photos by Nikki Kelly- left- looking downstream from the lip of the falls. The next morning all the rocks in the river were underwater. right- The true power of the Onot River.
Night 4 in the Onot River Valley it decided to rain. Really, really rain all night long. We awoke to a different sound from the river. It had risen 1/2 foot in the wide gravel bar area we were camping at. The Grand Canyon was certainly going to be full of water. A rough estimate that our water level had doubled seemed conservative. Still the only option was to move everybody downstream. Anticipation amongst the paddlers to see the new water level in the gorge was high. Looking at the river from camp, it was going to be full-on in the Grand Canyon.
photo by Rob Raker- After a long night of rain getting the fire going
photo by Nikki Kelly- John getting the POV camera ready for action
photo by Nikki Kelly- Maybe Tanya's expression can convey what the kayakers were feeling that morning
The 1km lead in above the canyon reassured the kayakers feelings about water level. The Onot felt like a river now, not so much like the creek it was a day ago. Standing at the lip of the falls was an impressive sight. Yesterday a green pool was at its base, but today it had turned into frothing whitewater.
photo by Nikki Kelly- Yesterday there was a green pool below the falls, not so today
The kayakers descended into the gorge on river left below the falls to look at the next series of rapids. A must make eddy above a nasty rapid feeding water underneath both walls looked very difficult to catch. They decided to head downstream on the canyon rim and look for another entrance. The next possible entrance into the gorge was about 1km downstream. Here the team was at a turning point since the hikers had to climb way high to avoid a series of deep erosion gullies. The kayakers would descend a small tributary and begin paddling the canyon from there.
photo by Rob Raker- Searching for a way back to the river
With the high water level there was concern about a walled in rapid downstream where the river pinched to 3m wide and made a 90 degree left hand corner. Hopefully that rapid was runnable or portageable. Two different and distinct adventures began. The hikers had to ascend 2,000 feet to avoid the gullies.
photo by Rob Raker- Hiking away from the river
photo- There must be some bears around here.
photo by Rob Raker- Don't step in that thing, it could hurt!!!
The kayakers began their descecnt of the canyon moving slowly, always looking for exit points around corners and after rapids. The whitewater was very good, pushy, but mostly class 4. The farther into the canyon , the less options for exit. At one point the canyon makes a sharp right then left turn. It is an amazing feature of river geomorphology, but this corner marked the beginning of the crux. The kayakers caught an eddy on river right above a series of class 5 rapids.
photo by Nikki Kelly- Tanya and Fred contemplating their next move in the canyon
photo by Nikki Kelly- At least Fred has his Astral Bouyancy vest.
Downstream they could see the right had bend and landmarks indicating the rapid in question. Portaging options from this viewpoint looked dismal.
photo by Nikki Kelly- This is greenapple, things are looking a little marginal.....
Fred radioed to John. It went something like this, "John, this is greenapple…..go ahead green apple…….we may be a bit f++ked, over……hold your position I'm going to try to make it to the river…roger, we'll sit tight….good luck."
John and the amazing Rob Raker ditched the trail and dove down the hill towards the river. Jules and Cameron stayed high and continued downstream to find a camping spot, LZ if the helicopter showed up, and start making the frame for a catamaran. Plans to lash the boats together and build a catamaran to float everyone out after the gorge was talked about the previous night.
photo by Rob Raker- John making his way back to the river
A half hour had passed the paddlers waiting and staring at the mess downstream.
"Greenapple, this is john…..copy john 1020?….Look downstream…"
photo by Rob Raker- Look closely on river right and you can see the kayaks
photo by Nikki Kelly- Looking back upstream at one of the hard sections in the canyon
John had made it to the river and could see our next series of moves downstream. He conveyed directions and was able to get to river level above the crux rapid. The kayakers ran the next series of rapids and caught an eddy on river left, happy to see John.
photo by Nikki Kelly- Fred boofing hard, trying not get stuck in the hole
photo by Nikki Kelly- Fred getting some good head cam shots
Scouting the rapid, it looked good to go, a bit marginal, but runnable. John strung a rope down into the pocket that it looked like you would end up in in case anything was going seriously wrong. Tanya went, straight into the pocket, no problem, Nikki went and didn’t even get her head wet, or end up in the pocket, Fred went, and like Tanya went straight into the pocket. A bit of bull-dogging and the two of them were out of the pocket and moving downstream. It couldn't have worked out any better. A true team effort.
photo by Nikki Kelly- Looking down towards the Onot Slot
photo by Nikki Kelly- Looking back up at the Onot Slot. It really was this chaotic looking. A rapid of the nozzle variety
Two more class 5 rapids and a portage and the kayakers were through the crux of the Grand Canyon. Then the beating sound of the chopper. It was back just in time to see all the action go down. The heli picked up Cameron and Jules and the radioed to the kayakers where the LZ was. A few more kilometers downstream and we were at camp. However the adventure for John and Rob was really just beginning at 7:30 pm. They had a hellacious hike to get downstream. Even swimming rapids to get around walled out corners. The story is a bit epic you'll have to ask them about it sometime. Just before dark they reached camp. Scott had left us a care package of oranges, chocolate, and vodka….another good day on the Onot.
photo by Nikki Kelly- Everyone reunited after a long day, enjoying the resupply from the heli
photo by Nikki Kelly- Yummy food!!
photo by Nikki Kelly- Treated to a colorful sky after the Grand Canyon
photo by Rob Raker- John heading to the chopper for a ride to the next renezvous- No more hiking