottom of the cliff. Abseiling between the arch and the canyon wall with a large free-hang was both scary and beautiful. Ruby awaited us at the end of the day with the van and trailer.
We then drove to Grand Junction, Colorado, where we did service work at a local shelter called Homeward Bound. In the evening we went to the Joseph Center, which became home for the following days. The Joseph Center is a day shelter, mainly for families in need. They provide food and needed supplies. They also buy houses for families and offer financial aid. We spent the next day cooking and serving food and helping a mother and her daughter move into a new home. We drove to Boulder, Colorado the next day.
We followed the Colorado River. We had breakfast at a rest stop with the Rocky Mountains in the background. When we arrived in Boulder, we practiced our skit for the last time before our performance at Tara: a Waldorf school for the Performing Arts. It was awkward to interact with others our own age that were not part of our group. The performance went well and everyone had a blast. In the evening we watched the students' choir rehearsal. The next morning we flew home from Denver, Colorado to Manchester, NH.