(Editor’s note: Ray Zvirbulis and his friend Larry LaCroix have been enjoying a fall paddle on Arizona’s Lake Powell. Everything has been going well; however, sometimes Nature has a way of throwing in a complication, as Ray and Larry soon find out. If you missed the first part of their story, check out Perils of Powell)
|Once again we passed through the long, straight channel, where John Gallant, Jeff and I had stopped in the spring. Now it was more than ten feet under water. |
As we neared the point facing the Rincon, we decided to stop for the day, found a good campsite and set up our gear. That evening the wind began to pick up but the sky was clear. It did not look like we would get any rain, so once again we did not set up our tents.
Emerald water, shimmering lights. The beauties of Lake Powell. Many river people have mourned the flooding of the canyon, but it has made it accessible to other
types of boaters. © Ray Zvirbulis
Scene from Thursday camp. The Rincon in view across the lake. © Ray Zvirbulis |From our campsite we could see greenery some distance up the sloped canyon. To me it looked like the greenery was a stand of fairly large cottonwood trees. Since it was still early afternoon, Larry and I decided to try and reach the oasis. Although the walk was a bit steep in some places, we did manage to reach a bench-like area that overlooked the lake and our campsite, far, far below. But, we were only about halfway to the oasis. Larry decided to turn back but I wanted to go on. I wanted to see why there was an oasis several hundred feet above the lake, at the base of red rock walls that continued to rise a couple of hundred feet toward the blue sky.|
I completely enjoyed the walk up, scrambling over and around rock falls, slides and boulders as big as houses. It probably took me another 45 minutes to reach the trees. There, the undergrowth of reeds, grasses and shrubs was quite thick. The cottonwood trees, and they were indeed cottonwood trees, were quite tall. They were interspersed with scrub oak. A clear path wound through the vegetation, obviously a game trail. I could make out the prints of mountain sheep, deer, coyotes and other critters. Because the game trail was easier to follow, I chose the easy way in. On the way, I passed an overhang that seemed to be in current use as a resting place for the animals that visited the pool. Footprints abounded, the rock was fairly smooth and the sand was disturbed in a way that seemed to indicate that something had been resting there in the shade of the rock.
Quickly I reached a fairly large pool of water around which grew reeds and other water plants. Several paths diverged from the main trail and led down to the water.
The shaded pool was a quiet spot in the canyon, an oasis from the desiccating heat and dryness of the canyon; an oasis from the noise of the motorized boats on the lake which now was several hundred feet below me. At the far end of the pool was a red sandstone cliff rising out of the reeds, through the shrubs and past the tall cottonwoods, reaching at least a couple of hundred feet toward the sky.
|If the pool and oasis had not been so far from the lake, I would have brought my gear up and set up camp there. Too bad it was too much to carry my stuff up the steep slope and over the rocks. Anyway, I think the pool was spring fed. Somehow the water had squeezed through the solid rock and collected in the shadow of the cliff, I am sure the water was there perennially otherwise there would not have been so much plant life nor would the trees have been so tall.
I did not want to leave the place but hunger drove me from the oasis and down to our camp. There was enough time to prepare my dehydrated meal and clean up before it got dark.
Larry making repairs with duct tape. He had lost screws that secured his rudder; that would prove crucial later.
© Ray Zvirbulis
Friday was going to be different but since I could not focus my eyes too far into the future, I only learned about Friday as the day unfolded. As it turned out, there were some important lessons learned that day.
Larry and I were up fairly early, had our breakfast, cleaned up the campsite and packed our gear. The whole process usually took us about an hour and a half, because we just took our time. There was no point or reason to de¬camp in a rush. We were on the water by about 8:00.
The lake was calm---no wind, so we had a good start on the day. Our plan was to stop for the day at our first day's campsite. Wanting to see what the other side of the lake looked like, we crossed to the east side. Around noon we stopped for lunch. Larry usually had some sort of canned seafood - ¬sardines, oysters, clams and other such things. I usually had three or four granola bars or energy bars. Sometimes, though, I indulged myself by having my own baked Latvian Sourdough Rye Bread, baked by a real Latvian (yours truly). To make a balanced meal of it I spread two or three packets of honey on one of the slices and a thick layer of some sort of nut-butter such as almond, pecan or cashew on the other. The honey gives me quick energy, the bread kicks in a while later and the nut butter contributes its energy even later. My sandwich's energy is spread out over about three or four hours. For dessert I stuck to something healthy and nutritious: Peanut M&M's! Very, very nutritious. Very healthy. My dentist approves wholeheartedly!
