CHAPTER XIV. A PATIENT AMID THE CATARACTS
Separated from my brother in this instance, I had an opportunity to see the man and water conflict, with a perspective much as it would have appeared to a spectator happening on the scene. I was out of the heat of the battle. The excitement and indifference to danger that comes with a hand-to-hand grapple was gone. I heard the roar of the rapid; a roar so often heard that we forgot it was there. I saw the gloom of the great gorge, and the towering, sinister shafts of rock, weakened with cracks, waiting for the moment that would send them crashing to the bottom. I saw the mad, wild water hurled at the curving wall. Jagged rocks, like the bared fangs of some dream-monster, appeared now and then in the leaping, tumbling waves. Then down toward the turmoil - dwarfed to nothingness by the magnitude of the walls - sped the tiny shell-like boat, running smoothly like a racing machine! There was no rowing. The oar-blades were tipped high to avoid loss in the first comber; then the boat was buried in foam, and staggered through on the other side. It was buffeted here and there, now covered with a ton of water, now topping a ten-foot wave. Like a skilled boxer - quick of eye, and ready to seize any temporary advantage - the oarsman shot in his oars for two quick strokes, to straighten the boat with the current or dodge a threatening boulder; then covered by lifting his oars and ducking his head as a brown flood rolled over him. Time and again the manoeuvre was repeated: now here now there. One would think the chances were about one to a hundred that he would get through. But by some sort of a system, undoubtedly aided, many times, by good luck, the man and his boat won to land.
After running a small rapid, we came to another, in the centre of which was an island, - the last rapid in Cataract Canyon. While not as bad as the one at Dark Canyon it was rather difficult, and at this point we found no shore on either side. The south side was rendered impassable by great boulders, much higher than the river level, which were scattered through the channel. The opposite channel began much like the rapid at Dark Canyon, sweeping under the wall until turned by a bend and many fallen rocks below the end of the island, then crossed with a line of cresting waves to the opposite side, where it was joined by the other stream, and the left wall was swept clean in like manner. We ran it by letting our boats drop into the stream, but pulled away from the wall and kept close to the island, then when its end was reached crossed the ridge of waves and pulled for the right-hand shore. In such rapids as this we often found the line of waves in the swift-rushing centre to be several feet higher than the water along the shore.
Then our thoughts reverted to Smith. What would he do when he came to this rapid? The only escape was a narrow sloping ledge on the right side, beginning close to the water some distance above the rapid, reaching a height of sixty or seventy feet above the water at the lower end, while a descent could be made to the river some distance below here. It would be possible for him to climb over this with his provisions, but the idea of taking his boat up there was entirely out of the question, and, poorly equipped as he was, an attempt to run it would surely end in disaster. The breaking of an oar, the loss of a rowlock, or the slightest knock of his rotten boat against a rock, and Smith's fate would be similar to those others whose bones lay buried in the sands.
In the next four miles we had no more rapids, but had some fine travelling on a very swift river. It was getting dusk, but we pulled away, for just ahead of us was the end of Cataract Canyon. We camped by a large side canyon on the left named Mille Crag Bend, with a great number of jagged pinnacles gathered in a group at the top of the walls, which had dropped down to a height of about 1300 feet. We felt just a little proud of our achievement, and believed we had established a record for Cataract Canyon, having run all rapids in four days' travelling, and come through in safety.
We had one rapid to run the next morning at the beginning of Narrow Canyon, the only rapid in this nine-mile long canyon. The walls here at the beginning were twelve or thirteen hundred feet high, and tapered to the end, where they rise about four hundred feet above the Dirty Devil River. Narrow Canyon contains the longest straight stretch of river which we remembered having seen. When five miles from its mouth we could look through and see the snow-capped peak of Mt. Ellsworth beyond. This peak is one of the five that composes the Henry Mountains, which lay to the north of the river.
Three hours' rowing brought us to the end. We paused a few minutes to make a picture or two of the Dirty Devil River, - or the Fremont River as it is now recorded on the maps. This stream, flowing from the north, was the exact opposite of the Bright Angel Creek, that beautiful stream we knew so well, two hundred and fifty miles below this point. The Dirty Devil was muddy and alkaline, while warm springs containing sulphur and other minerals added to its unpalatable taste. After tasting it we could well understand the feeling of the Jack Sumner, whose remark, after a similar trial, suggested its name to Major Powell.