After a full day of paddling, running up rapids, and portaging the weir, we were finally at Painted Canyon. We parked our rides and walked up the steep inclines to get to the “mid” section where we looked for a place to setup camp for the next few days. It was a long stretch of rock that was mostly flat and showed evidence of previous campsites. I, of course, called out my spot rather quickly once arriving at an area that had plenty of leg room away from any immediate danger. The area we were in had three to four smooth spots that had larger rocks in rectangular formations, marking where folks had pitched their tents in the past, using those rocks as anchors. The rest of the team quickly followed suit, marking their areas. (meaning, placing their bags down at the spot they liked. The human way, not the animal way.) lol.
We knew we had a ton of work ahead of us, and after quickly exploring the immediate area and determining it’s safety, we returned to the boats to start our off load.
It was a much more difficult task than originally thought because of the distance and slippery terrain, but we each were placed in a certain spot, and each with a specific task. Kyle would start the chore by handing Nick a bag. Nick would walk/hop over the various wet rocks until he reached me, twenty yards away. I would take the bag and walk twenty more yards, running through a shallow wash, then half way up the incline and hand it, or throw it, to Austin up above…all without falling on my face. He would in turn, run it/throw it close to the camp before running back to get the next one. This went on for a good twenty minutes before we had the essentials for camp and called it good. Anything that was forgotten would be a solo expedition.
Once everything was in it’s general area, we made quick time of camp and each of us made a place to call home. But of course the chores were far from over. An escape route needed to be hammered out, water needed to be filtered, food needed to be cooked, and we needed to call home to ease any worried spouses.
After completing our camp, I figured it was time to start getting an escape route in place. From the moment we arrived I was already scouring the area looking for a place to run in case of flood waters. One thing that caught my eye immediately was a lone ladder perched high above our camp that headed to the top of the canyon. This would be for only an absolute life saving scenario and not a way out with gear or any excess weight. This was a rusted ladder that had been here for many a year and no idea if it was even safe to climb up. The word “sketchy” was used often whe referring to this ladder. Since I was the first to finish my camp, I decided to go and check it out while the rest of the team were still getting set up. I grabbed some water and my pistol and headed up, carefully making my way upwards through many boulder gardens and ninety degree cliffs. Once I reached the ladder I, realized just how sketchy it was. The only thing holding it to the cliff face were wires. What those wires were connected to, I had no idea, since they were connected somewhere from above. After a few minutes I determined this wasn’t a solo project and headed back to camp to get reinforcements.
Once back at camp, I explained the situation and thought it would be better if Kyle joined me to hold the ladder as I went up. I brought the satellite phone and small camera in a backpack for when I reached the top. The boys would stay behind and finish filtering water. As stated, the ladder was sketchy, and I was uneasy about the climb and wanted it over, so we quickly said our goodbyes and left them on their own with the scatter gun close by. About half way up the cliff, we reached the ladder. I shook it and explained my apprehension as the bottom came up from not being connected down there. I gave Kyle my last will and testament, asked him to hold on tight, and up I went, on a wing and a prayer. Only 30 feet tall, but felt like 200.
I reached the top and breathed a huge sigh of relief. When I turned around, it was like a whole new world. Most the trip was from down below on the river, looking up, but to see the view from up top was absolutely amazing.
Kyle hollered out to make sure all was good before he climbed up. He knew we needed to get up, make our calls, and get back as quick as possible. I just couldn’t stop staring at the spectacular landscape. He got to the top and after a few minutes, we made our calls home and determined this would be a safe enough route if the waters came up.
We hollered and waved at the boys, who were still on water detail.
After talking with my wife and daughter from up top, I felt so much better, and my spirits were boosted ten fold. Of course, they just hhhhad to mention they were eating at one of my favorite restaurants at that moment, and explained, in all the gory details, of what they were having. As my mouth starts to water, I begin to think about my future supper of a freeze dried bag of goop, and my mouth quickly dried up. 🙂 But still, there are few things in this world as uplifting as hearing, “Hi Daddy, y’all having fun?” after the kind of days we’ve just had. Unfortunately, Kyle was not able to reach his family. After at least eight different tries and many messages to different folks, he was finally able to get a hold of a friend to relay the message to his wife. I made one more call to my buddy Bert, who was watching the weather for us and gave us the updates we needed. No rain in the forecast. Yeehaw. We sat up top a few more minutes after and talked of peace, love, and good happiness stuff before it was abruptly interrupted with…”you climbing down first?” Oh yeah, I gotta climb down from this cloud i’m on. Sketchy or not, here I come. After a few, “I think I can, I think I can’s” during our descent, we were at the bottom and then back to camp. The boys had finished up all the water filtering and after a, um, sorta, wonderful supper of chicken and rice (or so it said on the package) we began to unwind for the night. But it was still hot. Real hot. Our small portable fans were working overtime throughout the night, but somehow…we found sleep.
The next morning we were up somewhat early, and were able to watch the canyon walls come alive with the sunrise.
We knew it was going to be another hot one. The day’s plans included a ton of exploring the area. We deviated from the original plans, which were to head up river and go to Lewis Canyon, about six miles up river and then back in the same day. We knew of three extremely big rapids we would need to portage to get there, and after a lengthy discussion, the overall decision was made to stay closer to base camp. As much as I wanted to go, I agreed, it was the best decision for the group. This was about having fun and not trying to kill ourselves with an overloaded agenda. And as much trouble we had getting this far up the medium sized rapids, no one was really hyped about three big ones and all the dragging in between. But exploring, well, everyone was excited about that.