As we were sitting and eating in a cove protected from the noise of passing motorboats, houseboats and jet skis, we noticed that the wind was starting to slightly pick up. The lake surface was no longer smooth as glass. By the time we were ready to leave the cove, the wind had risen considerably. The sand whipped off the rocks by the wind stung my bare arms and legs. When we pulled out of the cove we were surprised by the strength of the wind and the size of the waves. Fortunately, both of us had put on our sprayskirts, for every once in a while a wave would wash over the bow. The wind ripped spray off the whitecaps and flung it into my face. It kept me awake, alert and washed off the sand imbedded in the skin of my face. The paddling that afternoon was not going to be conducive to sightseeing, daydreaming or gazing at the cliffs along our route.
Our plan was to paddle until about 4:00 and then set up camp again. We had talked about camping at our first day's campsite when we had started back that Friday. The campsite was now on the west side of the lake as we paddled north. We were on the right side. About one mile of open, turbulent water lay between us and the west shore.
As Larry and I paddled, we stayed fairly close to the cliff side to our right. Because the wind was blowing even harder, both of us had to really focus on our paddling. Since the wind was from behind, that was some sort of consolation. But the canyon wall bowed and as we paddled, the wind gradually came at us at an angle causing some of the waves to wash over the kayak.
When it was safe to do so, I would glance back to check on Larry. About two days before he had lost a couple of screws that held his foot braces and anchored the cables for his rudder. He had to remove and stow the parts so they would not bounce around in the kayak. Because the screws were gone, he had to put duct tape (the ultimate power tool) over the screw holes because quite a bit of water was coming through. But the worst thing was that the rudder was inoperable. Larry had to steer by arm power alone. Later he said it did not seem to make the paddling much harder but at that moment he seemed to be falling farther and farther behind.
When I reached the section where the canyon wall bowed inwards, and where that section stretched for over one mile, the wind bore down on me fiercely. I could not turn around to check on Larry's progress. When I reached the end of that section, I paddled into a cove to wait for Larry. I finally had a chance to look back to see how he was doing and to my dismay, he was nowhere in sight. The wind and waves were tossing me around so I paddled further into the cove to get out of the wind. The rocks sloped gently and I was able to get out easily, getting a better, steadier look to see where Larry was. I scrambled up the sloping rocks. Reaching a point about 20 feet above the lake, I scanned the way I had come. Larry was not in sight.
Anxiety began to creep into my thoughts. I looked across the wide, turbulent lake to the other side, toward the other canyon walls. Nothing. A couple of motorboats went by bouncing over the waves, heading toward Hall's Crossing, but they were too far away for me to call to them. I wanted to know if they had seen a lone kayaker. At that distance, they probably did not even see me standing on the rocks.
I walked farther along the rocks, back the way I had come until I came to the sheer canyon well. Larry was still not in sight.
I stood there shouting for Larry, straining my eyes and voice for someone who was not there. Hurrying back to my kayak I grabbed my life jacket and sprayskirt and waited for a boat to pass by close enough that I could wave it down.
After several minutes a large motorboat did pass by but about mid-lake. It slapped and bounced over the waves going up-lake. Knowing that it was probably too far away from me, I screamed, shouted and waved the life jacket and sprayskirt above my head anyway. The boat just kept going. This was repeated a couple of more times in the next few minutes. I was no longer feeling anxious. I was very close to being consumed by fear for Larry's safety.
Having nearly lost my voice in the wind, I put on my sprayskirt and lifejacket, got back into the kayak and headed into the wind, back the way I had come. Staying close to the canyon wall, I was then looking for debris, an over-turned kayak and Larry treading the water. I thought I would paddle as far as our last rest stop, where we had still been together. That was a distance of about three miles. All along the way I kept scanning the waves hoping to see some sign of Larry but also dreading that I would.
I reached our rest stop without having seen any debris, kayak or Larry. I felt somewhat relieved but also quite fearful. The worst of thoughts began to roll through my mind. What would I tell Ellen, Larry's wife, if the worst came to pass? I dreaded the phone call I would have to make and having to tell Ellen that Larry was missing. All those things kept going through my mind, wave upon wave, driven by my stormy thoughts.
As I paddled into the noon rest stop cove, Larry was not there. For some reason, I thought maybe he had turned back due to the wind. Never for a moment did I really think he would try to cross the wide expanse of water and driving wind.
I stopped paddling once I was in the cove and wondered what to do. I was really worried, but relieved that I had not come across a body. But I was really perplexed about Larry's disappearance. As I sat and drifted, trying to regain my composure and figure things out, a motorboat drifted around a point of rocks, its engine silent.
Waving both arms I tried to get their attention. The people in the boat noticed my flailing arms and waved back a greeting. It looked like they were getting ready to head back to the marina so I waved more frantically. They quickly realized I was not just waving to them, stopped what they were doing and waited as I paddled hurriedly to them.
