On the River: Socked it to me
When my problems or ideas start looking big and important, there’s nothing like paddling a kayak into the gaping maw of a massive river hole to put things in perspective.And so it was Sunday when my friend Zeke and I tagged along with a group of rafters – fellow reporter Carolyn Sackariason and her friends Alison, Reece and Kevin – to run Westwater Canyon, the permitted stretch of the Colorado River as it runs from Westwater to Cisco, Utah.I learned to kayak on small rivers back East, and though I got a few good thrashings this spring on Slaughterhouse, a class IV stretch on the Roaring Fork River, I was pretty much at home on the rocky, technical flow.But the Colorado is a different animal entirely: big volume, massive waves and stunning desert scenery.Toto, we’re not in Massachusetts anymore.The first flat section of the 17-mile canyon is a slow float – a good chance to kick back and take in the surrounding red sandstone of towering desert cliffs.We saw an American bald eagle and some kind of vulture the size of a 6-year-old child.Then the water drops into a narrow canyon of black granite.A succession of 11 funneling rapids build in intensity to Skull, a drop that is not so difficult but comes with big consequences; get it wrong and you’ll be battered by a huge undercut rock or get stuck in the nearby Room of Doom, a swirling eddy known to trap everything from paddlers to animal carcasses to paddler carcasses.But it was the Sock It To Me rapid that really socked it to me.There was a bit of a “chicken line” to one side of the rapid, but most elect to get socked by a massive river hole bordered by two massive waves, a little something like trying to tackle an NFL center at a full-tilt run.Just before going over the pour-over, I watched Kevin, one of the rafters, get a good drubbing by the wave, losing an oar in the process.My kayak simply corkscrewed into chaos, and I got a good massaging by rolling waves while upside down, but rolled up no problem.Zeke braved the dangerous boiling eddy called “magnetic wall” below Sock It To Me to retrieve Kevin’s oar, and Reece put on a show in the same boiling current by nearly trapping his 16-foot cata-raft against the canyon wall.Now I’m hooked, and I’ll be looking for more chances to get in big water wherever I can.
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