My husband Joe and I were introduced to the Grand Canyon and river running in
1992 when we were invited as passengers on a small private trip. Although we had been
avid canyon backpackers in our home state of Utah, we had never been to the Grand
Canyon, nor had we ever been on a river trip prior to that one. Needless to say, it was a
life-changing event for us. At the end of the two weeks, we were determined to return
someday, with our own boat.
We found our used boat (16’ Domar) in January of 1994. Through the mother of
a friend of a friend, we connected with a fellow in Oregon, who had waited ten years on
the list for a permit and was looking for another boat and boatman or two for his August
14, 1994 launch date. After visiting on the phone several times, he offered us a spot on
the trip. We had thought that it would be several years before we would be ready to try
and get on a Grand trip, but as soon as we were offered this spot in March, we knew we
couldn’t turn it down.
We launched our maiden voyage on the San Juan in mid-March to start figuring
out how to rig and row. We learned a lot about what not to do and came back to the Juan
in April to try it again. In early June we ran Gray and Desolation canyons on the Green
River with some seasoned private river rats that we had met on our first Grand Canyon
trip in 92. We learned much from them on this trip. Next we went up to the Snake near
Jackson Hole WY for a few days and practiced on the rapids up there in early July, then
another San Juan in late July. We headed for Lee’s Ferry in mid-August of 1994.
I had tears in my eyes as we pushed off from Lees Ferry. These were tears of
relief after all the hard work to get ready for the trip, tears of anticipation and excitement,
and tears of fear. I knew what kind of big water we were headed into, way bigger than
anything we had done in our brief rowing career to date. But I had confidence that all
would be well and it was. We sailed through Badger (where the boat we were in as
passengers in 92 had flipped and Joe and I were may-tagged in the hole at the top of the
rapid!) and set up our first camp at the foot of the Badger.
The following days went well too. Joe adjusted to the bigger flow and push of the
water and felt OK as we entered the Granite Gorge a week later. The group was getting
along well, considering our collective lack of experience.
Our tenth day out we launched from the mile 114 camp and were to have camped at
Randy’s rock for the night. Our TL was in the lead in a 12’ paddleboat and
lost track of where they were and passed the camp. We didn’t catch them
till almost dusk at the head of Specter rapid, which they ran far right and flipped in. By
the time we got to Bedrock rapid, it was about 9 pm and almost dark, but it was decided that
we would run it, as there was no place to camp. We all made it through ok and we pulled
to shore on the left at about mile 131. Not really a camp, but we had to stop. It was 10:30
PM as we were eating dinner that night. After clean up I remember getting into bed
feeling utterly exhausted.
I always get up to pee once or twice in the night. I keep my own small bucket
beside my bed so I don’t have to wander down to the water. When I urinated that night,
something didn’t feel right, a kind of strange burning sensation up high in the system. It
had been years since I had a bladder infection, but I had brought some sulfa drugs along
in my first aid kit incase something like this came up on the river. I trundled off to the
boat to get into the kit and take a pill so I could nip this in the bud.
About and hour after I got back in bed I was painfully aware that this was no
ordinary bladder infection. I was in serious pain and it kept getting worse. I thought that
perhaps if I could make it to the groover and produce something there that I would feel
relieved. So I got up again, slogged through the sand and about 15 feet away from the
bed collapsed. I managed to wake my husband and he came and helped me back to our
We lay there for an hour or so, me groaning in pain. About 5 am a friend woke up
and came to see what was going on. She alerted the TL that I was ill. By 6 AM, the entire
group was aware of my situation and were hovering around me with great concern.
These were folks who stayed up late every night and usually did not crawl out of
sleeping bags until 10 AM!
Someone put a thermometer in my mouth and started writing down my vitals and
symptoms. The group put up a shade tarp over me. It was already getting so hot. I was
given a Percocet from the major first aid kit. Unfortunately, I was unable to hold it or any
fluids down. I have had three babies; all with out any anesthetic, but this was worse pain,
mainly because it was relentless. I felt as though someone had a stick stuck in my guts
and was twisting it around and around. I knew I was going to die if I didn’t get out of the
heat and get some fluids in my body. Tom finally asked if I wanted to have the helicopter
summoned and with out hesitation I said yes. They were unable to get a signal out from
the bottom of the Canyon and two of the guys hiked quite a ways up the slope before
they had success.
