Saturday, September 3, 2011

Into the Raging Water - Miracle at Havasu

"That looks like a flash flood..."

I looked up to see a wave of brown water pushing through the canyon walls with the little heads of the swimmers flying toward the rafts. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were in the water, ten-year-old cousins. Ironman and Seinfeld, the brothers from Ghana, 15 and 14, who weren't confident swimmers, were in the water. Lovey, Peacekeeper, Hiker Girl and AK Santini were in the water.

Tom Sawyer's mom and Survivor Man  made for the front raft to grab the cousins. Due to his injuries from a kayaking accident, Survivor Man didn't have any feeling in his right foot. As he grabbed to pull Huck Finn into the raft he lost his balance and went into the water. The force of the water pushed him under the raft and out toward the main channel.

The force of the water was pushing against the bodies of all swimmers, pulling them under the rafts. Those of us in the rafts who were trying to get people up out of the water were battling that force that was pulling them down. Tom Sawyer's mom earned her call sign that day. She managed to pull both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn into the raft...that's some Mamma Grizzly strength.

Lovey went flying by the front raft and somehow managed to grab a rope that was hanging from the canyon wall that the previous set of rafters had used for anchoring their rafts. Then Ironman headed her way and she grabbed him. They both held onto the rope and clung to the side of the canyon wall as the water from the flash flood continued to flow. Debris, like tree branches and logs, started to flow with the current. Seinfeld was on the other side of the canyon wall with Zman trying to bring him onto the raft but Zman had to leave Seinfeld dangling to help Hiker Girl and AK Santini who were pulled under the rafts and popped up two rafts down the line. With AK Santini's help, Zman got Hiker Girl in the raft and then AK Santini. Then Zman went back to help Seinfeld into the raft.

 Brainiac had been trying to pull Peacekeeper into the raft but the force of the water pulling on Peacekeeper was about to drown him as his head was no longer above water. Brainiac had to let him go.

 Our Fearless Leader and I were trying to figure out how to help Survivor Man and Peacekeeper who had been pulled under the raft and were headed toward the main channel. Our Fearless Leader was throwing rescue lines, Survivor Man was able to grab one but Peacekeeper was too far out. He looked back at us with the saddest look I had ever seen. He couldn't see Hiker Girl or Seinfeld at this point and Ironman was hanging on a rope on the canyon wall. Peacekeeper's expression was so powerfully he thought he had just lost his family.

Somehow...Peacekeeper managed to get on a rock the was upstream from the canyon just before the main flow of the Colorado River. He still couldn't see all of the rafts from his position so I yelled like crazy to tell him that Hiker Girl and Seinfeld were okay. I was so worried about him. I knew he was so frustrated he could do nothing but watch.

I was able to pull Survivor Man onto one of the rafts. I had a five second panic when I realized I didn't know where AK Santini was, but thankfully he was just a couple of rafts away from and sound.

Lovey was incredible. As she and Ironman hung from the rope with their bodies still halfway in the water, she said they were okay where they were for a while.

We had a few pressing problems.
Three people were not in any raft. One of the rafts looked like it was in danger of flipping due to the force of the water flowing around it...the raft positioned sideways at the canyon bottleneck was half submerged and full of mud and river debris. Zman was the only one left on that raft which was the Bailey family raft. I saw him looking for something as we all started to worry about him being in the raft. I thought Zman was trying to find his new Ipod before leaving the raft but in reality he was digging through his fishing vest looking for a knife to cut one end of the raft free so it would swing out of the current.

As soon as Zman touched the knife blade to the raft's rope it snapped. The raft swung toward Lovey and Ironman, hitting them against the canyon wall. They got a nice jolt from the raft hitting them but they were okay. Zman was able to pull Lovey and Ironman into the raft.

Now we just had to figure out how to get Peacekeeper. AK Santini was able to take one of the rafts and paddle over to the rock with Peacekeeper. I think we all said a collective thank you at that point. We were all alive and no one was noticeably hurt.

The brown water was still pouring from Havasu Canyon. All the families got in their own rafts and we made our way to the nearest campsite on the Colorado River. It was raining lightly but the sky was dark gray even though it was probably about 4:30 in the afternoon.

The Colorado River turned to a terracotta color that day and remained that color for the rest of our journey.

The first camp was about a mile downstream. It was wonderful! Our Fearless Leader was worried about staying on schedule and he voiced a concern that we should try and go a few more miles before making camp as we had only traveled seven miles that day. I wasn't planning on budging. Lovey had no intention of going any farther on the river that day either. I think everyone else was pretty reluctant to get on the water any more that day...why press our luck?

This camp was one of my favorites. It was long and narrow with a high rock wall that tilted outward so we had a natural rain cover.

It was AK Santini's team's turn to in the dutch oven. Not a bite left from the four he made.

 Ak Santini in the floppy hat. Our Fearless Leader in the ski cap. We lost several sun hats at Havasu Canyon. 

That night we gathered and each told their viewpoint of the Miracle at Havasu. 

Survivor Man telling about the Bailey's watching him walk right into a deep pool of water at Havasu Creek. Canyon Craziness!

Sadly, we saw evidence of others getting caught in flash floods in other canyons as we sat at our campsite. An oar floated past, followed by some dry bags (large rubber bags used to store all your personal items from getting wet). There were lots of floating pop cans and a water bottle. The next day we would learn that a group we had met previously on the river, had been hiking at Matkatamiba Canyon when then were hit by a 15-foot wall of water. They managed to scramble up the side of the canyon wall but when they finally got back to their rafts the water had ravaged them. Their biggest loss was their propane stove.

Here's some amazing video of our neighbor rafters in Matkatamiba Canyon during their flash flood experience.

Next up - Day Nine - Lava Falls. The biggest rapid we would tackle on our trip. 


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

what can I say - such excitement - I would have been terrified - but then I am not a water baby - I hate fast moving water and water that is above my waist. I refuse to get in it! (a near drowning about 35 years ago helped induce my already timidity of water. I will not ever get in a raft like that for fear it would tip over - I can't even stand water flying up and hitting my face -- I'm glad though that other people can enjoy it - I wish I could - I love looking at it and seeing all the water though - I just can't get in it!!

Cathy said...

That sounds like it was absolutely terrifying!! And it was a miracle that everyone was OK.