Ray’s rescuers: (left to right) Kyle, KayLynn, Lori and Tom Cate ( seated, filling the gas tank). My kayak is still on the Cate’s boat. © Ray Zvirbulis |When I was close enough I saw that a man, a woman and what I figured was their son and daughter. The young man stood at the back of the boat on a platform just above the water. He grabbed the side of my kayak as I pulled up. I quickly explained my situation and asked if they had seen another kayaker. They had not but then offered to pull my kayak on board and take me back along the way I had come to look for any sign of Larry. As the man, Tom Cate, powered up the boat, he said he was almost out of gas. He hoped he had enough fuel to get back to the marina.|
We flew down the lake, all of us looking for Larry. Because I had seen no sign of him on the side of the lake where we had started, I watched the opposite shoreline. After a few minutes we shot past a point and as I looked back, I saw a person, far off in the
distance, standing on a rocky shore, but saw no kayak. I told the woman, Lori Cate, that the person I saw may have been Larry but the distance was too great for me to make a positive identification. We continued to the marina because Tom said he did not have enough fuel to go back to check if it was Larry. He did say though, as soon as he refueled, he would go back to see if was Larry.
As we sped back I had some more time to think, worry and also to look around me, to take stock of my rescuers. They all seemed to have taken on my worried look. But they were probably doubly worried---worried about their dwindling supply of fuel and possibly worried about Larry. I was thinking that Larry was fish bait a couple of hundred feet below the surface of the lake. Then there was the gut-wrenching thought of perhaps having to call Ellen. I also wondered about the person I had just seen. But I also
thought Larry would not have been so foolish as to try to cross the lake with the howling wind coming broadside.
Finally the fuel dock came into view but unfortunately, because it was late in the day and the season, it was closed. We headed for the marina where fuel would also be available. As we rolled toward the dock Tom's boat ran out of fuel just as he threw it into reverse to slow our rapid progress. Having no more fuel, we were headed for the dock too fast. At first, Kyle (Lori and Tom's son) was going to brace the boat with his arms to keep it from slamming into the dock bow first. In time he realized our approach was too fast and he jumped back. We slammed into the dock taking a small piece of fiberglass out of the bow.
Once we had the boat tied off, Tom (built like a fullback) went to look for fuel. Lori (tall and slender) her daughter, KayLynn (on first seeing them, I thought they were sisters) Kyle, (who was most helpful) and I waited.
After about 20 minutes Tom came back and said there was no fuel available but that someone from the other side of Hall's Crossing was bringing 20 gallons of fuel. With Tom was a ranger to check on me and look for my missing kayak partner. He soon left for his boat after getting some basic information. As the Cates’ and I talked, the ranger's boat headed down the lake. A short time later, about 15 minutes, he reappeared. Over his loudspeaker he said a motorboat was bringing Larry and his kayak.
|What a tremendous sense of relief! But that was quickly followed by a quiet comment to the Cates that I was going to inflict some serious bodily harm on Larry!
Soon another motorboat came slowly toward the marina dock. Across the back of the boat was Larry's kayak. Standing and holding it was Larry. I was really happy to see him. Very, very relieved! I knew I would not be making a dreaded phone call to Ellen.
Larry’s Rescuers: Jackie and Luis Hernandez hauling Larry and his kayak. © Ray Zvirbulis
Kyle and I helped pull Larry's rescuers to the dock and tied them off. I told Larry I was very happy to see him alive and well and his kayak in one piece. Because he had also been worried about me, he said he was glad to see me too. Kyle helped get Larry's kayak off the Hernandez's boat (Larry's rescuers) and then mine off the Cates' boat. Because everything had turned out well, I took photos of everyone. The only thing I neglected was to take photos of all the striped bass Jackie and Luis Hernandez had caught. My wife would have wanted to know where, when and how they had been caught.
After thanking the Cates’ and Hernandez’s for all of their help, Larry and I paddled to the boat ramp to take our kayaks out and unload them. Later, as Larry and I were loading our gear and kayaks into his van, we talked. We talked about what we should have done; we talked about having a clear plan; we talked about contingencies, alternate plans and the importance of staying together. Larry also shared the feeling that perhaps our friendship had come to an end when he saw me waiting at the dock. I laughed at the idea. Both of us did agree that communication---clear communication, is an absolute must.
As we were finishing loading our gear, a ranger pulled up on the boat ramp and walked over to us. She asked if we were the "two kayakers." Looking around and seeing no one else, we said we were. She proceeded to give us each a wristband. On them was written, "Live to paddle another day." She added that stories like ours usually don't have a happy ending.
As Larry and I drove home, I was already planning another kayak trip on Lake Powell. This one would be in February or March. I have some cold weather and cold water gear from NRS that I just have to try out.
Show Low, Arizona