The welcome sound of the chopper arrived around 9 AM; two hours after the
radio call had been made. The group had wetted the beach down and spread out the
orange panels. I was soon on my way out. I took my river bag and wallet with me. I was
taken to the clinic at South Rim for evaluation. In camp, we all thought that it must be
appendicitis, but I was soon told that it was a kidney stone! I thought that only old men
got those, but the doctor there told me that everyone is entitled to one kidney stone in
their life. If I started having more after this one, then they would evaluate my diet for
changes, but this one stone was not out of the ordinary. Lucky me!
They gave me an IV with fluids to re-hydrate me and to try to flush the stone out.
I was given occasional Demerol, which made me sleep peacefully between the times the
stone moved, but when it moved, it felt as if there were no drug involved at all! I was
there all day, going back and forth from x-ray to monitor the movement of the stone.
By 7 pm when the clinic closed, I still hadn’t passed it and since they were not an
over night facility, I was packed into a cab and taken to a motel outside the park. The
stone started to move again as I got into the cab. They gave me another token shot of
Demerol, handed me a pee strainer and told me to have a nice night. I finally passed
and caught the stone in the strainer about 10:30 PM. I thought for sure it would be as big
as a boulder, but it was only about 4 mm in diameter, but covered with nasty, prickly
barbs. As soon as it passed, I fell into a deep and peaceful sleep for the rest of the night.
I awoke the next morning with serious doubts about the whole incident, I felt so
good! But here I was in some motel near south rim, far away from my husband and
friends. I felt a wave of sadness and loss about being jerked off the trip. How could this
have happened? I was supposed to be with them down in the Canyon! I wished that
there were some way I could reach Joe and let him know I was OK, but that was
Although in a daze of emotions and thought, I dutifully reported back to the clinic.
They were happy to see me walking up right and smiling. I presented them with the
stone, I gave them my insurance numbers, and other information they needed and they
gave me a fat envelope full of paper work and we said good-bye. The last instructions I
had from the Dr. were to drink lots of fluids and rest for the next few days.
I still hadn’t called home to our daughters or my parents in Utah. I pondered what
I should do. I knew someone in Flagstaff. I decided to take a bus down there and see if I
could stay with Jan a day or two and then catch a ride out to Diamond Creek with REO
when they re-supplied our group there in a few days.
When I got to Jan’s and looked at a calendar, I realized that the Diamond re-
supply was a whole week away. I would go crazy sitting there that long. I had to get back
on the trip! I asked Jan for her copy of Steven’s guidebook to the river in GC, and started
pouring over it, trying to remember what our group’s itinerary was. They had talked
about a lay over at Tapeats, but were not definite by the time I had left. I knew they were
planning to hike all day at Havasu. If they did that lay over at Tapetes, I might be able to
catch them at Havasu if Jan would drive me to the trailhead tomorrow. She thought that I
was nuts, but agreed to help me out.
I could hardly sleep that night; I just kept going over the miles and the maps in
my head, trying to reassure myself that I would make it to the river in time to catch my
party. Fortunately my hiking boots were in my river bag. Jan loaned me a gallon worth of
water bottles and fixed me up with a big bag of gorp. I tried to call the Havasu
reservation office for a permit all morning, but got no answer, so at noon we headed off
to the trailhead.
We got there at 4 PM and I read the sign stating not to start down the trail after 2
PM and for women and children not to hike the trail alone. I gave Jan a hug and we went
over our plan one more time. I still hadn’t called home, as I didn’t want anyone to tell me
not to go, or to worry about me. If I got to the river and found that I had missed our
group, I would hike back up to the village, call Jan and then continue hiking to the rim
where she would meet me with her truck and take me back to Flag. In my wired, “got to
get back to the river” state of mind It sounded reasonable.
I made it to the village in about 3.5 hours, cruised through as if I knew where I
was going. It was dusk by that time, and when I got a mile or so past the village, it was
pitch black, and I didn’t have a flashlight. I could hear the water of Havasu creek and
knew that I was in a narrow area. I also knew that I was still a ways from the
campground, I couldn’t see where I was walking anymore, and a storm was brewing.
There was lots of lightning, thunder and the smell of rain in the air.
