CHAPTER VII. THE CANYON OF LODORE.
June 8. - We enter the canyon, and until noon find a succession of rapids, over which, our boats have to be taken. Here I must explain our method of proceeding at such places. The "Emma Dean "'goes in advance; the other boats follow, in obedience to signals. When we approach a rapid, or what on other rivers would often be called a fall, I stand on deck to examine it, while the oarsmen back water, and we drift on as slowly as possible. If I can see a clear chute between the rocks, away we go; but if the channel is beset entirely across, we signal the other boats, pull to land, and I walk along the shore for closer examination. If this reveals no clear channel, hard work begins. We drop the boats to the very head of the dangerous place and let them over by lines or make a portage, frequently carrying both boats and cargoes over the rocks.
The waves caused by such falls in a river differ much from the waves of the sea. The water of an ocean wave merely rises and falls; the form only passes on, and form chases form unceasingly. A body floating on such waves merely rises and sinks - does not progress unless impelled by wind or some other power. But here the water of the wave passes on while the form remains. The waters plunge down ten or twenty feet to the foot of a fall, spring up again in a great wave, then down and up in a series of billows that gradually disappear in the more quiet waters below; but these waves are always there, and one can stand above and count them.
A boat riding such billows leaps and plunges along with great velocity. Now, the difficulty in riding over these falls, when no rocks are in the way, is with the first wave at the foot. This will sometimes gather for a moment, heap up higher and higher, and then break back.
If the boat strikes it the instant after it breaks, she cuts through, and the mad breaker dashes its spray over the boat and washes overboard all who do not cling tightly. If the boat, in going over the falls, chances to get caught in some side current and is turned from its course, so as to strike the wave "broadside on," and the wave breaks at the same instant, the boat is capsized; then we must cling to her, for the water-tight compartments act as buoys and she cannot sink; and so we go, dragged through the waves, until still waters are reached, when we right the boat and climb aboard. We have several such experiences to-day.
At night we camp on the right bank, on a little shelving rock between the river and the foot of the cliff; and with night comes gloom into these great depths. After supper we sit by our camp fire, made of driftwood caught by the rocks, and tell stories of wild life; for the men have seen such in the mountains or on the plains, and on the battlefields of the South. It is late before we spread our blankets on the beach.
Lying down, we look up through the canyon and see that only a little of the blue heaven appears overhead - a crescent of blue sky, with two or three constellations peering down upon us. I do not sleep for some time, as the excitement of the day has not worn off. Soon I see a bright star that appears to rest on the very verge of the cliff overhead to the east. Slowly it seems to float from its resting place on the rock over the canyon. At first it appears like a jewel set on the brink of the cliff, but as it moves out from the rock I almost wonder that it does not fall. In fact, it does seem to descend in a gentle curve, as though the bright sky in which the stars are set were spread across the canyon, resting on either wall, and swayed down by its own weight. The stars appear to be in the canyon. I soon discover that it is the bright star Vega; so it occurs to me to designate this part of the wall as the "Cliff of the Harp."
June 9. - One of the party suggests that we call this the Canyon of Lodore, and the name is adopted. Very slowly we make our way, often climbing on the rocks at the edge of the water for a few hundred yards to examine the channel before running it. During the afternoon we come to a place where it is necessary to make a portage. The little boat is landed and the others are signaled to come up.