We were not really prepared for the journey. We didn’t know the river, we didn’t know how long it would take, and we didn’t know what we were doing. Since no one told us we couldn’t do it, we did it anyway.
Our plan was simple, as most of our plans were since we really didn’t have a plan. We drove to a place called Lee’s Ferry on the west side of the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River where we launched our kayaks. John’s wife would meet us at a place called Diamond Creek about 200 plus miles down river in about 10 days more or less. Everything in between was an unknown except for John’s wife—she was headed to Las Vegas.
It was quite an adventure. The one thing we learned was that all white water is not created equal. There is white water, there is White Water, and there is WHITE WATER!! The first few hours was white water. Then it changed to White Water. And just beyond that was WHITE WATER!! Then there was the big one.
We were about 4 days into the experience when we met up with the wall. It was a giant haystack the likes of which we had never heard, much less seen. This thing had a preliminary drop of about 30 to 40 feet before it rose up about 30 to 40 feet above the level of the river. We immediately turned toward the bank. On the bank we realize we could portage around this monster, and Hank and I began the process, but John… Well, John decided to give it a try.
A haystack is basically a submerged rock forcing the water to go around and over it. The lift of the water over the rock is the haystack. The bigger the rock, the bigger the haystack. This one had to have a rock the size of Pike’s Peak—more or less. There was no way of knowing just how big that rock was or if it rose above the height of the river. But John didn’t care.
Hank and I watched in fear and horror as John raced toward the haystack. Where the water fell away before lifting up to the sky, John kept going in a straight line through the air and disappeared into the wall of water like an arrow through a piece of paper. Hank and I did the only thing we could. We quickly portaged around the haystack and began looking for the remnants of John.
We could see a straight line downriver about three-quarters of a mile, but no John. We climbed into our kayaks and began paddling and searching for anything to return to his wife, but nothing. Actually about two or three minutes was all that passed from the time we lost John until Hank saw him pop up out of the water nearly a half mile ahead of us. And miracle of miracles, John was still in his kayak. He paddled to the bank while we paddled to catch up.
We decided to take a long break for lunch while John told us of his adventure. About the time he was airborne and just before he knifed into the wall of water, he remembered what causes a haystack. But it was too late. Into the water he went, and the pressure was enormous, but he encountered no rock, probably due to the upward thrust of the water. When he realized he was still alive, he was out of his kayak under the river somewhere. At least he was still tethered to the kayak, as was the paddle. Just as he climbed back into the kayak, he came to the surface. All he had to do then was get to the bank and empty the water from his transportation. And then we showed up.
After a rest, a lunch, and a regathering of our senses, we pack up to visit the river again. But John headed back upriver. It worked once, maybe it would work again.