We woke up to tension running high in camp.
Today was LAVA DAY. As in, the largest rapid on the river.
To top it off, I slept terribly.
In the middle of the night I heard a rattle in the trees behind our sleeping bag, and in my comatose state, my head went straight to that place of pure terror: RATTLE SNAKE!
I elbowed Justin in the arm and shook him to wake up.
“Ouch!” He rolled over and looked at me with venom in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you hear that? I think it’s a rattle snake!” I shuttered.
He rolled over with a sigh and told me to go back to sleep. “It’s not a rattle snake, Jamie.”
“Well, it sounds like a rattle to me.” I whimpered.
When the sun broke through the canyon and dawn set foot on the sand, I confirmed I was not the only one. Kelly, who slept near our camp reported the same sound. And, the same reaction.
Turns out it was a cicada, with its electric rattle echoeing through the trees.
We packed up camp and stretched on the beach.
Ann led the group in some yoga poses. All to calm our minds and bodies for the big, bad, rapid we were about to face.
Once in the boat, our guide, Travis, pulled some tricks out of his bag.
Now, the boat only seats six people, with a spot for the guide in back. There isn’t a lot of room other than space for a few watertight bags and necessary items to bring along for the ride — like sunscreen.
But, Travis seemed to have a day bag to rival Mary Poppins. Once he pulled out an umbrella to protect himself in the middle of a water fight. I also saw him whip out duck tape, a sewing kit and Corn Nuts (lots of Corn Nuts).
Today, Travis pulled out a kite.
Which we enjoyed as it broke up the tension on our ride down to LAVA.
Before we made our final descent into Lava Land, we stopped at National Canyon and hiked back to hear some story time and tall tales of a woman who ran the river before women did such things — Miss. Georgie White Clark.
Our guide, Meredith, shared Georgie’s sometimes controversial and still debated story. She was famous for wearing leopard-print swimsuits, thumbing her nose at the conventional way of running a rapid by dangerously strapping three pontoons together at once creating an island of boats (now known as the G-rig), and becoming a legend herself deep inside the walls of the canyon as the first woman to run a commercial rafting enterprise.
Georgie was unquestionably fearless.
Maybe too much so.
But, it was just what we needed to hear before we entered LAVA LAND.
There were signs of LAVA everywhere.
It was written all over the rocks.
As we entered the section of the river leading to LAVA, around mile 177, the rock formations changed and ancient volcanic lava rock started to appear on the canyon walls.
If you want to feel small, just float by this ancient rock. The large lava cone, called Vulcan’s Anvil, is what remains of a volcano that erupted 200,000 years ago.
August 25, 1869 – “Great Quantities of lava are seen on either side; and then we come to an abrupt cataract. Just over the fall a cinder cone, or extinct volcano stands on the very brink of the canyon. What a conflict of water and fire there must have been here! Just imagine a river of molten rock running down into a river of melted snow. What a seething and boiling of waters; what clouds of steam rolled into the heavens!”
~ Powell Report
We reached the LAVA rapid landmark, easily spotted by the cool calmness of the water. The river pools right above a rapid, and LAVA’s pool seemed to be eerily quiet.
Our boats pulled up to shore so we could survey the beast that lay before us. As we headed up the path to a lookout point, the heat of the day poured out of the lava rock underfoot.
The build-up was intense. The sun burning down on us. The molded molten lava path emitting heat. It was like walking on fire before jumping into the oven.
What makes LAVA so scary?
At first it is the large wall of water, called a V wave, that may hit on either side as you drop 13 feet. It’s so large, the protocol is to “get down” — meaning, our guides told us they would yell “GET DOWN” at the top of their lungs and our job would be to stop paddling, place our butts down on the inside of the boat and hold on tight until through the wave.
If you are lucky not to flip the boat, you have a section of “mountain waves” that continuously toss you until the end. Oh, yeah, and watch out for that large rock sticking up out of the water.
The good news?
If you survive unscathed, you have another section, aptly called, SON OF LAVA, where you get to do it again.
As our guide Carrie put it, quoting her boss, “If you aren’t nervous, you shouldn’t be down here.”
While our guides surveyed the rapid, and sequestered together to make up a plan, the rest of us stood with adrenaline rushing. Everyone looked like a combination of excited and about-to-pee-my-pants-white-in-the-face.
We were all instructed to tighten up our life jackets, to pull the straps as taut as possible until you felt squeezed — even if you couldn’t breathe.
We gave a river high five (which is really a high seven, as we slapped our paddles together high in the air) and then Travis led us into the rapid.
We were the first boat to descend down into LAVA’s grasp.
We adjusted our personal belongings and I took off my hat. We fastened up our sunglasses and made sure everything was secured in the boat.
With a cry of “Fearless” we paid our respects to the river gods.
Then we were off.
And, thanks to Andy, it’s all on film!
(rapid action starts at the 2:20 mark on the video)
We made it through the rapid.
It was fun! It was fearless! It was unforgettable!
But not everyone fared as well…