A few weeks back, in the depths of our annual deep freeze, 3 manly Coloradans hightailed it to Arizona.
Call us snowbirds, or cowards--both shoes fit.
Truthfully, our intent wasn't actually escape from so much as to a place where the waters weren't locked up and frozen. We (okokok--mostly "I") were craving some floatage.
After a long drive and a gorgeous night of camping, the 4 of us found ourselves at the Beasley Flat put-in to the Verde. Upstream gauge read 195cfs--*just* enough by local standards.
At these flows the Verde is a classic intermediate experience, meaning an expert could be entertained by choosing the hardest lines at every option, as could a beginner--assuming proper scouting and discretion. We brought no experts to show us the lines, but the pace of the river and rapids seemed comfortable at all times.
By far the bulk of our time was spent paddling flatwater and ogling our surroundings. Maybe 10% (probably a lot less) of the time was spent actually in rapids or wave trains. Without a doubt we ate up more time scouting blind horizon lines than paddling them. So to say, this is a river that (at this flow) almost anyone could do. We discussed whether it was bikeraftable and while it certainly could be done, we were divided on whether it was a good idea.
All of the rapids had names but aside from the main event of the Verde Falls and Pre-Falls, we neither knew nor cared about the rest. Names were irrelevant, lines mattered.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Verde Pre-Falls:
A rapid that we had been warned to fear looked more technical and fun than scary, but we gave it due respect and scouted from every angle on the eastern bank.
The main pourover looked really straightforward--dig hard and boof. But getting there required lots of maneuvering and precise line execution. I'm learning that being a competent boater is as much about memorizing a line from shore as it is about executing that line in the water. Without the former the latter is simply not happening.
Eventually and somewhat reluctantly I made my way back to my boat, got situated, and peeled out of the eddy, heart rate at ~185. And climbing. By the time I caught sight of the first horizon line every fiber of my being was screaming GET OUT OF THE RIVER!
I remember giggling a nervous giggle and reminding myself that this was supposed to be fun, and that I had said *aloud* that this rapid didn't look that bad!
And then I was pulling hard left to hit the first seam, that led to the second left-curling tongue, which splat-slab-slid into the third pool, which boiled and then led to the falls pourover. Time slowed down the way it does, and each move seemed to happen in slow motion until time itself said 'enough' and hit the fast forward button as I approached the falls.
Scott Morris photo.
I remember laughing as I landed, remember thinking that I didn't hit the boof quite the way I wanted, and then the branches on the far side were in my face sooner than I expected. "Surprisingly slow, and easy!" I shouted up to the guys, the way you do when your system is overloaded with endorphins *and* the danger is past--effusively and convincingly. And with that Greg and Skippy were headed for their boats.
My eye was crammed into the viewfinder as it happened, so I can't say I noticed much about Greg's run then and there. With the benefit of hindsight and a stack of stills to scrutinize, I can confidently say that Greg hit the line clean but froze on entry--failing to pull through the falls themselves or the boil at the bottom. But a strong core aided by a well-rigged boat kept him upright. And laughing.
Skippy missed the line. He and Greg were so close together that I didn't see what happened, only that he was getting flushed to river right. My heart rate spiked as he headed for this trashy little chute--"Nothing good can come from this...".
Again my eye was crammed in the viewfinder but even through that tiny aperture I could see that *this* was bad:
"So I missed the line, but then I thought no problem, I got this..."
Scott, in the early hours of his second packraft trip ever, chose wisely and portaged.
As did the rest of us when we saw the situation at the main Falls: low flow. I climbed around and peered from every angle, wanting to find some thin sliver that might be doable if hit just so, but it was not to be. Every remotely conceivable line ended in a rock pile with a 5' drop to get there. Repeat after me: "broken ankles"! And again: "there's always next time".
It was not the only time I had to remind myself that there's more to a river than rapids.
Skippy, post-adrenal high, below the main falls.
It was not lost on any of us that we were recreating outside, barehanded, in liquid (liquid I say!) water, and living to tell about it.
I got caught up in the sunshine, the excitement of seeing new country, and the overall vibe of the day and decided to practice a few eskimo rolls.
Err, *one* eskimo roll, followed by an acute ice cream headache. Brrrr.
Back into the meat:
The afternoon waned and the shadows got long, intensifying our appreciation of el sol.
A long pool flooded with gorgeous light led us to a few smaller constrictions and then the last rapid of the day. I'd done enough e-scouting that I thought I recognized it, and the line, and charged straight in.
Teh innernetz are amazing indeed, for I cleanly hit the line I'd committed to memory, courtesy of a handful of pictures on flickr.
Greg immersed in 'Punk Rawk':
Scott, getting after it and absolutely nailing the line:
Skippy, just a bit outside:
And g'damn it was good!
We bobbed along in the sun for a few more moments, laughing, giddy, genuinely excited and appreciative of *everything* around us.
The takeout came into view and all that was left was a quick hike up an easy trail, to a waiting car, which held a bag fulla Trader Joes goodness, where our minds finally locked onto the fact that we were not yet done enjoying ourselves in the midwinter sun.
Our home for the night was a patch of off-the-beaten-path roadside dirt, surrounded by saguaros, beneath a canopy of heavenly light.
Next up: The Gila.
Thanks to Scott and Skippy for running the shuttle.