CHAPTER VI. HELL'S HALF MILE

We began our work the next morning where we left off the night before by bringing the remaining boat down along the edge of the "Triplets." Then, while Emery cooked the breakfast, Jimmy and I "broke camp." The beds came first. The air had been released from the mattresses before we got up, - one way of saving time. A change of dry clothing was placed with each bed, and they were rolled as tightly as the two of us could do it, after which they were strapped, placed in a rubber sack, with a canvas sack over that, both these sacks being laced at the top. The tent - one of those so-called balloon silk compositions - made a very small roll; the dark-room tent, with its three plies of cloth, made the largest bundle of the lot. Everything had been taken from the boats, and made quite a pile of dunnage, when it was all collected in a pile ready for loading. After the dishes were washed they were packed in a box, the smoke-covered pots and pans being placed in a sack. Everything was sorted and piled before the loading commenced. An equal division of nearly everything was made, so that the loss of one boat and its cargo would only partially cripple the expedition. The photographic plates and films, in protecting canvas sacks, were first disposed of, being stored in the tin-lined hatches in the bow of the boats. Two of the smaller rolls containing bedding, or clothing; a sack of flour, and half of the cameras completed the loads for the forward compartments. Five or six tin and wooden boxes, filled with provisions, went into the large compartments under the stern. A box containing tools and hardware for the inevitable repairs, and the weightier provisions - such as canned milk and canned meats - went in first. This served as ballast for the boats. Then the other provisions followed, the remaining rolls of bedding and tents being squeezed in on top. This compartment, with careful packing, would hold as much as two ordinary-sized trunks, but squeezing it all in through the small hatchway, or opening on top, was not an easy job. One thing we guarded very carefully from this time on was a waterproofed sack containing sugar. The muddy water had entered the top of this sack in our upset, and a liquefied sugar, or brown-coloured syrup, was used in our coffee and on our breakfast foods after that. It gradually dried out, and our emptied cups would contain a sediment of mud in the bottom.

Such was our morning routine, although it was not often that everything was taken from the boats, and it only happened in this case because we made a portage the night before.

Our work was all undone an hour later, when we came to the sharp descent known as Hell's Half Mile, A section of a cliff had fallen from above, and was shattered into a hundred fragments, large and small; gigantic rocks were scattered on both shores and through the river bed, not an orderly array of rocks such as that found at Ashley Falls, but a riotous mass, looking as though they had been hurled from the sky above. The stripped trunk of an eight-foot tree, with roots extending over the river, had been deposited by a recent flood on top of the principal barrier. All this was found about fifty yards below the beginning of the most violent descent in Lodore Canyon. It would have been difficult enough without this last complication; the barrier seemed next to insurmountable, tired and handicapped with heavy boats as we were.

With a weary sigh we dropped our boats to the head of the rapid and prepared to make the portage. Our previous work was as nothing to this. Rounded limestone boulders, hard as flint and covered with a thin slime of mud from the recent rise, caused us to slip and fall many times. Then we dragged ourselves and loads up the sloping walls. They were cut with gullies from the recent rains; low scraggy cedars caught at our loads, or tore our clothes, as we staggered along; the muddy earth stuck to our shoes, or caused our feet to slip from under us as we climbed, first two or three hundred feet above the water, then close to the river's edge. Three-fourths of a mile of such work brought us a level place below the rapid. It took nine loads to empty one boat.

Darkness came on before our boats were emptied, so they were securely tied in quiet water at the head of the rapid, and left for the morning.

The next day found Emery and me at work on the boats, while Jimmy was stationed on the shore with the motion-picture camera. This wild scene, with its score of shooting currents, was too good a view to miss. With life-preservers inflated and adjusted, Emery sat in the boat at the oars, pulling against the current, lessening the velocity with which the boat was carried down toward the main barrier, while I followed on the shore, holding a rope, and dropped him down, a little at a time, until the water became too rough and the rocks too numerous. All directions were given with signals; the human voice was of little avail in the turmoil. We kept the boats in the water as long as it was safe to do so, for it greatly lessened the hard work of a portage. With one end of the boat floating on the water, an ordinary lift would take the other end over a rock with insufficient water above it to float the boat. Then the boat was balanced on the rock, the opposite end was lifted, she was shoved forward and dropped in the water again and another threatening rock was passed. Foot by foot we fought our way, now on the shore, now waist deep in the water below some protecting boulder, threatened every moment by the whirling water that struggled to drag us into the torrent. The sand and water collecting in our clothes weighted us down; the chill of standing in the cold water numbed our limbs. Finally the barrier was reached and the boats were run out close to the end, and tied in a quiet pool, while we devised some method of getting them past or over this obstruction.