Hermit Rapids was right there, close enough to feel the spray of its froth. We walked along the sandy beach of the Colorado River. The river was roaring, churning and angry—looking more like boiling milk chocolate than water. Our packs and clothes were heavy with sweat and rainwater though my spirit had lightened considerably since leaving Hermit Creek Canyon. I'd been all but certain that a river of boulders, trees, and mud would have buried me alive back there. But all the mud did was benignly attach itself to just about every part of me and my belongings. Even my camera was covered with muck due to the third and last somersault I'd taken just moments before.
Ahead, a group of rafters had gathered at river's edge, eying the rapids and planning a strategy to run them. Every one of them just stood there, staring at the fury, mesmerized by the roar. I, in turn, stared at them, wondering what it might be like to ride those rapids in a small, rubber raft. No, I was wet enough already and felt satiated by the met challenges of the day. Being bounced around like a fisherman's bobber in a jacuzzi was utterly unappealing to me. Standing in the trickling creek was as close as I wanted to get to live, river action. The rafters remained for a few more minutes and then disappeared into the brush. I assumed that we'd see them again in their boats, on the river itself.
We quickly set up the tent nearby in the soggy sand. Everything around us was wet and it would surely rain again soon. But, as the sun peeked out from its monsoon exile, all the puddles turned to mist right before our eyes. The canyon was transforming itself yet again, this time into a rocky, steam bath. It felt a little like heaven and hell all at the same time. I wiped the slimy clay off of my sunglasses and lifted them to my face. Someone was saying something to me but the roar of the river was all I could discern. I was muttering again to myself anyway, something I do with alarming regularity in the canyon.
A rainbow appeared in a gap in the inner gorge of ancient rocks. While we waited for the rafters to appear on the rapids we took advantage of the golden, afternoon sun. The innards of our backpacks and our wet clothes were spread out everywhere to air out and dry. Camp was shaping up nicely as we rolled out our sleeping bags and blew up our air mattresses. It would be a lazy two days before we'd stuff it all back in the packs and begin the long ascent back to the rim. For now, there was nothing to do but be present in the bottom of the world's greatest canyon.
I settled into the tent for to rest my bones and to clean my camera when I heard the yelps and hollers of the rafters. I ran out to watch them ride the rapids. The water tilted them up at frightening angles and then swallowed them again just as quickly. They all wore the smiles of mad daredevils, smiles as wide as their heads. The hollers were amplified by more boats and then more again. A dozen went by in quick succession. Once past the rapids they all rested and then floated lazily downstream, disappearing slowly and quietly around the bend. Soon we were alone in the canyon as the sun sank lower and lower, casting golden light and deep shadows everywhere on the beach.
Maybe this was a good sign for the rest of the trip. Maybe the tempestuous weather had broken and we would enjoy this warm sun for the rest of our trip. Tomorrow would be a day of rest and it would be nice to spend it in sunshine. But the sky still had some clouds and that meant all bets were off. We put the rain cover over the tent just in case. There would be no stargazing tonight, just watchful eyes and restless sleep.
The night always comes early to the inner gorge, with little else to do but make dinner and go to sleep once it gets dark. We lit our small stoves to boil our water. The day's end came with the disappearance of the rainbow and the setting of the sun. Our first day was now over and our first night had begun.
To be continued…