We ate a quick breakfast and started preparing our packs for the adventure that lay ahead. Plenty of water and snacks as well as all my camera gear.
The hike up the canyon had plenty of challenges. There were narrow animal trails, steep drop offs, and big boulders to move around. Oh, and everything sticks or stings down there. We were told there was a spring a ways up that had a pretty decent flow, but that news was months old, and no rain since then. So we weren’t sure if it might still be flowing. It would be nice to get some fresh water in us as opposed to what the river itself had to offer. We searched all along the way, but only came upon stagnant pools. But still, it was an amazing hike. The further we went, the further back in time it felt. It seemed if you just stopped and looked around, you might catch a glimpse of something flash by from thousands of years ago, as not much seems to have changed since then.
As we kept pushing forward, the thicker the brush became and the harder it was just to make it a few yards at a time without climbing, or dodging, or tracking back for a better way through. We had gone far enough. It was time for refreshments and a little reflection…then head back.
We spent the rest of the day mostly around camp and trying to somehow get away from the heat. We built the only shade for miles, out of a blue tarp and our paddles. It worked remarkably well and gave us some relief from the unrelenting sun. We hiked a few more areas and took a few more dunks in the river. It was a great day to just relax with great views and great friends. Of course, the whole time looking over your shoulder since everything here is out to get you. 🙂
The next morning we were up a little later than normal. Trying to sleep was difficult with the heat still radiating from the massive rock below us. It was like a slow cooker through the night and when the sun comes up, it starts to bake from above as well. Who’s idea was this whole “August” trip anyway? Oh wait, nevermind.
We got up and ate breakfast, then proceeded to filter and refill our water bottles. There was a ton planned for the day, so we needed to get moving. Our plan…swim, fish, hike, relax. Basically, a carbon copy of the day before, but without any major hiking expeditions like the day before. We wanted to fish. We wanted to chill out. And just enjoy everything we could while it lasted.
As Kyle and I fished a ways downstream, the boys decided to hit the water too. But in a different way.
It didn’t take long before we were getting in on the action.
The great thing about this place is it’s deep pools for swimming, but also for it’s swift moving water. One of our favorite past times was found by accident. I believe someone slipped and the current started taking them down stream. We watched as the shallows rocketed them down. Oh, we all wanted some of that. So we all jumped in a took a ride. It was shallow over the majority of this stretch, but the right side had a chute that was a few feet deep with some crazy, fast flow. It took us over a hundred yards down to a deep pool in a very short amount of time. And just like at a water park, everyone jumped out and ran all the way back along the cliff wall to do it again. Needless to say, this went on for a while.
We headed back to camp, wore out and hungry. The heat was getting tough on all of us. After lunch we stayed in the only spot with shade. The water was great, but in direct sun, it was still getting to us. So for the next few hours, we sat and talked until the boys were out. We went back and forth from the water to the shade, waiting for the sun to set just a little lower so we could get out and fish.
Before long, I couldn’t take it anymore, all the sitting around, and off I went to catch some fish. After a few casts, i’d already had a few near hits, but the third cast hit the money. Now, here is when things got a little strange for me.
During our planning phase of the trip, we had all agreed, one night we will catch fish, clean and cook them for supper. Do what all the hunter gatherers had done for thousands of years before us, before refrigerators and processed food at the ready. For 25 years I have practiced catch and release. There was only one real exception, and that monster hangs on my bedroom wall. I’ve helped clean a ton of fish, and I mean a ton, and have no issue with it, and also love to eat them, but they were never ones I was honored with to catch. I’m no “fish rights” activist here, but have always felt the draw of the hunt, the fight, the catch. I have food in my freezer, so I let those boogers go so I can fight you another day. But with that said, I want my son to learn how to do this, and he wants to learn. He wants to know everything he can about it. He’s relentless. He can catch fish all day long with no problem, but since he was still in diapers, he knows those fish go right back in the water after we get a few photos. But there’s something different about him. His love of archery, long guns, the constant talk of the hunt. I often wonder how a sworn bass fisherman like myself could of let this happen. Then again, I got dove in the freezer and hope for a mess of deer meat in a few weeks, all by his hands…so yea, nevermind…i’m good. 🙂
Shortly after my first, I catch another, then another. I’m fumbling around with this dumb stringer, trying to figure out how it works. I’m not ashamed to say i’ve never used one, but it was a bit confusing. I think Kyle could see my reservations and took the initiative, and showed Nick how everything is done in great detail. I was proud my boy wanted to know all this, and that Kyle was willing to help teach him. The old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” never rang more true. Say what you will, I learned it, and now so has he.
One thing that also really helps, is having a guy that knows how to to cook an awesome bass. I’m talkin’, finger lickin’ good. I could get real used to this grub…but don’t count on it with me. 🙂
After our bellies were full, and the extent of the day began to wear us down, it was time to call it. We were heading to bed earlier than any of the previous days. We knew heading back would be difficult, knowing what we went through to get here. So we circled up, said a prayer for safety and good happiness stuff…then all headed to bed.
What an amazing day.
What an amazing experience.
to be continued…
Thanks for coming along,
Here are the first two parts in case you missed them…