I decided to find a dry spot to wait out the rest of the night. This wound up being
under a tiny overhang just off the trail. I had no sleeping bag or tent. It wasn’t too cold,
but the deer mice kept running across me if I lay down. Oh great, now I am going to get
Hanta Virus I thought! I never really slept, just sort of dozed while I kept going over and
over the map in my head, the miles I had to make while willing it to match with the
group’s itinerary so I would intercept them. As soon as it was light enough to see I was
on the trail again. I cruised through the campground before anyone else was up. I refilled
my water bottles and kept on trucking.
We had hiked up to Mooney Falls on our 92 trip, but I hadn’t climbed around the
falls like I had to do now. I am not a rock jock, and had never done anything like this with
out someone to coach me along. I went slow and carefully on the 200’ vertical down
climb, through travertine tunnels and face. There were occasional links of anchor chain
where needed to hang on.
The trail between Mooney and Beaver falls seemed almost non-existent. There
had been several flash floods over the last few years that had washed out the trail.
There was no way to get lost, but there were some tricky spots and obstacles for me and
my river bag to get around. More than a few prayers were offered during this stretch of
About this time I was beginning to realize was that my plan to hike back out to
the rim if I missed my party was unreasonable if not impossible. I was feeling shaky and
weak from the combination of passing a kidney stone and a 20-mile hike with only a day
and night with very little sleep in between. There was no way I would have the strength
to hike back up to the canyon rim and meet Jan if I had missed my group. I knew I would
have to some how beg a ride from another party to catch up with my group, who would
not be more than a day below Havasu by this point if they decided not to do the lay over
at Tapeats Crek. Even though I was feeling weak, I kept moving as fast as I could down
the canyon, fueled by adrenaline.
A couple of miles past Beaver falls I saw my first hiker coming up stream from
the river. I asked him if he had noticed a party with one yellow, four gray and one white
boat any where up stream of Havasu that day. He thought that he had, but wasn’t
positive. I started seeing more and more folks as I headed down the canyon, but was in
too much of a rush to stop and talk to them. All I could think of was getting to the
I got there around 11 am. Lots of folks were there, but not my group. A Can-X
trip was parked down in the mouth and several motorboats were parked below the rapid.
I stood gazing up stream with trembling legs for about 15 minutes before I saw the first
boat of our party come into view. I climbed down to the water to a wait their arrival.
The pull-in at Havasu can be a bit tricky especially for a group like ours that had
very little GC experience on board. It is best to come in one boat at a time with some
space in between. I started waving to Roger and Patty in the first boat when they were
still a ways out. I could see Patty say something to Roger and point at me, but Roger
shook his head negative.
Then they disappeared behind the wall. When they came around the wall they
saw me as they were making the cut to pull in. They started to scream! The boat behind
them was out of sight behind the wall by then, but could hear the screaming and got
worried that the pull in was much tougher than they had thought! When they came
around the wall and saw me they started to scream as well, and so it went, boat by boat.
Soon the Can-X group realized what was going on and were cheering us all on
and helping us tie our boats off. Of course, Joe was the last boat in. When he saw me he
was so shocked that he stopped pulling on the oars and would have gone down stream
except for all the helping hands on shore that grabbed our boat and pulled him in.
It was a sweet and wonderful reunion. It was hard on me to leave the trip, but
likewise it had been hard on the group to have me (or anyone else for that matter)
snatched out via helicopter emergency. You think exchanges at Phantom are bad....
Despite the fact that Roger fell and broke his arm while hiking around one of
those tricky spots between Beaver and Mooney falls that day, our group remained in
high spirits. His fracture was clean and we did a group set that he felt good about so he
decided not to fly out but stayed on the trip. (When he had it x-rayed in Vegas on the
way home the Dr. told him that the set was perfect and that the bone had already knit
together fairly well.)
Everyone was pretty uptight as we pressed on to Lava Falls the next day, except
for me. After what I had been through the last few days, Lava Falls was cake! We had a
beautiful run down the right side.
I loved the last 10 days of the trip. That hike alone was something I would have
never dreamed of doing on my own as a planned adventure, but it felt like the right thing
to do and it was a great experience for me. I don’t know if I could do it
now (2015), but then it was an experience that gave me confidence in trusting my gut. It
was a great bonding experience for Joe and I to each other and our love of the Grand