Kirk Marshall Photography | A March across Powell, 15 part 1

A March across Powell, 15 part 1

June 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment
March 15, 2014, Saturday.

Last night, after sunset, the wind kicked up again. After I packed everything away I climbed into my sleeping bag. Tired, I drifted off quickly.

Sometime later I wake up to the sound of my tarp whipping in the wind.  I've been sleeping on an extra-large tent footprint with the excess flopped over me, like a taco, to break the wind.  It works mostly, if I can predict the prevailing wind direction and get the fold on the upwind side. Last night when I laid out my bag I guessed wrong. Really wrong. Tonight I'm lined up with my head into the wind and it's blowing right down my neck into my bag chilling me. Reluctantly I get up and scurry about repositioning myself.  Resettled, I try and get back to sleep.

Next time I wake the starry sky is hidden behind clouds and several rain drops hit my face.  Checking that the tarp is covering me, I roll over and go back to sleep.

The next time I wake I'm surprised to find the clouds have moved off and the sky is clear again. The wind has strengthened and is now buffeting me from every direction. The tarp is flapping noisily against my head so I try weighting down the free edge with rocks but 10 minutes later it's free and flapping away again. I try tucking it under the edge of my mattress but when I roll over it again flaps free.  I try tying the grommetted corner straps together but that acts like a kite and the tarp balloons up and funnels the wind down next to me and my sleeping bag.  I give up and lay awake holding the corner in my hand.

I've got to pee but don't dare leave my bag for fear it'll blow away.  My fear is well founded since at one point when I'd sat up to address the flapping tarp my pillow, which is a stuff sack with my down jacket inside, got hit by a gust of wind and rolled six feet across the rock.

So I lay awake, needing to pee, hopelessly trying to stay out of the wind.

I start to think about the rest of my gear all neatly tucked into cylindrical dry bags.  I'm perched on top of a roundish island 30' above the water.  If one started rolling it would easily roll off this mound and into the water and be gone.  I console myself that if one hasn't been blown off by now there's no need to worry; on the other hand if one has gone, there's little I can do about it now, in the dark, in the wind. So I lay awake, hanging on to the tarp, hoping for good fortune.

The sun finally gets around to showing up for work, so I follow his lead.  Dressed and with my sleeping gear safely stuffed away in a dry bag I pee and then proceed to inventory the rest of my gear. Shit, one bag is missing! It's a small green bag with my rain shell.  I start scanning the water expecting to see it on it's way to Arizona. Nothing.  Maybe it fell in the water and sank; that bag has a small hole in it so maybe I'll get lucky and find in the shallows near my island. I walk to the edge and look down into the small cove on the lee side of the island. Oh what luck, it didn't blow away or sink, there it is floating against the rock wall in the shadow of the wind.

From where I'm perched, on the top of the island, it's out of reach. I watch it for a few minutes hoping it will drift along the face of the rock to somewhere I can approach and reach it but after 10 minutes it hasn't moved significantly.  So I launch the boat from the other side of the island and paddle around into the cove and retrieve it. The bag has leaked and the coat is partly wet but other than that it's fine. I thank my lucky stars. 

Having recovered my gear I begin to think about the day's journey. Today I'm heading into Forbidden Canyon and down to Rainbow Bridge. I can see the entrance to the canyon, just east of my location and the water between here and there looks manageable. The wind is still blowing but it seems to have calmed a bit and isn't gusting as much as it was. I assume (hope) that once I'm in the canyon the wind and waves will abate.  So I pack and head out.

I'm progressing confidently heading east along hugging the north edge of the channel until I pass the point where the channel bends sharply to the north. Here I start crossing the channel to the entrance to Forbidden Canyon but as I pass the point I see I've been protected from the wind in the lee of a high swooping cliff face that is funneling the wind down the channel. That wind is now hitting me at 45° degrees off my bow. The waves hit me at the skewed angle making holding a course and keeping the boat upright a challenge and several times I have to brace myself to keep from swimming.  Finally I gain the entrance of Forbidden Canyon ready for calmer conditions. 

No such luck. The waves are smaller but the wind, which is heading directly up-canyon, whips through the narrow tunnel careening along the scooped walls.  The slightly good news is that for now I'll be heading downwind, the bad news is that I have to paddle upwind on the return trip, ugh.

Yesterday I settled into a minimum-distance, straight-line track though these snake-like canyons.  I repeat the procedure here, cutting across from inside corner to inside corner. But today, with the wind, I quickly realize I need another tactic. I find that as I approach each inside corner the wind which is whipping around the curves in the canyon hits me full force broadsides and I pass each inside corner.  I come to this realization just as I'm rounding the second corner when a major gust hits hit from the right and almost knocks me over. Shaken, I dig deep and manage to round the point into the relative calm on the other side where I pause to think about my options because clearly this isn't working.

My first thought is to grab my cell phone and call for an extraction team.  I'm not sure how exactly that would work since I'm 50 miles by water from the nearest anything.  Oh, and my phone which hasn't had reception for the last three days is buried in the rear hatch sufficiently out of reach. Damn, I guess its all up to me.

There are two issues at play here: one, I'm exhausted, I didn't get much sleep last night and the last three days of paddling have been long; two, my straight-line attack of the canyon is putting me in hazardous crosswind situations.  I can't get less tired sitting here in the kayak and I can't pull out to rest because the canyon walls are too steep.  In short I can't alter the first issue, with that I'm stuck.  I think about my path down the canyon. If instead of following a straight-lining path I paddle on the long side of each curve the wind will be at my back and not across my beam.  I'll have to paddle further but the advantage of having a tailwind and no crosswind should make up for the extra distance. Oh, and it'll reduce the likelihood that I might go swimming in the frigid water, that's a definite plus.

I decide to give it a go and start off, sticking to the outside wall.  I sail through the first curve easily, then through the next, great, it's working. Now if I can just find somewhere to rest. As I paddle on I'm hoping that there's a campsite or two at Rainbow Bridge and I can call it a day there.

But my hopes are soon dashed, just before I reach the dock at the end of the canyon there's a sign that says "No swimming, No Fishing, No camping". Drat!

There's a Boy Scout Troop on the dock waiting for the weekly ferry. I chat with them as I tie up and clamber out of the boat. They're from Chandler, AZ and have hiked down from up above Rainbow Bridge and are taking the ferry out to Wahweap.  Since I haven't been able to call or send a message to Pippa for several days they agree to contact her when they get to Page, AZ and let her know I've made it this far. 

While I'm having lunch the ferry pulls in and barfs it's payload onto the dock. Lovely. So much for a quiet moment at the Bridge.

After spending a few crowded minutes at the Bridge I head back down to the dock, dreading getting back in the boat.  I briefly consider asking for a ride on the ferry but they're headed back to Wahweap and I'm not ready to admit defeat. As I'm stowing the remains of lunch and camera gear the Ferry sounds a whistle and pulls out. There goes my extraction team. I climb back in the boat and paddle off following them down through the narrow canyon, back into the wind and waves.


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